Community Engagement: Engaging Youth in Activism through Hip Hop Youth Research and Activism Conference

This past year, Rutgers GSE hosted the first annual Hip Hop Youth Research and Activism Conference (HHYRA) in June. Led by GSE’s Dr. Lauren Leigh Kelly and 5 Youth Leaders Fellows, Ally Smith, Safa Bilal, Alondra Contreas, Sydney Grant and Darius Rush, the conference was a major success.

Conference participants included 5 school districts, 94 attendees with close to 80 youth participants and 31 youth presenters who covered topics including music history, community research, art and activism, and hip hop identities.

Community Engagement: Engaging Youth in Activism through Hip Hop Youth Research and Activism Conference

The conference grew out of the Hip Hop Summit that Dr. Kelly had been hosting at Teachers College for several years. According to Dr. Kelly, the conference at Rutgers GSE was inspired by the work of Paulo Freire who advocates for those who are oppressed to be directly involved in the process of their liberation. To this end, Dr. Kelly emphasized that the Youth Leaders Fellows team “has been instrumental in shaping and leading the conference. We brought together a community of youth leaders, artists, and activists who share a passion for social justice.”

The Youth Leaders Fellows co-developed the goals for the conference, which included “decreasing stereotyping and unconscious biases, increasing unity by building community and showing how hip hop has influenced people to speak out and create change.”

The conference featured critically acclaimed writer, activist and educator, Crystal Valentine who is a three-time grand slam champion of NYU’s Poetry Slam Team, the two-time winner of the College Union’s Poetry Slam Invitational, and the 9th ranked woman poet in the world by Way of the Woman of the World Poetry Slam.

Ally Smith, a recent high school graduate from Memphis, Tennessee and one of the HHYRA Youth Leaders Fellows shared that her main goal as a youth leader and activist is to “empower artists to use their voice to participate in the political process.” In reflecting on the inaugural HHYRA conference, she stated, “The conference made me learn more about myself and what I would like to focus on – it showed me that the impact I want to have as an activist is possible.”

Smith also appreciated the opportunity to work on social media for the conference, to have input into the agenda and workshops, and to collaborate with youth activists across the nation.

“My vision over the next few years is for the conference to become entirely youth-led and that my role would be as a critical listener and mentor,” said Dr. Kelly. “I would like to see the impact of building this strong intergenerational community that honors and highlights the knowledge, identities, and contributions of young people not only in their communities but also in the fields of teaching and learning – in how we see and teach young people in classrooms.”

“I am grateful to GSE Associate Dean Clark Chinn and Dean Wanda J. Blanchett for their support of HHYRA,” said Kelly. “This is not just an institution that talks about social justice but one that truly acts on it as well through their commitment of time and funding. This conference would not have been possible without their support.”

HHYRA’s Mentoring Team included Dr. Michael Dando, Dr. Tasha Iglesias, Mikal Lee, Justis Lopez and Aysha Upchurch along with Dr. Kelly.