On May 16th, the DePaul University Institute for Daisaku Ikeda Studies in Education welcomed Awad Ibrahim to give the 2017 Ikeda Lecture, “Re-mixing Borders: Education & the Global Solidarity of Hip-Hop.” The lecture was included in the DePaul President's Series on Race and Free Speech. Ibrahim is an award-winning author and education theorist specializing in cultural studies, Hip-Hop, youth and Black popular culture, social justice, diasporic and continental African identities, and applied linguistics. Four hundred students, faculty, public school teachers, and community members attended the event.
The evening began with opening remarks by Jason Goulah, Institute director and associate professor of Bilingual-Bicultural Education in the College of Education. Goulah shared the purpose of the Institute and announced the new online master’s program in Value-Creating Education for Global Citizenship, as well as DePaul’s conferral of an honorary doctorate on Daisaku Ikeda last December. Introducing the keynote speaker and this year’s lecture theme, Goulah stated, “For Ibrahim, as for Ikeda, confronting the forces that seek to separate us lies in the dialogic power of music—and especially Hip-Hop—that speaks directly to the heart. This response, this echo within the heart of youth, is proof that human hearts can transcend the barriers of difference, enabling people to overcome mistrust and prejudice and build peace.” He concluded his opening remarks by sharing the following passage from Ikeda’s recently published dialogue with jazz musicians Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter: “Youth is a time of pioneering. It is a time of challenge, a time of creativity. And music has the power to rouse the courage to pursue these things. Music overcomes inertia and stagnation, invigorating our beings with its reverberations.”
In his lecture, Ibrahim first showed the impact of Hip-Hop at a global level: from instigating the Arab Spring revolution and addressing racial injustice at the center of public discourse in Brazil to introducing rhymes into Japanese language and changing the perception of Cantonese in Hong Kong. Ibrahim argued, “Hip-Hop is who we are,” and Hip-Hoppers do not imitate, but “translate the global locally.” He connected this to his notion of Hip-Hop’s critical “ill-literacies,” or the sociocultural and political literacies that are intimate, lived, and liberatory, and which have limitless creativity for people to tell their own stories.
Ibrahim asserted that it is in such creativity and empowerment where Hip-Hop and soka, or value-creating, education intersect. Citing Ikeda, Ibrahim explained that the purpose of education is “to ensure that knowledge serves to further the cause of human happiness and peace” and to cultivate in students “the capacity to find meaning, to enhance one’s own existence and contribute to the well-being of others.” He also drew connections between Hip-Hop and the type of engaged community studies advanced by soka progenitor, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, championing the local community as the starting point of teaching and learning and of understanding the larger world. Drawing on the Buddhist notion of a bodhisattva, or “one who puts knowledge into practice to unleash creativity, positive potential, and goodness in one’s self and in others,” Ibrahim declared that the bodhisattva’s practice is at the heart of Hip-Hop to create global youth solidarity.
He concluded the lecture with a video of Obasi Davis, a black male high school student, at the Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam in 2012 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myhuAaVwzZ8). As he played the video, Ibrahim posed the following question to the audience: “What does this video mean in terms of curriculum, in terms of policy, in terms of assessment, in terms of teaching and learning, and ultimately in terms of what is the overall objective and outcome of education?”
During Q&A, in response to one participant’s question of whether Hip-Hop was for the underprivileged and whether privileged people fit in the space of Hip-Hop culture, Ibrahim answered that Hip-Hop is ultimately about telling stories from realities and that what Hip-Hop teaches—compassion, courage, and the human connection—cannot be divided into privileged and underprivileged. He added that Hip-Hop is a social entity that needs to be critiqued, revamped, theorized, and re-theorized. By so doing, we can analyze and assess whether what has been produced is creating value and contributing “good” in society.