How do you feel that the arts impact our community?
Art by definition is the expression of emotions and ideas into a physical form. It empowers and amplifies the voices of our people, of our community, and of our culture. It provides a means to express emotions, frustrations, and aspirations. It is the mysterious cacophony that holds every morsel of our rich history, our important cultural traditions, and our many contributions.
As a tool, art serves as a catalyst for building solidarity and fostering connections. It provides spaces for individuals to come together, share their experiences, and create supportive networks. As an educator, art provokes critical thinking, challenges oppressive systems, and encourages dialogue around pressing issues. As a social critic and activist, it shines the flashlight of truth on our better and worse angels.
Through art we can find a freedom that is immune to chains, systems of oppression, and the ebbs and flows of this great democratic experiment we call America. Art in the end is the manifested preservative that sustains, protects, and guides us.
It's the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop. How has this music influenced you?
Music (Hip Hop in particular) has nestled neatly into a place in my heart where it will forever reside. In many ways my life’s journey has been on a parallel path with Hip Hop’s growth and maturation.
I was 9 years old when I walked into Junebug and Pewee’s bedroom and I heard, “now what you hear is not a test..I’m rapping to the beat…”! That moment everything changed. All of a sudden music made sense. I began to explore the world in a different manner; it was like music turned on the closed captions in real life.
A few months later, my friends and I could be found giggling and hiding while listening to Rap Dirty — a song by Blowfly that tested society’s true commitment to free speech at the same time I was pushing my own personal boundaries at home with my parent’s.
When conscious rap arrived to challenge for pole position on my mixtape’s playlist, I was at a stage in my life where I was confronting a choice between gang life or the seemingly impossible path of education and training that would lead to a job and a career (god forbid). Then I heard, “…I used to be a stick up kid and I think of all the devious things I did…now I learn to earn ‘cause I’m righteous”. Rakim’s word’s landed as if they were actual manna from heaven. It felt like the God of rap grabbed me by the neck and in a full throated response yelled, “…search for a 9 to 5 cause if you strive then maybe you’ll stay alive”.
Hip Hop made be believe that I could live passed 18, that going to jail was not normal, and that I could choose my own path.
Hip Hop did more than influence me. Hip Hop planted seeds of hope and ambition inside of me in places that were once filled with distrust, hopelessness, and an acceptance that my path to death or jail was predetermined. On this 50th anniversary of rap I am reminded of all of the influences in my life and I can say without question that music has been one of my most loyal companions — full stop!
Tell us about the most memorable experience working with an entertainer.
I was VP/GM of a product placement agency called UPP Entertainment Marketing. Bacardi hired us to throw a party during the MTV Video Music Awards in Miami. My great friend and celebrity publicist Taroue Brooks and I set our sites on the Lyric Theatre in Old town. We enlisted Fat Joe and Missy Elliot to host the party. They invited friends like Nick Cannon, Gabrielle Union.
We worked with the city, community leaders and local businesses to make sure that this event had a long term positive impact on Old Towne — a historic stop on the old chitlin’ circuit and an important part of our history.
The night before the party and after weeks of planning and renovations, Hurricane Katrina came crashing against the coast line. We were stranded on the 45th floor of the Conrad Hotel with no elevator access. As Katrina pummeled the side of the hotel, we decided to wait it out at the bar. We walked into the hotel bar and to our amazement the cast of Miami Vice the film starring Colin Ferrel and Jamie Foxx had the same idea - you can’t write this I thought. We met and had drinks with Domenic Lombardozi who played Herc on the best television show ever The Wire! Yes that show!
The next morning we awoke to downed power lines and a shaken city infrastructure but as the saying goes, “the show must go on”! A promoter friend from Houston, Rob Wright joined us to try to make lemonade. He and I hit the beach to assure party goers that it was about to go down. Mr. Brooks, on the other hand, went to try and salvage the venue.
You could have blown me over with a feather when we all reconnected at the party right as the Terror Squad arrived at “Bacardi’s Juke Joint”. I felt like a child when I shook Fat Joe’s humongous hand. I will never forget the words he said to me, “Yo, s’up son…y’all got any food? I don’t eat no pork…aight!” I heard, “Your TS chain is on its way…”.
The party ended with the police closing us down for over crowdedness and something about a fire code. The next day all of the national entertainment magazines wrote that it was one of the hottest parties of the entire week. In the immutable words of Nat King Cole that experience was truly, “Unforgettable”!
Given the opportunity, what would you do to expose more youth to the arts?
You have worked in a few major positions. Tell us about your most impactful job and responsibilities.
I had the honor of serving as the President and CEO of the Las Vegas Urban League. We were the largest poverty fighting agency in the state. Our job was to empower communities and save lives. We were really good at it. I know what real community impact looks like. We hosted presidential candidates, provided food for needy children and taught leadership skills to the beautifully brilliant students in our care. After Trayvon Martin’s tragic murder we were a part of a rally. My speech borrowed from Dr. King, “somewhere I read…”. Highlights of my remarks made all of the local stations.
But the joy of my life during that time was the MLK Senior Center. I have my fondest memories dancing with the Red Hatters and playing spades at lunch or being told that I needed to meet someone’s daughter or niece.
Anytime I would arrive “homeless Jimmy” would smile from ear-to-ear and announce, President Hooks in the house! It was the happiest place on earth — sorry Disney.
Given your impact in the community. What do you feel will be your legacy?
I recently re-read “Between the World and You” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. In this brilliantly introspective love letter to his son, Coates confronts a life filled with intellectual curiosities and and in-depth cultural critique designed to share a legacy of learning, advocacy and constantly asking the most important question in any language…why?
In my humble opinion, Coates is today’s James Baldwin; he is in the truth telling business.
His words forced me to consider my legacy.
To answer the question directly. I want my legacy to be as profound as What Teachers Make, a poem about a teacher being bullied by an ambulance chasing lawyer about the amount of money he makes. In the poem he responds to the question what he makes thusly, “…here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true: Teachers make a goddamn difference! Now what about you?”
I want to embody the tenets of Ubuntu,”I am what I am because of who we all are”.
But most of all, I want to leave a better world for our children and I also want to leave better children for our world. Now, that is a legacy worth leaving.