Hip-Hope, Inc. will host its annual “A Better Des Moines Convention for Younger Males of Coloration” on Oct. 22. The convention brings collectively as much as 300 younger males from sixth grade by way of age 21 for a day of studying, mentoring, and dialogue, together with a discussion board with millionaires
The occasion consists of 45-minute breakout classes that cowl subjects as diverse as schooling, well being, psychological well being, funds and social consciousness.
“We deliberately do an elder keynote and a youth keynote (speaker),” mentioned Bo James, Hip-Hope founder and govt director. We spoke concerning the convention lineup earlier than telling me extra concerning the origins of Hip-Hope and his involvement in attempting to interact the neighborhood this fashion.
The convention Saturday will even have two youth keynotes. Whereas in Atlanta for the BET Hip Hop Awards, James noticed 13-year-old drummer Avery Brown, who James mentioned had “simply signed a multi-million-dollar document deal to supply music.” He introduced Brown on board.
The opposite youth keynote is Vijay Williams. Williams is one in every of Hip-Hope’s rock stars, having accomplished the group’s different programming. After graduating from highschool, Williams acquired a full scholarship to Morehouse and accomplished a summer time internship with Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective in 2022, James mentioned.
The “elder” keynote is Louis Fountain, a job mannequin well-loved by youth within the Des Moines Public Faculties and former director of fairness, inclusion and belonging for the Johnston Group Faculty District. James mentioned that Fountain’s combat towards leukemia and the way that hasn’t stopped him might be inspiring to the younger males.
James stresses that the convention might be interactive, that youth might be engaged and never spoken to, and that audio system might be genuine, offering sensible info and knowledge in ways in which join with youth, like an uncle — not a professor — would. As a result of, as James says, “It’s important to attain them earlier than you’ll be able to educate them.” A panel of millionaires is one other interactive solution to attain youth, since James believes youth want to fulfill a millionaire in an effort to turn into one. “They’re gonna have a really, very candid dialog with them,” James mentioned.
The convention begins at 9 a.m., with check-in at 8 a.m., at Drake College’s Olmsted Middle. The convention may even be digital for younger males within the Polk County juvenile detention middle. In-person attendance is free, however folks should register at HipHopeInc.org by Oct. 18.
After studying about this convention and others applications serving youth, together with a younger ladies’s convention, I needed to know extra about how Hip-Hope acquired its begin.
Hip-Hope, the nonprofit, began with James’ grandmother
Eight years in the past, James had simply returned to his grandmother’s home after a neighborhood security assembly at City Goals, which he’d been invited to by Wayne Ford, City Goals’ founder after which the chief director. The assembly was a part of an ongoing collection to debate methods to make the city core of Des Moines protected. James, who had been away working within the leisure trade, was invited since Ford, a former state consultant, thought of him an individual of affect.
“It was my first time sitting in a room with the mayor and all of those metropolis officers, the police chief and the town supervisor, and Drake College and all that, they usually have been speaking about how the neighborhood I grew up in was essentially the most unsafe neighborhood in the complete state and all that,” James mentioned.
He instructed his grandmother concerning the assembly, then proceeded to sing a particular birthday music he sings for each member of the family’s birthday. In the midst of the music, she began sobbing inconsolably.
“Earlier than I die,” she instructed James. “I do not see any of my offspring ever coming within the door telling me that they have been sitting in a room such as you have been sitting in at this time.”
She then confirmed James a birthday card that one in every of his cousins had despatched her from jail in Iowa.
“There have been 23 signatures on that birthday card, all from relations who have been in the identical jail as this cousin,” James mentioned. “And she or he mentioned, ‘If you end up within the place to do one thing about this” — she held up the cardboard — “then you definitely higher do it.’”
As if his cousin’s card and James’ accomplishment weren’t sufficient to elucidate his grandmother’s tears, “my great-grandfather had 99 grandchildren and 299 nice grandchildren and possibly 95% of the males in my household have been to jail or are nonetheless in jail,” James mentioned. “That’s how she opened it up. She mentioned, of my technology and the technology instantly earlier than me and the technology after me, I used to be the one male to not ever go to jail or jail.”
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There have been different nudges for James to do one thing. “I am seeing my household dying and going to jail and issues like that, however I by no means thought to do one thing about it. I by no means thought to turn into an activist of any kind locally or something like that. You realize what I imply? I used to be at all times a part of the neighborhood. I used to be beloved by the neighborhood and I beloved the neighborhood, however for me to be like a Wayne (Ford) or Ako (Abdul-Samad)? No, it was the furthest factor from my dream.”
But it surely was his grandmother’s phrases these eight years in the past that satisfied James to register Hip-Hope as a nonprofit. “My grandmother talking to me was like God talking to me,” James mentioned, including, “I actually began Hip-Hope to avoid wasting my household.”
Hip-Hope’s focus is that music saves lives
On the neighborhood security assembly, James remembered the police chief saying that the most important menace within the metropolis was C-Block, the quickest rising gang, the place the “C” stood for “Crips.”
James vehemently objected to this. “The time period C-Block was invented in my studio, by two guys who would by no means be gang members. What C-Block meant was that they lived in a cul-de-sac so the block actually fashioned the form of a ‘C.’” He instructed me that the precise C-Block is a block or so away from the AME church, whereas C-Block consists of the encircling neighborhood. Within the neighborhood, there have been folks engaged in gang-like conduct, together with violence, promoting medication and easily going about their lives. He mentioned that, regardless of the label, there was no organized gang with a pacesetter in C-Block.
A few month after that assembly, James’ cellphone rang off the hook. The mayor was calling him. Abdul-Samad of Artistic Visions was calling him. His aunt, who runs Involved Residents for Justice, was calling him. The police chief was calling him.
“All of those individuals are calling as a result of this ‘gang’ referred to as a press convention to inform everyone they didn’t wanna be thought of a gang,” James mentioned. “When these youngsters would go to Household Greenback or Mid-Ok, they might get jumped or shot at by the youngsters within the different neighborhood they usually had held a gathering about that they usually mentioned, ‘We’re simply youngsters, attempting to go to the shop to get some bubblegum,’ you already know what I imply? ‘We aren’t a gang. We’ve to clique up or we’ll get jumped or shot at, however we do not wish to be often known as a gang. We’re not a gang.’”
Based on James, somebody requested the younger males, “Properly, for those who guys will not be into the road life, what’s it that you simply wanna do?”
James mentioned he was instructed 100% of them mentioned “music.”
Since James had been a promoter because the early ’90s, plus creator of a well-liked “American Idol”-like occasion that included a expertise search and critique, he was often known as the Music Man locally. That was why everybody had referred to as him and the youngsters additionally knew him.
In order that was when James truly utilized for Hip-Hope to be a 501(c)3 nonprofit. “That is once I instantly considered the of this system Music Saves,” James mentioned. “As a result of it was going to avoid wasting these youngsters. It was gonna save the neighborhood.”
The newly fashioned Hip-Hope didn’t have a constructing or capability or the assets to assist 100 youngsters. “I began reaching out to assets locally,” James mentioned, “as a result of, like I mentioned, I acquired so many calls from everybody that I simply knew we might be supported on this initiative.” However nobody had cash to assist the initiative. The police did not provide to assist. It bothers James to at the present time that he wasn’t capable of assist everyone, that some did, certainly, find yourself committing crimes that the police attributed to the “gang C-Block.”
James helped as many as he may, opening up his basement music studio to about 15 to twenty of them. Each night time, practically all night time lengthy, they have been within the studio. However James had situations. “The document deal that I gave them was, in the event that they weren’t performing nicely at college or at house,” James mentioned, “I’d not permit them to carry out anyplace, not at my occasion. I would not let him come to the studio or something like that. So these youngsters have been, man, they have been devoted, like, for actual. And they also have been getting higher grades in class.”
James realized music, alone, doesn’t save lives
As James labored with the youth, he discovered their tales. Just like the 18-year-old who’d turned his life round, did higher in class and, months away from commencement, got here house and located the home empty and his mom gone. “That is what you get for doing good?’ he’d requested James. “Once I was being a knucklehead, she had no drawback with it.”
Their tales blew James’ thoughts. “I could not say, ‘Make a music about it,’” he mentioned. “So music did not save every little thing. That is the place I actually began reaching out and I discovered the time period ‘wrap round assets,’ and in order that’s after we began in search of neighborhood companions.”
Some youngsters wanted meals, housing, psychological well being providers, jobs, and extra. So James began forming partnerships with others, reminiscent of Broadlawns, MercyOne, Artistic Visions, City Goals and greater than 100 neighborhood companions to assist youth.
James additionally determined they wanted a solution to collect and produce everybody collectively. That is the place “A Better Des Moines Convention for Younger Males of Coloration” got here from — a spot the place all of the assets may congregate and synergize round these younger males of shade.
“In order that we will provide you with options, so we will convey hope to those hopeless conditions,” James mentioned.
The aim: Know you’ve extra causes to win than excuses to fail
The underlying theme of the convention is “Win, Win, Win! Then do it once more.” James’ dream is for each child to stroll out, understanding that they’ve far more excuses to win than to fail.
One of many issues he loves seeing youngsters do is join applications like Investing in My Future or becoming a member of the NAACP Youth Council and initiating mentorships, internships, and relationships on the convention.
“If nothing else,” he mentioned, “they know that they’ve entry to success. They will, after they’re strolling these streets, stroll into this constructing and meet a mentor or, you already know, set up these relationships that breed life as a substitute of following these determined roads that result in sure loss of life.”
To register, get extra info, or donate, go to hiphopeinc.org
Rachelle Chase is an opinion columnist on the Des Moines Register. Observe Rachelle at fb.com/rachelle.chase.creator or on Twitter @Rachelle_Chase.