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Dr. King Matters to Hip-Hop Generation Beyond Diddy, Russell Simmons; Young People Speak

WASHINGTON – Often derided as irreverent, ungrateful, recklessly bodacious and morbidly self-obsessed, many in the so-called hip-hop generation nevertheless understand the depth and enormity of Martin Luther King Jr.’s contributions to American life.

With the incomplete Martin Luther King Memorial on the Mall on Washington serving as a powerful backdrop, three Howard University communication students say young people have adopted some of the intangibles that MLK exuded when he and others initiated a bloodless revolution in the U.S. Many hip-hoppers like Diddy, Chuck D and Russell Simmons have already exemplified it.

“I think a lot of characteristics that he had … determination, peaceful living and being bold, I think those things our generation has taken on,” said Noel Jones, a sophomore journalism student from Atlanta. “I feel like MLK is a great role model for our generation and our community.”

Jones and her Howard classmates, Tia Dabny from Buffalo, N.Y., and Lauren Compton of Dallas, got an exclusive sneak peak along with journalists from around the country to view the MLK Memorial at the halfway point. They learned that a black Greek fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha (of which King was a member), initiated its construction. With the Washington Memorial peeking over the trees and the Jefferson Memorial across the pond, the students were awed as they drank in the entire scene.

Your thoughts on the MLK Memorial:
Tia Dabny, public relations major from Buffalo: “I thought it was amazing. All the background information … I didn’t know that it was started about 20 years ago. So that was really interesting. Just all the time and effort that was put into it, and the outcome of it today, I can’t wait to see it [completed].”

Why Dr. King matters to the hip-hop generation:
“I guess the connection will be free speech. MLK was definitely bold in his time to voice his opinions of what he thought America should be, and hip-hop is bold today voicing its opinions about what some believe America should be. Some rappers have delved into the political arena.”

What do you think of the memorial?
Lauren Compton, PR major from Dallas: “It was great, the fact that they chose someone internationally to [design] the [memorial] the way he was. I just think that … it was just really amazing how everything was put together and I can’t wait to come back in August.”

How has MLK influenced you and the hip-hop generation?
“MLK is important to me because he stood for a different type of fight. … He just wanted everyone to be peaceful. And I think that a lot of our generation should look up to that. I know a lot of young black men resort to violence and MLK did the opposite. I feel like he should be someone to look up to in that regard.”

Your thoughts on the memorial:
Noel Jones, print journalism major from Atlanta: “This was a great experience. This was a huge stepping-stone, for our country, for college students, for adults, children. When it finally opens it will be great. The fact that I was able to be here and see it in the works and then come back and actually see it actually finished … will be something that I will remember and I can tell my kids that I was here and this will affect them for generations to come.”

How has King influenced you and the hip-hop generation?
“We can take from [him] all those characteristics that he had. We’re a very bold generation. We’re able to be the change. We have Barack Obama, who is the first African American president. So we’re seeing the changes. So now we are to take the changes we’ve learned from him and other generations and put things into action. So I think he’s a great role model not only for the hip-hop generation, but for generations to come.”

— terry shropshire