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Skidmore College

Hip hop and social change

March 28, 2016
Rosa Clemente
Rosa Clemente

A well-known and award-winning hip-hop activist, independent journalist, and 2008 Green Party vice presidential candidate, Rosa Clemente wants to help change the world. After being a student leader at Cornell and the University at Albany, she is now a doctoral candidate at the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at UMass-Amherst. From elite universities to hard-core prisons, from hurricane-ravaged New Orleans to major protests in Ferguson, Mo., she has reported on and worked with oppressed and marginalized communities across the U.S. and also advocated for expanding beyond the two-party system in elections. On Wednesday, March 30, she’ll give a free public lecture titled “If I was President” at 6:30 p.m. in Gannett Auditorium, Palamountain Hall.

Jenni Mueller, Skidmore sociology professor and acting director of the Intergroup Relations Program, says she worked with senior IGR students Tashawn Reagon, Maya Obstfeld, and Cara Cancelmo to organize the event in response to wide student interest in speakers “involved in on-the-ground social justice organizing and political activism—and Rosa Clemente definitely fits that bill.”

Clemente is the founding president of Know Thy Self Productions, which has produced community-activism tours featuring leading hip-hop artists. KTSP also consults on media justice, voter engagement among youth of color, third-party politics, intercultural relations, immigrants’ rights, and universal health care. In 2001 Clemente was a youth representative at the first UN-sponsored World Conference against Racism, and in 2003 she helped coordinate the first National Hip-Hop Political Convention, where more than 3,000 activists created a national political agenda for the hip-hop generation.

In a 2014 Democracy Now interview, she pointed to police violence and other bias against people of color despite the rise in African-American and Latino/a elected officials in recent decades. She has described a predominantly older, black, male “misleadership class” that should give way to a younger and more diverse group of social-justice leaders.

Clemente concluded, “The older my daughter gets, or any of my friends, all I can think about is, is this world better? Because it’s just really not. And what is going to happen to our children? What does this do to other people in the community? How does this affect white people that are antiracism…?”

Her Skidmore visit is co-sponsored by Intergroup Relations and its foundational sociology course “Race and Power”; the Vice President for Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity; the student Speakers Bureau, Raices club, and Democracy Matters; and the academic programs in Gender Studies, Environmental Studies, Sociology, American Studies, and Government.

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