Vernon Reid, originally uploaded by fstop45.

In order for the vast majority of black youth to envision better lives for themselves, we need to bring musicality back into their lives.  By this I mean, get them playing instruments.  Since we can’t count on the school system to get them excited about playing instruments, the impetus must come from popular culture.  Black musicians have to make it seem cool again.  And the only ones who are in a position to do that are black rock musicians.

But let me back up. 

I realize that I’ve been thinking about this topic in some shape or form for over a decade.  Back in the early 90s, I was PR director for the Black Rock Coalition.  Back then, we were focused on creating an environment in which black artists who didn’t fit neatly into the R&B or rap dichotomy could break into the public consciousness and enjoy the financial rewards thereof.  “Black Rock” was—and still is—perceived as an oxymoron.  We used the term to represent the diversity of styles and influences that our members brought to bear in their music.  It was as much a social and political statement as it was a musical one.  But breaking such artists was, and remains, a seemingly insurmountable challenge.  At the time, the question was, Why won’t the industry accept and support black rock?  However, the music industry, like any other, responds to what’s happening in the culture.  Therefore, it’s a short leap to say that black rock’s not happening in the culture, at least on a scale that warrants corporate investment.  But that skirts the race issue only momentarily.

As a marketer, I’m most concerned with the “buyer” of my product, service or content.  Given that, a better question is: Why haven’t audiences supported black rock on a large scale?

The most likely audience for black rock should be black people.  Problem is, rock is alien to a majority of black youth.  Why?  For black youth, there’s no perceived, recent musical tradition in popular culture of blacks playing instruments (examples, a la John Legend or Wyclef, are the exceptions that prove the rule).  Wait!  There’s jazz, right?  Wrong: Jazz is not a player in popular culture and, by and large, jazz is not supported by black folks.  I’m going to suggest that the “chain” was broken in the late 70s or early 80s when music education programs taken out of public schools.  If there’s no tradition of music education, then there’s no tradition of playing musical instruments.  Ultimately, you’re left with a generation that has no appreciation—or respect—for musicianship.  This does bear itself out on an anecdotal level.  Look around most black American communities, and you’ll see more kids’ musical impulses channeled into hip hop.  Which means that instead of starting bands, black youth are more likely to form rap crews, which focus on MCing, DJ-ing.  Nothing wrong with that in and of itself.  However, this experience does begin to shape an aesthetic, and aesthetics is one of the key ingredients of culture.  In this sense, while I’m not necessarily talking about beauty, per se, I am trying to get at what a community—perhaps a generation–sees as valuable.

Remember Motown?  Noted scholar and author Gerald Early points out that one of the reasons Motown was able to produce the music it did was because there was a highly trained pool of talent coming out of the music education programs in the Detroit public schools. 

Playing an instrument has ripple effects.  Once enough people learn to play instruments, then there will be performances.  Performances reinforce the accomplishment of learning for the musician.  Performances also acclimate an audience to going to a venue to see someone play an instrument.  So what we’ve lost is the tradition of performing on instruments and of going to see said performances.  Yes, going to a hip hop show is going to see a performance.  However, except in rare instances, watching someone spit rhymes over a boom bap, no matter how good their writing and locution, is qualitatively different than a performance where you see artists using musical instruments.  If the former is all you’ve been raised on, your expectation for the possibilities of a live performance—sound quality, as one example–are somewhat limited. 

A side query: Does rock activate a different part of the brain than hip hop?

Sandra St. Victor (Family Stand), originally uploaded by Aäron.

I’m not sure, but I think there’s some correlation to the powerful forces battering the black community in the late 70s/early 80s: music education programs were shut down; the black unemployment rate skyrocketed to nearly 22% (1983); the crack epidemic; gang violence and subsequent imprisonment of  a large percentage of black males.  Hip hop took off under those conditions of deprivation.  As such, it became inextricably linked with “black authenticity,” which is itself constructed around the working and lower class aesthetics and aspirations, as  scholars such as Maureen Mahon have noted.  For both mainstream and black audiences, here’s a frame that must be broken, a gap that must be crossed.

Don’t get me wrong: Hip hop is a great blueprint for how a community made something out of what was readily available.  But we have to begin to ask, “At what cost?”  The question is: How would hip hop have been different if we’d never lost those music programs in the 80s?  The words of poet Saul Williams are appropriate here:

The current standard is the equivalent /
of an adolescent restricted to the diet of an infant./
The rapidly changing body
would acquire dysfunctional and deformative
symptoms and could not properly mature /
on a diet of apple sauce and crushed pears
—from “Coded Language” on the album “Coded Language” by Krust (1999)

One of commercial hip hop’s great failings is its inability to help audiences—particularly black audiences–get to a place they didn’t even know they wanted to go.  I’m talking about other spiritual, emotional and, yes, intellectual possibilities beyond the material.  The key ingredient here is a developed imagination, one that comes from either broad, first-hand experience or a sense that there’s a bigger world out there beyond your block.  What about a sense of wonder or of magic?

The magic I mentioned when I talked about the Esthero show is one such example.  And, although I’ve never seen him perform (sadly, I must say!), I’ve heard that some of the best work by saxophonist Sonny Rollins has never been recorded.  Which means you had to be there.

The flattening of the world via technology may mean that this whole issue could be moot in years to come, but I doubt it.  My friend Bob just started teaching at a public high school here in our neighborhood.  He’s already had a discussion with his ninth graders who were chiding one of their classmates, a Dominican girl, for her use of proper English.  They said she was “trying to sound white”.  So, if attempts to speak the King’s English are still perceived as “acting white” in October of 2006, I know that we haven’t made much progress on getting black youth to understand that they not only have a right to rock, but to also play its instruments as their own. 

An ongoing discussion?  Absolutely.  Of course, framing the problem properly is the first step towards being able to ask the right questions and start the right conversation.


Posted by Rob Fields

  • Leon Wynter

    Another well produced, well thought through post. As one who has only discovered the joy of playing an instrument in middle age I’m deeply saddened by the realization that what I’ve found has been lost to an entire black generation. Making real music has been central to black identity, and critical to our contribution to America, since we were brought here. It adds a little more fuel to a small fire burning in my mind lately: after an almost 400 year run, black folks are making an exit from the center of the American cultural stage. The ‘big finish’ I tried to describe in “American Skin” may in fact have created the condition (or been created BY the conditions) that brings our curtain down, for good.
    When all our traditions and avatars of excellence–Jazz, baseball, Duke, prose like Baldwin’s, rock like Sly’s, saxophony like ‘Trane, great American songcraft like Audra McDonald–when all this and so much more are separated from black identity by a 10 foot brick wall, what will become of us? You and I will never forget all that it has meant to be black like Duke or Sly. But what will it mean when the black mainstream has never even known it? When white folks, who barely caught up with this truth, move on to whatever self-absorbed aestetic they think is next?
    God help us….

  • Interesting post…..
    The whole black people and rock music thing is interesting to me, mainly because I think that black people want to embrace rock music, but we feel like we must conform to cultural and societal expectations.
    Case in point. This past April we put on a black rock show in DC. I was in the “hood” in Philly telling some people about it the week before. Some of these dudes were the stereotypical “straight outta jail” black dudes from the movies. Once I said “black rock” they put their hip-hop away and busted out their Guns N Roses and Aerosmith mixtapes. Honestly, they almost seemed relieved that another they found another black dude who liked rock music.
    So yeah, I think that promoting black rock is a struggle because today’s generation hasn’t grown up with guitars in hand and the greater society and black people ourselves have told kids that rock music is “white people’s music” although black people created it.
    I never researched the music programs angle, but it makes a lot of sense.

  • Leon Wynter

    ….FURTHER TO MY EARLIER…literally at the end of the day…..
    Could it be that the embrace of black culture by the mainstream in this era is really a deathgrip? A lesson from jazz is telling.
    For 50 pre-civil rights movement years— from Armstrong to Ellington to Ella to Nat to Ray Charles (but not necessarily Miles’ of the world) — black artists and their black fans saw their musical excellence as an irresistable body of evidence proving our right to full social and legal equality. They were poster boys and girls during the ‘Movement’.
    But in the years since a measure of that equality has been unevenly distributed in African America, jazz has somehow lost its value as a token of our worthiness.
    Why? When the last social barriers to white identification with jazz dissapeared in the 1960’s, so did its power to represent us. Meanwhile, the people that didn’t get paid or affirmed after the civil rights triumph needed something else to unambiguously represent, affirm and eventually pay them. Something that could never become “white”, even as it was highly saleable TO whites. Something that would never be traded for social acceptance, inclusion or civil rights that had supposedly already been granted. Something exchanged for nothing but the Benjys.
    That something is rap/hip-hop, and as such is an entirely new dynamic in the history of the relationship between black folks and white America, through the medium of commercial pop culture.

  • You all have to forgive me. My analysis of a problem always has me going back to the beginning and moving forward, whereas most people start in the middle.
    The biggest problem, in my humble opinion, is, was, and has always been the segregated and racist ways that music is codified and marketed since the dawn of the modern recording industry. Since the days that Black music, irrespective of genre, was designated as “race music” (indeed, even Marian Anderson had been relegated to “race music” marketing, despite her performance of historic operas), marketers and media have slapped all sorts of names on it, relegated it to specific marketing strategies based on race and class and targeted audiences accordingly. Whether the music fit the profile of the terminology attached or if the audiences were more open minded than the business gave credit was immaterial. Capitalism always takes the path of least resistance and doesn’t worry about ethics, accuracy nor long term effects.
    Black American popular music, despite its central, intrinsic value and influence domestically and globally, has always, even to this day, been regarded as a secondary or bastard form compared to other genres, despite the fact that those genres either originated in Black culture or were radically re-imagined in Black culture. This is a profound truth that is either ignored, downplayed or undermined by the gatekeepers of popular American culture, because it would mean to some degree a forfeiture of European/Western cultural hegemony. Black music, despite whatever categories or names are slapped on it, has always been relegated to outsider (at best) or outlaw (at worst) status.
    This puts the industry in an odd paradox: how to make the money off the music without necessarily empowering the people who make it. The strategy historically has been to come up with a new name or niche to market a subgroup of the form to take advantage of the burgeoning audiences—usually ushered into the main by White representatives of the forms to enable broader audience penetration.
    For example, Broadway musicals incorporated jazz and blues components, enabling figures like Cole Porter and the Gershwins while assigning footnote status to giants W.C. Handy and King Oliver. This begot “swing,” (and a rear door, to a degree, for jazz and Blues to enter the marketplace), which empowered Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman (dubiously referred to as “The King of Jazz”), The Dorsey Brothers while relegating figures like Duke Ellington and Count Basie to the back seat. “Swing” and big bands begot bebop and “jump” blues (later renamed “rhythm and blues”). Rhythm and blues was reclassified as “rock ‘n roll,” as a means of a) allowing White audience to consume the product and b) allowing White artists to penetrate the marketplace, without the attendant baggage of the “rhythm and blues” designation. Rhythm and blues would later be spun off into “soul music,” R&B being Black artists with the most crossover “pop” potential (i.e., White folks will buy it), while “soul” had so-called “limited” appeal (i.e., only Black folks will buy it). From here can get into the evolution/de-evolution into “reggae,” “disco,” “hip-hop,” “house” and so forth, but the ethnic dynamism remains the constant.
    As to remedy, I certainly agree that there needs to be greater promotion of real musicians and players. I also believe that Black rock and Black rockers, being one of the last bastions of Black musicianship, can play a huge part in correcting audience disaffectedness towards Black musical evolution. I would only add that this needs to resonate through all the different genres of Black popular music, not just rock. Further, there needs to be education to underscore the cultural linkages of the sub-genuses, contrary to industry practice which is to play up separation. (In other words, people need to know that The Isley Brothers were one of the most influential rock and roll groups on the planet, not just a platform for the postmodern gangsta shenanigans of “Mr. Biggs.”) Finally, audiences Black and White need to be educated to the true evolution of American popular music and reindoctrinated so they understand that music loses no inherent value by virtue of the race of the performer. And the industry must be held accountable for its aiding and abetting of sophistry to the contrary.
    Darrell M. McNeill
    Director of Operations
    Black Rock Coalition

  • Darrell:
    Thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful response to this post.
    We can agree that both institutional and individual racism continues to exist and is a root cause of this situation that we’re discussing. However, while I assume that the racist can change, I don’t know if it’s worth my time to try to do so. Rather, I would rather spend time trying to connect meaningfully with the consumers we want as members of our audience. After all, at some point greed trumps all. If it can be shown that there’s a significant audience that is ready and waiting for black rock, then corporations will be all over it. Either that, or elevate it to the status of high culture, as Wynton has done with jazz.
    Beyond that, I’m interested in the issue of imagination and the spillover effect it has on other areas of a person’s life, how it can empower them towards new heights. And, as a practical issue of marketing, it’s incredibly difficult to market a product, service or idea to someone who is not ready to receive it. Yes, it can be done, but I think it’s time to stop focusing on “The Man” and really get to the core of what audience development for this music can mean, both for the consumers and for the black musicians of all genres who identify with black rock.

  • Stone, this is a great example!
    The core question here is: What is true freedom? It’s not the “Give us us free”, Amistad freedom. Rather, it’s ability to be whomever and whatever we want. The unrestrained ability to give ourselves permission to indulge our range of interests. But this path is, at the very least, a two-step process. First, you’ve got to be able to imagine it. Then you’ve got to have the courage to go after it. Unfortunately, the first stage can’t be bypassed.

  • Leon, let me know if I’m keeping up: Are you suggesting that hip hop is a cultural response to integration on the part of those who weren’t part of the talented tenth, those who would never be invited into corporate America and given closer proximity to the American Dream? I have to think about this. It’s an interesting way to look at it. They knew they weren’t going to be invited in, so they bumrushed the show, but without the moral and ethical vision of their jazz forebears.
    Hmmm. . .

  • To your post of 10/08, 00:53, Rob–
    Yes, you are step for step with me (not easy given the elliptical nature of the things I tend to dash off in this medium).
    There is an undeniable linkage between the early post civil rights environment (economic, social, pop cultural) and the moment of rap/hip hop’s birth in the early 80’s. Quite specifically, in the Bronx, where hip-hop was born and I grew up, a chasm began opening in the 1970’s within the black community. There are many valid ways to view the fault lines–age, native vs. immigrant, education, income–but the main thing to me was the attitude toward what the late sixties meant about where you were going in the late 70’s. Put simply, as the south bronx burned in despair, people like left for college, or for the suburbs, and took our rock and jazz collections, and our musical educations, with us.
    Even when we didn’t leave right away, the cleavage was very real. The critical mass of those left behind, many of them recent young Caribbean immigrants, were unburdened by the integrationist (with radical justice) visions of Sly Stone or Miles Davis. They had never heard Mingus’ “Freedom Suite” and they certainly weren’t in a postition to study it, as I did in college. The vices that we could afford (barely) in college and the burbs–sex, drugs, and yes, rock and roll– damn near decimated the people left behind. In that ecology the germ (not in a bad sense but just Darwinian) of hip-hop could flourish and quickly multiply WITHOUT COMPETITION from the cultural, musical and black-social values of rock (black or otherwise) and jazz. Hip-hop was fed by the raw material–burnt out neigborhoods, rising drug related violence, defunding of the Great Society and the remnants of late 60’s decadent culture (if it feels good, do it)– heaped around it. Yes, the decline of music education and the rise of certain electronic technologies were critical. But what was more important was the vacuum of competing value systems as integration of the black community also resulted in it’s disintegration during tranistional period–the late 70’s through the 80’s– in which hip-hop was born.

  • I don’t have much insight to offer to this post other then I recognized Vernon right away! I was a huge Living Colour fan in both HighSchool and college. One thing I loved about their music and concerts was how it brought people together from all different kinds of backgrounds, (yeah, especially in the mosh pit) 😉
    Rob, cool to know that you did PR for the BRC.

  • David,
    Thanks for stopping by. Thanks, too, for raising your hand as a Living Colour fan. This speaks to the larger issue: What was going on in the marketplace that basically kept Living Colour a novelty act? For now, one question for you: Did your being a “huge fan” of LC keep you open to other similar black bands?
    In terms of the first question, I’m assuming that–by dint of your creative leanings– you listened to a wide variety of music, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find that you were checking for bands from across the musical spectrum. I’d be interested to know—if you can remember—what other black rock bands you were listening to at the time. More importantly, how did you learn about them?

  • Then if some rich motherfucker,or mafia don’t want Rock artist or band to play the biggest Rock show in the city, who is to be blamed. ‘Cause in Europe, for example, most of people are already brain-washed by ‘system’ and don’t want to speak out. Is every Rock artist to turn to Jazz or Classical as a way to make aliving? Come on, those artists want to be modern people, not corrupted aristocracy.

  • BB

    Does anybody remember a black rock band in the mid-to-late 80’s that sang a song called something like “say that you love me,” “show me you love me,” I can’t remember exactly how the chorus went, but it had a really cool chord change and I have been looking for the band name for years. It was a hit on MTV for a while around the same time Living Colour was hitting it big. Thanks and Peace!

  • p.ghee

    The following excerpt is from my Spiritual Mentor R.Kovar in his appraisal of my often ill-fated and oft ignored attempts to wake up American, in particularly the African-American community on our descent in barbarity and social collapse. (See attachments). I found what he said to be prophetic on the same scale as what I write to be ominous. Which would you rather have? The choice is yours depending on the action, if any, which you decide to, take.
    Phillip G.
    The world has been in a slow descent since the sixties but now it is at break-neck speed.
    America is in free fall! And few seem to know it.
    The world as a whole – America, Europe, Japan, China Russia and the Middle East have fallen into the gravitational vibrations of demonic energy. This came about thru drugs, abortion (murder as a solution and suicide bombers), crime, greed, satanic worship, a media obsessed with murder and a total disrespect for our reproductive system. We are now a rectal and anal world. And the stench of our loss of virtues and respect for Self is overwhelming! A demonic vibration now encircles the planet and the whole world is in free fall. This is why confusion has increased on all levels. Seen in this light, it is only natural that black, smart or illiterate rappers would succumb to the filth of negative vibes all around them. If intelligent white, black, brown and yellow souls are trapped in mental confusion, then what is left for the poverty-ridden minorities of our society? If they can make some money as Satan’s buddies, then why not? After all, Greed is our daily sacrifice on our Aztec altar…and the killing and blood that accompanies it is par for the course. Pyramid schemes. It is sad that black people have bought the white man’s demonic sickness, it is tremendously sad that they do not have the common sense to understand the white man’s need for corporate greed. Do you think that the white man and some of his black lackeys do not know that they have turned the mouths of rappers into Satan’s blow horns? Of course they do, but they comfort themselves by saying that they are giving the people what they want, and they are probably right because the nation is lost – the people have fallen into a rectal pit of demonic energy. So once again that trite statement is ominously true – money is indeed the root of all evil. We are no longer living in harmony with God’s Laws of Physics. It takes an electron (male) and a proton (female) to make an atom. What happens when you mate 2 electrons? There is no light! And most people and politicians support this cerebral darkness. So, as I said, America is in free fall! There is no stopping it until it implodes.
    In Joy
    Brother Kovar
    Brother Kovar can be reached at RudolfMukunda@
    The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings, GALADRIEL’s opening monologue
    I amar prestar aen
    (The world is changed).
    Han mathon ne nen
    (I feel it in the water)
    Han mathon ne chae
    (I feel it in the Earth.)
    A han noston ned gwilith
    (I smell it in the air.)
    Much that once was is lost. For none now live who remember it.
    Blood stained twenties
    I got crack. I got smack. I gotta pocket full of twenties.
    I got dis corner and, my boyz, they got my back.
    So let’s be realistic, don’t need me no mystic.
    Got my glock for ballistics.
    Don’t plan on becoming nobody’s statistic.
    So don’t try to stop it. Yo! My pockets phat and,
    your 9 to 5 can’t top it. Don’t need a bible either
    cause a stack of twenties, my profit.
    Excuse me. Yo! yo, wait a minute Cuz Don’t come up in here with your store.
    You play your side of town, for real, cause dis here corner’s spoken for.
    What’s you looking at; Maybe you crusin for a beat down, or you think you’re bad e-nuff to score?
    Oh! now you gonna play me like you’re so fine.
    Gonna pimp walk right up to me and then flash me your nine.
    cap cap cap
    Oh! baby boy you’re quick, you done really gone and hit it
    Caught me three times, your bullets went straight and, bit it.
    Can’t stand now, going down, damn there goes my reputation, I didn’t even get off a round.
    pop pop pop
    What an awful sound then a loud ’ thud’ as my head hits the ground.
    I feel the hot blood flow from my gut and down into my pockets;
    messing up my stack of twenties. Please won’t somebody stop it.
    I see blue lights flashing and in the distance I hear an ambulance howl.
    Now my twenties are really getting messed, I can’t even hold my bowels.
    Now here comes this cop. He takes my glock. Ask es me to snitch.
    Yeah! I know who done it but, that’s my bizness, bitch
    Yours is to make sure I get these twenties back on me.
    Once they stitch me up and release me from Emergency.
    In my right pocket, I knows I got damn near four hundred
    And in my left…my left,…damn! my stomach
    Can’t think right now, head’s getting lite and I thinks I gonna vomit.
    Please Lord help me, I can change, get a job, I’m not that lazy.
    And please Lord tell me, why is everything starting to get so hazy?
    Can’t this ambulance move any faster, Jesus! I don’t want to be pushing up daisies.
    Things are darker now, I can only hear voices.
    while all about me, a lot of busyness, I start to think about my losses.
    Hell! I was supposed to have cleared six hundred tonight.
    So’s I could get right with all my sources.
    What you say, hang some blood, whose blood is that, I don’t want no HIV.
    I thought they only needed to take out the bullets, give me prescription, like they do on TV.
    Damn! I m not really sure if all these doctors are really wid it.
    EVERYTHING seems to be fading away. I’m getting cold, colder.
    I think I getting ready, getting ready, getting ready to quit it.
    And quit he did, so continues the toll. Another deceased young black male. Paid in Full, all his Thug and Dope life fees.
    Nothing on his person but, 8 bags of smack, 5 rocks and a stack of blood stained twenties.
    His End.
    Phillip Ghee 8/19/07
    About This Poem
    I like to think of this poem as an anti-rap, trying, with a single effort, to reverse the damage that decades of negative urban programming in gangster rap and gangsta culture has reaped. It sounds ambition but, I think it can be done, good far outweighs evil even if it just The Power of One.
    The poem was inspired by the articles on Ms. Millie Brown and Doctor Edward Cornwell III, both of Johns Hopkins Hospital. Day in and Day out, they witness firsthand and attend to the care and witness the demise of scores of young black men, caught up in (the mostly drug traffic induced) epidemic of gun and knife violence sweeping the city. The (genocidal) Toll 223 murders in Baltimore in the period of time from January 1st, 2007 to September 17th, 2007. The overwhelming numbers of victims and perpetrators have been black young men.
    See: articles below
    For individuals who may have come across a hard-copy of this article and wish it sent to you via e-mail, write to
    For out of state recipients (their press and media) whose cities suffer from the same fate as Baltimore’s; please you are more than welcome to amend this article with your statistics and add a presentation on your hero’s speaking out. However as a courtesy to the originator of the article, I am requesting that you maintain the stats on Baltimore and possibly update it to reflect the toll of the day. This can be done by either writing to me, via e-mail or by an Internet search for:
    By Anna Ditkoff at At Baltimore CityPaper
    I prefer this listing because it also gives a brief synopsis of the crime along with a tally of murder for the week and the comprehensive toll to date.
    Caution: The poem belongs to me and you have my permission and encouragement to reprint it, obeying the aforementioned guidelines but you may have to contact the various news sources to reprint the two accompanying articles.
    Contact Information —
    Contact Information. 2 Hamill Road Suite 200 Baltimore, Maryland 21210 … The Baltimore Sun Company 501 N. Calvert Street P.0. Box 1377 …,0,2796354.htmlstory – 44k –
    Contact Information:: Baltimore Times: 2513 N. Charles Street: Baltimore, MD 21218: Phone: 410-366-3900: Fax: 410-243-1627: Website: www. … – 13k – Cached – Similar pages
    To the National recipients and the national press and media, you have the resources, access and the talent, I charge you with being ambitious and gathering a toll from all areas to be included with this poem .
    I think the circumstances surrounding the current murder epidemic are no different in Baltimore than any other urban city. As we move out West and in the Southern Atlantic Cities, many more Hispanics youth may also be caught up in the toll but, it’s the same thing. We have to realize that our survival is contingent on theirs. We are all interconnected no matter how removed we think ourselves to be from the situation. Acknowledge your connection.
    Phillip Ghee 8/22/07
    She fights bloodshed one T-shirt at a time
    Operating room worker Millie Brown holds up the T-shirts she is selling to raise awareness of the young victims of violence in the city. She’s printing them at her own expense.
    There were no relatives in the hospital when the young man died, so Millie Brown and her co-workers in the operating room reached for a wallet in his pants to find some identification. The
    pants were wet, and so were the wallet and the thick stack of cash inside – blood money from the streets of Baltimore.
    Another young, African-American male lay on an operating table at Johns Hopkins Hospital, dead from five, maybe six bullets to the upper body. Many young men come, bleeding or unconscious, by ambulance to one of the greatest hospitals in the world, direct from the streets of East Baltimore – sometimes from only a few blocks away, where the paramedics and homicide detectives find them.
    Doctors and nurses try to save them. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they fail.
    Millie Brown works as an operating room associate in cardiac surgery. She gets a page to the trauma room when she’s needed there. It’s her job to move patients to and from the OR – and sometimes to the hospital morgue. She’s there when the bodies are cleaned and tagged and bagged. She’s there when the next of kin arrive.
    But that one night, no kin could be found, and Millie remembered the stack of $20 bills in the young victim’s wallet, soaked through with blood.
    “It must have been this thick,” she said, referring to the cash-stuffed wallet and holding her thumb and index finger nearly 4 inches apart.
    I had to stop and think about that for a minute – blood-soaked cash, the death of young men, our frustrating city – and in the next breath, I heard Millie Brown say, “It’s all so senseless.”
    Friday afternoon, before Millie started her 2-to-11 shift in the Blalock Building, we sat and talked about all this – and speculated about that shooting victim having so much cash on him – because the killing of young men in Baltimore has moved her to launch a one-woman campaign to stop the violence.
    Seen too much already, she says.
    Hopkins has given her great opportunities to advance her career – to move in time from food services to environmental services and into the OR, where she has observed amazing efforts to save lives after high-caliber efforts to end them.
    She’s not a surgeon, not a nurse. But she wants to do something.
    That’s why she’s selling a T-shirt that her teenage son designed. It says: “Save Our Children, Stop The Killing.” She has them printed with her own money and some that she’s raised. She sells them for $15 and wants to donate the proceeds to an effort to pull at-risk boys back from the brink.
    She hasn’t quite figured that part out yet. She’s just getting started.
    “I want to see this T-shirt in neighborhoods everywhere,” Millie Brown says with the passion of a woman who has just discovered true purpose. “I want to see people wearing them as they walk down the streets.”
    Millie, who is divorced, lives in Dundalk with her son, William, 15. Her heart aches for the other women who come to the OR to view the bodies of their teenage boys, victims of gang battles and street beefs, of guns and of knives, of the whole insane culture of macho violence that keeps one part of Baltimore bleeding and dying as the other one thrives and grows.
    Millie Brown knows five women whose sons have been shot, one of whom is still clinging to life at the University of Maryland Medical Center across town. Two women she knows, who work in
    Hopkins housekeeping, have lost children to violence.
    Of course, we’ve seen stop-the-killing efforts before. Been there, got the T-shirt.
    But this one comes from a woman who has the twin perspective of mother and health care worker. Millie Brown is right there, at the hospital on the hill, in the middle of the night, under the surgical lights, when young men come in off the street, wounded and gasping for breath. She’s been there when they died and when their mothers arrived to embrace the still-warm bodies. She’s hugged the moms as they wept.
    “Talking about all this, seeing it on the news, in the newspaper, that’s one thing,” Millie says. “But when you stand right there and you see it, and you actually touch it or have to move a body from one room to the morgue … when you have to take a mom to see her baby who’s been shot with a gun or stabbed with a knife, and he’s gone … when you see a grieving mother crying for her child … then I want to do something about that.
    “I really want to try and make a difference,” Millie says. “My goal is to save one mom from coming in here and seeing her son dead from a gunshot.”
    So she’s selling the T-shirts. She wants to get the mothers of victims involved in the effort to stop the killing; she’d like to produce a video of their stories or get them to speak to young men about making better choices in life.
    She said it was OK to publish her number in the newspaper today (410-961-1003) in case anyone else in Baltimore wants to join her in saving the boys and saving the city.
    Baltimore TimesL NEWS
    Dr. Cornwell heals gun shot wounds and guns down bad images
    by Ken Morgan
    Baltimore Times
    Originally posted 8/13/2007
    Dr. Edward E. Cornwell III serves as associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He holds the position as chief of the Adult Trauma Center at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. These are lofty titles with prestige and income to go with them. Yet, he is an angry black man. In the ER, he sees so many young black men coming through. He says, “Some we can save others come dead on arrival. For every 12 gunshot wounds, one is dead on arrival. Ten gunshots are to the head or to the chest or both.”
    Cornwell has lots of experience with gunshot wounds. He cites where he has worked in trauma centers over the last 19 years. “I have been at Howard University Hospital, Los Angeles and now Baltimore.”
    “Our culture glamorizes violence. Music videos depict violence as being cool and hip. Kids look at these images and want to copy what they see,” says Cromwell.
    The trauma surgeon recalls his invitation to record producers in New York to talk about violence on the CDs. He considered it an insult to be shown films that the record moguls showed him.
    “The garbage that I saw was phenomenal. 50 cent is more creditable than Ja Rule because he has been shot nine times,” Cornwell rails. He talks about the 17 record executives that included one black and one Asian. “They said to me, this is what the market wants. I said to them the market wanted cigarettes,” drawing a parallel with the adverse affects of both,” from his way of thinking.
    The veteran surgeon first started a youth impact program in L.A. “We would bring our graphic trauma slides to first time offenders not yet perpetrators but going in the wrong direction,” he says.
    Starting with this same thesis in 2004, Dr. Cornwell was a primary member of Johns Hopkins researchers who followed 97 boys and girls ages 7 to 17. These youths took part in activities at two Police Athletic League centers. The Research team conducted an initial survey to assess youths’ “attitudes towards interpersonal conflict and their likelihood to act violently.” They then showed youth graphic photos of gun shot wounded patients being treated.
    These photos were contrasted against rap glamorizing violent rap photos from videos. The follow-up survey captured a significant lessening in the same young people’s quantified beliefs that supported violent behavior. The study suggested that these youth would be less inclined to choose violence to resolve conflicts.
    Dr. Cornwell played a prominent role two years ago in giving home-town boy makes good, NBA star Carmelo Anthony a platform to recant his don’t snitch message. The project, Cornwell’s “Hype v. Reality”, was the then Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s stop the violence initiative. Anthony held a press conference on a vacant field near his old homestead in the shadows of Johns Hopkins Hospital where he set the record straight. Cornwell was there to give his message.
    The dynamic surgeon continues to hammer home that exposing at-risk youth, especially between the ages of 10 and 14 to the realities of being shot, to real photos and videos of gunshot victims can alter these youth’s beliefs and hopefully behavior.
    Looking at the larger picture, the passionate doctor reveals how he thinks glamorizing shooting can be staunched. Cornwell alluded to the strategy of the late Cong. Adam Clayton Powell who called for everyone to boycott businesses that discriminated against blacks. He says, “It’s a financial answer. It is economic. When Imus was emboldened by the same garbage to talk about bitches and “ho’s” it took him eight days to get fired. It wasn’t until his sponsors pulled out.”
    “My goal is to drum up the debate,” says the surgeon who throws down the gauntlet to record producers and artists who glamorize shootings.
    The Hopkins surgeon feels today’s context for this issue involves what still is segregated society, where white supremacy still exits, where blacks think other blacks are inferior , where Uncle Toms still sell black folk out and where absentee fathers come into play. He even raises the issue of a genocidal society. You also get the feeling that politicians who just talk rhetoric are not among his favorite people. His advise to politicians to help deal with the image and culture issue is, “I would say to a politician pick the three most egregious and shine the light on these producers.”
    In passionate tones, Cornwell says, “We have allowed a culture to be defined by those who don’t have the right.” His finger points to record producers who glamorize the violence and make a killing in more ways than one. You get the feeling that he also does not think too kindly of some of the artists. “The answer is to shine the spotlight on them,” he says. He insists that we need a culture change.
    Often thought of as a role model himself, one of the good doctor’s role models includes Sue Tibbels who is executive director of the New Song Learning Center and co-founder of New Song Urban Ministries located in Sandtown-Winchester. When asked why she thinks Cornwell feels that way about her she says, “He deals with hope, death and despair. He sees me being on the positive end, preventing children ending up in the emergency room.” Cornwell sits on the board of the New Song Learning Center.
    Other heroes for Cornwell are “the kids who are beating the odds and those young people who persist in school despite being ridiculed because of it.”He thinks that peak efforts to help change this negative culture should peak between the ages of 10 and 14. He thinks that there has to be a movement of like- minded people to deal with culture change.
    The enterprising doctor has created a nonprofit organization to create a public service announcement highlighting the “Hype v. Reality” video that shows Cornwell in action, and a critically wounded young black bedridden man telling some youngsters that the gang life filled with shootings is no life to lead. Anyone who deals with at-risk youth needs to obtain it.
    Whether you agree or not with Dr. Cornwell’s philosophy and ideas, you have to love and respect his passion connected to his action.

  • Phillip Ghee

    Maybe the rest of the world should boycott American Music until we deliver a better product
    I would hope, that in the months to come, when the seemingly endless bounty of self congratulatory music and entertainment award shows are unfurled before the American public, that special tribute be paid to the memory and the legacy of Lucky Dube. The first of the pageantry of awards shows , The American Music Awards, has passed by and there was not (at least not televised) any special honorarium presented on his behalf. I guess this should come as no surprise given what must have been the flash in the pan news coverage of his tragic death in the American press and media. I myself must have been blinking an eye when it was covered because it was not until weeks later, while reading an article in a free monthly newspaper that caters to the African community living here in America, that I discovered the report. Granted, Mr. Dube was more of an international star than an American icon and his style of music, reggae, is not filling the coffers at TicketMasters yet for his contributions to the music world and his musical messages to be ignored or simple forgotten would be a shame and just another indicator of just how virulent, vain and petty focused the music industry here in America has become.
    The very fact that many of you reading this probably have never even heard of a Luck Dube is but a manifestation of how the main stream, music industry, particularly in the past few decades, have all but promoted music designed to narrow your focus to a limited arena of performers. Sadly, most of these featured performers don’t have much to say or sing about and, an alarming amount of showcased performers present and glorify the type of messages and culture that by and large, fuels the climate and thug culture that whisked away Mr. Dube’s life.
    African Reggae Star Lucky Dube Killed in Attempted Car-Jacking
    By Scott Bobb
    19 October 2007
    Bobb report (mp3) – Download 488k
    Listen to Bobb report (mp3)
    South African Reggae star Lucky Dube has been killed in an apparent car-jacking attempt. The 43-year-old musician was shot Thursday night in a suburb south of Johannesburg. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our bureau there.
    Lucky Dube
    South African police say the renowned Reggae musician was shot by three gunmen as he dropped off his son in the Rosettenville suburb of Johannesburg.
    Police spokesperson Lorraine Van Emmerick told national radio that Lucky Dube’s daughter also witnessed the shooting.
    “He was hijacked. He was able to flee from the scene,” said Van Emmerick. “His children were out of the vehicle at the time Mr. Dube was shot. He was declared dead at the scene by the paramedics.”
    Lucky Dube achieved world fame through music with a social message such as this 2003 song about the ravages of AIDS, called “Number in the Book.”
    He received some 20 awards during his 25-year career and was the first South African musician to be signed by the Motown recording label in the United States.
    Born in 1964 to an impoverished family in northeastern Mpumalanga Province, Lucky Dube released his first album at the age of 18 years. He began his career performing the urbanized Zulu music called Mbaqanga. But he also recorded albums in Afrikaans, the language of the white minority.
    Dube made his mark on the international scene with Reggae music and became one of the best-known African vocalists of the genre.
    His first Reggae album, Rastas Never Die, was banned by the apartheid government in the mid-1980s.
    The spokesman for Dube’s Gallo music label, Arnold Mabunda says Dube was one of the country’s most successful musicians.
    “He was one of the biggest contributors in the South African music industry. Yeah. And now we are saddened,” said Mabunda.
    South Africa has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with nearly 20,000 homicides last year.
    Although Mr.Dube life was taken on streets of Johannesburg, South Africa, make no doubt about it, the gang and thug culture that we produce here in the good old USA and export to the rest of world in the guise of entertainment,
    is ripe, sweet and tasty to the eye, in the ghetto in Soweto, the shanty towns in Rio or on the sewage strewn streets of Belize. Did we really need to throw our tainted combustible trash on their already smoldering heaps?
    Since we have exported a culture of self loathing, hate and thuggery to the world under the guise of music, maybe it’s time for the pendulum swing, perhaps we should have come to our senses and can now import a culture of love, respect and togetherness through struggle. See you at the next Award Show.
    Should you wish to send a message of condolence to Lucky’s family, please email: or fax on +27 (0) 11 340 9471
    For more information on Lucky see:
    War and Crime Lyrics
    Artist(Band):Lucky Dube
    Every where in the world
    People are fighting for freedom
    Nobody knows what is right
    Nobody knows what is wrong
    The black man say it’ s the white man
    The white man say it’ s the black man
    Indians say it’ s the coloureds
    Coloureds say it’ s everyone
    Your mother didn’ t tell you the truth
    Cause my father didn’ t tell me the truth
    Nobody knows what is wrong
    And what is right
    How long is this gonna last
    Cause we’ ve come so far so fast
    When it started, you and I were not there so
    Why don’ t we
    Bury down apartheid
    Fight down war and crime
    Racial discrimination
    Tribal discrimination
    You and I were not there when it started
    We don’ t know where it’ s coming from
    And where it’ s going
    So why don’ t we
    I’ m not saying this
    Because I’ m a coward
    But I’ m thinking of the lives
    That we lose everytime we fight
    Killing innocent people
    Women and children yeah
    Who doesn’ t know about the government
    Who doesn’ t know about the wars going on
    Your mother didn’ t tell you the truth
    Cause my father did not tell me the truth
    Black man say it’ s the white man
    White man say it’ s the black man
    Indians say it’ s the coloureds
    Coloureds say it’ s everyone
    When it started we were not there
    We know where we come from
    But we don’ t know where we’ re going
    So why don’ t we
    Bury down apartheid
    Fight down war and crime
    Racial discrimination
    Tribal discrimination