Written By: Jodie E. Saueraker
There are many people I respect in the Philadelphia music scene and one that stands out is Sonya McDuffie. She recently reached out to That Mag about covering a fundraising event she was hosting for Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. As a magazine, we try remain neutral in terms of politics. Therefore, this article is in no way intended to be politically focused. but more of a way to showcase the power of music and how it can affect change.
I hadn’t met Councilman Johnson prior to this event but his name was very familiar to me. He seemed to meticulously root himself within the hip hop community of Philadelphia. Growing up in South Philly, it was a logical choice. Hip hop is hard to escape in that area, thankfully. As I walked up to Voltage in the pouring rain, I entered to a pretty full house of familiar faces. I first approached Mont Brown, a member of Astronauts Really Fly, and someone I have known for years. Side note, if you haven’t seen Astronauts Really Fly perform live, you should, it’s a unique experience.
I spoke with Mont Brown for a bit about why he was there to support Councilman Johnson. They are from the same neighborhood. From turkey drives to coat drives, Mont supports how the Councilman is trying to improve upon the area. Next I ran into South Philly legend, Kre Forch. This is another South Philly emcee who I have admired for a long time. He makes you think with his writing and commands respect from everyone around him. The entire time I was thinking to myself, Hip Hop and Politics, is that a successful match?
The Councilman and I then walked outside to talk a bit more. Admittedly I told him the conversation would be lite. I wanted to hear about his musical tastes. However, in lieu of the situation in Ferguson, MO, it was appropriate to talk about his Peace Not Guns initiative. Peace Not Guns was started after the councilman’s cousin was killed in the late nineties. The mission is simple. Teach kids more about conflict resolution and less about retaliation. The program however is not without scrutiny. A quick Google search shows the organization has been under attack for mishandling funds. Although I have learned that no good deed goes unpunished so it is not surprising that folks will try to seek out the negative. Councilman Johnson seems passionate about making neighborhoods better and will rally on to bring his message to the masses. Now more than ever, we as a city need to hear this message.
See for yourself on August 29th for the annual memorial basketball game at Chew Playground in Point Breeze. Residents of Point Breeze will take to the court against the Philadelphia Police department for an afternoon of community building and awareness.
The Councilman’s background is impressive. A graduate of Mansfield University and the University of Pennsylvania, he started in political career by organizing events in his community. Leaders and neighbors in his area reminded him that he could always do better and encouraged him to stay on the right path. He believes it “takes a village” and knew that change was going to start with him. “It’s not my seat, it’s the people,” he explained.
He was first elected in 2009 in the House of Representatives and then assumed office in City Council in 2012. Unexpectedly my first question was not about politics or education. I wanted to know what Philly artists impacted him growing up. His answer was all I had hoped- Schoolly-D, DST, DJ Miz, Malika Luv, Will Smith, Beanie Siegel and more. He was even hip to the new generation of Hip Hop artists such as Mont Brown, South Philly Sheed, Brotherly Love, Goldie, Lee Mazin and Asia Sparks.
I wasn’t able to catch many of the performances that night, but I did get to see Charlie Mack’s new artists, Brotherly Love, performed to a dreamy eyed crowd. Okay, I was the one who was a bit dreamy eyed, but they performed a version of New Edition’s “Candy Girl” that brought me right back to gummy bracelets and acid washed jeans. I love a good harmony.
So how can music and politics work together? One easy solution is simply by voting. “It’s very important for [the Hip Hop community] to participate in the political process by voting. If they do not vote, they do not have any voice. If they do not vote, their issues will not be heard.” He continued by saying that major media conglomerates use their voting power because they understand what it can do. “It’s important that our young people participate in the political process to at least manage their own industry.”