Navani Knows the Ferguson Decision: Where is Hip Hop?

The Grand Jury decision was made Monday night not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed teen Michael Brown and I like most of America – at least my America, am heart-broken. Not surprised really, but still heart-broken. Amidst the anger and frustration I am also confused. As I watch people take the streets to protest I can’t help but wonder, where is Hip Hop in all this?

I fell in love with Hip Hop over 20 years ago for it’s rebellious nature. I loved that it talked about things that were considered taboo and went against the grain. It was brave, honest and fearless. It was a movement created and made up of people that represented me – the economically challenged, invisible person of color. For the first time people were talking about the things that went on in our communities, sharing our personal struggles and putting it out to the mainstream. It was as if we actually mattered.

Artists like Public Enemy, KRS-One, NWA and later on Nas gave a glimpse into what daily life was like for the underprivileged and underserved. The communities that are so easy to ignore. It gave a voice to those without one. It felt empowering. That’s what started my love affair with Hip Hop and that’s what I miss about it today.

20 years later and Hip Hop has grown into a huge, international, powerful cash cow yet the communities that birthed it still suffer needlessly. So many people feed off of Hip Hop culture yet no one is protecting the people it represents. It baffles me that nothing has changed. The same issues of police brutality and injustice KRS-One spoke about in “Sound of Da Police” are still happening.

These are not new issues for anyone looking in from the outside. This has been going on my entire life. If you listen to “Fight the Power” you will see that. If you watch “Do the Right Thing” and “Boyz n the Hood” you will see that. If you ever pick up a book written by a person of color you will see that. The same reoccurring themes continue to show up. It’s so easy for those that are not personally affected by it to be completely oblivious and turn a blind eye.

No matter what your thoughts of Michael Brown are – whether you classify him as a “thug” (which I have seen a lot of in my Facebook feed) or not, deserving or not – I just want to remind people that this is bigger than one case, one cop, one non-indictment. I grew up with a huge mistrust of the establishment and law enforcement as it was ingrained in our culture. We were told rules to abide by like if you ever get pulled over make sure you keep your hands up where they can see, don’t reach for the glove compartment. But now keeping your hands in the air doesn’t even work. I constantly feared and still do, for any of my male relatives or friends to ever interact with the police. If you didn’t grow up feeling like that consider yourself lucky, it’s a privilege that most people I know do not have.

I recently went to see a Keith Haring exhibit called “The Political Line.” It showed how he addressed many social and political issues like racism, gay rights, media and consumerism in his work. He used his art to make a statement and take a stand. In the gallery write up it said Keith Haring “saw the role of an artist as that of an antagonist, with a responsibility to speak out against inequity and injustice.” I agree with that statement. I have always considered true emcees to be artists.

So, now I am wondering when Hip Hop will go back to its roots and use the power of their million-dollar corporate sponsorships, the 360 deals and the millions of followers on social media to speak out against injustice? That’s the Hip Hop I know and miss.  And we need it more than ever now.

Navani Knows Hip-Hop Charity: Serious as Cancer


Legendary Rock Steady Crew Deejay, DJ JS-1, is proving that Hip-Hop has a heart and can use its powers for good with his upcoming benefit event “Serious as Cancer.” The benefit – inspired by JS’ own experience with family members who struggled with the disease – will donate 100% of the funds to aid children’s Cancer research. Named for the infamous Rakim lyric, the event boasts of performances by Masta Ace, O.C., Sadat X, Rahzel and many more special guests to be announced as the date draws near. Serious as Cancer goes down August 27th at Highline Ballroom. Get your tix here.

Navani Knows Earth Day: Change Your Diet, Change the World

(Earth Day is actually April 22nd, but I’m a member of an amazing group called Latina Fashion, Lifestyle and Beauty Bloggers and we have decided to collectively make today about Earth Day in some way, shape or form as a group as an effort to help draw attention to our first tweet chat scheduled for Wednesday April 20th 7:00 p.m. EST. Here we will celebrate the group launch and focus on “Earth Day,” with hash-tag #LLBlog. Tune in for more tips!)

Happy Earth Day! Coincidentally, it is also my three year anniversary of giving up meat. At the time, I gave it up as a challenge –  a dare if you will. I was looking to make a serious sacrifice for Lent and a co-worker said soda was too easy. Instead he suggested, “why don’t you give up meat?” Wanting to see how disciplined I could be, I took him up on the challenge. What I didn’t know was that this decision affected way more than just my own diet.

During Lent I ingested tons of pro-veggie reading material to keep me focused on my path, including the ever-so-popular book Skinny Bitch. I thought this was going to be a “cute” book about dieting. Instead, what I found was all the scary, hidden details of our food industry. It made a case for being vegan by highlighting how the FDA really allows chemicals in our food that they know can harm us and how gruesome and unhygenic the factory farming process is. I was mortified and I swore off meat for good after Lent was long over.

 My choice, which was initially a totally selfish one, (I wanted to see how long I could do it and feel less guilty about what/who I digested) turned out to be a rather green one too. There’s plenty of scientific evidence to support the healthfulness of a diet made up mostly of plant foods.  Studies show that vegetarians live 3.6 years longer and, on average, weigh 15% less than non-vegetarians. It also reduces your carbon footprint by easing the strain on our Earth’s limited resources, protecting the planet from pollution, preventing global warming, and save countless species from extinction. Phew!

According to Dr. David Brubaker, PhD, at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future, “The way that we breed animals for food is a threat to the planet. It pollutes our environment while consuming huge amounts of water, grain, petroleum, pesticides and drugs. The results are disastrous.”

I’ll admit, it has not been an easy transition and it is not one I am going to preach to everyone. I’m definately not the ultra snide, judgmental veg-head that won’t be in the same room as someone eating meat. Instead, I live on the very laxed side of things. So laxed, I sometimes eat chicken (sorry! my aunt scared me with her stories of a man almost dying because he wasn’t getting enough vitamin B-12.).  Plus, I can’t say no to hot wings at Superbowl anymore. I just can’t. SIGH

 It’s not an easy lifestyle. So, if you want to make a change and reap all the wonderful benefits but like me, can’t always live up to the rigidness of the diet, what do you do? Don’t fret! You can still make a difference just by lessening the amount of meat you eat. Enter, the Flexitarian diet. In The Flexitarian Diet, author Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, says being a “flexitarian” gives you the benefits of a vegetarian diet without having to forgo meat entirely.The Flexitarian Diet aims to make it easier for people to transition to eating less meat.  The diet promotes fresh, natural, and seasonal foods but also includes staple items from the pantry and freezer. I think this is the place I am in now.

Stats say 10 people could be fed with the grain used to feed 1 cow and for every pound of beef you do not eat, you save 2,500-5,000 gallons of water. Therefore, even if you give up meat just one day a week it would help make a change. Why not make that day today?

Image via Google

Navani Knows Waiting for “Superman”

 

No, I don’t mean waiting for my personal superman, as in “knight in shining armor” although that would be highly welcomed too. In my title I am referring to the new documentary released by Paramount Pictures entitled Waiting for “Superman.” The movie documents the deeply personal journey of five children across the country entering lotteries for the chance to win spots at various charter schools — in the hopes of a chance at the American dream.

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim reminds us that education “statistics” have names: Anthony, Francisco, Bianca, Daisy, and Emily, whose stories make up the engrossing foundation of the documentary. As he follows a handful of promising kids through the system, we find out  the road to an elite education in this country is sadly, paved with major obstacles.

Last night Obama welcomed the five students featured in the film to the White House for a visit where he commended them on their efforts and reminded them they are the future of this country. He then asked for their autographs and snapped pictures together.

In the cut was my former colleague and dear friend, Ray Casas (he gets to do all the cool stuff, shucks!). As part of the Viacom Public Affairs team he had this to say about the event:

Viacom is very thrilled and honored to have had the children of “Waiting for Superman” meet the President of the United States. We know that education is of key importance to this administration and we know he will do everything in his power to make sure not only these children but childen all over the country receive an excellent education so they may become productive citizens in this great nation of ours….

 Waiting for “Superman” is showing now in select theaters. For each ticket purchased you get a $15 voucher code to donate to a school of your choice via www.donorschoose.com. I urge everyone to check it out and spread the word. You have the power to be a hero in the fight for our youth’s education.

Photos via AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Navani Knows the Puerto Rican Democracy Act

The debate over the status of Puerto Rico has been going on for the last  112 years to no avail. The latetest attempt at reconciling the political status of the island came in the form of a bill passed by the house on April 29th called the  Puerto Rico Democracy Act.

The Act, AKA “HR 2499” in short states the following:

HR 2499, as approved by the House, stipulates that Puerto Ricans will hold a plebiscite in for voters to choose whether to: a) “…continue to have its present form of political status” (in relation to the U.S.) or b) “…have a different political status.”  If voters choose the second option, a second plebiscite is required to choose among four status choices: 1) Independence; 2) Sovereignty in Association with the United States; 3) Statehood or 4) Commonwealth, or status quo.

The National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights (NCPRR), the largest Puerto Rican civil and human rights organization in the United States has found some issues with the bill.  They claim:

 The bill is contradictory, since Puerto Ricans voting to change their status in the first stage, will still have to revisit the status quo option in a second vote, which completely undermines the purpose of the first stage vote. 

They also complain that “ballots for the plebiscite will only be in English, despite constituting a potential a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which protects language minorities such as Puerto Ricans to receive ballots in their own language. ”

I have to say I kind of agree with NCPRR about their concerns with this. It sounds like poli-tricks. Just another stalling of an issue that needs a resolution. What’s also is confusing is the timing of this bill. The day after the bill was passed in the House of Representatives, nearly every media outlet dubbed it the “Statehood Bill.”  Conservative commentators have spoken of the “impending” statehood of Puerto Rico, stirring anti-Hispanic rhetoric amidst the current immigration debates, and causing fear that the US will add two Puerto Rican senators and six members of the House through this legislation.

I agree that the senate should not vote this into law and instead find a better resolution of the status of Puerto Rico which would allow for the unification of the eight million Puerto Ricans who dividedly inhabit the United States. In doing this,  they should propose legislation respecting the critical civil and human rights objectives at issue. Not just find another way to keep confusing the issue or stalling.  All it does is keep us as a people divided on it, which seems to be their overarching goal. I don’t know about you but I’d like a new issue to fight over as a Puerto Rican in the United States.

Navani Knows: Calle 13 Speaks Out Against U.S.

If you know me, you know I can’t go too long without making mention of something Calle 13 related. Partly, because I secretly want to bear Rene Perez’s children. But mostly, because of his outspoken political views. I respect a man that can be both poetic and political in his music.

Political he was last week at a show in Havana, Cuba. When the opportunity came to perform in Cuba, of course the group took it, no matter what political undertones may have be associated with it.  Tuesday, March 23, 2010. Calle 13 brought its reggeton and hip hop to fans from an open-air, concrete stage dubbed “Anti-imperialist Plaza” and built in the shadow of the U.S. diplomatic mission to Cuba. During the concert Calle 13 expressed their dislike of the US policies. Early on, lead singer Rene Perez screamed a string of profanity at the “building behind us,” and kept up the verbal assault on the Interests Section as the evening wore on.

It’s no surprise that Rene still holds a grudge against the US for the “alleged” murder of Filiberto Ojeda Rios. They made it known by performing  “Querido FBI,” or “Dear FBI,” a song dedicated to Filiberto Ojeda Rios, alleged leader of a militant Puerto Rican nationalist group accused of using stolen millions to finance bombings and attacks. Ojeda Rios died in a 2005 shootout with the FBI at a remote farmhouse in Puerto Rico.

Rene remarked:

He was a good boricua, and they killed him!

Ouch. The group is preparing for a follow up concert in Miami and is bracing for some backlash from those who see the visit to Cuba as support for the country’s communist government. Perez said Monday the band is influenced by politics in most things it does, and is aware it’s making a statement with the Havana show.

Check out the pics after the jump…

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Navani Knows Afro-Latinos

The question of my identity has been the focus of most of my writing for pretty much most of my adult life. Just when I thought the subject could be put on the backburner, this lil old thing called Census 2010 came along. Once again, I was asked to sum up the totality of my existence in one little box. Which to me is totally ridiculous. There is no easy way to pick one box when as Latinos we are made up of more than one group of people. If I were to be totally honest I think I would check off Black AND Puerto Rican.

Yes, that’s right, Black. As much as our culture doesn’t like to acknowledge it Latinos are Black too. Our African heritage plays a huge role in our culture as a people. That’s why I was elated to hear about the upcoming TV documentary called Afro-Latinos: The Untold Story.  Created and Produced by award-winning television producer Renzo Devia and co-produced by celebrated journalist Alicia Anabel Santos. This seven part series is expected to leave viewers with a new perspective on the heritage of Latinos worldwide, in addition to a better understanding of the modern day adversities still facing Afro-Latinos today.

In conjuction with the TV documentary, a website has just been released as a resource and community for Afro-Latinos all over the world @ http://afrolatinos.tv/. I am super excited about this website/project for a few reasons. One: fellow journalist Alicia Santos is working on it. I have the pleasure of knowing Alicia from the NY Latinas Writing group which she started here in the city. She has always been such an inspiring person to me so I am so excited to see one of her many dreams come to fruition. She has always been an advocate of the Afro-Latino movement and I am glad it is getting some much deserved attnetion. And secondly, I am hoping this will create awareness and a long overdue dialogue within both the Latino community and African-American community and work towards uniting the two.

Afro-Latinos: The Untold Story will be out 2011. Check out the trailer below: