All the hoopla surrounding Beyoncé’s “Formation” is a missed opportunity to look, listen and learn.
Same goes for hip-hop, both its signature rap music and its culture.
PowerUp North Carolina doesn’t want to miss a beat – or the message – as it sets about its grassroots work to boost the state’s economy, create a healthier environment and inspire a more inclusive democracy.
After all, each of us is a maestro. Our life is our orchestra; the music our expression of message and meaning.
This month, PowerUp hosted its first Community Cypher, an open-mic platform for poets, singers, rappers and spoken-word artists at the Tarboro Road Community Center in Raleigh. The idea was to give artists an opportunity to share their thoughts on environmental and social injustices.
Cyphers historically feature a group of artists standing in a semi-circle sharing their creativity and message. It’s derived from “cipher,” meaning code.
“People needed that outlet to come out and express themselves,” said Fiaunna Shivers, a PowerUp field organizer who spread the message about the cypher through social media and word of mouth. “Too often, it all falls on deaf ears. To be in a place where people are listening and hearing what you’re saying is a relief. You exhale.”
PowerUp is the people-centered project of the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, a nonprofit environmental organization. Last year, the group conducted a research project to determine whether community members in Southeast Raleigh had access to these basic needs: housing, transportation, jobs, food, mental and physical health care, clean water and energy.
Of the participants, 44 percent said they needed access to jobs, said Erika Moss, another PowerUp field organizer.
The nonprofit will host “Stories from the Frontline” at the Top Greene Community Center on March 24 as part of its partnership-building in the College Park community. Residents are invited to express their thoughts and feelings about what’s happening around them, from development to gentrification.
“We’re trying to get some voices heard,” Moss said, adding PowerUp’s campaign goal is to draft a community agreement to simultaneously address community needs and climate issues.
The Community Cypher featured host and moderator Sean Ingram, an author, educator, motivational speaker and spoken-word artist who recently opened the Sean Ingram Academy, a learning center on Capital Boulevard.
“This was a great platform because a lot of people feel like they don’t have a voice, and if that stage is their opportunity to have a voice, I applaud that,” said Ingram, 39. “Always, if you have an opportunity to stand before a mass of people, then express it from a positive manner with a message of awareness.”
That’s the essence of hip-hop before it was curtailed by mis-education via by media and politics, Ingram said.
“We need to take it back to the essence of hip-hop with like voices and like minds bringing awareness in and out of the community, saying, ‘I have a voice,’ and tell them our history.”
About a dozen artists took the mic during the cypher, using their creativity to address issues of freedom, or lack thereof; homelessness and oppression; purpose; spirituality; and resisting temptations in favor of achieving goals.
“They know what they need,” Moss said. “They just want a seat at the table.
“We all want a seat at the table and we all want to be included in the changes that are taking place within our respective communities.”
Garner High School senior Cushan Jones took the mic, solo and with his uncle.
“The cypher was good for people to come through and express themselves with no backlash from anyone,” said Jones, 18. “A cypher is the kind of thing that could actually empower some organizations, and it could help with a lot of communications problems.
“Everyone can benefit from knowing what other people around them are thinking and feeling and dreaming.”
If you go
PowerUp North Carolina will host “Stories from the Frontline” from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 24, at the John P. “Top” Greene Community Center, 401 Martin Luther King Blvd., Raleigh. Residents can weigh in on issues such as new development and gentrification.