MIXTAPES TO MYSPACE—From left: Panelists Davey D, Jasiri X, Kimberly Ellis, Rev. Lennox Yearwood and Paradise Grey.

At Netroots Nation 2009, Pittsburgh’s Black community activists and others from across the country gathered to discuss the Internet progressive movement as it relates to the African-American community. Paramount among their concerns was the lack of a Black presence at the convention and whether the Internet was an effective method of reaching the Black community.


“When you’re talking about organizing communities and you look at a sample of the Hip-Hop Caucus, out of almost 700,000 people, 71 percent under the age of 40, most of them in urban communities, and 500,000 of them are not on Facebook, that means 500,000 people, you’re not reaching in progressive politics,” said Rev. Lennox Yearwood.

Netroots Nation, which came to Pittsburgh Aug. 13-16, is a gathering of progressive activists who spread their messages primarily through blogging. Blogging is a form of commentary delivered through websites such as Twitter, Blogspot, Myspace, and Facebook.

During the session “From Mixtapes to Myspace” on Aug. 14, panelists Paradise Grey, Jasiri X and Kimberly Ellis, Ph.D., also known as Dr. Goddess, represented Pittsburgh. The other panelists were Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president of the Hip-Hop Caucus and hip-hop journalist Davey D.

Panelists in this session and participants in the African-American Caucus later in the day struggled with how to reach African-Americans who are not plugged in to the online culture of social networking and blogging.

“You won’t reach them in regards to poverty; you won’t reach them in regards to health care,” Rev. Yearwood said. “So these are the kinds of things, when we come to this kind of conference, if we’re really trying to alleviate the concerns of poverty and education and healthcare, you have to figure out new ways to reach them.”

Jasiri X, who has an active presence in the African-American community working to curb urban violence through the organization OneHood, said it is important to be active in the online community as well as in the streets.

“I use YouTube, and Myspace and a lot of the hip-hop blogs to create these news stories that I was rapping about so I began to develop a following on the Web, but there’s another part where I’m working on the ground in Pittsburgh, Pa.,” Jasiri X said.

In order to reach those African-Americans who use the Internet solely for entertainment purposes, hip-hop artists use Mixtapes to push progressive messages. This is done by incorporating popular music from well-known artists with tracks with political and social messages.

“If they have access to a computer, they might be checking the e-mail or seeing who’s the hottest rapper, but they’re not really engaged in that community Netroots Nation represents,” Jasiri X said. “So I think as hip-hop artists and the hip-hop community we represent the opportunity to actually create a bridge between this technology and to reaching young people here on the ground who are often times the face of these issues.”

Throughout the two sessions, participants debated whether or not African-Americans have a strong presence in the online progressive movement. While many said the low number of Black attendance at the convention was proof that Blacks are not as active online, others said the showing was not representative of the online African-American blogging community.

“At the convention, we’re actually at a low water mark. Last year we had the highest percentage of minorities that we’ve ever had based on hard work and outreach,” said Netroots Nation board member Cheryl Contee. “Part of that is the African-American community here in Pittsburgh is severely economically disadvantaged. Had I understood that better, I would have insisted on greater outreach to that community.”

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