Lehigh professors Kashi Johnson and Monica R. Miller have co-curated the HiiiPOWEREd Cypher, a hip hop-based, multi-day “arts and humanities experience” that is being hosted and funded by the Africana Studies Public Humanities Initiatives Program Endowment Fund and the Africana Studies Public Humanities Visiting Fellows Endowment. It will run from April 12-21.
This inaugural Expo marks the 10-year anniversary of the iconic hip hop-inspired “Act Like You Know,” a credit-bearing theatre course created by Johnson at Lehigh that showcases dance, rap and spoken word.
“We are incredibly thrilled for this upcoming opportunity to celebrate 10 years of hip hop at Lehigh University by bringing together highly sought after artists, educators, scholars, students, the surrounding community, public partners, through a wide-range of public humanities, public-facing, and arts-based Hip Hop cyphers,” said Miller, who also serves as the director of Lehigh’s Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, and is the principal investigator for the Africana Studies NEH Challenge Grant.
“For the past 45 years, hip hop culture has embodied, remained committed to, and fundamentally held together by core principles that represent collaborative diversity, a continual refinement of acuity and skill, the production of creativity and innovation, a keen sense of reflexivity, the creation of multimodal forms of cultivated knowledge productions, public-facing opportunities, the making of new business paradigms, transnational markets, groundbreaking entrepreneurial opportunities procured by—and providing possibility to—marginalized demographics often underrepresented in, and overlooked by dominant institutions in America.
“In many ways, the now-global reality and culture of hip hop has already embedded within its cartographical architecture, much—if not more—of what institutions of higher education so earnestly strive to cultivate and promote at the core of their mission and strategic visions in an increasingly diverse world,” she added.
The Expo HiiiPOWEREd Cypher event Miller and Johnson organized will be a collection of 17 public discussions and lectures, a live graffiti mural installation, an interactive DJ workshop, student and public networking opportunities, cross-university engagement opportunities, visiting scholars and artists in-residence, and community-based events, artist-in-residence discussions and participative activities and presentations.
The HiiiPOWERED Expo will be held at various locations on campus, including the “Act Like You Know”: 10 Year Anniversary Show, which runs from April 13-21, in the Diamond Theatre of the Zoellner Arts Center. There will also be community performances. Hip Hop educator, artist, and social entrepreneur Gabriel "Asheru" Benn will offer a free lecture at the Allentown Art Museum on April 19 as part of Allentown’s Third Thursday celebration, and scholar and Hhip Hhop performance artist Dr. A.D. Carson will join with Rebel Diaz and Basement Poetry on April 20 at ArtsQuest at SteelStacks. That performance is part of the cultural programming event of the upcoming conference, Our (Digital) Humanity: Storytelling, Media Organizing, and Social Justice, hosted by the Mellon Digital Humanities Initiative (MDHI). Carson’s upcoming residency at Lehigh is a joint collaboration between Africana Studies NEH and MDHI.
The nine-day expo is grounded in the five foundational elements of hip hop for the 21st century, organizers say. Johnson explains that hip hop was built on the elements of MCing, DJing, Breakdancing, graffiti and knowledge.
“It was created,” she said, “by frustrated young people who felt disenfranchised by the system, excluded from mainstream culture, and desperate to express themselves. So, they used what they had available to them. They spray-painted the walls, danced on street corners, hooked-up to lamp-posts to power their sound systems and they transformed words into a new language of rhythm and rhyme. In other words, they took what already existed and turned it into something new, exciting and different.”
Although knowledge of hip hop’s foundational elements may not be widespread, Johnson said that its significance can’t be overlooked. “The HiiiPowerEd Expo will use these elements to engage the community and connect people across a wide range of disciplines and experiences,” she added.
In addition to Carson, assistant professor of hip hop and the global South, McIntire Department of Music at the University of Virginia, the Scholars-in-Residence over the course of the expo will include:
The live and interactive graffiti installation by mural and graffiti artist Max Meano will take place from noon to 6 p.m. Monday, April 16, by the flagpole in front of the University Center (rain location will be the Zoellner Arts Center). The discussion of Hip-Hop Theatre: Dramatizing Mental Health through Beats, Rhymes, & Dance will be held at 4:10 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, in Roemmele Global Commons in Williams Hall. The panel discussion will be led by Miller and will feature Sharrell Luckett, assistant professor of theatre and performance at Muhlenberg College and Jonathan Lassiter, assistant professor of psychology at Muhlenberg.
With the exception of the seven “Act Like You Know” performances in Zoellner, all of the expo’s events will be free and open to the public. Professor Johnson will host a post-performance “talk back” following the evening performance of “Act Like You Know” on Thursday, April 19.
Lehigh’s Africana Studies program was established more than 20 years ago, under the direction of William Scott, professor emeritus of history, who died in 2017 at the age of 77. Scott was the author of a widely respected anthology on African-American history in the United States and an expert in the area of Ethiopian symbolism in U.S. black thought.
The Africana Studies program opened a new chapter in 2011 when it became one of the university’s first interdisciplinary academic clusters, which brought together scholars and faculty in English, history, religion studies, theater, journalism, and art, architecture, and design. This investment in faculty yielded rapid growth for the Africana Studies program, which today draws hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students to the classroom, and thousands of students to programs, from across the university.
In December 2015, Lehigh’s Africana Studies program was awarded a prestigious $500,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency that funds high-quality research, education and public programs at colleges and universities, museums and other institutions across the United States. The three-to-one matching grant will require Lehigh to raise $1.5 million over the next five years and will culminate in a $2,000,000 endowment for Africana Studies.
The program has built a well-established reputation for offering powerful and socially relevant public programming that actively recruited community partners, including local high schools and churches.
For more information on the expo, please go to http://hiiipower.cas2.lehigh.edu/