Two Life-Changing Lectures, 24 Hours
This past week I had the pleasure of attending not one, but two special events that I know have forever altered my perspective.
The first was expected and anticipated. The latter was ambiguous at first, and then turned out to be a lovely surprise.
Two completely different lectures, two radically different presenters, all within the span of 24 hours.
My mind is still reeling a few days later.
The first was a lecture given by none other than Jane Goodall, one of my childhood heroes. I road-tripped it up to Central Michigan University on Wednesday night with a few close friends and a car full of snacks, practically shaking from excitement. I was confident that whatever Jane chose to speak about, it would be absolutely wonderful. I could hardly wait for the lecture to begin.
I can honestly say that I have never encountered a person who truly epitomized beauty, both inside and out, until I saw Dr. Goodall walk on that stage.
As her lilting British accent entranced the audience with stories of her childhood and her worldly travels, I was truly amazed with what she had done with her life and how far she had managed to come.
She was born into a family of little means, but her mother never let her give up on her dream of working with animals. Goodall waitressed tables for a few years instead of attending college, saving up until she had enough money for a one-way ticket to Africa.
After spending months on the continent doing research with chimpanzees, she returned to England to obtain her doctorate. Not her bachelor’s, or her master’s – her doctorate, based solely on the observations she had made while studying chimps on a reservation. This, to me, is incredible. It proves that loving what one does allows one to make anything possible.
Throughout her hour speech, Goodall continually dropped little tidbits of advice that were simple, but great in their simplicity. She began by telling the audience that every day, you have the chance to make a difference in the world, and you decide what kind of impact you are going to make. She also strongly recommended not to live one’s life for money, and to really consider the effects of every act we commit on this Earth.
Goodall spends 300 days out of the year traveling the world delivering these types of messages to the global population. She is one of those people who you look at, and just know that you will NEVER get on their level. But you’re strangely okay with that.
And although the people working the event shuffled through the line for autographs faster than fast-food restaurant employees during the lunch rush, I still had a chance to make eye contact with Jane Goodall, and even to shake her hand. What an honor that was, I cannot convey. It is overwhelming enough to come face to face with someone you avidly read about and admired as a child. It is quite another thing to meet a person who has affected millions of lives and has dedicated her own life to making a better world for prosperity’s sake. I am still pinching myself, to be quite honest.
The second lecture was really a hip-hop symposium at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor Detroit Center, which I attended for one of my classes. Unlike Dr. Goodall’s presentation, I went in having no idea what to expect.
Walking in with my classmates and discovering fruit plates, chicken wings, and white chocolate macadamia nut cookies the size of my head was an excellent indicator for how the rest of the afternoon was going to proceed.
The title of the symposium was “And the Legacy Continues,” focusing on the history of hip-hop and its role in Detroit. The event began with an introduction by Steve Furay of Common Breath Media, a local company which supports and assists Detroit musicians.
Following Furay was Khalid El-Hakim, creator and curator of The Black History 101 Mobile Museum. While obtaining his undergraduate degree, El-Hakim was inspired by a sociology professor to use artifacts as a way to teach and understand history. Attendees to the Detroit Center on Woodward could browse a collection of LPs, news magazines, and other hip-hop artifacts before the panel began that included everything from a Notorious B.I.G. action figure (what I would do for one of those…) to hand-written lyrics by Proof.
El-Hakim began his portion of the panel by holding up a children’s book called (to my huge disbelief) “Ten Little Ni****s,” with an accompanying illustration on the cover. He explained that this is the type of book kids were reading a little over half a century ago. While I am thankful that such blatant acts of racism are not as easily found today, I completely agree with El-Hakim that these artifacts should be preserved so that we are reminded not only of what we have done, but of how far we have come.
The biggest part of the symposium was led by Detroit hip-hop group 5ELA, currently made up of Thyme, Mudd, and DJ Sicari. They led what was basically an informal panel, discussing everything from the origins of hip-hop to Detroit’s role in hip-hop culture. 5ELA gets their name from the 5 elements of hip-hop: DJing, MCing, Graffiti Art, B-Boying, and (most importantly) Knowledge. They have been around for years; Thyme and Mudd have been friends since they were 5 years old, growing up in the same neighborhood as Marshall “Eminem” Mathers and DeShaun “Proof” Holton. Mudd was even with Proof when he was shot and killed back in 2006.
Like Goodall, the group made a lot of insightful comments that really changed the way I now think about music and the city of Detroit in general. They talked about how it took years and years for corporate America to learn how to bottle up and sell hip-hop to a mass market. Then again, as DJ Sicari said, “You don’t hear about anyone listening to Chingy anymore.” The true hip-hop artists, who used music as a way to express their frustrations about their communities being devastated, have lasted. “Don’t push me because I’m close to the edge / I am trying not to lose my head” is so much more layered, more powerful than “Rack City bitch, Rack Rack City bitch.”
One of my favorite comments of the whole afternoon also came from DJ Sicari. While discussing modern, corporate hip-hop, Sicari referenced a song I am sure many UM-Dearborn students are familiar with: “I GOTTA WHOLE LOTTA MONEY!” said Sicari. “Yeah, so what? What are you going to do to better your community?”
As far as Detroit itself is concerned, all five panel members believe that the city is a think tank, containing the best and the brightest in the country. “It’s like we are sleeping on ourselves,” said Thyme. What he meant is that there is so much talent and so many resources in the Detroit metropolitan area, and so many people are the best in their fields, that we often stumble over ourselves when it comes down to being productive. But if we go anywhere else in the country, we outshine everyone else, and everyone tries to copy what we do.
And he’s right. He is absolutely right.
I left the Detroit Center with the natural high I get from interacting with genuine, caring, and inspirational individuals, and with a new hope for Detroit. Just as I left Mount Pleasant the night before with a new hope for the world around us, and for our generation’s impact on the earth.
I would definitely recommend to anyone to YouTube both 5ELA and Jane Goodall. Listen to the former’s raps and the latter’s appeals to global conservationists. They are real, and they are spoken from the heart. These people have touched my life, and I am certain…or at least I hope…that they will touch yours.