Tag Archives: self-empowerment

Meeting Me: Moving Past What You Do To See Who You Are

A couple weeks ago I traveled to Atlantic City to see an old friend, Tracey, perform in one of those celebrity impersonation concerts. I arrived late (fashionably, of course) to the performance venue, and received my ticket. As I entered into the auditorium packed with people, I was surrounded by the booming voice of my friend. Tracey was sitting at the piano, her fingers prancing and pouncing along the keys as she filled our ears with a beautiful rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi.” She held the audience’s undivided attention. She was confident, sassy, and seemingly larger than life as people usually are when they exist within their passions. I swelled with pride as she finished her number and said, “Thank you! Don’t ever stop reaching for your dreams, I love you!” before strutting off the stage. It was dope to see hundreds of people introduced to the same shining spirit that has captivated me for years. My fascination with Tracey went beyond her talent though. Sure, I traveled to Atlantic City to support her in what she does, but I more-so traveled there to better understand who she is.

After the show Tracey and I had dinner. We talked for a while, but most of the conversation consisted of what we’re doing, the things we’re accomplishing, etc. It was cool conversation, but one of the first things most people ask when you first meet them is, “what is it that you do?” And there I was, after a decade long friendship, having a drawn out conversation regarding that same question. It made me wonder, why are so many conversations like this? Why do we talk about what we do as though that is what defines us?

My guess would be that we don’t want to talk about what defines us. Talking about that would mean foregrounding the fluctuating thoughts that bombard us every day— and who has time to hear about that? I think we reject being real with ourselves, about what defines us, because what defines us consistently changes every day. We’re up, then we’re down; we go to sleep one way, wake up another; we look at ourselves in the mirror, and notice there’s a grey hair that we swore was not there yesterday. It’s too much energy to keep up with! So, we make it easier on ourselves and stick to what we already know and understand…our jobs, our hobbies, and our 10-year relationships where we enjoy different versions of the same conversation.

The reason I love dance is because it gives me the chance to consistently meet me, and all the changes that come with that. One day my right hip is crazy tight. Then the next, ouch, the bottom of my spine really hurts. And the next, yo…I’m feeling pretty freakin’ good! No matter where I’m at, dancing forces me to be aware of myself in that moment. It encourages a kinesthetic curiosity within me. I ask myself how I’m doing: what can I do today, what can’t I do, and how am I negotiating the two so that I can be better than I was yesterday? When I take that time to meet myself, I find that I’m better able to meet and connect with others as well. As Gabë and I mentioned in our previous posts, I think that’s ultimately what it’s all about.

So I encourage you, as tiring as it might be, to use your resources to check in with who you are every day. There will be aspects about yourself that disappoint you, but with that comes the characteristics that get you excited and joyful. Yes, events will happen that get you down— be down. Sit in it. Come to terms with it, and understand who you are within that moment. Then, find it in yourself to get out of it. Just do it. You’ll find you’re greater than your situation. When you’re not, trust in others to help you push through. Talk to them. Be vulnerable. They say it takes a community to raise a child. Well, we don’t stop needing help to grow as we age into adulthood. Embrace community, depend on others to make you strong, and move on.

Hiphop Lesson #1: Empower Yourself while Encouraging Your Community

Ain’t a way around it no more, I am the greatest
A lotta niggas sat on the throne, I am the latest
I am the bravest, go toe to toe with the giants

I ain’t afraid of you niggas, I’ll end up fading you niggas

We all kings
Kings of ourselves first and foremost
While the people debate who’s the king of this rap game
Here comes lil’ ol’ Jermaine
With every ounce of strength in his veins
To snatch the crown from whoever y’all think has it
But rather than place it on his head as soon as he grabs it
Poof, boom, paow, it’s like magic
With a flash and a BANG the crown disintegrates
And falls to the Earth from which it came
It’s done

Ain’t gonna be no more kings” J. Cole Fire Squad, Forest Hills Drive

Maaaaan, I’m fascinated by Hiphop! Over this past week I shared a lecture from Youtube by KRS-One called “40 Years of Hiphop” with my dance classes at The Ohio State University (Buckeyes National Champs say what!?) in order to get them exploring the question of “What is Hiphop?”

In pondering the question myself, I have gained insight to a powerful characteristic of the culture. Hiphop culture contains a paradox that emphasizes self-empowerment and peer-encouragement simultaneously through the form of art and competition. In other words, Hiphop allows the opportunity for an individual to be confident enough to claim that they are the best while also being selfless enough to claim that their peers are the best as well.

This brings up the question of, what is it to be the best? I would say that to be THE best means to be YOUR best. Hiphop culture in the form of bboying, emceeing, djayin, and graffiti writing offers an artistic format in which individuals are encouraged to show their best selves. Speaking from personal experience, whenever I am dancing within a battle, I am going out with the mindset that I am the best dancer out there! Nobody can touch me- I am better than you, you, you, and you! Before you claim me as being pretentious, let me remind you that I desire for my competition to show me their dance with the same mentality!

Why you may ask? Because ultimately, I am Hiphop, and Hiphop is me. But Hiphop is not just me, it is also anyone else who claims that they’re Hiphop. So, therefore, by both of us expressing our best selves through dance, Hiphop is at its best. If both my competition and I consider each other as whack, we ultimately devalue ourselves, and therefore, Hiphop. However, if both my competition and I find empowerment in being our best self, while encouraging the other to be their best self, we both leave as individuals with more value than when we came into the space.

When you look at the quote above, you see this same paradox in the rap element. J. Cole released his album a few months ago and with that release, claims that he is the greatest emcee alive! If you’re agreeing or disagreeing with that statement, you’re missing the point. Now I have to admit, I cannot claim that J. Cole is doing anything more than simply laying out some hot, yet narcissistic lyrics; however, for the sake of this post, lets say he is being intentional. Now J. Cole, being Hiphop and having a Hiphop mindset, is the greatest because he said so! As a fellow Hiphop artist, I say that he is right. Not necessarily because I believe J. Cole’s talent beats all others, but because I believe he, through his album, is contributing his best self to the Hiphop collective.

Hiphop is not the only culture that shares this mindset. As a Christian, I know that Christianity also contributes to this idea of being your best while encouraging others’ to be theirs in order to fulfill the body of Christ. The thing that fascinates me about this concept in regards to Hiphop is people’s perception of the culture. I am generalizing when I say this, but I do not believe many people think that Hiphop culture touches upon anything deeper than money, women, materialistic pleasures, drugs, guns, and partying (Thanks mainstream media!!!). Yet, Hiphop’s foundation also lies in the concept of power to the individual and responsibility to one’s community, amongst many other things. So what is Hiphop? Hopefully, you’ve gathered that it is deeper and more complex than you ever imagined!