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Black Man's Think Tank explores art as vehicle of social change

Tuesday, April 7, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — About 30 people gathered Monday to discuss former slave and poet Phyllis Wheatley, hip-hop artist Africa Bambaataa and several others who have contributed to black art as a vehicle of change.

Hosted by MU’s Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the Black Man's Think Tank discussion took a captive audience on a journey through the origins of black art to the Black Arts Movement of the mid-1900s and later to the age of hip-hop.

“It (the Black Arts Movement) was a period of social creation,” said Jarrad Henderson, discussion moderator and fraternity member.

Echoing this sentiment, audience member and MU sophomore Constance Stanley added, “the Black Arts Movement was our way of creating a black identity.”

Henderson stressed the influences of society on art by highlighting prominent figures, such as writer and activist Amiri Baraka, and eras such as the Black Power Movement of the 1960s.

Citing the 1955 murder of Emmett Till as an example, Henderson relayed the anger of the times, which was reflected in some of the period’s more radical art. Some audience members alleged that this quality of art kept it from mainstream acceptance.

That lack of acceptance provided a segue into a discussion of the age of hip-hop and how it all began.

“Hip-hop comes out of a need for young black and Latino youth to get out of the streets and stop gang-banging,” Henderson said.

Although most participants seemed to agree on how hip-hop came into existence , the state of the hip-hop culture created a large point of contention.

“People don’t go into hip-hop to make music,” MU graduate Nnaemeka Anyanwu said. “They want to make music to get rich. … It’s another way of the mainstream choking the production of fine art.”

Challenging the validity of the art label, Nathan Stephens, director of MU’s Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, said, “hip-hop ceased to be an art when it deviated from its original purpose and became a commercialized industry.”

MU sophomore Shanté Fenique King said that hip-hop is like fashion. "You’ve got your classics, your fads, your trends — but you always go back to the classics,” she said.


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