President and Co-Chairman of Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis may be old school, but he’s hardly out of touch. Beginning as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s statewide youth coordinator in North Carolina, Dr. Chavis’s career has always focused on the youth. Recently, he kicked off the 3rd Annual Get Your Money Right Tour in Houston, Texas. With the aid of prominent Hip-Hop artists, the HSAN is helping to promote financial literacy within the hip-hop community. Taking a break from touring for an exclusive interview with KING-MAG.com, Dr. Ben speaks on everything from accounts to accountability. – Interview by Mike Brown
KING-MAG.com: Unlike last year, there aren’t any northern stops on the tour. What’s up with that?
Dr. Ben Chavis: The markets were chosen as emerging hubs in hip-hop: Houston, Atlanta, Detroit, D.C., and Baltimore. We ended the tour in Toronto last year. We are getting calls from all over the world like Africa, Germany, France, Brazil, the Middle East – and that’s good because hip-hop is global. The Hip Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN) has become the world’s largest coalition of hip-hop artists and recording industry executives. We utilize the culture of hip-hop to improve the quality of life of young people all over the world. Our tour is about dropping jewels of financial literacy. Our national study found that a lot of young people in our community ruin their credit before they’re 21. We want to show them how to build credit and create wealth. No one else is going to pull us out of poverty; we need to pull ourselves out.
Ok. Now, I got my mind on my money. What are those first steps in building wealth?
If you can’t attend the tour, I would suggest downloading the Get Your Money Right booklet – it’s free. Getting the right information is the first step, whether you get it from us or somewhere else. The second step is to employ that information. One of the things we do with HSAN is take a complicated subject and break it down into our Hip-Hop language.
Over the years, HSAN registered over 2 million voters. With all the excitement surrounding the 2008 Presidential race, will HSAN break down the candidates into hip-hop language?
Absolutely! I’m announcing this to KING Magazine first: We are having a national televised hip-hop candidate forum between now and 2008. The question is what are the issues that impact the Hip-Hop generation? We want all of the candidates to address these issues. We have hip-hop heads in elected office and hip-hop heads trying to get elected. We got a hip-hop governor in Massachusetts, a hip-hop mayor in Detroit, and a hip-hop mayor trying to be president.
And the “blackness” of that hip-hop senator was attacked by a rival senator. What’s your take on that?
I would caution all political candidates not to engage in political assassination of others in the race. Particularly from a hip-hop perspective, people want to know where candidates stand on the issues. If you attack the character of another candidate, you will lose respect among hip-hoppers. In other words, political candidates should not front. They got to be real. In being real, say who you are leave the other man or woman alone. Let’s us find out who you are and what you have to offer. These smear campaign tactics are going to be counter productive.
You are one of the few from the “old school” to really embrace hip-hop. How do we bridge the communication gap between the Civil Rights and Hip-Hop generations?
[Laughs] Again, I’m making another announcement here to KING Magazine: I’m writing a book on that subject. I came up in the Civil Rights movement and as a 59 year old hip-hop head, I know both sides of this equation. And, it is an equation because both sides are equal. Keep in mind hip-hop is a cultural phenomenon – it’s not about age, it’s about consciousness. We all want to improve the quality of life in this life. Instead of saying “we shall overcome,” Hip-Hop is saying “I am overcoming”. There is too much player hating on hip-hop from people who don’t even understand what we’re against.
But that sounds more like player-hating from the government…
To be very honest – I’m going to be controversial, but I got to speak on it – I think the city council of New York made a mistake. We don’t need to be banning the n-word, we need to be banning poverty. We need to be banning police brutality. We need to be banning the things that impair the quality of life. HSAN is for freedom of speech and artistic expression. How do we get riled up by a word but not riled up when someone gets shot at 51 times? People want hip-hoppers to use Sunday school language, but we don’t live in a Sunday school situation.