Where Hope Meets Hip-Hop

Bomani Armah, with microphone, and Chris Bacon, with guitar, are among the hip-hop artists who will perform at Washington National Cathedral today in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration of nonviolence.
Bomani Armah, with microphone, and Chris Bacon, with guitar, are among the hip-hop artists who will perform at Washington National Cathedral today in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration of nonviolence. "Chris is the future," Armah said. "He's a very talented dude." (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Darragh Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 15, 2007

Chris Bacon is at a table in one of the few sit-down restaurants east of the Anacostia River, the Chesapeake Bagel Bakery, where he once worked and where every payday he would buy a bean pie.

He is telling a story about something that happened a few weeks back to a middle-school student in Southeast Washington.

The boy had been held up at gunpoint for the Christmas money his uncle had given him. The robber wore a mask, and as he took off, he spit on the boy. The kid spit back.

The kid spit back, Bacon repeats, a fact that seems only fair until Bacon points out: The robber wore a mask. The robber knows exactly who this kid is. The kid has no idea who the gunman is. The kid can't watch his back.

"He just," Bacon continues, turning his right hand into a gun, "could just get killed."

Those kids, Bacon says, his Afro erupting from his black visor, "they are dealing with some grown issues."

There are lots of grown issues where Bacon comes from.

He has turned many into hip-hop lyrics, and this afternoon he brings his music to Washington National Cathedral in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration of youth nonviolence.

It is a show of hip-hop as "a tool for positive change," a message that squares neatly with King's teachings of fighting for good with uplift and peace.

Bacon, 20, grew up in a violent neighborhood in Southeast. His family was evicted and spent time in shelters. But his mom got him a computer at a thrift shop and paid him $5 for every A he earned in school -- and when he graduated from D.C.'s Duke Ellington School of the Arts in 2005, he made the honor roll and, his mom says proudly, got $30. Today the hip-hop artist writes lyrics taking on Section 8 low-income housing and people trudging "to North Capitol Street for their food stamp claim."

He will share the cathedral stage today with his mentor, fellow District artist Bomani Armah, and the Urban Nation H.I.P.-H.O.P. Choir.

The choir was created by Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila Johnson "to counterbalance what we were doing with the TV station," which became known for featuring sex and gang activity. Johnson, who no longer owns the station, says the music is "not positive" and "just not healthy."


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