Markia Johnson, 12, is familiar with crime in her neighborhood east of the Anacostia River. A sixth-grader at Kelly Miller Middle School in Northeast Washington, Markia may have been too young to grasp every nuance of Ward 7's first Hip Hop Summit, but she understood the basics of yesterday's conference: finding ways to keep kids out of trouble.
"If they're here, they won't be smoking like the boys around my grandmother's house," Markia said. "They steal cars, then they get chased by police. They get out of jail and do the same thing again."
The day-long conference, sponsored by an umbrella group of community leaders and held at Kelly Miller, featured workshops on the culture of hip-hop and whether the music sparks youth violence. Radio personalities, filmmakers and community leaders turned out to use hip-hop to teach young residents of Ward 7 to respect women, stay in school and keep off the streets. The event ended with a talent show.
The speakers addressed a community where almost 60 percent of children grow up without a father, where more than 40 percent of residents are functionally illiterate and where half the students who start 10th grade never graduate.
They debated the influence of hip-hop and encouraged students to consider careers in music, so long as they were realistic.
"The music industry will drain you, will use you, will kill you," said Rita Jackson, founder and executive director of the Northeast Performing Arts Group and the Northeast Outreach Youth Center. "You must be prepared for this field. Make sure you stay focused."
Kevin Kidd, co-owner of a music production company, warned against believing that the big houses and flashy cars in hip-hop videos are real. He compared the industry to a messy kitchen after the painstaking completion of a beautiful cake, which is then sliced up.
"Everyone gets a piece, then what's left is yours," said Kidd, who has worked with Prince and Jay-Z. "It's an ugly world. That's how it is."
One student stepped up to a microphone next to the stage and complained that adults misjudged him. "I just be chilling, but people think I'm up to something," he said.
"It's not that you're up to something," Kidd replied. "It's up to something that finds you."
Rane Sykes, a deejay at WPGC, asked the youths whether they would buy CDs if the artists did not use foul language or did not produce videos with scantily clad women.
"Do you think videos have an effect on the way guys treat the ladies?" Sykes asked.
The crowd -- about 70 people before lunch and more than 130 later -- did not reply. But panelist John Mercer, an entertainment lawyer, argued that there was plenty of sex and violence in music long before hip-hop.
Sykes then asked about go-go clubs, a homegrown part of hip-hop culture that some critics blame for bad behavior.
Theresa Keys, 19, of Landover stepped up to the mike. "If you take away go-go clubs, there's no place for kids to go to besides sitting around and doing nothing," she said. "It's a way for getting away from the drama and the streets."
Deanna Whitlow, 17, of Lincoln Heights agreed. "People shouldn't stereotype the music as being negative, because it's a strong cultural movement in Washington, D.C. We finally have something we can call our own."
Another speaker reminded the audience that Smokey Robinson had a vocabulary. That Sean "P. Diddy" Combs went to Howard University. That Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" was written by a District native with a college education.
"Music is often blamed, but it's an expression of the problem," said City Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), who chairs a special committee on youth violence, which will hold a hearing next month.
"With kiddie car thieves, for example, everybody asks, 'How do we stop these kids?' " Gray said. "It's more like, 'How do we take advantage of the motivation?' There's a sense of boredom, of idleness. How do we channel that?"
The conference was sponsored by the Ward 7 Partnership for Youth Empowerment, an umbrella organization of nonprofits, businesses and city and public school officials.
Theresa Keys, 19, speaks before a panel during Ward 7's Hip Hop Summit. She defended go-go clubs, saying that if they were taken away, "there's no place for kids to go to besides sitting around and doing nothing. It's a way for getting away from the drama and the streets."