Educator Spotlight: Cross-Cultural Exchange of Art and Hip-Hop

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Lavie Raven is a high school social studies and language arts teacher at North Lawndale College Prep in his home city of Chicago. He is a fourth-generation teacher with 20 years experience, a practitioner of graffiti writing and illuminated script, rapper, and part-time b-boy.

Photo by Given Raven
Photo by Given Raven

Activity: New Sun Rising

Subjects: Social Studies and Language Arts

Grade: High School

Tell us about your activity.

In this summer’s project, titled “Next Sun Rising,” I visited the indigenous ‘Namgis community of Alert Bay, British Columbia, Canada. The ‘Namgis are a First Nations community native to northern Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Strait region. I worked with community activists, traditional artists, museum curators, and ‘Namgis youth to create artwork representing cultural survival through the hip-hop arts. The endeavor was supported by a grant from the Fund For Teachers organization.

This is one of seven murals created during the “New Sun Rising” project. Photo by Lavie Raven.

After choosing social issues of concern and studying folktales that would match those messages, I led ‘Namgis youth in creating seven murals for the community. The resistance narrative embedded in the hip-hop arts, as created by marginalized yet infinitely creative youth across the world, was the central force behind the conversations and the works that we made. 

Describe the student impact of this lesson. Was there a change in thought process, behavior, perspective?

I think what I saw the most was the excitement in the eyes of the ‘Namgis youth who painted these murals. Hip-hop is extremely attractive and magnetic for young people. The collaborative conversations that seeded the imagery in each wall were obviously fun for them, but it was probably more fun to see a vision unfold into material reality.

Any advice for educators who want to help students become global and interdisciplinary thinkers?

Be open, listen, and learn from the children and their elders. In visiting another community, it is vital to remain humble. I could not just go and paint glyphs—spiritually significant to indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest—willy-nilly. I had to receive permission after in-depth conversations with artists and community members.

If you could take your students on a field trip to anywhere in the world, where would you go? What would you do?

This is one of seven murals created during the “New Sun Rising” project. Photo by Lavie Raven.

Hmmmm . . . to be honest, probably to Palestine. It is a painful occupation and dangerous for many of the youth in residence there. Sadly, many of our kids are in similar environments, buts it is social barriers that keep us locked in segregated neighborhoods—rather than walls, razor wire, tear gas, and weaponry.

When UHipHop collaborated with Existence is Resistance on a three-week cultural exchange to Palestine, it was incredible seeing those youth break-dance, play violins, rap, and paint, all in such a constrained environment. It was just a reminder that none of us are alone in the struggle, and that creativity and appreciation can provide solutions to animosity and subjugation. I would like to see children of the world convene in any such place—and remind them what love and solidarity really mean.

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The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

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