Loving the San Francisco Bay Area... Community development, urban ministry, trying to defeat poverty, faith, religion, politics, good music, the quest for the perfect pizza, the Yankees, motorcycles... All in a 'day's life'

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Youth Violence Summit - Feeling Divided

Here's a link to a report and video about some of the anti-violence efforts in the city.

I'm somewhat torn about this event. We've been very involved in some of the city wide efforts to curb the violence. For a variety of reasons, a member of a local rap group that is getting national attention, Dem Hoodstarz, is playing a big part of the summit. So - I'm feeling torn.

I love hip-hop and those who know me know that I'm somewhat progressive in my stance on music. However - I have a hard time asking a group that represents a certain part of urban culture to present an alternative to the violence when their music seems to present a different view. Here's a video that shows them performing at the corner of Clarke and Bay, in front of Price Barber shop - which is one of the local 'hot spots' for drug dealing and violence.

On the other hand, the folks that are organizing the event are good people and I'm know they love and care for EPA. Some grew up in the community and have a good perspective. To be clear, I support the event. It's just unfortunate that the decision was made to include the element of the rap group. I struggling to support some of the key elements. I'm not sure if I can participate or bring the youth I lead in our church.

I guess that i would like to hear more from them in terms of how their lyrics square with their sincere desire for peace. Is the image of women they portray in their videos the image we want to present? There is an apparent contradiction, and I feel we need to hear more from them about their intentions.

I want to be a team player. Some of the folks with other viewpoints are friends and co-workers. I'm trying to hold my tongue when necessary, and speak when it is right. To be straight, I originally posted a much harsher critique. Rudy corrected my tone, for which I apologize and am grateful for his comments. This is a hot issue right now. Some comments were made about my previous post. I left them in to be fair.

So - I'm feeling divided.


  1. Anonymous1:46 PM

    Dear John Liotti,

    It has been said that if you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to the opposition. And if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. I forget who said all of that..

    I grew up most of my life feeling torn and divided. . .

    Is this a healthy and peaceful way to live?

    It has been said that if you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to the opposition. And if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. I forget who said all of that..

    Peace and Unity is somewhat a foreign word/concept to many. But somehow forgiveness, with love and tolerance, accomplishes miracles
    that can happen in no other way.

    I hope to finally meet you and your beautiful wife at the Youth Summit. I'm the lead for Volunteer recruitment. There is far more work to be done.

    `ofa atu,

    EPA Peace & Unity

  2. Thanks so much for your kind comments, Marina. Please know that in spite of all the conversation I know that all of us really want what is best and right for our community. I'm not at all questioning motives, just decisions.

    In the end the decision I face in my support of the event rests with my commitment to the Word of God. If the people who are playing a large role in the event are folks who's lifestyle and message are in the end what I believe is contrary to the values of the Kingdom of God I cannot endorse the event. Sometimes as a pastor and leader of a Christian ministry I have to make such a call.

    This is not to say that there won't be other opportunities to work together - or that a particular event must be overtly 'Christian'. However, in this case, as as this event is currently structured I have to ask these questions.

    As I currently understand there are still discussions happening. I'm praying that all parties can come to an equitable understanding.

    Believe it or not - this process itself it good for our community.

    Peace and blessings to you.

  3. Anonymous12:01 PM

    Hello again John,

    So, we are in agreement. The process is very good for our community. We are finally engaging in a discussion that includes having at-risk youth and their "role models" participate in an event that is designed to empower, educate and provide positive and healthier opportunities for ALL youth in the community. The best way to learn about the future is to understand the past. We are not going to ignore those who have personal raw descriptions of violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and conflicts with the law.

    "when some people see risk, we see opportunity...."

    The Future..... We are now in a position that gives us the ability to create peering communities. I have all the faith that the positive messages will be a guidance for individuals to distinguish truth from error, right from wrong. And the more visible support we have to convey the positive, the better. However so, each one of us will travel a different road during this life. We all progress at different rates.

    "We are all children of our Heavenly Father. And we are here with the same purpose: to learn to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves" (Mark 12:30-31).

    Peace AND Unity. . .

  4. Philosophically we're not that far apart. And, I actually believe having both opinions represented on a panel discussion is a good thing. However, I also believe that this has to be done in a way that exposes negative rap music and the horrible influence it has on our community by promoting violence, drugs and a negative view of women.

    Hear me... I really love and appreciate rap as an art form and LOVE the groups, of which there are many, who use the medium to speak truth (and not just 'holy' hip-hop). How can we expose and the bad and promote the good so that the kids aren't just star stuck by a local rapper who is making it big?

    To reiterate my comments. I'm for the summit and encouraged by this conversation. These are important issues that should be addressed.

    Also - I'm just a cog in the wheel - there are others who are making decisions about whether to endorse this event - I'm not one of them.

  5. Anonymous10:17 AM

    I hear you. . .

    It's great to have your support!

    You should know that interest was never in who would be endorsing the event.. my concerns are similar to yours in regards to the hip-hop movement. Youth worldwide are so drawn to the hip-hip movement and find it very attractive - the good and the bad.

    And you bring up a very very good question. . .

    How can we expose the bad and promote the good so that the kids aren't just star stuck by a local rapper who is making it big?

    Do we become learners, observers, and missionaries to those in the culture and those influenced by it? i'm just thinking out loud.

    Thanks for the dialogue John.


  6. "Do we become learners, observers, and missionaries to those in the culture and those influenced by it? I'm just thinking out loud."

    That's a very good question. My current opinion (which is more dynamic than static): Yes. The culture is just that, a culture. As the church we should be using the culture to influence the culture.

    Take Hip Hop for example. Inherently Hip Hop is an art form and thereby neutral. In the right hands it can be a viable, alive and amazing. The basic elements of hip hop, dance, urban art, djing, mcing are all good things. It's the artist that injects what is in his heart to the art form.

    The beauty of the Kingdom of God is that it can embrace the 'art' of Hip Hop and separate itself from the negativity that some artist inject into the art form. When Hip Hop is used for good (i.e. the the Roots, Talib Kweli, KRS-One, Public Enemy, Lauyrn Hill and many others...) it is powerful. I may not agree with their worldview or theology - but I can agree that they have something meaningful to say for good.

    As Christ-followers we can celebrate the good part of the art form, and proclaim the words and message of Jesus to complete the story and point people to eternity.

    However, other artists are so distorting the art so that it uses all moral value and becomes a force for negativity.

    So - back to your thought. How do we engage the culture as Christ followers. embracing the art form while not supporting the negativity?

    At some point, for better or for worse, we have to draw conclusions based on the images of words that the artist portrays. Truth is, no matter what they say - they are role models for our kids. It feels to me, that in our efforts to change our community we must align ourselves with those who are promoting positivity and good. Who we put in front of people matters. Whomever has the mic has the power. Just because an artist gives money to a foundation or comes out in support of a 'stay in school' does it then negate all the other messages his art promotes?

    This is a great discussion - it really speaks to the role of the church as a change agent in society.

    I'm also thinking out loud...