Photo by Lyric Otto
Eric Davis, a Sociology and Ethnic Studies professor at Bellevue College and Tacoma Community College, said he’s doing what he was built to do. On Feb. 27, Whatcom Community College students experienced this through his program, Rap 101, which was held in the Heiner Theater.
For more than 20 years he has been educating and leading discussions about rap songs and artists in relation to contemporary social issues. “I want to keep people engaged,” he said.
At the event on campus, Davis used songs like “Acknowledge Your Own History” by Jungle Brothers and “Hey World (Don’t Give Up)” by Michael Franti to connect with students and use popular media and culture to bring up different social issues.
Some of the issues Davis talked about tied back to Black History Month, like discrimination and diversity. He also brought up questions such as “what is culture?” to help encourage students to “look at things through your own lens.”
“‘Rap 101′ is about provoking people,” Davis said. “Stimulating [conversation] is cool but I’m using music and exercises to provoke conversation.”
Davis played the song “Acknowledge Your Own History,” and used the lyrics to talk about the importance of knowing one’s own history, culture and background.
Davis said that in order to connect with people of different cultures and backgrounds, students need to have self-awareness and know themselves. He said that people can use their own history as a “launchpad to hopefully motivate you” to learn about and appreciate other backgrounds.
“I encourage you to model what black history teaches you: know thyself,” Davis said. “Don’t underestimate the power of your own history.”
Davis played Michael Franti’s song “Hey World (Don’t Give Up),” then talked about how Franti is asking what each person can do as an individual to help solve some of the issues society is facing today in this song.
Davis said that while he doesn’t know all the answers to the questions Franti asks in the song or the hard questions many have to ask about the world, getting an education can help someone gain perspective on these issues. “Getting a paper is cool, but learn something and think,” Davis said.
He introduced himself to the audience and talked about the teaching asect of his life, as well as how he became interested in sociology and ethnic studies, specifically African-American studies.
Davis said that when he switched his major from pre-law to Afro-American studies as an undergratuate at the University of California, Los Angeles, his mother told him, “Eric, you’re black. What else do you need to know?”
Davis created the program “Rap 101” during his time at UCLA, and has been presenting it ever since. Davis operated somewhat in the form of a lecture, but encouraged students to jump in and say what they thought, challenge what he was saying or just ask questions.
“If educators ignore the use of media as a tool to provoke or inspire learning, then all of the sudden “Jersey Shore” and E! Online and Youtube will be socializing and educating our kids,” Davis said.
Towards the end of the discussion, Davis used a quote from the song “Pray for Grace” by Michael Franti to bring up some final points. In the words of Michal Franti, Davis said, “so I live, to give somethin’ that can live on, like the way you hum a song when the music’s gone.”
Davis said that the idea behind these lyrics is to ask people what they’re going to do to leave a legacy behind them. He talked about legacies of the past, like Dr. Martin Luther King’s, and said that he was “sick of hearing about this stuff with Dr. King.” He asked the crowd of students, “Why don’t one of y’all become the next Dr. King? What are we waiting for?”
He used the lyrics from “Pray for Grace” as well the lyrics from “Hey World (Don’t Give Up)” by Franti to communicate the idea that anyone can take action and make change in the world, and that it is more important to focus on leaving a positive legacy for future generations to look back on rather than learning about what other people have done in the past to solve issues, specifically issues involving diversity and equality.
Davis also facilitates workshops like one he led after speaking in the Heiner Auditorium. It was open to students interested in attending, and Davis led the room in some activities to help them continue to think about the issues he’d brought up during his earlier discussion.
One activity Davis led the group in was timing how fast they could write the alphabet. Then he had them fold the paper and rewrite the alphabet with their left hand from Z to A.
He said this was to show the students and faculty what it felt like to work against their brain and what they were used to doing, and related it to how people with disabilities feel. He discussed the fact that many who have disabilities have to work a lot harder to achieve the same results people who don’t have those difficulties do.
“His presentations made me think more about race and what we’re supposed to do as the same human being[s],” said Koichi Hirata, a student who attended both the lecture and the workshop.
Davis said that he does these workshops and lectures to “inspire people to think,” and to “plant a seed in people,” and that he strives to make his message as applicable and accessible to people as he can.