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For Emancipation Day, activists gather to talk hip-hop

Monday - 4/14/2014, 5:29am  ET

Chuck D (WTOP/Justin Mitchell)
A collection of hip-hop luminaries, including Chuck D (pictured), gathered Sunday to discuss hip-hop culture. (WTOP/Justin Mitchell)

Justin Mitchell, WTOP.com

WASHINGTON -- In honor of a historic event, musicians and activists gathered to discuss something decidedly modern.

Wednesday marks D.C.'s 152nd Emancipation Day. On Sunday, the Lincoln Theater was the site of an event marking the occasion. Cable channel Centric, Howard University's WHUT and the office of D.C. Councilman Vincent Orange put together the "Emancipation Day Town Hall: The Great Debate III."

This year, the discussion was about how hip-hop and celebrity culture could help to make the world a better place. The panelists included artist, activist, and emcee Monie Love; State Department hip-hop ambassador Toni Blackman; rapper and entrepreneur MC Hammer; GlobalGrind.com president Michael Skolnik; and rapper, activist, and Public Enemy co-founder Chuck D.

Before the event, all expressed the hope that hip-hop culture could bring about social change.

"Music, poetry and hip-hop changes people's lives - I've seen it save people's lives," Blackman said.

She thought the debate could be useful in figuring out how to organize their efforts: "If we're going to collectively get together to change things, make things better, where do we start?" she said.

Monie Love said, "I'm hoping that some people that will watch will kind of get some ideas about who they are and what they can do individually."

Chuck D said he hoped events like this one could change the tenor of the conversation among black people.

"If there's an issue that goes on too much, it's that [black people] see a lot of people really chop at each other in the national media," he said. "I don't want to be part of that."

He added that he hoped the event could serve as an inspiration for people to better themselves.

"It's the thought on what we should try to do to be free - mind, body and soul," he said.

D.C.'s Emancipation Day honors the anniversary of April 16, 1862, eight-and-a-half months before the Emancipation Proclamation, when President Lincoln signed a bill freeing the slaves within the District, offering slave owners monetary compensation for freeing them.

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