“A teacher that left teaching to teach through Hip Hop”
Heal The Hood Projects’ story is actually my own story and journey with our current education’s contradictions and hidden purpose. It’s an ongoing story because the more I have learned, the more I want to learn. Not only do I strive to become a mentally liberated kid from the neighbourhood, but also understood my responsibility to implement the lessons learned from my experiences back into my neighbourhood. Starting with my immediate family, friends and community, I felt brave and grounded enough to expand my learning and teaching to my city, country, continent and then the world. In the same ways that these interactions expose a cycle of giving and receiving, trial and error, ebb and flow of energy and ultimately a cyclical flow of both learning and teaching, I return what I have learned back to my foundation. I reconnect the ancestral string to the foundational knowledge and sense of knowing that historically birthed me. I know that this is easier said than done because often with learning comes the illusion of knowing. In my experience as a qualified school teacher, I have been confronted with the teacher’s desire to act as if I know everything when confronted by my students’ varied questions. Seeing their reaction when I did not know something reminded me of my need for a different exchange of energy.
In truth, knowing is not really the most important nor solid thing. The most important thing is being open to as many lessons as you possibly can experience. Humbling oneself with a mentality of always being the student that is willing to share what I learn with others for free. This is ironically how humans have been from the beginning of time, till more recently, when knowledge and control of information became a packaged and sellable commodity.
During Apartheid our dream in the Freedom Charter was that the doors of learning should be open to all. What that implied was that education would be free. The fact that it is not so at present exposes that the purpose of education is to empower the few with knowledge to economically control the many in this capitalistic system.
Dr Neville Alexander said that ruling elite of the struggle bought into the franchise of capitalism. It is this massive contradiction that Africans are faced with, while being sold slogans like Ubuntu. These concepts are in direct contradiction with each other. Capitalism is the exploitation of the many by the few, while Ubuntu says that I am me because of others. I suppose one can look at it through the colonizer’s lens of blaming the victim and the African community for the state that we find ourselves in. This white gaze that Toni Morrison talks about is how the so-called white/ European world views non-European people and societies. Their education system omits their ancestrally enforced slavery, exploitation and oppression of these countries and peoples from the dialogue or frames them as unimportant spoils of their victories and achievement for the betterment or development of the world. It is this content within the education system that I was teaching to young Africans that nudged me to leave my teaching job after only three years. It also made me question the real purpose of education.
Afrocation Teaches For Free, Eurocation maintains its stolen economy
When I learned how to play soccer, I shared and taught others whatever I learned for free. When I learned to roller-skate or skateboard, I even went as far as creating a club for youth wanting to learn. I did the same with breaking (breakdancing) and Hip Hop culture. I live with an open hand, being able to both give and receive. I didn’t know that this was our ancestral way at first, because obviously, with my Eurocentric education, it’s all about me and I and wanting to achieve for myself. I pursued teaching, as a career, and I remember the inspector coming and asking me, what was more valuable, a diamond or a child? I couldn’t believe that he would ask me that question. It was such a dumb question to ask, because obviously, the child was and is much more valuable than a lifeless stone. It’s kind of ironic, because in truth, what we teach is actually about the acquisition of wealth. It’s about the diamond actually, so the inspector was kind of contradicting himself, because education is about economic security. These days education is about you wanting to prosper within a capitalist society. Students are encouraged to chase the diamond or the shinny offerings they offered our ancestors for the land. One would think that education would help the student to find themselves and their purpose on the planet. Ideally, I thought that education should help us find our passion and calling, but that is the furthest from its current marketed intention. Instead, education attaches levels of value and worth to people according their career choices and scholastic achievements.
I see academia adding to the psychological insecurity, lack of self worth and bottomless need that benefits capitalism.
How did education become this competition about who could retain their oppressors’ informational content the best and who benefits from sharing this content? Steve Biko said that the most potent tool in the hands of the oppressor is the minds of the oppressed. It is when we ask these questions that we expose the hidden agenda of the few controlling the global economy and their need to maintain this control through the way that the education system itself is not about liberation from this global oppression of the many, but prepares the slaves to compete to get entry into the maintenance of their own collective oppression. Education is not about healing, but about assimilation and selective endorsement of the few. At no point is education about healing the wounds of slavery, colonialism, apartheid or capitalism. In fact, it celebrates the spoils of wars on humanity and gives access to the few wishing to buy in. Even now at our final hour of climate catastrophe, it maintains its trajectory of exploitation and destruction. Malcolm X reminded us that only a fool allows his enemy to teach his children. Education continues to chase the diamond that the inspector asked me about. The same diamond is extracted from the earth with brute force of explosion, exploitation and destruction. Education teaches that wealth can be found in that direction, while Heal the Hood Project teaches that true wealth is within us and of us.
Where Do You See Me?
One of the first lessons taught by Heal The Hood Project at our schools, is the asking of the question Where do you see me? Many learners respond with the answer that obviously we are in front of them. Our facilitator asks them to think deeply and asks again, this time using the camera as an example about where the image is captured. Immediately learners say that it is within them that they see, hear, taste, feel and sense. We then ask why we are so concerned with what is outside of us, if we experience the world within us? Instead of travelling into the light like capitalism demands from learners, we ask them to allow the light to shine from within them. We then add a practical application of asking them to walk to the middle of the circle and look everyone in the eye and proudly say their names. They are extremely fearful of this exposure and being seen. We remind them of that moment and how the circle can be compared to the world and what others think of us: we have no power over that and it should not affect us because we cannot control what others think of us. All we can try to control is ourselves. This is a cyclic journey to the inner parts of the circle of the self, and their mental projection above the circle to see that we were part of the circle and if we support each other, we are actually where the power comes from. Economic, numerical and spiritual power comes from within the circle.
In These Ancient Circles The Truth We Seek
I use the example of circle because I come from a B-boy, Breaking (breakdancing) background and one of my biggest lessons is that I have to think for myself and then take action on my thoughts. I embody the lesson, as I dive onto the ground, to achieve a movement that I have to perfect through trial and error, as well as the physical pain of learning and perfecting the movement. With repetition and relearning my body learns to react in a specific manner so as not to hurt myself. I was thus learning from what my body was experiencing, and from what I was seeing, feeling and sensing. It took all my senses to internalize the lesson. Creativity and dance specifically molded a new thinking about repetitive primary lessons and its preparation of our children through what they experience. It is an experiential, subconscious learning or indoctrination process that could be embedded in the child’s early exposure to systematic control. Like the Jesuit priests who said give me a child till he is seven years old and I will show you the man. I have learned that what is taught through the actions of others around the child in that first seven years of our children’s lives is critical in their development and perception of the world.
In the same way, the ancestral circle shared stories and ancestral knowledge through participation and play in preparation for becoming adults. Dance allowed me to manifest thought and learn from experience. It taught me to respect my body and the pain that some lessons take to manifest simple movement. The circle again taught me and gave me a secure space to showcase my lessons, but also to celebrate and support the lessons learned by others. At first I did not make the connection to Africa, but time allowed me to see myself within and above the circle. What others saw as breakdancing, I learned was called B-boying or Breaking and its lessons would help me speak out and take action against the oppression of apartheid and its now more obvious bedfellow, greedy capitalism. As I practiced and gained confidence to be myself within the circle, I started to let go of the fear and let the music play my body. It is this ability to let go of my concern for what others may think of me that allowed me to see the power of creation and the collective creative energy of the circle. I was now able to see the influence of the circle on me. I was finally able to see all the lessons that the circle was teaching me. Firstly, I was able to see the influence of my immediate circle of my family. My parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, etc. The circle then expanded to my friends and immediate community or suburb. It then expanded the Cape Flats, Cape Town, the City, South Africa and then the world. My lessons are, firstly, what I see and what I experience and, unfortunately, for a long time I didn’t realize that I was learning more from the experiences that my parents were sharing with me, than what education was teaching me.
Circles Of Fire Will Set you Free
I remember the day I stood up in a crowded school hall and spoke my truth to the parents wanting us to write during the school unrest in 1985. I had never felt greater fear and relief for speaking my truth. I remember asking how we as a catholic school could endorse this regime and continue writing our final exam when others are engaged in violent interactions with the army and secret police. It was the circle that allowed me to stand up and speak. As soon as I sat down I wondered what fuel I could add to the fire to make my case while growing up in apartheid South Africa. I was searching for information that would give me a sense of self worth. I started becoming interested in Rastafarianism and its teachings in connection to Africa. I started listening to a lot of reggae from Peter Tosh and Bob Marley and the Wailers. One song had the lyrics no matter where you come from, as long as you’re a black man, you’re an African. The other song was called War that was influenced by a Haile Selassie speech to the United Nations in October 1963. Hearing the lyric, Until the ignoble and unhappy regime that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique, South Africa. In sub-human bondage, has been toppled, utterly destroyed. Everywhere is war.
This exposed me to a deeper history of Africa that I don’t know about and then I wanted to know more about, but couldn’t find this information. I remembered that I had also heard rappers speak about their lived reality in the song The Message by Grandmaster Flash, Melle Melle & The Furious 5. The lyrics went, “there are flies on their faces and they’re living like mice and houses even make the Ghetto seem nice.” I realised that they were speaking about their view of Africa. In another song by Run DMC named I’m Proud To Black, I heard the lyrics Harriet Tubman was born a slave, she was a tiny black women, but she brave. It made we realise that I too could write about my experience in South Africa during apartheid and I wrote a song called Apartheid Sux, that I got to perform at a National Colleges Sports gathering in Johannesburg at a time when very few people knew what rap was in South Africa (1987).
I Used To Read Word Up Magazine
All the while I was searching for information about the dance that gave me the power to step into myself and be confident to stand in front of learners and study to become a Physical Education teacher. My stagnation with education and the struggle with the power structures of principals and others teachers, demanded that I reach beyond our borders. I started writing letters to people in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and then later beyond the continent. I was interested in knowing what happened to the dancers that influenced me and because I used to read Word Up magazine, just like the Notorious B.I.G. I actually wrote to that magazine and so they published my request in the pen pal section of the magazine and shared my address. Hundreds of people wrote to me and some of them sent me photocopied pages from black consciousness books. My deeper search for enlightenment was answered by reaching out to others outside of Africa.
Books like The ISIS papers by Dr. Francis Cress-Welsing, the Browder Files by Anthony Browder, The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley, Blacked Out Through Whitewash by AUZAR, What They Never taught You in History Class, Behold the Pale Horse and many more snippets. The fire I was searching for after standing up in that school hall, was finally being answered and fueled. I was starting to read more intensely than ever before in my life. All this was happening while I was teaching at Battswood Primary and the content that I was teaching was in direct contradiction of what I was reading and challenged my understanding about the true purpose of education and its content. I also obtained a copy of Steve Biko’s Autobiography, I write what I like, which was totally illegal at that time during apartheid. I don’t think I had the whole book, but photocopies of pages. Reading this powerful information demanded that I question teaching our enemies’ white supremacist content to our African children. My soul would not allow me to play along for the sake of economic security. I became a teacher to bring about change, but here I was being an accomplice of the apartheid system by teaching young African children to be good little good little Europeans and to buy into the capitalist system. This was just before the first South African election. I started my teaching career in 1988 and by 1992 I had had enough of it. I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I left teaching and focused on Black Noise as a way to make a living. We did have a pending record deal in the making, but within a year the group decided that signing a deal was not a lucrative way to make a living. Everyone was saying that I should just return to teaching, but I wanted to implement the educational content of what I was reading into the group’s performance and mission. With one of the old members we found some others who were interested and decided that we wanted to capture our rebirth of mind and Hip Hop. I was sharing my books and photocopied information and we were sharing the content through song with the rest of the Hip Hop community in Cape Town. The lessons I had learned from Breaking (Breakdancing); of being confident to stand in the middle of the circle, to speak my mind, to manifest my thoughts, to take action on new ideas (in the same way that I thought of dance steps and making them real) and to rehearse and try again and again until I got it right. People don’t realize this about dancing and creativity. It gives us the power to make real what we think and it can be compared to a godlike ability to actually manifest your thoughts. I spent many hours dreaming ideas into existence within Black Noise. Unfortunately, education and society dissuades us from dreaming or following our creative selves. As a teacher, I was sold the illusion that I had to be one thing. As a creative, I could be whatever I wished and because Hip Hop was relatively new, it was OK to create our own solutions.
We Have To Heal Ourselves to Do For Self to Heal The Hood
I started by creating a local B-boy / Breaking (breakdance) scene by teaching for free and sharing Hip Hop Culture with others everywhere people showed an interest. Andre Bozack, a young Hip Hop enthusiast from a community close to mine became the very first person that I would share this information and with, while he shadowed me to every workshops and class until he was skilled enough to start his own classes. Others that I had taught would also learn from this example and share what they were learning and as they got better surpasses what I was able to offer as far as power moves were concerned.
I tried to help expand the Universal Zulu Nation, which is a New York based global Hip Hop network. It was hard because locals are always suspicious of their own and the legacy of colonialism, slavery, apartheid and soon neo-colonialism made that dream impossible. I decided to travel to Zulu Nation Anniversary in New York in 1994, where I got to meet and speak to its founders of Hip Hop Culture and soon realised that it was a global problem that the masses of people were faced with. We created our own concerts, our own events, released our own CDs, published my own conscious Hip Hop magazine (Da Juice), helped others to publish theirs, released CDs for other artists, created fund-raisers that have to date raised funds for more than 250 fellow artists to travel to international events and toured Black Noise locally and internationally.
As a B-boy, I could not just share the knowledge without helping to heal our neighbourhoods with the information I was reading. I remember touring libraries one winter to help keep youth active in those spaces and seeing that I would not really like to read the books that were available in those spaces. We toured 20 libraries on the Cape Flats, because that’s where kids went when it was raining and they had nothing to do during the winter holidays. At each library, after we did a breaking (breakdance) demonstration and explained other elements, kids asked us what Hip Hop was. I saw the opportunity to create a booklet with information about the culture and left copies at each library when I had completed it. The fact that it was a photocopied book made it easy for kids to photocopy the sections they needed or simply just steal it from the library. I did not see it as a book because I had at that time already created Da Juice Hip Hop magazine, which was also initially photocopied. I did everything like a cut and paste fanzine. I merely saw it as a sharing of information about Hip Hop Culture that was lacking in South Africa. I can honestly say that my creation of this literature was born out of the D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) mentality that did not operate from a capitalistic desire. Looking back at it I see that signing a record deal made me realise that publishing or releasing music all gave most of our money to them and that only controlling the means of production and distribution would result in real liberation.
From the very first Black Noise posters or photocopied and enlarged pictures of the group, I realised the merchandising potential of our creative power, but soon enough saw that it always involved going through their network to get less than 10% of the profit made. These lessons helped me to be completely self-reliant. It also made me confident enough to pay to get on that first flight to speak to Afrika Bambaata and other elders. My dance background demanded that I internalize the knowledge of self and create real solutions for my community and that is what gave birth to the Heal The Hood Project. Usually people turn these lessons into economic power and join the elite selling information to the highest bidder while buying in to Amazon and other distributors’ exploitation of the creators, just to buy in and fake their equaled economic success completely removed from the collective healing needed. Of course, like every other person, there are times when I don’t want to be burdened by the collective’s well being, but then I see no other way for healing to become complete. The bigger lessons in our lives take longer and needed to take longer, so that we could not be sucked into a world that you we are ill prepared for. Right. Healing the Hood is about this journey. Its about my own healing as part of the healing of my family, friends, community and all those that we come into contact with.
Hurt People, Hurt People
No one is perfect and saying that out loud to oneself is not easy to do when you have tried so very hard. A people who have been hurt themselves are wicked in their criticism of their own before anyone else. I have definitely received the lion’s share of blame for Cape Town Hip Hop’s state from many, in the same way that Ready D and Lance Ster must also have. We are called gatekeepers and other industry related terms, when I have worked outside of it mostly. Many who have said these words have had 20 – 30 years away from us and have not done anything for the scene on their own. As a b-boy, I do not judge you on what you say, but on what you do. Humbling one’s self to start all over and share equally while touring with Black Noise locally and internationally, independently. I was in charge of finding the money and the ideas for releasing our own albums, created these tours and performances to make ends meet. Sharing equal pay, status and information with new members in Black Noise demanded being humble. It is a huge responsibility and realization that people aren’t interested in the same thing you are, even if they silently agree. The painful realization that you were forcing others to want what you do, when they wanted fame and fortune, but just went along for the ride because they thought that you would take them where they wanted to be. Often we allow others to ride the wave of our creative management of collectives, while we know that we can’t give others what they want, because it is beyond our ability. The pain of being deserted and publicly humiliated by people that you thought you helped, is all part of the journey. And yes, you will be blamed for their lack of economic success and fame, because someone has to take the blame. Even if you clearly said that you did not want to pursue that, nor had the personality or inclination to do so. Whoever takes the lead will have to take the blame for others’ shortcomings. It’s a hard lesson to learn and accept. It’s like a parent finding food for the children and sharing it with all of them equally (less 10% finders fee LOL), just to have the children blaming her for not finding enough even though they were being taught how to find food for themselves. On the journey one is also confronted with the families of the original members who left and watching their lives go on as normal, while you sacrifice marriage and children in a society that is based on families. This makes the sacrifice all the more painful. At some point you realise that we are broken as a community and healing through pride-building information, to return our self-worth, is the only solution.
If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got
Initially, it was very difficult to walk away from what I had known for such a long time and the longer I kept it going the less rewarding it was becoming. I could keep changing the members and make the trips beneficial for new kids from the Cape Flats, but even that was just creating more people unable to fish for themselves. I was giving them a fish instead of teaching them to fish. All the funds raised and spent by South African Breaking (breakdancing) Teams going to Battle Of The Year, all the money raised and spent from touring Sweden, Norway, Italy, Denmark, Holland, England, Belgium, Finland, USA and Namibia should have had more outcomes than the drama from those who got the opportunities. Initially I created a touring performance crew, but soon realised that it was the same formula and it needed to be an informal school. I needed to separate Black Noise, the performance crew, from the Heal the Hood Project and our community outreach, which really reflected my passion and not the illusion of fame that the music industry created.
Ironically the more I tried to change direction, the more I was drawn back in to become busy with industry-related things. Something drastic had to slow me down. Then it did. I injured my spine so badly that I was unable to walk. I lay in pain and medicated in my childhood bedroom. Finally, alone and in this crippling pain, I would get to see what the very people I had thought I was helping really thought of me. It felt like the lowest point in my life. I was immobile for an entire month. I had just completed the Afrikaaps play and had all these dreams of what I would do when I had the time to share the play’s content and heritage through Hip Hop Cultural Education, when I finally had time. The ancients don’t play. They were calling and insisting that I do what I was truly called to do and that the time was now. As I lay and had the time to read about our ancestry and ancient parallels between Hip Hop and first nation cultural expression, I started writing and thinking and dreaming about the direction that I am supposed to go. The more I struggle to get back to my old self, the more the pain kept me on my back. Finally, I was released from my pain. It was like I was silenced to rethink my calling. In the early hours of the morning, I breathed in my duty and I felt the pain leave my body. I cried in thanks and disbelief. I knew that if ever I wished to sneak back in the direction of distraction, the pain would return and it did. Twice.
Education/ Afrocation is not a destination, but a journey
My journey towards healing my hood has been through my own de-Eurocation and re-Afrocation through experiential learning from Hip Hop Cultural expressions and lessons. I know that it’s an unending cycle of being both the teacher and the learner in no specific order. I started sharing the local content from Afrikaaps and related history with the kids that I had taught for many years, when I returned from international tours at CAFDA. The kids were now about to leave school and were worried that they could not find work. I decided to create a performance group called Mixed Mense.
These 4 young men were willing to learn from me and then share with others. I was aiming to create a formula that could be used to teach a sense of self-worth in any community, using the local heritage of that community and blending it with Hip Hop Cultural Elements. We revisited the lessons they learned from the very first time they attended my class and that story became the very first song that we wrote together. We would go on to create music videos and performances that would eventually become enough to be included in live shows at events. They would also travel to talks and informative gatherings where they would join me in learning and even sharing their own lessons. After 3 years of this open process they could either stay and work for the Heal the Hood Project or they could find other employment and initially 2 of the 4 members decided to find a more stable income than our unfunded and self driven jobs. It is always hard seeing someone leave, but with time I have understood the importance of allowing fluidity in order for people to learn from their own choices and not enforced ones. This pilot experiential learning syllabus helped to lay the foundation of the Heal The Hood Project. It truly has come a long way from the initial exchange of youth from Hammarkullen in Goteborg, Sweden with school kids in Cape Town that I managed and set up for a month. This project was localized and now being taught by the very young facilitators that have been through lived experiences with our development of it.
As soon as we were ready to get these lessons and year plan into our schools, we got funding from a Swedish Fund connected to the anti-apartheid Swedish politician, Olaf Palmer International Centre. We have been able to shift the youths’ thinking away from trying to be who they are not and supply them with role models that are local, in a local language that they speak and encourage a cradle-to-grave informational content that includes lullabies and bedtime stories that are from our community. I remember studying to be a teacher and hearing them remind me that I had to teach from the known to the unknown, yet our first readers featured white children who called the cops and fire department to take cats out of their trees. I wondered where these children lived and why we were never in these books. Here we are creating those books and using art to counter the narratives that still perpetuate the white gaze of white supremacy and capitalism via education. We have made learning these histories fun and provocative. We have given voice to youth who would otherwise be boxed by their communities and created music videos that have garnered 80000 views from a global audience looking at a different perspective of the historically vilified communities. These are grade 5 and 6 learners who never dreamt that they would visit recording studios and perform in front of hundreds of other school youth from different communities to them.
What is our main reason for finding work?
I knew that in order to keep doing what I love, I would need to figure out how to pay rent, food, transport, clothes and entertainment. Our main needs being, a place to stay, food to eat and mobility. I called it the mathematics of survival. In the same way that I needed to figure out how many tickets I needed to sell or how many books I need to sell or how many of my sponsored clothing items I need to sell to buy the tickets for the flights of the South African team, I would eventually need to know how many products I needed to create and sell to buy my own house. In fact, I did not only need the mathematics of survival, but I needed to diversify my income stream. You see when I created the concept and paid for the design for a poster, I put the design on a T shirt, on a cap, on a bandana, on a towel, on a Beenie, on a backpack, on socks, hoodies, on tracksuits, etc. This concept now became multiple things that I could sell as we toured. Early on we also realised the power of creating our own clothing, but we foolishly allowed clothing brands and cooldrink brands in to take our power from us. I would end up selling lots of this excess clothing and even participated in becoming a distributor or vendor for them. I sold so much clothing for them that I was able to buy a second hand Toyota Venture cash.
My network nationally was deep because of the promotion of Da Juice Magazine and then touring with Black Noise. I was able to see that we, the people, actually have the economic power. Unfortunately that changes when we are confronted with big sponsors and they make events for free and set a standard that we are unable to equal. Most people connect them to success, when in fact they are the killers of local markets and the rotation of money from Hip Hop to Hip Hop. They perpetuate the illusion that we have nothing and come from nothing, when in fact we have everything within us collectively to change our dilemma, but their new data control makes them own our minds too. I have been able to see the world from the underground and the sponsored world and the underground events are always more powerful and abuzz with ancient energy, while the corporate funded events are clean and polished out of our spiritual presence. They seem polished like assimilated language our parents speak on the phone when their white boss calls. I even took on a job on a national reality TV show in order to learn and to be honest the biggest lesson I learned is that we could do it all ourselves and it would be so much more powerful and authentic if we did. We never needed them and they always need us. Once I figured all these things out and saved from the income of tours and sales of everything and anything I could create, I was able to buy a house and save enough to have medical insurance. This was in 2009. Once I had figured that out I spent the last years trying to see how the content could be implemented, assessed and reworked in different environments from cradle to grave and how decolonization could truly be implemented though Hip Hop Cultural Education and the related self sustainable Afrocation (African based education) content that could truly heal African minds from the greed that Eurocentricity sells as success.
Reconnecting the String
The circle has taught me the biggest lesson and ironically it is this circular learning of knowing that I am not only the teacher, but also the student. In fact, I am willing to learn as I am teaching. I am willing to see what works, and use artistic expression
to find the best way to get the lesson across and embodied. It is watching someone on the floor, about to kick to spin on the back, and then using their experience to show how kicking harder results in more rotations. The real life lesson is now embodied in the action and reaction of the harder you kick, the more rotations you get. The more effort you put in, the more you get out. The initial encouragement to walk into the circle and say your name with pride is challenging because society does not encourage confidence. We tell the dancer, student to look up and make eye contact and announce that they are present in the world. We record them to show them at the end of the year that with knowledge of their own heritage, sense of belonging and that we come from the history that gave birth to the circle. With time they learn that confidence comes with learning self-worth and repetition. The more internalized skills they have, the easier it becomes to let go in the circle and lost in the music. Like their ancestors went into trance through the cyclic chants and handclaps, so too the B-boy or breakdancer gets lost in the merry-go-round loop of the DJs.
The circle in the South Bronx was just a modern version of an ancient healing chant, clapping and dancing over cyclic looped beats or breaks that drove dancers into a new trance. The community is the circle and has the collective power to heal those entering into the circle. The elder or !Xiga is the healer that holds the darkness out and ensures that the energy allowed into the circle has good intentions. The healer also shares the stories of the tribe and helps by passing on ancestral stories to future generations. These stories are like the stories told by rappers or MCs in the Hip Hop Culture that recount what happens in the community. The rock artist can be compared to the aerosol artist so-called “graffiti artist” that tells the story into and onto the rock. These and other parallels became more obvious to me over time. I now see the deeper reason for my attraction to Hip Hop culture and how it drew me away from formal education to reconnect me to my true calling of creating a new/ancient way of teaching through Hip Hop Cultural Education. Reclamation of informational equality requires writing our own stories into reality and thus self-publishing is a must for people of colour to truly deconstruct the power structure and decolonize education and information.
Waiting for their structures to publish our work not only censors our voices, but also puts our creative economy into the hands of the same power structures as before. We find ourselves in an economic capitalist system where power is connected to economy, but the embedded white supremacy in every pillar of society also maintains the current divide between the ultra-rich and the masses of the people. It is for this reason that reconnecting the string creates a new value system of worth. It challenges their language of rich and exposes it to be only speaking about ill-gotten financial gain from ancestral sins of exploitation, oppression, etc. We wish to decenter the illusion of nothingness and expose the circle’s true power. The circle is made up of we the people and when we make our economic and numerical power work for the people, they will fear us more and hence the deep mental warfare being waged through social media, online phishing, data capturing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, facial recognition and machine learning. This last year of sheltering in place seemed to have been a global experiment to try out a socially distant human reality. Everyone buying online and sharing our data through purchases, sites we surfed, likes and dislikes with algorithms and A.I. analysis to pre-determine what adverts to send us, both product and political. It is this realization that demands that the Heal The Hood Project focuses its attention on changing minds to truly change actions. Our trial and error real life experiences over the years have shown us that awareness allows for true mental freedom and thus different outcomes. Some members of Mixed Mense are currently decoding my book, Reconnect the String into rhymes, beats, poetry and art for the Hip Hop community again.
Our lessons from engagement with academia have taught us that they extract information from Hip Hop and other communities but never return the information to the very people they mine this data from.
It has been 15 -16 years since these young men have been attending my Breaking classes and they are fathers themselves now who have learned from my lived experiences that I have shared with them as an elder, while they shared theirs with me. This is what is meant by “Life long learning”. We know that we are part of an ongoing flow of knowledge that is always growing and shifting and thus we are always students willing to teach and learn from others throughout the world. We again have to be the change that we want to see in the world. Leading by example is the only way that others can see the path to take. Breaking (breakdancing) is being included in the 2024 Olympics and it was our example globally that made them see what we saw back in the day. The work the Heal The Hood Project is doing on the Cape Flats is being recognised by the global academia working with Hip Hop Education, language, youth and arts. Our belief that knowledge is infinite and that we are always students helps us to share new ways that academics can help return the titles and jobs to the creators of the information that was mined from Hip Hop and other cultures, by giving these community members honorary doctorates and/or scholarships to their children. In the same way that Africa is being raped of her natural mineral wealth that is being mined, so too peoples’ stories are mined by academics for their doctorates, while the people/ “subjects” that they are getting this priceless lived experiential learning from get nothing in return.
“Research” thus seems to be a euphemism for data capturing or blatant theft or cultural appropriation.
As we share these new thoughts in the academic world and challenge the old norms through our actions that are birthing new books, documentaries, movies and new media, we will become the owners of new ways of being. We will become the creators of new systems that share the outcomes of the work more evenly and justly. It will be a more symbiotic ecosystem that mimics nature’s ways and cycles. The Heal the Hood Project is now showing youth that their creativity has the power to manifest physical spaces through sales of these creations. In the next 10 years we aim to use our creative power to buy houses in each province that will serve as art centers from which alternative information and cradle-to-grave arts education will spread to schools and challenge the current system. These spaces will also serve as true-braries to supply Afrocation-based information and house books created by the people globally. We are in the process of selling my new book as part of our Books For Bricks campaign to buy the first house in Grassy Park, Cape Town, South Africa. It is with this national network that we will be able to share best practices and create something that is people-driven to counter the political party fights that seem to slow down on the ground change for our youth. We have the experience and track record to initiate a bigger national, continental and international change that we so desperately need, but have been waiting for instead of creating collectively.
I reconnect to the origin of this article by quoting a profound statement that I read in From The Browder Files by Anthony Browder. It is not knowledge that is power. Those with the real power are the ones who control the content of what constitutes or is being sold as knowledge. Reading this demanded that I write my own story, release my own albums, create my own plays, teach for free and share with as many others globally as I possibly can. My learning from the Bushman community demands that I share what they have passed on for free since the beginning of time. They did not believe in ownership of land, but instead believed that they belonged to the land. It is this thinking that debunks all property and wealth connected to the theft of land and all above and all below it. Being of the land demands a new thinking and value system. This is my goal and I have helped people through my action directly, but also indirectly.
Osmic Menoe, who runs the biggest Hip Hop event in Africa called Back To the City told me that the creation of that event is because he came to an event in Cape Town that inspired him to create his event. He in turn inspired Cassper Nyovest to Fill Up The Dome that became Fill Up The Stadium. It is the small action we take that snowballs with time. It is our action more than our words that truly brings about change. After all my searching for inspiration from black consciousness information internationally, I neglected to see that my parents were teaching me from their actions. My mother is a qualified schoolteacher. She took me along to school, which must have influenced me to become a teacher. My father is a soccer coach that taught some of our country’s greatest soccer players like Benedict McCarthy and Quinton Fortune. We were heavily involved in various fund-raising events at out home to help soccer players travel to national tournaments. It is thus no coincidence that I would raise funds to send our best dancers to international competitions. I was learning from the example set by my parents. My father was a full-time bookbinder at the City Library in Cape Town, collected for a furniture store on Saturdays before he dropped us at our soccer games and coached in various communities on the Cape Flats and elsewhere. I only realised that they showed me how to diversify my income streams long before Hip Hop provided the opportunity. My entire family has been involved in helping out at every single event that the Heal The Hood Project has hosted. The first person I taught breakdancing was my younger brother, Tanswell, who now runs the Heal the Hood Project, while my older brother, Thurlo, who is a retired fireman, teaches golf at all the schools that the Heal the Hood Project works at. My family is my immediate circle, from where I am able to proudly walk to the center and face the world.