BRINGING CULTURES TOGETHER THROUGH HIP-HOP ACTIVISM
THURSDAY FEBRUARY 23rd, 2012
Growing up in America’s Midwest, Amer Ahmed recognized at an early age that he was different.
“I think growing up an Indian American Muslim in Springfield, Ohio — definitely there were a lot of experiences not being like other people … I was around white Americans, black Americans — and then there was me.”
The child of an Indian physician and his wife, Ahmed was acutely aware he was in a circumstance different from many Indian children. His acknowledgement of, and fascination with the cultural differences around him shaped a life rich with multicultural experiences.
“Knowing that I’ve been given this opportunity to get an education in the United States, I had to ask myself, what is my responsibility? It was a very anomalous circumstance to grow up here given the vast numbers of people in India living in poverty and with disparities. I wasn’t willing to simply accept their poverty because it could’ve been me, it should’ve been me.”
Ahmed’s sense of responsibility to effect positive change led him to Miami University in Ohio where he studied Anthropology and Black Studies, then to Indiana University for graduate work. It was during that time he discovered hip-hop and spoken-word poetry as a form of self expression.
“I liked the idea of putting performing with music, so I first started performing and recording — sometimes with music, sometimes without.” Performing gave him another route to make an impact on people.
“I believe strongly music has the power to bring people together that would not normally come together. Because I’d always moved between groups of people, I liked the idea of bringing those people together. It was clear white people didn’t know about black people, black people didn’t know about white people and nobody knew about me.”
Ahmed’s involvement in the hip-hop community exposed him to a new group working to establish itself on college campuses around the nation — Hip Hop Congress. The organization’s mission is to provide the Hip-Hop Generation and the post Hip-Hop Generation with the tools, resources and opportunities to make social, economic and political change on a local, regional and national level. It was a natural fit for Ahmed’s passions and he worked diligently during college to help the organization grow and succeed
When he finished his graduate work and began his career in academia, focusing on intercultural diversity, he thought his involvement with Hip Hop Congress would be forced to end.
“At first I thought my hip-hop activism was over. I thought it was just some club I was in during college, but I started to see opportunities and relationships grow. Nothing brings more types of people together than hip-hop. It started to become something I could keep doing in my job and that allowed me to continue to organize hip-hop activists nationally and internationally because I was able to use the network to find people to come to the campuses where I worked.”
As his career advanced and grew, Ahmed remained an active player in the hip-hop scene, becoming a well known speaker and consultant, releasing spoken-word poetry albums as Dawah, serving as national co-chair of the board of directors for Hip Hop Congress, and even executive producing Grammy-nominated vocalist Maimouna Youssef’s album. He also helped to bring Michigan its first Hip Hop Congress Midwest Summit.
“We try to bring people from different parts of the region and around the country here, but we also try to do something that’s fun, interesting and educational.”
The impact on students isn’t overlooked by Ahmed.
“For a lot of young people they haven’t been on a college campus before so it’s an opportunity just to experience a college campus for the first time. There are some people who have never left their towns, neighborhoods, cities. So to come into a new place and meet people of different backgrounds … to recognize that college can be a place where you can have that kind of experience and that other people can have a connection and an interest in someone like you, and all of that can be a part of your education and things you feel passionate about. I feel like we’ve been able to open up peoples’ worlds and potentially get them to make choices in their lives that may be different than they otherwise would.”
For Ahmed, leaving the world a better place is central to his art and his work.
“We have to learn more about ourselves in order to be able to learn more about each other. I think the more we learn about each other the less fear there is. Fear creates a lot of the division and hatred that gets perpetuated when we don’t understand each other. If my words at all contribute to someone else’s life’s journey, that’s a blessing to me — to be able to help, that’s my purpose in life — to help people around me and better their lives.”