HU2U Podcast: When The Movement is Strong, The Music is Strong feat. Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr.

Rev. Lennox Yeardwood on HU2U

In This Episode

In 2015, Kendrick Lamar's album To Pimp a Butterfly came at a crucial moment for Black America.  After protesters took to the streets to voice their concerns about police brutality and white supremacy, Lamar's hit single, “All Right,” became a Black Lives Matter anthem.  Black music's role as a mouthpiece for the people is no surprise.

Sam Cooke's “A Change Is Gonna Come” captured a tumultuous turning point of the civil rights movement, as did Nina Simone's resonating anger with “Mississippi Got Damn.” But Black musicians have had their hand in galvanizing recent civic participation, such as Georgia's rapper's community attempt at electing Stacey Abrams as Georgia's first Black governor in 2020.

Just a few months away from the 2024 presidential election, we’re kicking off season 2 of From HU2U with Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr. He is a Howard University alumnus, as well as the CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, a national organization committed to civic engagement in communities of color, particularly vulnerable citizens of injustice.
Today’s host Amber D. Dodd, is Howard Magazine’s associate editor. She sits down with Reverend Yearwood to chat about his early years being a part of the civic engagement of Howard University's campus culture, breaking down the silos within social justice movements, how the Hip Hop Caucus was birthed out of the climate justice movement, and how Black people's place in American society reflects music's political influence.

From HU2U is a production of Howard University and is produced by University FM.

Host: Amber Dodds

Guest: Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr.

Listen on all major podcast platforms

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Rev. Yearwood: Either you shape policy or policy shapes you, and you have to be at the table. There's no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You have to be at the table.

[00:00:10] Amber: In 2015, Kendrick Lamar's album To Pimp a Butterfly came at a crucial moment for black America. After protesters took the streets to voice their concerns of police brutality and white supremacy, Lamar's hit single, Alright, became a black Lives Matter anthem.

black music's role as a mouthpiece for the people comes at no surprise. Sam Cooke's A Change is Gonna Come captured a tumultuous turning point of the civil rights movement, as did Nina Simone's resonating anger with Mississippi Goddam. But black musicians have had their hand in galvanizing recent civic participation, such as Georgia's rappers community attempt at electing Stacey Abrams as Georgia's first black governor in 2020.

With less than six months until the 2024 presidential election, what is black music's function in fueling today's social movements? How does black people's place in American society reflect music's political influence? Let's dig into it.

Welcome to the HU2U podcast, where we bring today's important topics and stories from Howard University to you. I'm Amber D. Dodd, today's host, with Howard University alumnus, Rev. Lennox Yearwood. He is the CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, a national organization committed to civic engagement in communities of color, particularly, vulnerable citizens of injustice.

We're very happy to have you here with us, Rev. Yearwood, to celebrate the ever-present relationship between black American music and social justice.

[00:01:37] Rev. Yearwood: Thank you for having me. So glad to be here.

[00:01:39] Amber: Thank you. Firstly, I would love to explore your relationship with the university. What did you get your degree in? When did you get your degree? And what are some ever-present relationships that you have with the university?

[00:01:49] Rev. Yearwood: Yeah. Well, love Howard, grew up actually, kind of, on the Howard's campus during my high school years. I got my Masters of Divinity from Howard University. And I probably would have got a bachelor's, but I dabbled in trying to play college basketball. Man, I wish it was today, but I got a scholarship.

And so, my dad was the dean of African American Studies at Howard University. And he actually was here and then he actually went and got his JD while he was a dean. So, he was a glutton for punishment. And then he's still teaching, like, he's 87 years old and still teaching at Howard.

[00:02:30] Amber: Wow!

[00:02:30] Rev. Yearwood: Yeah, he's something else. But I got my MDiv, but I actually went to play college basketball. I originally went to play college basketball at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. Shout out to Prof. Acklyn Lynch, who was there, was a phenomenal African American Studies teacher.

I was always an activist. So, at that time, being a college player and being an activist maybe didn't suit that well. I really wanted to come back home, but by that time my dad had left Howard, because he figured, well, I had my scholarship, so he didn't need to stay around. So, he left, and then I needed to go to school. Thank God, I ran into Wil Jones who was a coach over at University of District of Columbia. The rest is history.

[00:03:11] Amber: Wow! Go, Firebirds!

[00:03:12] Rev. Yearwood: Most definitely, man. Go, Firebirds! And then I was actually… I mean, that, that shaped me tremendously. Because actually, I had like a love-hate relationship with Howard back in the day because I would play college basketball and then became the SGA president.

I was also a part of the student protest called Kiamsha, one of the longest protests in UDC's history. We shut the building down, I think, 14 days. And so, I was in the midst of all of that. I actually… at that time, UTC was much bigger. It's shrunk a little bit since that time. But I used to always just be like, man, you know, me growing up around Howard's campus, being around my dad, seeing people like Kwame Ture, Stokely Carmichael, you know, in that process, and many, many others who were dignitaries in this, the world of civil rights movement, I used to think the Howard students didn't get it. So, I used to try to push them. So, I used to have t-shirts… don't hate me now, but I used to have t-shirts that said, “Friends don't let friends go to Howard.”

That was at UDC. And then I was playing basketball against Howard, so, like, a little bit of rivalry. And then I, I came to my senses and then found the Lord and went to Howard Divinity School.

So, yeah, that's, kind of, my story, but I've always been around Howard, like, literally, I guess maybe most of my high school, and then for most of my life, I've been around Georgia Avenue.

[00:04:35] Amber: That's a long, that's some longevity to that.

[00:04:37] Rev. Yearwood: No, it is. I've, I've been around a lot of homecomings. I was probably too young to hang around homecomings back when I was in high school. But no, Howard is a place that now that I've gotten older.

And also UDC, because technically, I mean, I went to both black colleges in D.C. And being from UDC was important because that also gave me a sense to be around, you know, places where people were coming from east of the river. And obviously, part of our protest that, when I was there was important because then they tried to shut UDC down. I was just awarded, I think about four or five years ago, number one alum from UDC, actually, because helped to stop, you know, I guess, stop to preserve the school on Connecticut Avenue.

That actually helped me to really prepare. I was going to go to Howard Law School, but went there and got into Howard Law School. And then when I was going to, I just really felt that my calling for me fighting for my people, my people's liberation, ensuring that my people did well, that I just think that you need to have a spirituality piece to that, that if you, if you do that work within you're trying to think you're smart or intelligent or you're gifted. You're, kind of, burnt out. And even then, I knew, because all I had been through, that you got to have something to, kind of, hold on to, whatever it is, to just root you.

And that's why I went to Howard Divinity School and then became SGA president. Again, I guess I was a glutton for running for SGA president offices, but I became SGA president then at Howard School Divinity. And graduated all this. At my time, graduating officially would have been 2002. So, a long time ago now. Not really. Okay, good. Thank you.

[00:06:17] Amber: Not really.

[00:06:18] Rev. Yearwood: You're shaking your head. I appreciate that. I could have said 1962, then it would probably still be, then it would be yes, a long time ago.

[00:06:23] Amber: And I probably wouldn't be talking to you right now, so, yeah. But because you mentioned being SGA president, being part of the civic engagement of Howard University's campus culture, how do you think that played a role in how you're able to function in the Hip Hop Caucus?

[00:06:38] Rev. Yearwood: I think it was really big. Being actually a president of Howard and the School of Divinity was important because, one, it brought me on campus. At the time, I think it's moved now, the Howard School of Divinity was actually near Catholic University. It's now moved over to where the law school is. But for many, many years, that brought me on the campus to, kind of, be a part of the main discussions.

And then I remember we were protesting, at that time, George Bush coming on campus. I think it was George Bush's wife wanted to come into the lunchroom and do something crazy. But the students there were calling for all the, particularly the grad schools, to be a part of that. It was important. And then, I think, ultimately, it helped to shape me because you would realize what I, now, which is a foundational piece for me, that either you shape policy or policy shapes you, and you have to be at the table. There's no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You have to be at the table, even if it's a table that's all-black people or all-brown people. It doesn't matter. But you have to make sure that if you're fighting for people, your community, you have to be at the table.

And so, being in SGA president at Howard, was, you know, it's funny because it put me into this constant… looking back on it, it's almost, like, now 40 years from this nonstop, from this even from as a kid. But it literally put me in a position where it wasn't easy because I wasn't the type of SGA president, there are different ones who sometimes go for the perks. I wasn't the perks SGA president, you know what I'm saying? I wasn't the one to get to cut the line to A Building, you know, that kind of stuff. I was actually running really with, like… and I would force myself, like, if there's a line, I'm getting in the line of everybody else.

And I think that has carried over to Hip Hop Caucus because Hip Hop Caucus is, for me, the goal of it is to be a people's organization. It's tough as it gets bigger and keeps growing. I mean, that's just the nature of the beast. And I'm actually happy for it. There's new leadership. Brittany Bell Surratt, who's actually a graduate of Harvard University. She's part of the new leadership. Russell Armstrong, Liz Havstad. There's this new leadership that is actually, kind of, moving the caucus.

And then I have to navigate what the caucus looks like after its first 20 years. But now that it has resources… it didn't have resources at the beginning. And so, that, kind of, helps you sometimes, but yeah, being at Howard, this is going to sound crazy for those listening. And everybody at Howard would understand this, being at Howard helps if you don't have no resources. You, you figure out how to be creative. You're like, “Ah.”

[00:09:11] Amber: It gets done.

[00:09:11] Rev. Yearwood: You just got to get it done, yeah. You… that's the one thing. You, you know, really, like, you're like, “Ah, what do you mean you don't have, like, a door on your door? What do you mean you don't have facilities?” You know, you just, you get it done the Howard way.

[00:09:25] Amber: I also think that Howard has a distinctive role because it has such a large role in the community, too. And within that frame of work, when you were in college, there were a lot of protests going on with, like, Guantánamo Bay, the response to 9/11. And you were able to produce this concert called the Shut It Down concert.

Did you pull those resources or that knowledge of the community to be able to gather and produce a concert so close to Howard's campus? Is there some, some layover there?

[00:09:54] Rev. Yearwood: Yeah. So, the Shut It Down became a bigger thing. Actually, it, kind of, morphed into what we would have something called make hip hop, not war. Folks who may or may not know my history is that, when I graduated from UDC, University of Columbia, and I started at Howard Divinity School, I actually honestly wasn't that big of a fan of some of the traditional black churches, how they were operating.

That time, I was really big on the, you name it and claim it kind of spirituality kind of thing. Like, you know, you just call on God like a genie. And I had, kind of, grown up again around the black church being centered around social justice, Howard Thurman, and just the like. So, I'm not used to this kind of thing where we all just come in here, calling on Jesus for, you know, a Cadillac. I'm not sure what that was, but I'm like, we come together as a community. And so, that's an important piece to this, because at that time, then I didn't feel a place within the church. Then, I started to be like my mom and my dad. My mom also has her PhD. She also teaches. She taught psychology, not at Howard, but at Maryland and other schools.

So, for me, I think I'm just going to go the academic route. And I had started that route. So, that's a big piece. So, even in Howard, I was beginning to go work my way to be, actually, my PhD, which would have been in biblical studies, right, particularly looking at African religions around… studies and getting all the languages around that.

That's important because, when the caucus is created at the end of my time at Howard and I had gone off to become, in reserves, as an Air Force chaplain and then the war breaks out and then, being an activist I probably should have known this, but I start speaking out against the war in Iraq, which is, in the military, it's not the best career move, actually, to be speaking up. So, things begin to come together, but I say all that because, what I really realized that people of color and black people weren't at the anti-war rallies. And they weren't at the, like, environmental protests. And then I began to realize it was, like, siloed. If you went to the pride or the queer rallies, there's people who were just dealing with, in the queer community, if you're dealing with women's rights, a lot of this was women. If you're dealing with immigration, there's people who are just from that community. The totality was mostly people who were black from that community.

And I began to see that, wow, we have a siloed, segregated, progressive movement, in which you can literally go to Lafayette Square by the white House. And if you just wait long enough, you'll see one group that will leave, one group will come, fighting the exact same thing.

And so, then for me it was like, well, the caucus needs to mend that. Like, we need to begin to pull in and break the silos. That was literally one of the foundational pieces of the book. Like, how do we break the silos? How do we then…

And it was hard because people would just do one thing. Like, what are you doing? We're just doing racial justice. What are you doing? We're on, you know, prison reform. What are you doing? We're doing queer rights. What are you doing? We're doing women's rights. What are you doing? You know what I'm saying? But it's all the same people. Like, why are we, why are we siloed? We're the same people.

So, I say all that to bring it up, but that leads to the community. And that's where Shut It Down comes from. And then it became that let's begin to break the silos. And that is what led into that concert. And that led into getting artists who wanted to be a part of breaking down the silos and being together to create change.

It was crazy because we had Immortal Technique. We had Mystic, who didn't actually, for a long-time, work with the caucus. We had Mystic in the Bay. We had some other artists. We had Dead Prez. And that was just exciting because we were working with so many artists who were… that's really making it happen on that level.

So, yeah, we went to 9:30 Club. A lot of Howard students came on over to 9:30 Club. We packed it out. And it was like, “Let's get it.” But believe it or not, people was watching. I didn't know then, I know now. I now realize people who now are in the government are saying that every time, particularly, black people gather together, they got to be watching. So, even at that event, like, folks would just come in who probably wasn't… I mean, friend or foe, but they were coming just to watch.

And that's something that I've seen now over my 20 years, is that anytime, particularly black, brown, indigenous people organize, people are always suspicious of that organizing efforts.

[00:14:36] Amber: Which I think is interesting because history doesn't point to that being accurate. It's always interesting to me that just consolidating the conglomerate always invites eyes that are really not there to view, or observe correctly, if I could say so.

[00:14:52] Rev. Yearwood: But that makes sense, though. It means that we are… I mean, the idea is to be for us to be sleep, right?

[00:14:58] Amber: Mm-hmm.

[00:15:00] Rev. Yearwood: The idea is for us literally to be killed and make no screams. That's the idea. And so, when we go outside of that and we begin to say, “No, we're not going to be quiet. We're going to raise our voices,” that threatens the whole establishment. And I can tell you personally that when you threaten that establishment, the establishment pushes it back.

[00:15:28] Amber: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, the Shut It Down concert featured so many different artists from different genres. How do you think you were able to use that strategy as a way to produce your home project about climate change?

[00:15:41] Rev. Yearwood: Yeah, so I think it was the evolution. Got to bring in Toni Cade Bambara, who has the famous saying, the role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible. That's important because what she said is make it irresistible, but she didn't say make it happen. So, that's, kind of, when Hip Hop Caucus comes in that. Hip Hop Caucus and institutions have to make the revolution happen. But they need artists to make it irresistible. And then together, they can make freedom happen.

So, after that moment, it's clear that, as before, we're dealing with not just no war, but also no warming. And we're dealing with the issue of climate change, and particularly, its impact on black and brown and indigenous communities. We begin to realize, again, by being siloed, that we weren't as abreast of these issues regarding the climate crisis. Other groups were. And, kind of, gatekeeping a little bit, too. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, we really saw, particularly our communities, black, brown, indigenous, poor white people, poor black people, left behind in the richest country in the world.

And we also saw that, shout out Al Gore in Inconvenient Truth, but we also saw that it wasn't just the climate crisis, but also white supremacy. That we begin to look at places like Detroit and Baltimore and Jackson, Mississippi and New Orleans. And we're going to see that, wow, they are putting particularly pollution, pesticides, landfills in black and brown communities, literally by zip code, by literally mapping it out and saying, “We're going to put this pollution.” And it would be so bad that it'd be Oakland, or in Detroit, in other parts of the country, you'd have cancer clusters. Literally, in Louisiana, you'd have a place called Cancer Alley, literally from that standpoint.

So, this is important because we would see that 68% of black people within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant causing asthma, emphysema, cancer, causing just horrible deaths because they're putting this pollution in our communities. And so, what we begin to realize is that, yeah, there's a climate crisis, but it's also a problem where people are literally targeting our community.

So, then, we begin to speak out. And so, we said we needed our artists to get engaged. We need our artists, we needed predominantly, you know, black, brown, indigenous, young people, folks from the curriculum to be a part of this movement. And so, we, we put together the album, which is called Heal Our Mother Earth (HOME).

And in that, which is now 10 years apart, we reached out to artists like Common, Ne-Yo, Elle Varner. Shout out Crystal Waters here from the DMV, Raheem DeVaughn, and many, many other artists came together to do their renditions. It was powerful, and I'll say why it was powerful for a number of reasons. One, it was powerful because it literally, on itself, began to create a trajectory of particularly black and brown people working on climate.

Instantly, Rihanna would work on climate in her native country. She then literally would put together on her foundation, giving out $15 million. This is because of hearing this. Beyoncé, who actually was going to have a song on the album, her song Sandcastles, which is a rendition for her, for climate change, was going to be on the home album. Didn't make it. It's okay. We all still love Beyoncé. And ended up on her album Lemonade. But that also didn't create it. Her didn't make talk about the crisis of what's going on from the power grids and what's happening in Houston and in Texas. And then, obviously, with her new music, her country music, she's now had it throughout and through.

So, again, HOME literally spurred this development of artists now getting engaged, probably would have never got involved before. So, that's the one thing. And then the creative artists, we have a term called, and who's an artist and an activist, kind of, joined together in the spirit of Ella Varner, Nina Simone, Eartha Kitt, and Dick Gregory, who are artivists.

In other words, they are literally like sitting at the table with activists, but they're also still doing their gifting. And so, HOME changed the game. But what it didn't do, what we also realized, that the climate movement is a predominantly white movement, kind of, still based in Vermont and the Northeastern and then parts of Sonoma County in, in California, Ben Jerry's, American Stocks, you know, we get it in that process.

But in that, it's isolating and it's not connecting the dots. And part of that that we realized is that people were more comfortable fighting for sea turtles than Sharon and Terrence in the hood. And that was something that we realized, that they wanted the steel rise to go down. They wanted the carbon in the atmosphere to stop. But they were also okay if we were being choked up by police. They were okay if people had redlining, okay if we weren't getting the loans in our banks.

And so, we then begin to realize with HOME and still moving forward that we needed to then connect all those things. And even if it meant going against the movement itself, Hip Hop Caucus, we would speak out.

And that's where we are today. And I think that, because of that, I'm so proud that now for this new generation of leaders at the Hip Hop Caucus, they have a hell of a task on their hands because they now have to figure out how, really, how creation is a new demonstration. And they now have to figure out how storytelling and communications, along with advocacy, go together to now educate a community who's never heard about something that is killing them every single day.

[00:21:54] Amber: And I think your work has transformed into that role as well, especially with your most recent project, Underwater Projects. I'd love to talk about that, as it is an extension of the work you were doing at HOME, but more so for the screen.

[00:22:06] Rev. Yearwood: Yeah, I mean, they’re making movies now, Hip Hop Caucus. They’re making movies, literally. And so, that actually was Ain't Your Mama's Heat Wave, I'm going to shut that out. Ain't Your Mama's Heat Wave was a comedy special that use comedians. And shout out to American University, we actually did a whole thesis on the impact of comedians on climate. You can find it at the Hip Hop Caucus website. Check it out. And other things, Hip Hop Caucus, everything you can find at Just go there, follow all this good stuff.

But one of the things there is that, from there, we realized that people were really, kind of, depressing around climate, right? You know, we're all going to die, we ain't going to make it, we're going to drown, you know, that's just… that ain't really motivating stuff, right? So, he was like, you know, that ain't really how we need to, kind of, approach this.

So, we began using comedians and we used Wanda Sykes. So, Wanda Sykes, along with our team, helped create a short film for Underwater Projects, which looks at the public housing unit and the Navy and the Norfolk and Hampton Roads region because it's literally like New Orleans. It's literally under sea level and going underwater.

And so, they begin to… they put together this film which is amazing. And it's now in the film festivals. It's now in the Circa. I think it's going to be ESSENCE. It's going to be in different places. But the great thing about that film is that it's co-directed, one, by Liz Havstad, who's one of our managing directors at the Hip Hop Caucus, and Dream Hampton.

And so, they co-direct that film. It is centered where I think, and I believe one of the solutions is centered in a black woman, matriarchal-led, frontline, fenceline, environmental justice movement. And it's centered in that. And so, you feel that… it's actually funny, we were in one festival. And you get to tell, again, they weren't used to even, they were used to seeing polar bears and things like that.

So, seeing all these black people being solutionary, they were, kind of, caught off guard. Like, “My God, what's, what's happening here, you know? Why aren't they supposed to be, you know, having the Oppression Olympics and seeing how bad it is? Why, why are they talking about how they can fix the problem?”

So, again, it's an amazing film and I'm looking forward to more films. Actually, for me, I think the next step for Hip Hop Caucus is that they will create feature films, main films. Shout out to, I hope, Jordan Peele's listening. He hooks up with Brittany over at Hip Hop Caucus and they create a horror comic film. But there's just so much we got to do now. That's exciting.

[00:24:39] Amber: And speaking of now, with such a short time period until the 2024 presidential election, what are some of the things that the Hip Hop Caucus is going to be focused on in this particular term?

[00:24:49] Rev. Yearwood: Well, yeah, well, first let me say that, for me, this is Rev. Yearwood speaking, more so from Hip Hop Caucus, I feel that it is disqualifying for anybody to hold office who denies climate change. That's me. I view the caucus for the same way, but I just want to make sure that that's, that's, that's me saying that.

I think, to have someone in office who is literally trying to do everything they can to roll back the protections and measures that protect our families, I cannot allow for someone to let corporations to pollute my grandmama. I cannot allow for you to have my babies and my babies in the school yard coughing up blood because you are determined to allow for somebody to have vinyl chloride or petrochemicals or whatever you want to pollute.

I'm just saying. So, it's just a disqualifying thing to me that I'm going to fight because, you know, it's one thing to say that we can't breathe because we got somebody's, you know, foot on our necks. It's another thing when somebody's business plan means a death sentence and they choke in our community and we still can't breathe because of the toxins they put in the air, intentionally knowing it's going to be killing our children and our parents.

So, we got to do everything we can about that. So, to me, you know, elections, if you actually want to solve the climate crisis, it's in your hands, vote. That's actually right there, I think. “What can I do to solve the climate crisis? I don't know physics, I don't know chemistry.” You can vote. There you go. You can solve the climate crisis by voting.

We have a couple campaigns, Hip Hop Caucus, Respect My Vote, which has been the longest running campaign ever. And so, we're going to be using that campaign to hopefully get the word out and keep doing it. But I think, ultimately, this is… this, to me, is one of the key issues. for this upcoming election on the, on the federal, the state and the local.

It's the issue that, for too long, our communities have been subject to being polluted. And I mean, go further. In Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, phosphate industry is so sinister. They are literally going to where they had former plantation sites and putting plants on plantation sites. So, literally knowing the history of what took places on plantations, they're now building plantations and putting them there.

Shout out to the twin sisters in Louisiana named the Banner sisters. They actually bought a plantation to stop this. So, again, we have solutions. We got to keep fighting. We got to vote. We got to make it happen.

[00:27:35] Amber: What are your voter registration or just civic engagement strategies? Do you have any events coming up? Do you have more events leading up to November? And how do you plan to keep that momentum going after the election as well?

[00:27:46] Rev. Yearwood: Yeah. So, as I mentioned, you know, Respect My Vote is the longest running hip hop campaign, award winning. And we have a record of getting out the most people to vote. And there were cities that we did across the country.

So, I want to lead with that because I think that it's a long-term process. So, one, the first process was, how do we get folks who are returning citizens, people will say coming home from jail or prison, returning citizens for us? How do we get returning citizens more involved in the process? How do we fight for them? It's, kind of, funny. Now, we may have a, we may have a former president who may be a returning citizen, who knows, but that's, kind of, a wild situation. But everybody can vote, hey. You know, we ain't picking who can vote, just saying. We want everybody to vote.

But in that process, that's the first thing, because we've seen that, if we can have folks be a part of the community, it helps. It's a holistic standpoint.

The second thing is that, definitely, we don't do this from the standpoint of getting people out to vote in October before the election. It's a long term. It's about democracy and about engaging. It's about making sure people understand about what it means to shape legislation, what it means to say litigation, what it means to be demonstration. And also, what it means if you don't have these things together, what it means to then have frustration.

So, I think that, for me, our job has been a long term. We're clear and we'll be strategic. Our leaders in the Hip Hop Caucus will obviously be in the key states, as they call them, that have the impact on the election because you got to be there. And they'll be doing things I'm sure, concerts and work with artists and doing everything they can to engage.

But also, we want to have some serious conversations, right? Because people don't want to just keep voting for people who ain't doing what they need to do. And so, we need to let people know that, okay, well maybe you're not voting for that person, but don't sit this thing out, though. Because then you still have an impact on the local level, on the state level.

And then people count that. And so, they look at it. When they go back after the election, they'll go back and they'll count who voted. And then based upon that, there's power that's created by how many people vote. So, even if you don't feel you’re turned on by your local mayor, you're not turned on by your, your governor, you're not turned on by the president, you still got to make sure that your voting has to be discounted in some aspect.

And so, our job is to make sure that people get out to vote. Go to If you not register to vote right now, you listen to me, you say, “Dang, Rev, I'm not register to vote. I'm in my dorm over here at Howard or wherever, wherever I am,” go to And you can register to vote there. There’s a bunch of good information you can check out.

[00:30:29] Amber: Thank you for that promo.

[00:30:31] Rev. Yearwood: No, thank you for letting me run the promo.

[00:30:33] Amber: It looks like I'll need to visit that website as well.

[00:30:36] Rev. Yearwood: Yes. Yes. Respect My Vote. I got to say that folks at Hip Hop Caucus would be mad at me if I didn't say that. Respect My Vote,

[00:30:47] Amber: Now, I did want to ask a few questions about the culture of the caucus. In your 20-year run, how have you seen music be an agent of change? I love gauging that from your perspective because at one point in time you were on the ground and now you're leading the people, not to say you can't do both at the same time, but just your perspective of how you've been able to see that music be a change agent in the 20-year process.

[00:31:09] Rev. Yearwood: So, the first thing that I've seen, I've seen a lot over the 20 years, taking hip hop, there's an industry within hip hop, obviously, that makes a lot of money. And so, sometimes, they don't see the benefit of music that is, you know, that we would say movement music, so to speak. They don't see the benefit of that.

And we need all kinds of music, you know. That's to be very, very clear. We need music that helps us to be mobilized and organized, but we need, you know, we need music to help us to get through a project. We need music that we, we want to play that helps us to catch somebody's eye, whatever that music may be.

So, all music is good, but sometimes when you cut away from the music that's helping to move the crowd is also intentional. I do think that what I've seen is this, is that, when the movement is strong, the music is strong. But when the movement is weak, the music is weak. And I can say that when movement for Black Lives or movement around standing rock or the movement for women's rights or queer rights, when those movements are strong, artists follow that.

And what I've seen over the past 20 years is that artists then begin to create music based upon what they see. It's not the opposite way. I think that people think that artists create music and people follow. Literally, no. It is usually when Beyoncé, Rihanna, or J. Cole, or Kendrick, they create music because they see us.

So, if you want to see more movement music, we need to make sure our movement is tight. And the stronger our movement is, the more they respond to that. And when they don't see that, they don't respond. And we're seeing that. We're seeing that particularly around many issues right now. When artists see that, it moves them.

And plus, artists and creatives, I think, hear things differently. And so, artists and creatives can hear the screams of us like a dog whistle. They can hear it. And if artists don't respond to what they're hearing, then they themselves, I can tell, go through their own thing. But when they have the outlet to get it out, and I think that's why, with Kendrick, even recently, with Not Like Us, which is literally a death song, but there's some things in that song. You're not a colleague, but a colonizer. There's just certain things that's in there that just hits, right? For us, it's like, “Yeah, you know, that hits home for me.”

So, I think that, when the movement is strong, the music is strong, for sure. That's what I've seen over the past 20 years. And every single time the movement is strong, we get good music and we get good art.

[00:34:33] Amber: I agree. I agree. I think that's why when Euphoria, when Kendrick has said they run to America to imitate heritage, they can't imitate this violence. It, it hit a spiritual point.

[00:34:45] Rev. Yearwood: Yeah, without a doubt. I think that's one, well, Kendrick is very gifted. Shout out to Kendrick. When we did our first, we were doing Green to Black events… we did one in L.A. Man, that would have been 2008? Maybe. 2009. He was one of the opening acts, isn't that crazy? That's wild. Can't get that now, boy, I'm about to tell you. I know they be like… But again, I think that sometimes what I've learned in my history doing this work is that it's really important to plant seeds. And I think that, for me, it’s one of the things that I've tried to live by, is that trying to make sure you have integrity and how you live, because people are always watching.

Ain't about perfect, but that's why I think that particularly for young artists, they're watching. And I think it's unfortunate because we have a lot of people right now in this industry who didn't understand that. And they, they were using their moments of power not to help build anything, but to just exploit. And I think, full circle, it's unfortunate now because now they're hoping to just, well, we see what's happening on that front.

[00:36:02] Amber: It's part of the reason why hip hop is in disarray.

[00:36:05] Rev. Yearwood: I mean, I think it's, again, it's clocked aboard. I mean, hip hop starts, as we know, this concludes the 50th anniversary of hip hop. We're now going to D plus 1, as we say, you know, August 11th. And so, I think that hip hop is created. Literally, it's created. Not, you know, nothing to Kool DJ Herc. And, you know, the first party in the rec center, that isn't how hip hop was created. Hip hop was created literally because Highway Baron, Robert Moses, along with the U.S. government, begins to build highways in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. And they begin to build highways through our communities, causing redlining, causing pollution, causing poverty.

I mean, we started with the Bronx Causeway, literally did it to go over the Bronx. And in doing so, and that policy measure, that creates hip hop. And if those young people, living in the Bronx, are being passed over on that highway, who are literally now seeing crack, and they're seeing drugs, and they're seeing brutality, they begin speaking out.

And so, that's the history of hip hop. So, I do think there's a need to get back to understand our history, that our history is created literally in this country, like many things, because of policy that is used to destroy us. And we somehow use our music, like we did, to escape from enslavement. When somebody sang Down by the Riverside, it had nothing to do with Jesus. It was a road map to freedom. And back then, when we still, and so for artists that are listening now, we still need road maps to freedom now, more than ever. It may not be Down by the Riverside, but we still need things to be planted in our music, in our poetry, in our art, that'll help us to escape to freedom.

[00:38:05] Amber: Mic drop. That was amazing.

Thank you so much, Rev. Yearwood. It was a pleasure to have you here on the HU2U podcast.

[00:38:14] Rev. Yearwood: Oh, it’s glad to be back. HU!

[00:38:16] Amber: You know!

[00:38:18] Rev. Yearwood: Yeah, thanks.


HU2U Podcast: Season 2