Music, and that Irrepressible Resolve
Carolyn Placke is Project HOME’s Director of Housing and Community Development. Much of her work takes place in the lower north central Philadelphia neighborhood, where we do community development work – as reflected in her blog entry.
At the end of each year my partner and I take a look back on the year and offer up our own version of the “Best of…” This comes in the form of experiences, books, newspaper/journal articles, music, art, travel, whatever… There’s no real method to it, just a stream of conscious to give thanks for the past year, and to acknowledge these “best of moments” that shaped us and our world. 2010 was a milestone year of struggle, change, and recommitment for me, and so music became sort of a haven. As I was creating my “music best of” it was a toss up between the Black Eyed Peas’ “The Beginning” and the Roots’ “Wake Up!” Now if you aren’t familiar with either of these groups, you might be if you are anyone or all of these things: a Super Bowl fan, a lover of documentary films, or into the Philly music scene. I’m not a Super Bowl fan, but this year, “The Peas,” as we call them in our home, were part of the half-time show.
So, I became a football fan if only for 20 minutes. Let me tell you – the Peas totally kicked it!
Check out the show. As for the Roots, they are a Philly band formed in the late 80s and known for their hip hop/neo-soul style. I’ve followed them on and off over the years, and I took a special interest in them last year because they had teamed up with John Legend. For those of you that saw the electrifying 2010 documentary about the state of public education, “Waiting For Superman,” you’ll recall the song "Shine." So there’ve you’ve got it … six degrees of separation.
Now, this is a Project HOME blog and so you might be wondering where’s all of this going… veer a bit to the left, just two steps back, refocus on the goal… (a dance move we at “PH” are all familiar with doing), and voila, we’re back to the Roots’ “Wake Up!” The collaboration between the Roots and John Legend is, well, legendary (yup, that was intentional). For those familiar with the soul songs of the 60’s and 70’s you’ll recall the seminal call to action, “Wake Up Everybody.”
Since I’m writing this blog from Philly, this classic from Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes is especially meaningful, as it is rooted in the sounds of Philly Soul music era. But more importantly, this is a CD that uncovers a rich history of funk, revolution, and all that is soulful. It is the music that ignited an era, and yet it still resonates today. Check out remakes of Ernie Hine’s “Our Generation,” or Bill Withers and Ray Jackson’s “I Can’t Write Left Handed.” John Legend credits the Roots’ Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson with finding and compiling these “obscure” songs. He states in the CD’s forward, “Nina Simone said, It’s the job of an artist to reflect the times,’ and we attempted to do just that.” This CD does just that! I’m hard pressed to find music that has ever come so close to expressing, for me, the heart and soul of my work… and, of what I’ve come to know and cherish about the North Philly community where Project HOME’s neighborhood revitalization work occurs.
Our community is steeped in history, strength, sadness, joy, and an irrepressible resolve for neighborhood recovery – all of which I have come to understand are the essential parts of what all individuals aspire to have, and all what communities aspire to be: a place to call home: Housing, Opportunities, Medical care, Education (HOME). But back to the music:
Coming up with an anthem that could inspire a generation who grew up on hip hop and pop (not soul), who came of age with MTV and YouTube (not vinyl), was no easy task. These bright-eyed citizens are “post-racial” and “post-feminist” children: those who have grown up after the legislated victories of the Civil Rights and Women’s Right’s movements. They now soldier the wars of “choice” in Iraq and Afghanistan, but are not shielded by a substantial anti-war movement. They are the beneficiaries of an unprecedented cultural integration, yet remain victims of segregated school and criminal justice systems. They reside in the wealthiest nation, but are divided by inexplicable urban poverty and economic inequality. Strange times indeed. (Salamishah Tillet, from the same CD forward)
Now, bringing it back HOME...These are strange times indeed. But what I know, and have come to understand, is something very simple: One day, one person, one block at a time can lead to enormous change. I see it everyday.