Mariama White-Hammond: Project Hip Hop

Project Hip Hop was started in 1993 and is run out of Roxbury, MA. It is a youth-led organization that aims to re-connect a new generation with the values of the Civil Rights Movement, and to raise people’s awareness of the ongoing struggle against institutionalized racism. Project Hip Hop’s main goal is to teach young people of color community organizing by way of artistic expression, leadership development, awareness of unjust socio-political conditions, and the ability to harness the power of social change.

Mariama White-Hammond has been the executive director of PHH for 11 years, and got involved with the Project in 1994, so this will be her 19th year working with the program.

SCN: What is Project Hip Hop?

MWH: PHH is dedicated to helping young artists develop their craft and use art for social change. Our goal is to be the artistic wing of the Boston social justice movement.

SCN: Are you influenced by the work of Dr. Martin Luther King?

MWH: When I was younger, I had a tense relationship with the idea of Martin Luther King. I thought that over-reliance on one charismatic leader was not good for us, and was not good for our organization. But when I read his writings, I realized that he had come to the same conclusions that I had, and had the same thoughts that I had. For example, how do you empower people to be courageous, while also finding the strength for yourself to be courageous? Martin Luther King saw the good in people, but also was never satisfied with the status quo. He believed that society could be better. I also try to find the balance between seeing the best in people, and fighting to achieve The Best. For all his flaws, I was deeply touched by the fact that he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. I believe that he knew he was going to be killed. So for me, following his example (and also Jesus’ example) means that I want to be so committed to social justice that I live my life for it fully. Achieving the goal is the most important thing.

SCN: What do you hope for Project Hip Hop to achieve?

MWH: Project Hip Hop recognizes that culture and spirit were important to the Civil Rights Movement. Today, we struggle to find courage because our movements don’t have the same power to capture hearts and minds that the Civil Rights Movement did, because of a lack of deep spiritual connection. The point of using the arts as a part of organizing is to help people connect at that deep level, so that they have the information and inspiration to take action.

—Alison Clark

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