Chuck D speaks at GCCC on MLK Jr. Day

1/22/2013

By RACHAEL GRAY

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

It's not your characteristics, but your character, that defines you.

That was the main message of rapper and activist Chuck D, who visited Garden City Community College Monday for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.

Chuck D, formerly of the group Public Enemy, touched on a number of topics including drug use, gun use, the value of education, the importance of the arts and activism, and learning to speak up for what is right. He spoke to a gymnasium full of mostly 18- to 21-year-olds, along with community members who visited the college for the free event.

He said he remembers hearing King's voice on television, when he was too young to know exactly what was going on.

"But I remember his face, him speaking his mind, speaking his peace," he said.

Chuck D warned those in the audience to be careful of idolizing athletes and celebrities, and to instead look to your local community for role models.

"Most people listen to athletes and entertainers and not people in their own community," he said.

He called out reality TV actors for not acting their own age, or contributing to society.

"What do the Kardashians actually do?" he asked.

"Reality TV is a bunch of shows with adults not acting their age," he said.

The former hip hop artist also condemned the music industry for deciding the culture or society, instead of letting society decide.

He called on the audience members to support local musicians and not to idolize celebrities who likely won't come to the area to play shows.

"You'll have to go to Denver, drive four hours, or head to Chicago for two days, to even see these people," he said.

He said he plans to start a movement that will encourage radio stations to support local artists instead of just playing Top 40 musicians. The activist also stressed the importance of starting dialogues and face-to-face conversations with peers instead of always using electronic communication.

"We're a society of 'netizens', not citizens," he said.

He said a lot of bullying and problems come from people not interacting with one another.

"We hide behind fonts and spell check. It levels the playing field. You're sitting there having conversations and making threats that you wouldn't make if you were face to face with that person," he said.

He also called for talks about gun control and curbing violence in the U.S.

"It's no coincidence that President Obama on the day of his inauguration, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, brings up gun control," he said.

"Martin Luther King was shot with a high-powered rifle," he said.

Chuck D, who has a degree in design and communication, applauded the students of GCCC for pursuing education.

"I use my degree every day," he said.

He encouraged the students to make the most out of their educational experience, and value their education. He said it isn't just a piece of paper or something required to get a job. He encouraged students to support the arts at the college.

"Community has got to get behind the arts as much as they're behind sports," he said.

Chuck D left the audience with a quote from hip hop artist Rakim.

"It's not where you're from, it's where you're at," he said.

During the celebration, several students read poetry from artists such as Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and The Black Eyed Peas. The GCCC choir performed, and the choir from Mount Zion Church also sang and played instruments.

April Bradshaw, who grew up in Garden City and went to the University of Kansas before coming back to Garden City, has sung at the MLK Day celebration before.

She was impressed with Chuck D's speech.

"He's very real with people. He's basically motivating people to step up. They can make a difference in their communities, no matter what their age. To not be sold, that the only thing you can do to inspire other people is by what you wear, or who knows you, but what you learn in college. And to make a difference using that," she said.

One of the songs the choir sang was "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around," which was a song sung by people fighting for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.

"They were blacks and whites, Asians, men, women students, who all got together to march against Jim Crow Laws in the South. They would sing that song when people were being beaten or hosed down, or dogs set on them to attack them. So they had to make a choice. They had to say, 'Am I going to let that stop me, these horrible things happening? Am I going to let that stop me from what I believe?'" Their courage is why we're here today. Their courage is why we can sit here together and not be segregated," Bradshaw said.

GCCC student Michael Jones, 21, Queens, N.Y., said he had heard of Chuck D before.

"My mom is a huge fan," he said.

"I think a lot of people needed to hear it. A lot of people don't think like that. They look at celebrities and think that's what it's supposed to be about," Jones said.

Jones said he was realistic.

"He was talking to us, not at us," he said.

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