Check out my latest piece in Friends We Love on Global Block Foundation, also included below. Big up to hip-hop and community work.
The Global Block Foundation, founded by the Hon. George Martinez (also GBF’s President), Clara Guerrero, and Jelani Mashariki, integrates hip-hop and community work through a group who is truly invested and inclusive in creating sustainable community. It was a pleasure to fly down and facilitate some workshops with Youth Voices Belize, another project I love and which GBF is involved with.
Honestly, I don’t remember how long I’ve known Martinez, aka Rithm. Either I don’t remember… or I don’t want to date myself. We’re fam, meeting through Blackout Arts Collective, and over the years we have shared stories and performance clips of our projects around the globe. How could I not share their work with the Friends We Love circle?
Your introduction to Global Block Foundation may be a bit late, but it’s gotten here with care.
Rithm, take it away.
JCA: How did Global Block Foundation come about?
GM: GBF officially formed in 2008; it represents the natural growth of my own activism and the practical need to begin linking our global communities through arts activism and sustainable development. The reality is that everyone, everywhere lives on a block, whether dirt road or pavement, and I believe that we can change the world one block at a time, connecting them by harnessing the spirit of innovation, creativity and activism at the core of the Hip-Hop movement.
My Hip-Hop and arts activist roots, which grew for me into the GBF, actually started off in the 90s as co-founder of Blackout Arts Collective, and then as a founding board member of the Hip Hop Association (H2A), in 2002. Then, in 2007, I was appointed as a US Cultural Envoy from the Department of State, and began Hip-Hop diplomacy missions throughout Latin America. It was then that I really began to formulate the full idea of the organization called the Global Block. With encouragement and support from my closest friends and colleagues, like Jelani Mashariki, Martha Diaz, and my wife, Clara Guerrero Martinez, I took the plunge and created GBF and began branding it across my work. By 2008, the brand was ready to take legal form based on our programmatic collaborations in NYC, Alaska, Honduras, Bolivia, and El Salvador.
JCA: What are the differences and/or similarities using hip-hop as a tool between your work in the States and abroad?
GM: In 2001, the UN identifies hip-hop as a global culture of peace through the recognition of the Hip-Hop Declaration of Peace. And yet there still is no official museum in NYC, the birthplace of Hip Hop. Overseas, I can say Hip-Hop Ambassador of the United States of America and be taken seriously, while people in the US generally think that I am making it up because they can’t imagine that it is even possible.
In the United States, most don’t know the difference between the rap industry and Hip-Hop culture. While overseas, the Hip-Hop community is still dedicated to the original elements, and they concern themselves with the knowledge of the movement. Now to be clear, the Hip-Hop community in the US is strong, vibrant, and intergenerational and pioneering the next levels of effective organizing and educational platform development. Here is a story that illustrates my main point. While arriving at a venue for a sound check in preparation for a concert that evening in Guatemala City, a group of B-Boys, MC’s and Graffiti artists approached me with an overflowing hard covered journal that had pages hanging out and was held shut with rubber bands. They opened it up and proceeded to ask me if the information that they had accumulated, the knowledge of the Hip-Hop the pioneers, values, techniques, events, etc, was accurate. I was blown away by their commitment to understanding the roots of the culture.
JCA: Please share the cultural and social preservation work the foundation takes part in?
GM: GBF has found itself on the forefront of indigenous peoples’ struggles for land rights, cultural preservation, and the bridging of traditional wisdom with modern tools and approaches all throughout the hemisphere.
Clara Guerrero, my wife and co-founder of the GBF, is a Garifuna woman with family roots in Honduras and Belize. We first visited Honduras in 2004, we visited the village of Masca, which was the village where Clara’s father was born and where he and her mom built a home and small business. After Clara’s mother’s death, Clara began to develop a vision of a Garifuna Community Center named after her mom, Sylvia, to be developed on her parents’ property. By 2006 we had acquired the legal rights to the property and began programming small community events. Now the Sylvia Center for Culture and Development is a part of the GBF, and Clara is the director; its mission is to integrate holistic healing and wellness, cultural preservation and education, through traditional Garifuna wisdom. We have been truly blessed to be a part of the community and work plans included cooperative farming, eco-agro-ethno tourism, health and wellness, education and cultural and language preservation.
GBF is also currently supporting a project in Belize that is built upon models that I have used in New York and other places, but like with all projects that GBF is involved with, it must be developed and led by local folks, incorporate youth, and be relevant to the community. The project is called Youth Voices and is led by Nyasha Laing, daughter of the late Belizean Ambassador to the US, Edward Laing. It seeks to integrate spoken word, film making, and story telling into a youth development initiative.
JCA: Have you had any issues working with the various governments in which projects have taken place, where what the organization is working for and its approaches can be construed as ¨dangerous¨?
GM: Thus far no, save one instance, which was more about the pre-existing tensions between nations and less about GBF. On an envoy mission to Leon, Nicaragua, the Sandinistas who controlled the area tried to shut down one of my workshops and public performances by locking us out of the community center that we were going to use. However, in true hip-hop form, we hit the street and turned it into a block party instead. Then a Sandinista sound truck came rolling through the neighborhood and attempted to crash the block party, at which point neighbors barricaded the streets and prevented them from entering. In that moment my connection with the people and our connection to hip-hop was more important than the historical political tensions between our existing countries, and the politics of the US did not hinder our Hip-Hop diplomacy. This is because hip-hop is an intergenerational, transnational family.
JCA: What is love?
GM: One of the greatest gifts of Life is The Bond Between Me and My Family.
Learn more at http://www.globalblock.org
Published by: juniper in Uncategorized