CWR Feature Stories
The Crisis and the Challenge: Health In America
Bread and butter could be what you toast and eat for breakfast each morning or a hip way of saying what you do to put food on the table, but food phrases such as this one could serve as a lens into the alarming obesity epidemic in America and who could be a better choice to Co-Chair the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition (PCFSN) than U.S. Olympian, Dominique Dawes?
As an Olympic medalist and U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Famer, Dawes’ career is a testament to the kind of success that results from hard work and dedication. But perhaps to her fans, what makes Dawes a champion is a combination of her athleticism and her advocacy on important issues that range from health and fitness to self-esteem and equality.
In a recent interview for The College World Reporter, which follows this article, Dawes talks with publisher, Donell Edwards, about her new Presidential Appointment and the importance of educating young Americans on how they can lead healthy lifestyles. “Well, you know, the core mission of the council is to get America more fit,” she said, “we live in a nation right now where 1 in 3 young people ages 2 – 19 is overweight or obese,” she continued.
Co-chairing the Council with quarterback Drew Brees of the World Champion New Orleans Saints means that Dawes will play a significant role in advising the President through the Secretary of Health and Human Services (fitness.gov). In that regard, the “Awesome Dawesome” (as she is known by her coach and teammates [Biography]) said: “We are really excited to take charge and help America, not just young people, but adults as well, become a healthier individual.”
The Council that Dawes and Brees will head consists of up to 25 volunteer citizens and a host of famous chefs, doctors, personal trainers, and athletes have already come onboard (fitness.gov). “It’s going to be number one about educating people, empowering people to get out there and work out, and also trying to ensure that to be a healthy member there are some things they ought to change,” Dawes stated as she spoke on ways the Council will seek to fulfill its mission.
For the PCFSN, some questions will have to be answered before they seek ways to develop accessible, affordable and sustainable physical activity, fitness, sports and nutrition programs for all Americans regardless of age, background or ability (fitness.gov). The “top 10 list,” of topics for the initial meeting on September 14th, Dawes says include: “What direction, what mission do we need to communicate, really to the schools? What do we envision? How do we find a way to fit PE back in schools?”
Aside from her Presidential Appointment, the 33-year-old recently added medal number three to her trophy collection from the Summer Games in Sydney 10 years ago. According to Washington Post writer, Amy Shipley, the International Olympic Committee’s investigation of an under-aged competitor on team China, resulted in a late announcement of their disqualification of third place. “Almost all of us were crying,” Dawes said in the article as she described the celebration that she attended along with her former teammates and coach back in August, it “was just a special moment,” she finished (The Washington Post).
Interestingly enough, Dawes is a champion on many fronts and her wealth of knowledge and experience should serve to benefit the PCFSN as it seeks to engage, educate and empower Americans on the importance of regular physical activity and good nutrition. For more information on PCFSN and to discover more on how you can get involved, be sure to visit http://www.fitness.gov and http://www.presidentschallenge.org.
We now invite you to enjoy our exclusive interview with U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist, U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Famer, and three time Olympian, Ms. Dominique Dawes.
CWR: You have achieved so much and have been involved in so many outstanding works that transcend the world of sports, so, there are a number of things we would like to talk with you about. First of all, can you tell our readers about a program that you have been involved in, the Uniquely Me Program?
Ms. Dawes: I am actually no longer involved in that program. Clearly that is a phenomenal program that the Girl Scouts at USC started, in the early 2000s, and I became their first spokesperson. The focus on that initially was really to build the self esteem of young girls, and help them celebrate and accept how unique they are, because we all come in different shapes and sizes, different colors, different textures; and we are just so different and we need to embrace that, and not see it as a negative. So, it was really about self acceptance and love and also expecting and respecting cultures.
CWR: On June 23rd of this year, you were appointed as one of the Co-Chairs of President Obama’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, along with quarterback Drew Brees of the World Champion New Orleans Saints. What is the mission of the council?
Ms. Dawes: Well, you know, the core mission of the council is to get America more fit. Like, we live in a nation right now where 1 in 3 young people ages 2 – 19 is overweight or obese. We know that as we look around, many people are not only unhealthy where you can see it on the outside, but on the inside. And so, we need to, with the help of this council, and the president wants this done, for us to not just focus on getting people physically active and getting them outside and running, he has added nutrition to the council. So fitness plus nutrition makes people realize that it’s not just about getting out and running, getting a health club membership, as most people think, but it’s also about being smart about what you put in your body. And so, being a council member and being a co-chair along with Drew Brees, we are really excited to take charge and help America, not just young people, but adults as well, become a healthier individual. And we know we can only do that not only by educating and empowering people, because a lot of people don’t know about food. They don’t know what protein and what carbohydrate and what a calorie is. People also don’t know the benefits of cardio-vascular working out, and also the importance of adding good muscle tone and muscle mass. It’s gonna be number one about educating people, empowering people to get out there and work out, and also trying to ensure that to be a healthy member there are some things they ought to change. Until we understand that we can educate and empower people on the importance of fitness and nutrition, that when we go to the grocery store the healthier options are more expensive, it’s gonna be very difficult for people to move away from the higher processed foods. And they are more affordable right now. So we need to make sure we’re changing policy. When you go into the school system today. junior high, high school, and elementary school, there are so many junk foods; sodas and everything that are offered to young people. And of course as a young child if you offered that to me and I really wasn’t educated on the benefits of healthier food, I would choose the junk food, why? Because it really does taste better, if you have not been exposed to good healthy food options. So, it’s not just about educating and empowering, it’s about changing policy, to ensure that the school has fresh food and vegetables.
CWR: So a lot of the focus is on education, but also changing policy?
Ms. Dawes: It’s education, it’s informing people, it’s empowering people, motivating people, to make these subtle and small changes to their daily regimen. To go for a walk during the afternoon, to cook together as a family and let’s try healthier food options. Try to explore and try different things, and like I said, policy change is good.
CWR: How has being a world-class athlete prepared you for your role on the council?
Ms. Dawes: It prepared me not just for my role on the council but honestly for everything in life. It’s not even about being a three-time Olympian. All of my very close friends are individuals that trained with me in Maryland. And the majority of them, like 99.9% of them did not make the Olympics. But a lot of them did qualify and get a college scholarship, earn a college scholarship. And so, when we sit together and we can chat, we talk about how wow! School prepared us for life. It taught us about how hard work does pay off. Sport also taught us to be disciplined. We had phenomenal coaches that pushed us to our limits and even beyond at times. So we developed a huge respect for authority, also realizing that we need someone to help us reach our goals. And so, hard work, commitment, determination, desire, being goal-oriented, and of course working while, with fatigue. Because in life it’s really hard to reach your full potential or, maybe be successful in the world’s eyes, alone. And so, sport taught us all of that and I honestly wouldn’t have changed anything in my 18 year journey in the sport of gymnastics, because I have developed so many qualities that have helped me today.
CWR: You alluded a moment ago to two of the major health problems that affect many Americans, in particular young people, and that is obesity and the other one, which I don’t believe you mentioned, is diabetes. We are particularly interested in informing our readers about the affects of obesity in youths and juvenile diabetes. What can you tell readers about the causes and affects of obesity first of all.
Ms. Dawes: Well, I mean, obviously people know that, as I mentioned before, 1 in 3 young people 2 -19 are overweight. And we need to change that by diet changes, we need to change that by including more physical activity into their daily lifestyle. Now when it comes to diabetes, what’s scary today is that when I was growing up Type 2 diabetes was called adult onset diabetes. But now, because so many young people are developing Type 2 diabetes, it is no longer referred to as adult onset diabetes. It’s just called Type 2 diabetes. And that’s occurring because of lifestyle choices. Now, some people may have diabetes as something that runs in their family, and maybe may become more susceptible, and I’m not a doctor. However, through the research that I’ve done and what’s been provided to me, Type 2 diabetes develops because of lifestyle choices; choosing to be sedentary, choosing to eat unhealthy food, not choosing to be healthy. And many times when an adult or a family member, like a parent, mother or father, that’s close to the kid, develops Type 2 diabetes and is overweight, there is an 80% chance that kid will become overweight or obese in life, and early in life. And so, the thing is it’s scary, it’s alarming, and just recently I was in Florida for a speaking engagement, and I was speaking to a pediatrician, and she had said that this is something that America really needs to take notice of. Because this is the first generation of young people that will not live as long as their parents, because of their physical health concerns. Because of being overweight, because of developing Type 2 diabetes, because of developing the onset of cardiovascular disease at such a young age. So, it is alarming and that is why I am so thrilled to co-chair this president’s council, because it is really an opportunity for us to save the nation.
CWR: So essentially what you are saying is that most of us can protect ourselves by making the correct choices and lifestyle changes, correct?
Ms. Dawes: I mean, it’s all about the Type 2 diabetes, and being overweight and obese. And if you look at your family history, you might be more susceptible to developing certain things. If both parents are overweight, or maybe you took the genes of a parent that is overweight or obese. Be smart about what you’re gonna put in your body. Be smart about choosing to be a little bit more physically active and just take those small steps. It’s not about let’s go to the gym right away and work out 60 minutes a day. I understand if someone has not worked out in years, or it’s not something they enjoy doing, but it’s probably gonna to be a challenge. But it’s like taking that step of doing 20 minutes of walking a day, even if it starts off at a slow pace. Instead of having that cheeseburger at McDonald’s or whatever fast food restaurant you may go to, opt to get the grilled chicken sandwich. I still go to McDonald’s, I go to Wendy’s, McDonald’s, I go to fast food places because why? It’s quick and easy. But, I will choose the grilled chicken sandwich without mayo, at McDonald’s. I will get the apple slices, and I will get the Dasani water. Every now and then I will splurge and get that h-u-g-e thing of sweet tea. It’s probably way too many calories, but it’s once in a while, and that’s all that we want to encourage people. It’s like making the smart choices, moderation is key, don’t have that sweet tea or that soda everyday, moderation is key.
CWR: In order to effectively combat these problems, obesity, diabetes, I would imagine it requires a united effort that involves everyone. So, let’s talk about the role various groups can play in fighting the alarming increase in juvenile diabetes and obesity among youths and young adults. First of all, what can parents do?
Ms. Dawes: Well just the other day I was speaking specifically to parents and I was saying how it is important for us parents to realize that we are role models, and I believe parents understand that and respect that. And for so many years they’ve realized that, oh, what I say to my child will be absorbed by them, or, the example that I set in regard to self-esteem or work ethic will be observed by the kid and usually demonstrated. However, do not forget, that you are a role model when it comes to what you are eating at the dinner table. You are a role model when the kid looks at you and sees that you are consuming sodas all day, or not working out, or overweight, or just living unhealthy. You are a role model, and I always encourage parents, and even aunts and uncles, or people that really care about kids, or work with kids, teachers as well, make sure you present a positive example for them. You are making those healthier food options and you’ve shown that in front of them so they can see that you are eating healthy foods, that you’re working out, and that you really do care about your physical health, and I believe that our young people will then start caring about their physical health too.
CWR: When we look at children, teens, young adults and the role they play in living more healthy lives, it reminds me of my early days as a football player in junior high school. I was in the best physical condition of my life because we had a very, very rigorous conditioning routine. I also made the choice to eliminate all sugar, all soft drinks, and high fat foods, etc., from my diet. I chose to have a very healthy and balanced diet because I wanted to excel as an athlete. I had a purpose, I had a cause. How do we give young people the motivation to live healthier lives?
Ms. Dawes: That is a very good point that you made. Earlier this year I had gone to Oklahoma City to help kick off the Let’s Move Oklahoma City Riversport Challenge. Let’s Move is an initiative that the First Lady started specifically to combat childhood obesity because it is alarming. And at that event I spoke to kids because I realized, we’ll learn from our parents, we’ll look and observe what they’re doing, and of course if they give us only healthy food options at dinner, that’s all we can choose from. You know, which is good. However, many times kids need a little bit of a motivation, you know, a motivating factor. And I talk about the importance of having dreams and goals. Because just as you were when you were younger and aspiring to be a great football player, I was the same way when I was a young gymnast. And I remember getting taught at a young age that fast food is not gonna help get me to the Olympics. And that fast food is not gonna give me the healthy energy that I need to endure a seven hour gymnastics training session. And so when I was young I never knocked out a particular food group, I never avoided certain things, but I truly began convincing myself that, you know what, if I eat this food, my dream’s not gonna come true. So I quickly developed a distaste for many different foods. I never, cared to have cake on my birthday. I was like, uh uh, that is not gonna be for me. And of course all my teammates had birthdays and I never had cake, during their birthday parties as well. And so, the thing is, warn kids, it’s important to them to focus on what do they want to be when they grow up. What do they want to aspire to become? Either if it’s in athletics, in arts, or academics, and then realize you know what, if you have a healthy body and a healthy mind, it’s gonna help you get there a little faster. And so maybe then they’ll think a little bit more about, OK, let me make some healthier food options, and then I can achieve my goal. And I think that’ll truly motivate our youth.
CWR: You mentioned previously about schools and the unhealthy food that is available to young people, and how susceptible they are to giving in to what they like. But we also hear reports of some schools removing soft drink machines and replacing them with juice vending machines, and other schools replacing traditional menus with healthier more nutritional menus. Can you give other examples of what schools are doing, or can do to provide students with more healthy food options?
Ms. Dawes: Recently the First Lady, in support of the Child Nutrition Act, which is about doing just what you said, getting off of fast foods, getting junk food out of schools, getting soft drinks out of vending machines, filling it with water; plain old H2O. And giving kids more healthy options to choose from. And that’s what is occurring right now. Another thing as I mentioned earlier, getting fresh fruit and vegetables into the schools. Schools need grant money for that, and this bill, the Child Nutrition Bill, will provide that. I believe it’s $4.5 billion dollars to go to schools nationwide to change the look, the feel, of the food industries in the schools, to ensure that our kids are actually given a chance to be healthy. And it’s not just about, oh well, make us more choice, but at school you only have a choice of chicken pot pie, tater tots, pizza, and soft drinks. Then it’s really, really hard; you know it’s really hard. And so, I’m happy to hear that many adults are getting out and taking a stand, and I’m sure parents have stepped in too, like hello, my kids need to have healthy food options at school. And so, with that said, there are going to be many more healthier options in schools. It’ll probably take a little bit of a while, but yes, schools have already taken, some have taken soft drinks out of the vending machines, some have taken a lot of the chips and everything out of the vending machines. And then some have really started to make a change with their physical activity programs. PE (physical education) today is not mandatory, and it’s not even offered five days a week, in many, many schools across the nation. And I remember when I grew up, I remember recess, I remember PE, I remember trying to learn how to play football and I hated it. I could not catch that ball to save my life. It was frustrating for me, but it was fun, and it was helping me to remain fit. And today kids are not getting that opportunity. They’re maybe getting PE once or twice a week, and so that’s another thing that’s going to be addressed later on.
CWR: The lack of physical education in our schools is one of my pet peeves. We’ll discuss this at length later. However, continuing the discussion of what parents, schools, and the food industry can do to help win this war, and that’s what it is, a war to combat unhealthy lifestyles and return to a healthier way of living, requires a united effort. I commend some of the fast food restaurants and what they are doing with their menus, such as including milk, juice, and fruit in their kids meals, adding salads to their menus, and so forth. Some of the snack food companies are offering baked items in addition to the fried products we are accustomed to. There are more healthy options now, so change is occurring. But is this just superficial, or is there more that we should ask from the fast food chains, the snack food companies, and the soft drink companies as parents and consumers?
Ms. Dawes: A change in marketing! If you look at how foods are marketed today, I think that fast foods and snack foods are the least desirable. You know, I think that’s something that I want. If you look at the commercials that kids are viewing each and every day when they are watching television. So that’s one thing that needs to be addressed, marketing, healthy food options to children. Not once in a while, but all the time. Not just focusing on sugary cereals, or the fast foods, or the yogurt that’s full of sugar or what have you. But really getting fruits and vegetables in there and marketing it to young kids, kids that are in pre-school. Because they look for what they see on TV and they know, wow, I want to try that, that looks good! And right now if you watch, let’s just say watch a day of children’s programming, and you’ll see right away, sugar, sugar, sugar, fried, fried, fried. And lots of kids are then told that that’s desirable, and that’s the thing they go after. And so, I do commend the fast food industry for making changes. I’m currently watching “Super-Size Me”
http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/super_size_me/, for like the seventh time. And that is a phenomenal movie that I recommend. It talks about how this young man consumes McDonald’s food for 30 days straight. And he is gaining a lot of weight. And it’s not only affecting him externally, but it’s affecting him internally. And, the thing is if you eat McDonald’s each and every day, which most of us do not, this is what’s gonna to happen to your body. So it makes you think twice about consuming fast foods regularly. The thing is from that, McDonald’s no longer has super sizes anymore. They have now incorporated more nice, healthy options like the apple slices. They have Dasani water that they sell, they didn’t sell bottled water many years ago. I tend to go to Wendy’s a great deal I get their salads, I love their baked potatoes, I love their grilled chicken sandwich because it comes with honey mustard. And so, the thing is, the fast food industry has made changes, and I commend them unto the council. You know, seeing what they’re doing, but you can always make more changes.
CWR: I hadn’t thought about the marketing and that’s an excellent point. I assume that’s one of the things the council will be doing, looking at the fast food and snack food industry marketing to children?
Ms. Dawes: You know, I wish I could tell you. Everyone has been interviewing me about the council but we haven’t had our first meeting yet. Now it’s in September. It’s September 14th, we’re gonna have our first meeting. Everyone’s gonna be together. I don’t even know who all the 25 members are yet. So, it’ll be a good introductory session of whose who, and really what our goals are. But I will guarantee you that I will bring it up and I’m sure someone else will to; you know, the marketing. Because, that’s crucial, the average person is watching hours of TV a day, and it’s feeding their minds, and from that it’s gonna be feeding their bodies unhealthy.
CWR: What was the name of the movie you mentioned?
Ms. Dawes: “Fast Food Nation”
http://www.foxsearchlight.com/fastfoodnation/. It’s about the gentleman that’s supersizing everything at McDonald’s. “Food, Inc.”
http://www.topdocumentaryfilms.com/food-inc/ is another movie that I just saw. It’s a good one as well. Getting the background on the agricultural industry, and how that’s, you know, affecting so much.
CWR: Lets move the conversation to dieting, and talk about exercising and being active. Many people think the only way to lose weight is to go on a diet, and there are literally hundreds of diets that people have tried. What are your thoughts on dieting?
Ms. Dawes: I think the thing is to maintain healthier choices. And if you really mean to lose weight then it takes obviously eliminating certain junk foods, eliminating it for a while. And having grilled chicken, having steamed or raw vegetables, making those smart changes; having milk and water. And if you are going to have fruit juice get a juicer. And so the thing is it’s all about how you feel making those smarter choices. And moderation is key. I know whenever I travel the country, especially when I go to Europe, I lose weight. And it’s not because I am out there walking all the time. The thing is their portion size, is just enough for us to survive. So if you go to Europe, you’ll have slightly more than half, maybe, of what they serve in America. So you come back to the states and you then realize, oh my goodness! We’re being overfed. You know when I was younger, my grandfather and my parents would say, don’t you get up off that kitchen table until you’ve finished your food. So whatever is on my plate, I’ve been taught to consume, and devour. And the thing in America, they give us nearly twice as much food as we truly need to survive. And so the thing is moderation is key. And there are so many websites that really talk about when you look at your dinner plate or your lunch plate, how much you can have as far as protein, I think it’s a fist size. Ball your fist up, and that’s how much protein you should have on your plate. For vegetables, spread your hand out, for vegetables, it should be that much on your plate. And so the thing is it’s like, realizing OK, how do I learn these simple things and incorporate them into my daily lifestyle? And at this point, making those healthier choices, and cutting down the amount of food you have, you won’t ever need to go on a diet, because this has become your lifestyle.
CWR: When we consider exercise and being active, what do you recommend so that busy people find the time for exercising and being more active?
Ms. Dawes: I am not married and I do not have children, I have two dogs. For those people that are married and they have children, it’s ten times harder. And that’s the number one complaint that I’ve heard from both men and women, they don’t have the time. And then for many of them, they don’t have the finances to pay the monthly membership gym fee and only go there twice a month. It doesn’t make sense. And so the thing is, for physical activity if you have a family, find ways that you can do physical activity, even if it’s just walking, even if it’s biking, with your family. Because it’s not only gonna be good for you physically, but it will be great quality time for your family. So, maybe you can incorporate that on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Then throughout the week, maybe there’s days when you can walk during your lunch hour at work. Instead of always taking the elevator, take the stairs. I know whenever I go to the movies here in central Maryland there are so many stairs to get to the top of this movie theater right. And, there’s of course an escalator and also an elevator. But I always opt to take the stairs, and I’m not saying oh that’s going to make someone better if they take the stairs the one time they go to the movie theaters, a week. But making those subtle changes will kind of get your body and your mind more accustomed to becoming more physically active. And that’s the same thing I do when I’m at the airport. Instead of riding the escalator or taking the elevator, I walk up the stairs. It’s just staying active and moving. I love doing lawn work, it’s something I love doing, it’s therapeutic honestly. I also do exercise when I’m on the road. Whenever I travel I take a jump rope. That’s something I’ve always loved doing since I was a young gymnast. And I’ll jump rope in my hotel room, or I’ll jump rope in the hotel gym, or I’ll jump rope even at home in my living room when I’m watching a little bit of TV. And so, it’s just finding those ways to get in 30 minutes, 60 minutes, and then making it truly a part of your lifestyle. It should be just a part of your lifestyle as everyone knows you wash your face and brush your teeth. You should know that everyday you find a way to get in that 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity each and everyday. And not only will you see a difference, but more importantly you will feel a difference.
CWR: I mentioned previously that one of my pet peeves is the lack of physical education classes in most schools today. There was a time when physical education was a requirement, and the President of the U.S. had a program supporting PE in the schools. What happened? And as a member of the President’s Council will you make a recommendation to restore regular physical education to the schools?
Ms. Dawes: Oh of course. It’s a no brainer that we need to ensure that kids are not only being fed properly in school, but obviously moving. Someone said it best and I don’t know who it was, that the whole no child left behind, really left every child on their behinds. Because no child left behind puts all the funding toward academics. And I understand that the United States is obviously struggling and we need to make sure our kids are being taught properly, our test scores need to be higher; in relation to the rest of the world, we are not doing so well. Now we’re one of the richest nations, yet we are still struggling, our kids are still struggling, and we’re failing them. And we need to change that. However, when you take the funding away from one side of the, one fund pot, that pot that’s lost the funding is going to be neglected in physical activity. The thing is, kids may be getting smarter, but they’re getting fatter. And so, we need to find a way to balance it, we want our kids to be smart. We know that academics and knowledge is the key to success. I’ve heard that since I was growing up. When I signed a full scholarship to Stanford University in 1994 I believe that was one of the proudest moments of my coach’s life. Though I ended up going to two more Olympic games and graduated from the University of Maryland College Park, but it was instilled in me that education was important. But the thing is we need to make sure our kids are told that their physical health is important too. And that it’s not about learning how to throw a football, it’s not about kicking a soccer ball, but it’s really about getting them physically active, and helping them learn the values that we spoke about earlier, about the discipline, the commitment, the teamwork. They need to learn that from the physical activity. And so the thing is, we need to stress the importance of academics, but also show our kids, that being involved with moving their bodies and being involved in some sports is key. And I think, for young kids, it is about sports. It’s not about, oh let’s have them run around a tree a couple time. Because I remember, you talking, you just said there was the President’s Challenge, that still does exist. It’s presidentschallenge.org, people can still win a PALA award, it’s the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award. It is still something that people can earn even on their own outside of their school. But the thing is, I remember seeing girls and boys, when we were doing the mile run test, standing behind a big tree. And they would tell me, “Dominique, let me know when you’re on your last lap and I’ll come running around.” So, a lot of kids were not necessarily taking that seriously. You know, and I understand there was a test, and you like received a score card, and good, great, not so good. So we need to have our kids in organized sports and they need to learn about working with teams, they need to learn about challenging themselves, they need to learn about winning and losing, because that’s what life is about. And so, I feel that when we get together as a council coming up in the next month, that will be something that we all will be stressing. What direction, what mission do we need to communicate, really to the schools? What do we envision? How do we find a way to fit PE back in schools? And so, that will definitely be, I will guarantee it will be on our top 10 list.
CWR: How can our readers help you and the other members of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition accomplish your mission?
Ms. Dawes: To get more information on the council go to fitness.gov, and that’ll be helpful because they’ll really get a better understanding of really what the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition is all about. And they’ll find areas where they can volunteer or events that we’re going to be doing. Also, go into presidentschallenge.org. I think that will be key as well because organizations can find ways to be the President’s Challenge advocate. So that’s non-profits, that’s schools, that’s corporations that have lived up to a certain criteria that they have committed their organization, their group, to becoming physically active. And so, there’s ways that they can even be acknowledged by the President. Not only can they use the President’s Council seal, but they can get recognition from President Obama saying really congratulations for caring about your physical health, for caring about your organization’s overall health. And so those are two websites that I would highly recommend your readers go to fitness.gov, and presidentschallenge.org.
CWR: In conclusion, what message or advice would you like to offer to our readers?
Ms. Dawes: Well they are still in college and so I would say, outside of the whole health and fitness focus, I would say truly, we are not in a very prosperous time right now, and many college students are graduating from college and there are not jobs waiting for them. And so my advice to students that are still in college is to take advantage of the environment that you’re in, and utilize college truly as a springboard to where you want to get later on in life. And it’s not just about your GPA and everything like that is truly very important. But it’s also about your network that you develop through college. It’s about the relationships that you build, and I’m not talking about the relationships when you’re partying. I’m talking about the relationships you have with your professor, the relationships that you have with the administration at the school. Take part in functions where you go out and you meet other people, either other young professionals, or other older professionals in the corporate world or in organizations that maybe you have an interest in. And so it’s all about, I feel, while you’re in college building a stronger network. Get involved in clubs. I missed out a lot in college because I really didn’t have a normal college life, I was traveling every week to speaking engagements and speaking to CEOs of companies and their marketing teams. And I was making great money, and that’s what I thought college was about. Oh well! I gotta go speak to the marketing team at Mass Mutual because it’s my job. But the thing is, it’s about building relationships so that when you get out of college you have a strong network of people that you can go to, either to get advice, either to get maybe a job, or anything and everything to focus on helping you move down your career path. So, I always try to encourage young people, of course get good grades, and focus on what you’re doing. But don’t forget, utilize the college network that you have around you. And groups are the easiest and best way to do it.
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Cost Versus Value: Does A College Education Count Anymore?
By CWR Staff
There has been much written about the increasing numbers of jobs that have been lost within the past few years. Many of these employees are college graduates. This, in addition to the spiraling cost of a college education has been a cause of alarm for some. They ask, in view of the spiraling cost of a college education in today’s economy, is it still a good investment? Will I get a good return on my investment, or if things continue as they are, will I even be able to break even, or will I lose money in the long term?
These are all valid questions and concerns. As an advocate for students, The CWR wanted to provide our readers with some answers to these questions. So we did some research with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and also we interviewed representatives from two major organizations that work with colleges and employers.
We interviewed Ms. Mimi Collins, Director of Communications for the National Association of Colleges and Employees (NACE), which works to facilitate the employment of the college educated. The bulk of their membership is made up of people who are either college career service professionals, and recruiters in organizations that have a focus on college recruiting and bringing in new college graduates as a part of their workforce.
We also interviewed Mr. Jason Kiker, Educational Research Analyst with the Association for Career and Technical Edcation (ACTE). Mr. Kiker says ACTE is the national level education association dedicated to the advancement of education that prepares youth and adults for careers. Their membership is made up mainly of secondary teachers, administrators, and post secondary teachers and administrators from community colleges and technical colleges.
It is a fact that college tuition has significantly increased, so, in relation to opportunities and salaries for college graduates, is the cost to benefit ratio still in favor of the graduate? We asked both Ms. Collins and Mr. Kiker about this.
“The government data shows that the more education you have the better off you are over the lifetime of your career. Your unemployment rate is going to be lower, and you are going to make more money,” according to Ms. Collins.
What do the statistics reveal about the value of a college degree. Mr. Kiker citing statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics says, “If you look at someone who drops out of high school, their average salary per year is under $25,000. Someone who just has an associate degree, someone who has a 2-year degree, a technical degree; their average annual earnings are $41,000. A $16,000 difference for graduating high school and for getting a 2-year degree of some sort. If you continue on and get a bachelor’s degree, which many career and technical education students do, it goes up to $51,000.”
So from an earnings standpoint, looking at the big picture, college graduates still fare better than those who do not have a degree.
But there is another important aspect of this conversation, and that is the unemployment rate as it relates to college graduates, and those without a college degree. A major concern of some college students in view of all of the jobs that have recently been lost, is what the landscape will look like one to four years from now and beyond, when many of them graduate. The workforce has been infused with a massive number of qualified, experienced, college graduates. What impact will this have on future college graduates?
According to Ms. Collins, based on their data and research college graduates should still be in a very good position to successfully compete for career positions. “In terms of employment rate we do a student survey each year through our college members. And it’s representational obviously, it’s not every college student. But we do get a sense of how many students have had a job offer before they have graduated and what not. And we also survey our members, the college people, and ask them, because they typically will survey, do like a first destination survey. Fairly consistently, and these are not hard and fast numbers, I am just giving you the general statistics, what we have seen fairly consistently is that within six months of graduation most students have either gotten a job, or decided that they are going on for graduate school, or in the case of a 2-year college graduate, they are going on for their Bachelor’s degree.”
It should be noted that as bad as the economy is, and it is still in a very dire condition, there are still jobs and there are still companies hiring. The job of working to get a job just becomes more difficult, but not impossible. So students who will soon be entering the workforce should still be able to succeed in starting their careers; it may take longer, and it will be more difficult.
Let us take another look from a statistical vantage point at the unemployment rate of college graduates versus those without a college degree. Citing the same aforementioned sources, Mr. Kiker states, “Someone who drops out of high school is going to be unemployed at about a 7% rate. Seven percent of those people will be unemployed. A fairly high and significant number. If you look at someone who graduates from high school and goes on to get an associate’s degree, that unemployment rate drops to 3.0%. So you’re talking more than twice as likely to be employed, by just having an associate’s degree. With a bachelor’s degree it drops to 2.3%. So, the idea that the value of a college degree, whether 2-year, or 4-year, or beyond that is decreasing, is just by the numbers alone, by salary and whether or not you’re unemployed, shows that there is exceptional value to having an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree and beyond that.”
Obviously there are some challenges for graduates on the road ahead. But based on the available data, it appears that even with the rising cost of a college education, college graduates should fare better than those without a college degree. I am sure someone is reading this and saying how much they earn without a college degree, or they may know someone who is doing well without a college degree. There are always exceptions, and the statistics show that those people are the exception, rather than the rule.
Also, consider this, if you have been successful, or know someone you consider successful who does not have a college degree. If for some reason they lose their job, is it reasonable to think in today’s economy they will be able to find employment equivalent to the position and salary they now enjoy, without a college degree. Not very likely, because the times and the rules have changed.
Commenting on the increased importance of a college degree as the economy tightens, Mr. Kiker offered these thoughts: “I was looking through an article and they were talking about how you sort of identify whose going to be a good worker. And, they are talking in general saying most places will look at an education as the beginning point…all of them sort of said, if you don’t have a college degree of some sort, you’re not even going to get that first interview. It’s going to be used as a gatekeeper. I think that’s going to become more relevant now because you’re going to see more and more businesses and industries sort of say I would rather have someone who I at least know has gone through this level,…we’ll hopefully find someone who has the skills and we will only have to train them on specific job related skills, more than having to then train them how to make sure they understand what they are reading, understand the mathematics behind what they are doing, how to work on a team, how to lead a team, how to be given a project and look at it from all angles and understand, OK, these are the five things I am going to need to do before I even start the main project, because I have to have a solid foundation of research and understanding what’s going on. And those are skills that are taught to you within a 2-year degree, a 4-year degree, or beyond that.”
What Mr. Kiker alludes to is the probability that jobs that are now available to some who do not have college degrees will now be upgraded to require a college degree, because employers will change their requirements and prefer employees who are prepared to do more, from the first day, with little or no training. And this usually comes with college preparation.
We want our readers to be prepared to get out in front of what may be potential obstacles, so we asked Ms. Collins what advice she has for college students preparing for their future careers, and those who will soon be graduating and entering the workforce: “While you are in college you are in a unique situation in that in most cases you are going to have access to expert advice and assistance in conducting a job search. And that’s through your campus career center. Number one, there are employers that are hiring, and they can help you figure out who is hiring. They can also figure out, for some students, that they may have to change their focus. For example, if you were considering a career in finance, and you thought you were going to work on Wall Street, chances are you are going to have to broaden that search beyond Wall Street. A career center can help you get started and can guide you along the way, they also can do a lot of very practical things: help you develop a resume, critique your resume, help you with your interviewing skills, many career centers will have mock interview programs. So once you get out of college you can’t always contact the career center at your alma mater. I am not saying you can’t. But generally if people need career advice or career assistance once they are out of college, they are often on their own, or they have to pay a career counselor to help them. So while you are in college you have access to that campus career center.”
We have attempted to present the facts in this article, and the facts are, according to available statistics from the U.S. Census Department and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, college graduates earn more, significantly more than those without a college degree; college graduates have a significantly lower unemployment rate than those without a college degree; and indications are that employers will become more selective in the near future, preferring to hire those with college degrees.
Another very important point we want to make, following on the advice offered by Ms. Collins, who emphasized the use of your campus career center, is to really work closely with the career center staff. If they see that you are determined and sincere, in most instances they will help you. So, now more than ever use all of the resources available through your campus career center, and be unrelenting until you get what you need from them.
Also, you will find much of the information and advice you need free of charge in The College World Reporter in our monthly career advice section, The CWR Career Zone, with our career experts, Ms. Terry Pile and Mrs. Tara Goodfellow.
A college degree does still have value, it still counts, but what students need to understand is that it is of paramount importance to study hard, study smart, be thoroughly prepared for classes, make good grades, and participate in internships or co-op programs, and do all of the things that make you stand out from the crowd. You must acquire the ability to present yourself more effectively to potential employers than your competition. It will not be enough just to have a college degree.
How Much Money Are You Throwing Away?
By Donell Edwards
One of the things that amazes me as I talk with college students is the lack of knowledge many students possess about scholarships. Then there are those who are fully aware of the benefits of seeking scholarships, yet they fail to do so. That is why it is a priority of mine at The College World Reporter to ensure that our readers have a much greater understanding and appreciation of the benefits of scholarships, and to enable readers with the information they need to pursue and succeed in getting scholarships.
With research and effort, you can greatly reduce the amount of your student loan, or completely erase your student loan debt. So, how much money are you throwing away by not looking for and applying for scholarships? If you do the research after reading this article, you may be very surprised.
One of the best websites I have found to search for scholarships is FastWeb. The link to FastWeb is listed in the Resource Links section of this newsletter. The Arkansas Student Loan Authority (ASLA) also has a very good scholarship website which is listed in our Scholarship Links. Many other states also offer scholarship search websites, check with the Department of Education in your state of residence for information about scholarships in your state.
FastWeb takes a little time and effort to create your profile, but once you have created your profile it does all of the work for you, and continues to search for scholarships that match your profile and sends this information to your email address.
For students living in Arkansas, the ASLA website, Fund my Future, is similar, and you can save your information when you do a search; the only time the information would need to be changed is if you wanted to change the search parameters.
It makes no matter how old you are, or what your classification in college is, you can still apply for scholarships for which you meet the eligibility requirements.
If you have never applied for a scholarship before, you may have questions. Even if you have searched for and applied for scholarships, you may still need help.
That is why I have asked Ms. Lisa Smith, Outreach Manager at the Arkansas Student Loan Authority, to help provide some basic steps you can take to be successful in looking for and applying for scholarships.
CWR: Ms. Smith, welcome to The College World Reporter. Some of our readers are high school students, when should they begin the search for scholarships, and what should they do to ensure the highest level of success?
Ms. Smith: There are some scholarships available for juniors, but the majority of the scholarships are for seniors. Applicants should start searching for scholarships in the fall of their junior and senior years to stay on top of early deadlines.
CWR: What advice would you offer for readers who are already college students and who may fail to apply for scholarships because they think only high school students are eligible, or who may think their chances of receiving scholarships are so unlikely it is a waste of time?
Ms. Smith: Current college undergraduate and graduate students should continue to apply for scholarships. There are many scholarships that they could qualify for if eligibility requirements are met. There are some scholarships that are specifically for students who are already attending college.
CWR: Does the state of Arkansas have scholarships for students with special needs, for example, single parents, students with learning disabilities, disabled students, or other special needs? If so, is there any restriction on how and where these scholarships may be used.
Ms. Smith: There are scholarships available to special need students and single parents if they meet the qualifications. For additional information readers should visit the Arkansas Student Loan Authority’s website at www.asla.info.
CWR: You stated in a previous interview in another publication that it is possible to attend college with only scholarship money. Would you elaborate on this comment and explain how students may accomplish this?
Ms. Smith: If students are willing to work hard on the front end by maintaining a high GPA in school and by starting the scholarships search process early, they could possibly receive enough money in scholarship award to cover their cost of attendance. It is also good to designate time daily to research and apply for scholarships.
CWR: Is there a limit to the number of scholarships a student can apply for, and what are some examples of scholarships you recommend students research and apply for?
Ms. Smith: There’s not a limit on the number of private funded scholarships that a student can apply for. Students should take advantage of resources available on the Arkansas Student Loan Authority’s website www.asla.info and apply for scholarships through our Fund My Future Scholarship Search. Students should also look for characteristics that make them unique such as a twin, left handed, so tall or so short, etc., and incorporate them into their scholarship search. Students can search independently by thinking of the products they use daily and research that company website.
CWR: Many of our readers live in other states. For those readers who are unsure where to go for assistance in their states, what state agency should they contact for information and assistance about scholarships?
Ms. Smith: Students can contact the Arkansas Student Loan Authority at 800-443-6030, and we can provide them with the contact information for their state.
CWR: Is there any other advice you would offer or recommendations you would make to our readers about scholarships?
Ms. Smith: Potential students should search for free money first, and apply for student loans only if they are needed. Scholarships do not have to be paid back, but loans do. So don’t start off your future with unnecessary student loan debt.
So readers who are or will be college students, empower yourselves, search vigorously for scholarships and apply for them relentlessly, and you will be rewarded accordingly.
Travel: A Different Kind of Education
By Donell Edwards
Featuring an Interview with Ms. Patricia Schultz, author of 1,000 Places To See Before You Die, and 1,000 Places To See In The USA and Canada Before You Die.
There are many different kinds of education. It is wonderful to be blessed with the privilege of a college or university education. It is a blessing and a privilege, because, unfortunately, there are many people who have not received that opportunity.
Just as a college education may be out of reach for some, traveling abroad and the education it provides may also appear to be beyond the means of some of our readers.
We feel very strongly that traveling to other countries, learning about the people, their customs, their culture, and their history, greatly enhances one’s education, and provides a different education than can be had in any classroom.
That is why we sought out one of the foremost authorities on the subject of travel in the world, Ms. Patricia Schultz, the author of the books, 1,000 Places To See Before You Die, and 1,000 Places To See In The USA and Canada Before You Die, to help our readers understand that traveling abroad is possible, even for those of modest means.
So, whether you are a college or university student, a college graduate, a family head, a single parent, or struggling from paycheck-to-paycheck, you will benefit greatly from reading our interview with Ms. Shultz, and you may discover that whatever your circumstances, you may be able to visit another country, and why you should make that a goal.
CWR: How did you get interested in travel and becoming a travel authority?
Ms. Schultz: It wasn’t a kind of decision making process. I think that quite early on I understood naturally that my own little bubble, my own little small town in upstate New York didn’t seem to quite do it for me (laughter). So there was a lot of wandering going on in my teens. I was lucky enough to leave that environment, which was lovely. I had a great family, I had a very loving and extended and warm family, but it was quite provincial I guess for me. It wasn’t as, you know challenging or exhilarating, to somebody with what my parents understood early on was a healthy dose of curiosity. So I left at eighteen, I went to school in Washington, D.C. at Georgetown University, and that I’ve always understood was the turning point. Unlike 99% of the student body, I really didn’t understand what I wanted to do with my life. But I did know that in studying languages, which had always fascinated me, that it wasn’t necessarily, going to be what would occupy my life. Most of my fellow students were intending to teach languages or to become interpreters, there was a lot of talk of the United Nations and that environment, but I understood that it rather would be an asset that I brought with me to do than something else. What that something else was it took me so long to figure out, but I had a great time trying to figure out. Took a gap year, became many gap years at the university, and I had chance to do one article that lead to many articles that lead to guidebook writing, and then this book, 1,000 Places, which was an enormously wonderful opportunity that had me kind of put everything that ever fascinated me on this globe between two covers.
CWR: So, you actually began traveling during your young adulthood?
Ms. Schultz: Yeah, you know my parents, it was a very modest family situation that I came from. Both my parents were children of immigrants and times were tough and they the result of the recession in the 20s, 30s, World War II; really all they wanted to do was work a double shift to make a college education happen for their offspring. And I then really was lucky enough to profit from that by having this sense that the world really was mine. And had parents who were encouraging enough to have me feel that it was for me to go out and explore and see things. So we never traveled as a family other than a summertime trip to the Jersey coast. Which is not all that exotic or thrilling an adventure, but tell that to a six year old. To me it was, you know, I was packed and in the back seat a week before we were leaving. And I think it was my first realization that there was a whole world out there; you know you didn’t need to give a six year old a passport and put them on a plane to China to have them understand that your comfort zone and your little bubble is all fine and wonderful and enjoyable, but then the other 90% of your life should be then getting out beyond that to see what the rest of the world promises. And again, I have to keep coming back to the acknowledgment of my parents, who understood that my world which was so far different from anything they had ever experienced, growing up or in their adulthood. The world that I hoped to make mine was so far different from what they knew, but they never once tried to hold me back, and if anything, were of the mantra, whatever floats your boat, whatever interests you, whatever gets you out of bed in the morning with a smile on your face, when you do for your profession what you love in life, then you’ll never work a day in your life. And I think that I’m the poster child for that because, I don’t think it would have been at all possible had I not had that instilled in me at an early point, and those early points in your life invariably come from your parents and your upbringing.
CWR: You mentioned something that I want to explore a little more. If a person is of modest means and wants to become a world traveler, what suggestions do you have as far as how to find the means to travel abroad?
Ms. Schultz: Well, you know it’s very, this for me, I graduated in ’75 from college when you were suddenly supposed to do an about face and become a serious adult. Things have changed enormously since then. I was talking in the last week or two about the status of air travel now and how for the price of a weekend in the mountains with your friends you can really get on a plane and go to Rome for a week. And I think at the end of the day it’s all about, priorities. I didn’t have a sofa in my living room for the longest time. My friends would come over and sit on the floor. Because the thousand dollars to buy a really nice sofa that would last for more than six months, instead bought me a ticket around the world. I am seeing now that there are still, 20 years later, because of the economic moment that the airlines are suffering, there are still around the world tickets for $999 dollars. It doesn’t mean that the rest of the trip is free, it just means that in context, one can travel really very, very, very economically and come home with a million dollars worth of experience. But at the end of it all, it needs to be your top priority. You need to make it happen, you need to put money aside, you need to program, you need to make sure that the dog is fed and somebody is picking up your mail. In my case, living in a large city, I always sublet my apartment. I’d go away for two months and make sure that my friend’s cousin who wanted to come in town had a place to stay while watering my plants. So, if you want to make it happen you can. I think there is always a job to come home to if you’re not of the character where everything needs to be kind of ah, you know, set up and reliably organized. I was a lot more flexible than that. You know I would take off for a few months knowing that I could come home and find a job for a year, six months, two years, wherever life led me. But, if you do now, with the beauty of the Internet, some research to see what air fares are costing; one of my first trips abroad was as a nanny, as an Au Pair. I think my parents were a little bit concerned that I had just spent four years at an excellent college and I was going abroad to take care of someone’s children. But it was this invaluable cultural experience for me to live with an Italian family, and to learn the language. Okay, I had an eight year olds vocabulary, because that was the age of the twins that I was taking care of, but it quickly advanced. And I understood through the eyes of a family, living as if a family member, something that was enriching to me in ways that a year back at school could never do. There are all kinds of volunteer programs where you don’t make any money, but you volunteer in some way to help a third world community, or saving loggerhead turtles in Costa Rica, and, again you come back with maybe not a lot of money in your pocket but with an experience that alters you, and changes you, and ultimately makes you who you are. And I have this wonderful quote that I learned early on, and it has always stayed with me very close to the surface, and it was from Mohammed, which means that it’s timeless and goes back a thousand years: “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled.” And, well I had this remarkable university education. I mean Georgetown was nothing that I ever took superficially. I appreciated and acknowledged every moment that I was there, that I was experiencing something that my parents had worked around the clock to make happen. But it is for all intents a conventional academic education. But then with that, I understood that I needed to go upwards and onward and out there and, explore. And I think that’s the very essence of who we are, I mean look at Marco Polo, and Columbus, and Vasco da Gama. And you know we just celebrated having gone to the moon, we chose to go to the moon. I in a sense chose to go and explore the vast beyond, and it’s very intimidating, you know it’s not something for the average person who would much rather stay home playing Game Boy. You never know what’s going to happen but I think that’s the beauty of it, and if you have any curiosity as a child hopefully parents continue to nurture that so that by the time you’re at a point when you can get up and out and go, you choose to make it happen. And is it expensive, yes! But so is staying at home, and, ah, you know paying rent, putting food on the table. If you have children, if you have a spouse who’s not so into the idea, then your circumstances change. But that’s why I think it’s in, paramount I guess I should say, to do it sooner rather than later. Because your circumstances in life invariably kind of take over and weigh you down. And suddenly, there is tuition for the kids, and mortgages, and older parents that need to be taken care of. I was lucky enough right out of college to have kind of, had that window, following graduation, but before adulthood and its obligations really stepped in to take over.
CWR: Those are some outstanding suggestions. I wanted to ask, for individuals who may have reservations because they don’t know the language, or the laws or the customs, or they are not familiar with foreign currency exchange, how can those obstacles be overcome?
Ms. Schultz: Well, you know there are areas in the world which are invariably easier for either first time travelers, or those with limited experience traveling, or nervous travelers. Now, you know when I graduated the thing to do was Europe. It was the grand tour, people had been touring Europe for hundreds of years, I was hardly the first one to go in the 70s. But you would walk down the streets of Paris or Amsterdam or Berlin and invariably you run into somebody you know, and certainly hear nothing but English spoken. Because these were the cities where American tourism was constant and common, and easy. Now I see that twenty somethings, college students, junior year abroads kids are going, anywhere. My daughter, the daughter of my friend, is as we speak, in Cape Town, South Africa. A lot of her friends did their junior year abroad, are doing their junior year abroad in Asia. With airplane costs it’s as easy to get now to Hong Kong and Bangkok/Singapore, as it was for me in the 70s to buy a cheap ticket to Paris or London and Amsterdam. But, Asia I think is as intoxicating and exotic to today’s students or young people wanting to travel, as Europe was foreign and kind of intimidating to me. But nowadays, Europe is like, you know, an extension of where we go on a regular basis. Tickets are inexpensive, the network, the infrastructure there is easy. Everybody in many of the countries speak English as if their native tongue, when in fact it’s their second language, and I’m talking about Germany, well, all of Europe now that the Common Market has made English the lingua franca. But in Scandinavia and the Netherlands, obviously in England and the United Kingdom, English is spoken as easily as if you were in Chicago. So, the whole language problem is not an obstacle. But, the idea is that you don’t want to be too comfortable, you don’t want it to be too familiar, because then really you may as well stay home and get in your car and drive to the California coastline for a nice vacation. But, there is nothing that with the Internet and a little bit of researching and buying a guidebook or two or five, I’m a little bit obsessive with the guidebooks, they know me well at my neighborhood library, just to familiarize yourself so that nothing is ever a surprise in the negative sense. But you do want the surprise, you do want to see things you’ve never experienced before, and you do want to know that all of the effort and the time has been worth every iota. And at the end I think if you still hesitate because it’s just too much then don’t even consider going by yourself. Because if you’re going to just stay in your hotel room a lot, that kind of defeats the purpose as well. I didn’t really travel alone until I had done a trip or two or five and understood that I can do this, I can manage this, I can do this on my own. Because there were always too many excuses from too many friends, who, well, and solid, valid, substantial excuses. They didn’t have the time because they were working, and they didn’t have the money, and that’s why they were working, because they needed the money. So, nobody seemed to be kind of as, footloose and carefree as I was, so I started traveling a lot by myself and that becomes a very different kind of experience. But grab somebody, or grab a parent, or your best friend, or a sibling, or your roommate from college, and if they can’t go next month then put it on the calendar for next summer. And you know, make it happen, at the end you really have to make it happen. Because nobody is going to put a ticket on your desk or in your mailbox and say here’s a free trip, enjoy.
CWR: For novice travelers that are in preparation of traveling abroad, what are some things they need to know as far as getting a passport, medical or legal requirements, etc.
Ms. Schultz: Well, if you’re going to, it very much depends on the destination that you’re going to. There are websites by the embassies of the country or the countries that you will be visiting. There are boards of tourism, which are an entirely different sector of the national effort to welcome foreigners into the country. The embassies will tell you what you need. If you need a visa, how to get it, where to apply, what you need for the visa. The boards of tourism are more concerned with having you understand the various highlights and attractions in the country, what they are, how you get there, links for hotels, links for hostels, links for special deals, special travel by train promotions, for example. If there are festivals going on and it coincides with the time of year you’re going to be there, there will be links. I mean some of the countries really thrive on tourism and you generally understand by how sophisticated or not their websites are, some of them are just a kind of flash page. And there is a center for disease control if you’re going into areas of the world where there are outbreaks and you’re not sure if you need inoculations or vaccines you just type in the country and you see if you do need typhoid or malaria pills, or if you’re free to go just without anything. And again, guidebooks. They’ll kind of tell you everything you need to know before you leave town.
CWR: Can you share with us what has been the most intriguing place you have visited, and what has been the most disappointing place you have visited?
Ms. Schultz: Well that’s a great question. And when, you were asking me about the most intriguing place, my brain shut down from overload. (Laughter) Because there are so many things that immediately come to mind, and I have to resort to a stock answer that, you know, you hear all of the time in travel. Your favorite place, and your most, insightful experience is invariably the one that you just took. Because it’s still most vibrant in your memory, in your recall, and you’re still kind of jazzed, and you haven’t yet mentally unpacked, and so you’re still with all of your memories there. But that’s not necessarily the case, you know, with me. I remember trips that I took 34 years ago as if they were yesterday. And sometimes it’s the simplest thing. You know sometimes it’s, an individual. We were in Morocco and our flight was canceled and how did we get from “A” to “B”? Well we found this, kind of shady looking taxi driver, who was the only game in town, and he offered to take us to where we were going to. But first, we wanted to experience the best Couscous in town, where might that be. We were tired of eating American food. And he took us home to his mother who was preparing the usual Saturday Couscous, with the kids and the wife, and the whole apartment building kind of showed up, and we were like rock stars. Just because we were from out of town, and English, and two Western girls traveling by themselves in an Arab and in a Muslim country. And they thought that was either the most odd, or frightening, or interesting, or encouraging thing that they had ever seen. We weren’t quite sure. And that was something as simple as going to a local’s home for dinner. And, ah, that’s something, his grandmother sends me, it’s like 20 years, and every Christmas, and she’s Muslim, every Christmas she remembers my Christmas and sends me, or has one of the grandchildren, send me a Christmas card. So, ah, but to regress to what I was saying before, my most recent trip was Costa Rica. Not all that exotic and far away or expensive. In fact, it was like $250 from New York to Costa Rica, because it was off season. And I found some of the nicest, most welcoming, people, on the face of the earth. Everybody speaks English, it has the highest rate of literacy, it has the highest middle-class in Latin America, everything is clean and lovely, the countryside is stunning! It was inexpensive, the coastline is beautiful. And it was the people, the people, the people. So, ah, there is something in every place you go. And are you comparing apples and oranges? —- And that leads me to your second question. I’ve never been disappointed. I think that there are no nightmare trip, tales to tell. Because if you give them enough perspective, you’ll see that, if “A” had not happened, then “B” and “C” would not have happened. And that kind of serendipity leads you to places and experiences that you just can’t plan, or, ah, buy. And even the most horrible, you know I now sit back and laugh and realize, wow, that had me understand things later in life that, you know, I never would have imagined, had this, you know, would be, bad experience happened. I think it’s all about how you approach it and how you approach travel and how you embrace it. And how you react. Maya Angelou said that “you understand a lot about people when they lose their luggage or run into tangled Christmas tree lights.” And that’s true. You get a bad situation and what do you do with it? Well, there are all kinds of bad situations when you are traveling abroad, because, you just never know do you. So, what’s the worst thing that can happen? You lose your passport, well, you get another one. You know. You lose your wallet. You know, all these years I’ve traveled I’ve never once been robbed or approached in any kind of negative, nothing. Maybe I’m blessed, or maybe all these bad storied you hear out there are a little bit exaggerated, I don’t know. But, I’ve been with people who have lost their wallets, and you know, you cancel your credit cards, you get new ones, and you move forward. It’s not the end of the world.
Ms. Schultz: I sound like Pollyanna don’t I.
CWR: (Amid laughter) Not really. There are some areas of the world that would no doubt be of great interest to visit, but may be politically unstable. How does one determine if it is wise, or safe to visit such a place?
Ms. Shultz: Well, if it’s really politically unstable, you won’t be able to get the visa (laughter) to go there. So that ends that. But, I think that, politically unstable is only for, not just politically but, ah, maybe the crime rates are questionable, or, you know they are not the most desirable, you hear a lot of negative buzz. Those kinds of destinations are, and they are many, are not for everybody. And if you haven’t traveled that much and you want to start by going to Iraq, I would suggest that you reconsider. Unless you have never traveled at all and suddenly you have a job opportunity. If it’s arranged for you, and if somebody is facilitating some kind of job, situation, or a teaching position, or it’s the Peace Corps, that kind of thing, then I say go for it. Because you’ll have a network, you know, a backup, infrastructure, so that if you’re there, and you’re having, problems, you have somebody to go to. You have contacts, you have people, you have colleagues, you have expat community that you can link into. So, ah, I would say; so many of my friends went to the Middle East, and are there now working in Bahrain, or Abu Dhabi the Emirates, because it was phenomenally lucrative. And once they got there they loved it and extended their stay by another year, or three, or five. And chose to raise their family there and everything. But, as an individual, there are just way too many areas in the world that are not, enough to give you pause at all. You know, throughout Asia, South America, the Caribbean, Europe, most of Africa. So, if Zimbabwe is looking a little dicey, then go to South Africa. Where, sure they have their problems, but things are stable, and we have our problems here. And so, I think to just be careful to, talk to people. To see if there are any government warnings, you can go on the website for that. And, again if anything gives you hesitation, then either go with an organized tour, which don’t have to be expensive. I just went this past March, to Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. And I can’t tell you the raised eyebrows I got from my friends who knew enough to tell me not to go. But were more or less implying, well do you really need to go there? Well you don’t need to go anywhere, unless you’re curious about things. And I can’t tell you how wonderful, the Syrian people were. Who kept telling me, please go back and tell your American friends, that we want tourism. We are open. We’ve been welcoming tourism for 2,000 years. And they are some of the most hospitable and lovely people. And I found that all throughout the Middle East. And you didn’t need visas for many of these places. Some places you did. But it only means that it’s a political, official, …but it’s by no means an indication that you’re not welcome in the country. But if you don’t want to go to the Middle East, there are about 999 other places in the world to go to that are far more comfortable, for somebody that doesn’t speak other languages, who isn’t well traveled, and who is something of a nervous traveler, because, like my significant other, they listen to way too much Western media.
CWR: You are the author of the book, 1,000 Places To See Before You Die, which was I understand eight years in the making, as well as it’s complement, 1,000 Places To See In The USA and Canada Before You Die.
Ms. Shultz: Yeah. You know eight years, plus, plus, plus. Because once I got the contract it took eight years. But, really, much prior to that I had been traveling for decades, actually.
CWR: Okay. And you….
Ms. Shultz: I’m sorry. I was just going to say some people saw it, you know, eight years, why not just one or two. And other people saw eight years, my God, it would have taken me five times that. So, I was working as fast as I could.
CWR: You were also at one time the Executive Producer of the Travel Channel Network program by the same name. What can readers of your book, and TV program, learn about travel?
Ms. Shultz: I know this sounds, kind of elementary, but, that, travel is a wonderful thing. It’s a marvelous thing. As Americans we can travel so easily. It’s almost, you know, our kind of birthright that we can get a passport. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, but we can get a passport. And you don’t understand what that means until you go to countries where people can’t. And they are obligated for life to stay within the confines of their nation. We have a vast, enormous, and wonderful country, and that explains why some 75% of Americans don’t have passports. Because there’s too much to explore here! And I’m all for that, keep going. As long as you get off your couch and go beyond your village walls. Go to, Cajun country in Louisiana, not just New Orleans. Or go to the wine country in California, but then into the national parks and into Oregon as well, and see something beyond what is expected or the usual. So, I think at the end of the day, whatever you consider travel, whether it’s with the kids in the back seat, or three generations, or just yourself and the dog. Whether you are going to, just drive across country to spend a little bit of time with yourself to figure things out, because travel is great therapy. Or, if it’s to kind of throw caution to the wind, and instead of buying that new sofa, you get a ticket to Buenos Aires, or Sydney, or London, or Montreal. Go to Canada. You know sometimes in the Eastern and Ontario Quebec, you feel as if you are on the other side of the ocean. It’s that foreign and European and intoxicating to an American traveler. So, I think it’s just about, the very point that travel is easy for us, and we almost kind of owe it to ourselves. Because so much of who we are is where we have been. And if at the end of your life all you can say is that you’ve never been outside of your state, I just think that’s sad. Because we can. There are many people who can’t because of their circumstances, and I’m the first one to appreciate, because I have gone through all kinds of circumstances in my life where I have had to put travel on hold. But then there are those moments when you can travel, but you have to make it happen. Because like I said before, nobody taps you on the shoulder and says, “Do I have a trip for you.” You know you have to create it and make it happen. You have to do the homework, but for me, that was always half of the joy of traveling.
About Patricia Schultz: Patricia Schultz is the author of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and 1,000 Places to See In the U.S.A. and Canada Before You Die, as well as Executive Producer of the Travel Channel’s show of the same name. Based in New York, she’s also written for Conde’ Nast Traveler, Islands, and Harper’s Bazaar. The series was started as a labor of love by Ms. Shultz, who worked on 1,000 Places to See Before Your Die with the help of friends, travel companions, tourism boards, and even complete strangers for eight years. She has lived and traveled all over the world, and estimates that she’s visited 80% of the places listed in the books…and still counting. She offers this bit of wisdom: “The journey abroad reflects the one within—the most unknown and foreign and unmapped landscape of them all, the ultimate terra incognita.”
About the Book: Patricia Schultz’s fabulous book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, published by Workman Publishing, revolutionized travel books in 2003, and became a #1 New York Times Bestseller. It was eight years in the making and has become a phenomenon quickly followed by the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die Traveler’s Journal in 2005, and 1,000 Places to See in the U.S.A. and Canada Before You Die in 2007. Newsweek states about 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, “At last, a book that tells you what’s beautiful, what’s fun, and what’s just unforgettable–everywhere on earth.”
How Hip-Hop Rocked the World
By Donell Edwards
CWR Exclusive In-Depth Interview with Erin Patton, Author: Under the Influence: Tracing the Hip-Hop Generation’s Impact on Brands, Sports & Pop Culture
There is a great generational divide when it comes to hip-hop music and the hip-hop culture that it has spawned. Most people of my generation, if they are honest, may remember thinking when they were younger, “When I become an adult, I’m not going to judge the music and lifestyle of the younger generation as harshly as the older generation of my day has judged ours.” In regard to hip-hop, most of us have not kept that promise.
While hip-hop music has been widely accepted, and has transcended race and to some extent age, and has grown to global proportions, still, we are divided along generational lines for the most part, with mostly young people and young adults who passionately embrace both hip-hop music and its culture, and on the other side are their parents and other older adults who are vehemently opposed to the music and the culture.
Why is there this generational divide? Perhaps more with hip-hop music than any other music genre in our history. One reason is because of the stereotypes in the minds of those who feel that all hip-hop artists are vulgar, they all promote misogyny and masochism, they all use profanity loosely, and that stereotype projects the image of young men in doo rags, who wear their pants hanging down exposing their underwear, and young ladies wearing extremely tight fitting pants and low-cut blouses with body parts exposed.
After my interview with the leading expert on the hip-hop culture, I feel that we can explain the generational divide as the miseducation of a generation, because there are revelations in Mr. Patton’s interview that shatter many of the stereotypes accepted by my generation. Although some of the images previously mentioned do exist, they are the exception rather than the true representation of the majority of the hip-hop population and their culture. What you are about to read is a very comprehensive and thought provoking and enlightening interview, that will lead most to a different opinion about hip-hop music and hip-hop culture than they currently have.
I encourage you to read the following interview in our feature article, How Hip-Hop Rocked the World, with Mr. Erin Patton and learn the true essence of what hip-hop really is, and what it is not. Mr. Patton is an expert on consumer behavior, and is the foremost authority on hip-hop in America, and perhaps the world, and has written a book, Under the Influence: Tracing the Hip-Hop Generation’s Impact on Brands, Sports, & Pop Culture, which is highly acclaimed and is used in 50 college and university campuses around the world, and is being taught in several courses. Mr. Patton is the creator of the Seven Ciphers Segmentation Framework, which attracted flagship sponsors like MTV, Pepsi, and the Brookings Institution. He was hand-picked by Michael Jordan to launch his Nike brand. Mr. Patton tells us how hip-hop rocked the world, and why it will continue to do so.
CWR: To really appreciate our interview, I feel that it is necessary for our readers to understand your Seven Ciphers Segmentation Framework. Can you give us an overview of the Seven Ciphers?
E.P. – Borne out of clinical observation when working at Nike and in particular the Jordan brand business was one that required to stay as close to the consumer and the market as possible, and just in general, I am a student of consumer behavior. So that kind of observation is what I use to help me position a brand, market it more effectively, and incorporate one of the attitudinal, behavioral aspects of the urban market.
And so, I would routinely intersect along the touch-points where the consumer was living, breathing, playing that was within the community; at the barber shop, just hanging out there, at retailers, urban specialty retailers, events, the mall, wherever the consumer was, playground, you name it, I would try to get there and stay there so that I could take as much insight as possible, and spend time talking to the consumers as well, so that I could in turn take those insights and make them actionable in a business sense, and bring that understanding and insight back into the brand and back into the product process, the design process, etc. So that I could ensure that our product as well as our brand communications were as close to real time as possible in terms to the relevance that it had within the culture.
In the process of that and at this time, as hip-hop music started to transcend race, and the lifestyle became one that was adopted within the mainstream, and as hip-hop’s generation X started to mature, those who were 30 plus who came of age with hip-hop, and were beginning to mature, moving to a new phase in their lives; I observed there were some distinct clusters, and segments, within the urban market that were forming. For those of us who are in it and of it, who are part of the culture, we recognize that it’s not monolithic. There are many inspirations, there are many behaviors exhibited within this particular market and culture.
So I wanted to bring some appropriate dimensions to the urban market and to the population and to the audience so that marketers could fully understand, and have the right perspective when looking to reach the target. There is a difference between reaching the consumer, and touching the consumer. So I wanted to give brands the opportunity to actually touch the consumer, and those that were most effective to their brand, and yielded the best R.O.I. (return on investment).
The Seven Ciphers was really borne out of that clinical observation and seeing how culture had moved and seeing how individuals within the culture had coalesced and formed around a mindset. The other piece of the ciphers was, I no longer felt that a purely demographic approach was appropriate for this particular audience, as they were more or less transcending and coalescing again around a shared attitude or mindset, so it was more of a psychographic.
At Nike, I learned a lot about psychographics; it was really about those who were passionate about sports, and shared that same will and desire to ‘just do it’ if you will. It wasn’t so much about how old you were, what color you were, you know at Nike we focused on athletes who were trying to enhance their performance and had that shared attitude and belief around sports. In the same context, I saw a psychographic profile emerging within the urban culture that was less about race, you know, what color you were, or how old you were necessarily in some cases, but it was more about the attitude that you shared, the awareness, the lifestyle, those things that form some commonality.
So, it was a psychographic instrument that I created to capture this new profile. The term cipher, I chose, as it is a term relevant to hip-hop culture. Webster’s definition if you will, people understand a cipher is sort of a very complex mixture of units that need to be decoded, this sort of arbitrary thing happening, and to decode a cipher is really somewhat of a puzzle. Within hip-hop culture the term cipher indicated a group of individuals who formed themselves typically in a circle, literally. And one individual would rap, they would say a rap verse, and then the next person would say a rap verse, picking up off of what that previous person said, and so-on and so-on as it moved around this circular formation.
So you could find that at a high school bathroom as we used to do a little bit as I wrote about in the book, or you could find that just in the community. You find guys that would come together and not just rap verses. In many cases they would share knowledge and information just about the world, you know spirituality, a lot of different things that were part of the culture at its pure essence.
I chose that to be somewhat analogous because within the urban culture, the urban market, you had an expression of it within the inner city experience, if you will, with African Americans, acculturated Hispanics, primarily African Americans who were the innovators, the inner city was sort of their laboratory where they were constantly creating the newest ‘software’ if you will. I call them the software developers; this is the core urban cipher, where they are constantly creating language and innovating around brands, creating distinct preferences with brands, adopting brands and making them relevant in the mainstream.
So I call them the software developers in the sense that they develop culture, and the killer app for them, so to speak is again, that newest dance, or style, or colors, or whatever it is within the culture that they are continuously kind of creating that will then eventually run on the “mainframe” of society’s pop culture. But then, once you had the culture move into a tertiary market, I call it tertiary urban being the second cipher.
In the southern regions, in places like Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, these were areas that were continuing to grow in influence, and were having such a significant impact on culture as well, particularly through the music. So you had artists like Lil Jon in Atlanta, of course you can go back to OutKast and others, and then eventually T.I., and Lil Wayne, and that whole explosion really was the result of a different interpretation of urban culture, that was taking place in the southern region.
When I worked at Nike most of our focus was on that core urban segment that I just mentioned, those early adopters who were in Baltimore, or Washington, D.C., or New York. That’s really where we tried to target most of our marketing and product efforts, because we knew if the product caught on with them, they would eventually influence the masses, including these folks in the southern region who sort of looked up to them as the aspirational expression of hip-hop and urban culture.
But that started to change a little bit in the late 90s and 2000s as the tertiary urban areas within the country started to have a stronger influence on hip-hop culture and in turn, popular culture. That also represented a whole opportunity for marketers relative to HBCUs, historical Black colleges, and in that part of the country that created a real strong base, and a population, and an audience that they can reach out to.
I won’t go through each of them, but the point being, there are distinct segments that all have critical mass within them. So each of these seven ciphers have critical mass within them. So, as a marketer if I am looking to reach the urban market, I can then focus on one or maybe two of these segments as opposed to saying, we want to reach the urban market, what do we do, how do we reach them? Should we just go out and partner up with Snoop Dogg to do it, or some of these things that marketers do? So this was a broader, strategic framework that we could put around the urban market to help companies better align themselves with this growing, emerging population.
CWR: Hip-hop music has transcended race, and the lifestyle has been adopted within the mainstream. Is this good or bad, since there are those who would say there are both good and bad elements of the hip-hop culture?
E.P. : I think, one of the things we understand about culture is that, as culture becomes created there is a higher expression of it and there is a lower expression of it without question. By and large, the culture of hip-hop music and the lifestyle of hip-hop music, at its purest expression, has been a vehicle to connect cultures, not just here in the U.S. but around the world.
It has been a vehicle for self-expression, to provide individuals with the means to uniquely express themselves. It’s provided a vehicle for entrepreneurship, for individuals to be able to channel their creativity and their influence and create enterprise around it. Invariably, just as with American pop culture, there will be remnants of the culture creation that appeal to a lower expression.
Just as in American cinema; there are great movies that we could say have contributed greatly to American society in a positive sense. Then we could also reference movies that proliferate violence and misogyny and racial stereotypes and everything in between. So without validating those instances or those offenses, if you will to culture, as it is uniquely striving to maintain a higher expression, what I see is a necessary balance within the culture to ensure that young people who are receiving these messages, just as they are on a daily basis forced to reconcile negative messages from positive messages that are coming at them through mass media, beyond just hip-hop music, but relative to American popular culture.
Hip-hop is not unique in that sense in terms of language, or graphic images, or violence, or any of these things. In fact, many of these same individuals that we are alluding to now, unfortunately were forced to digest and absorb and consume a lot of those same messages and images; being gangsters, and things that came to them as young people that they have attempted to reconcile, but they have glorified in some ways because they also recognized that it was entertainment. Just as they were sitting there watching the movie about Scarface and etc., etc., and the violence and everything that came along with that, and they saw that it was entertainment. And so they looked at their unique situation in their life and they saw some parallels clearly, with the struggle and the desire to have and achieve, and did glorify some of that.
With that being the case, individuals have a responsibility, parents have a responsibility to educate their kids as to which aspects within our culture overall, not just hip-hop, but which aspects of our culture, are suitable for consumption.
As you indicated, within the suburbs, and we know that the majority of hip-hop music is consumed by Caucasians in the suburban areas, and so that suburban cipher that I talked about, that’s sort of the Eminem cipher if you will. Those are individuals in the suburbs who, you know they look to hip-hop not so much for it being a way of their own life, but it gives them a window into an authentic life that they identify with. They are taught a certain way, a suburban kid is taught a certain way to believe about race and about African Americans or Black Americans if you will. And so through hip-hop music they gained a window into that culture and they started to challenge some of the things that they were taught. “Hey, these guys aren’t that bad. They have a life that is authentic and real.” So they started to look at their suburban existence and say, “Is this really a real existence? Is there any real substance in my lifestyle?” And so they gravitated toward these individuals because of their will, because of their determination, because of their creativity.
You have to remember that this generation is comprised of individuals who, against the backdrop of the South Bronx in the late 70s in dilapidated buildings and housing projects, and everything that we know came with the Black American experience in the late 70s and early 80s and into the 90s. These individuals figured a way out, and made a way out of no way, and used their creativity and their ingenuity, and their stories; good, bad, and indifferent, to be able to do so, and use will and determination to redefine the American dream.
With that certainly comes some positive expression as a culture, and some negative expression. And I believe that hip-hop at its purest form, again was a vehicle for self-expression, consciousness, awareness, and groups like Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One; you know I got a lot of my information about Black history, quite frankly through a lot of that hip-hop music, that educated and informed us about things that our government was doing or shouldn’t have done.
A lot of things, you know, Public Enemy talked about J. Edgar Hoover, and some of the things that that office, the FBI did, to some of our Black leaders. That was stuff I didn’t get in high school. But I got it when I listened to Public Enemy. KRS-One talked about being a vegetarian, not eating meat, things like that. So hip-hop in its purest form is, you know, we can’t just reduce it to the negative expression, we’ve got to look at the full context without explaining away any of the behavior that is certainly detrimental to our young people.
CWR: If I understand you correctly, it sounds as if you are saying that the hip-hop movement, the hip-hop culture, is reminiscent to what occurred in the late 60s, the early 70s. Back then there was the peace movement, flower children or hippies; great focus on individualism and freedom of expression. Many, many young people were anti-establishment, not just for the sake of being against those in power, but because there was the Vietnam War, the draft, and other things youth of the day was opposed to. So, is the hip-hop movement similar to the peace movement of the 60s and 70s in regard to seeking individualism and self-expression?
E.P. – I think to some degree this generation felt the need to have a voice, and didn’t see themselves portrayed accurately, certainly, but sometimes at all through mainstream media, magazines, TV, film. When they went to shop for clothes, they didn’t see anyone that looked like them, the clothes didn’t fit the way they liked. So they went out and created their own brands. If the designer of a clothing brand didn’t respect or support them, they said, we’ll go out and create it ourselves. If Tommy Hilfiger doesn’t want us to wear Tommy Hilfiger, OK, we’ll go out and create Sean Jean, and Rocawear.
So in many respects this generation was driven by a desire to have a voice, and also a desire to channel their creativity and their influence, and knowing that they could make a decided mark on American pop culture and history, and changing the course of history. And with that, yes, some rebellion, as this generation came out of the civil rights movement and what our parents and the generation previously had endured, to give us and create opportunities for progression and advancement, and we took them. The notion of breaking the glass ceiling, we took that, and we ran with that too.
The other thing that I should point out is, you know when I speak of the hip-hop generation, I’m not just talking about the rappers that are part of this generation, I allude to them because on a macro level we can see their impact and their story, we hear about it or we know it through their music or their videos or whatever the case may be. But, the hip-hop generation is a much broader population of individuals, who, came of age with this music, who are influenced by this music, but more importantly they had a sheer determination and a drive, to take, the sacrifice that was laid before them, and the opportunities that was in turn presented, as a stepping stone.
So the previous challenges and problems and strife, became stepping stones for many of us. And so we chose college. The first in our families to go to college in many cases. We chose programs like Inroads as I did, which took inner city kids and showed us how to put on a business suit and sit down and talk to folks in an interview. And we took that training and we took that desire, but we also took the culture, and we moved into corporate America. The notion of breaking the glass ceiling, we believed that we could do that, and we saw folks ahead of us do it in many cases. So we knew that we had a place, and we could start to see ourselves having success.
In my story, I took that understanding into corporate America into the advertising and marketing world, and gave them a sense for who this hip-hop audience was, and who we were and what we thought and what we liked and how we dressed and how we talked, and helped translate that business opportunity.
But, along the way, you know we got educated. We became responsible. We used our influence to create business and enterprise and everything else. And now we are responsible parents, fathers, husbands, involved in the community, etc., in large part because of what hip-hop on a macro level was affirming for us along the way. They were showing us the good life, the nice car, the vacations, you know, the things that came along with success. That helped us to continue to have some aspirations even as we were moving through careers, you know corporate careers, or our own business or whatever, and having that will and that determination again to succeed at all odds.
So it’s important to understand that, the word hip-hop, in and of itself has many meanings. For some it can be polarizing, but when I say hip-hop generation, you know I’m really talking about this generation that came of age in the late 80s early 90s, and took all of that experience, all of the struggle, in many cases coming from the inner city, and redefined the American dream and achieved great success. And at the same time, influenced and built brands, and changed the course of products and brands, and transformed industries like the sneaker culture, the automotive culture. We just took our creativity, and we applied it against industry, and we applied it against pop culture as we moved forward. So, in that sense, this generation has in essence helped to establish modeling consumer culture and popular culture as well, and at the same time influenced the social conversation and the political piece, as I mentioned earlier.
So, I just wanted to be clear in the sense that the hip-hop generation isn’t just about 50 Cent and about Snoop Dogg, and about the individuals who clearly have made a significant imprint on the music and on the culture, but we are talking about a population of very well intended people that represent this generation. Many of them are students at HBCUs who have gone on to do great things as well. So I just wanted to clarify that a little bit.
So it’s not just, so I guess in essence it’s not just the kids walking down the street with their jeans hanging by their ankles. You know we just have to really put the right dimension, these are people who are wearing suits by day, and on the weekend you know you will see them in some jeans maybe, and some Timberland boots with their kids at the mall. But they still represent this culture and this generation, but are also doing so with some dignity and some sophistication as well.
CWR: One of the things we hope to accomplish with this interview is to present an accurate image of the hip-hop generation. Because many of us, and that includes me, have the image in our mind that you just mentioned, of the slovenly dressed young man with his underwear exposed and his pants looking like they are about to fall off. No doubt our student readers were already aware of the true nature of the image of most of those in the hip-hop generation you just described. Your comments have given me, and hopefully many of our readers from my generation an enlightened understanding of the diversity within the culture, and that the stereotype most often presented is not representative of the majority of the hip-hop generation. I thank you for those comments, and the clarity that results from them.
In your book, speaking of the hip-hop generation, you make reference to tricked-out cars, the technology they use, the brands they wear, the beverages they drink, the language they speak, these are all components of the hip-hop culture. So, can you provide a basic definition of what hip-hop culture is?
E.P. – I would probably choose to paraphrase KRS-One, who is the philosopher of hip-hop, and he said that it’s an attitude, hip-hop is an attitude, it’s an awareness, it’s a way to view the world. And so I think at its most fundamental level, it’s a mirror. A mirror that’s a reflection of an individual, and who they are, who they want to be, who they are striving to be, and also a reflection of society, and what’s going on in broader society, and what’s going on in the world. And so this becomes a way for an individual to project themselves into a daily experience and a daily existence, that in many cases affirms and validates who they are, but more importantly helps them to have an image in terms of who they want to be, and to have some aspirations for who they can be. And at its fundamental level, that’s what hip-hop allowed us to do, it gave us a window, it gave us a way to reflect and project our unique experience onto the world.
As Mos Def, who is another conscious rap artist, said in one of his songs, he said you know people are always coming up to me and asking me where is hip-hop going? Is it gonna die? What is hip-hop gonna become? And he said you know we act as if hip-hop is this, you know, kind of creature, and I’m paraphrasing, this kind of creature that just lives up in the mountains somewhere, and comes down every now and then to show itself, right. And he said no, he said hip-hop is going wherever we are going. You know, if we are going in a positive direction, hip-hop’s going in a positive direction. If we are going in a negative direction, hip-hop is going in a negative direction. It’s very similar to our own search and quest for spirituality. If we have a divine source that we are connected with, from within, not something that’s abstract, that’s totally detached from us. But if we very much have that type of relationship with the divine source and the divine power, guess what! That’s gonna show up wherever you go, so when people see you they’re gonna see that. They’re gonna see something divine within you. And this music and this culture is very much the same way.
If it’s internalized, in purely a positive sense, then when people see you as an individual that represents this generation, they’re gonna see that positive expression of it. Just as I do when I go around some of my friends from college, or when we hook up and we’re in our hip-hop moment. When we are playing some of the classic hip-hop music, or just when we are showing up to places and we’ve got a little bit of swagger and we’ve got a little bit of style in the way we’re dressing, or whatever we’re doing, you know, we’re taking hip-hop in a positive direction.
Just the other night here in Dallas, I went to visit with Common, he was here on tour. Common is a hip-hop artist from Chicago, who is a very conscious hip-hop artist. He was on CNN when they had the recent beating death of the kid in Chicago, and he spoke very eloquently. He was a voice for us, and that’s an example.
When he went on CNN he took hip-hop in a positive direction. He talked about the need for healing, but he also talked about the need for after school programs. He talked about the need in a city like that to have the leadership come together and give these young people something to do after school, so that they have activities, so that they have things they can involve themselves in. So they don’t in turn have to, have as much concern over violence, or joining a gang, and some of these other things. And that’s the hip-hop perspective. Let’s not just blame, the victim in a sense; let’s see the need for personal responsibility and accountability, but at the same time let’s not forget that there is a role that our country has, there is a role that our government has, there is a role that our leadership has, to ensure that we are giving everyone every opportunity to live to their fullest potential.
And so he took, and brought hip-hop in a positive sense because that’s very much what our experience was, and what the music communicated. So, in that context, you know hip-hop is really about the individual at the granular level. It’s about a collection of individuals who have formed this global population. But each of those individuals within that generation has the responsibility to exhibit the core values of the culture; creativity, ingenuity, empowerment, the kind of, the essence of the culture, self-determination, these are all positive things. So each individual has to carry and exhibit those qualities wherever they go.
Certainly the artists should be doing the same thing, but there are gonna be those who don’t. There are gonna be those who take the music and the culture, and because someone gives them a microphone and a studio, they’ll walk in there and they’ll talk about girls, and clothes, and cars, and buffoonery. There are those who will do that, and there are companies who will allow them to do that. Because they’re gonna profit off of that.
The radio industry is going to allow certain things to be, certain songs to be played over, and over, and over, and over again, to the point where it becomes ingrained in the minds of young people because there is profit motive there. The same for TV, and cable, and everything else, and record labels. And so there is a complex system that has been created that will allow some of that negative expression to come through, because on some level they understand at the end of the day, just as broader U.S. and American culture has shown, we hear that all the time; sex sells, violence sells, all these things. The gatekeepers for a lot of these media platforms understand that. So they have a vested interest in allowing some of that negative expression to come through.
But I believe it’s up to the individual, I believe in personal responsibility, I believe as parents it does not matter to me, what or who is saying what in a song, or in a video, as a parent, I’m the program director, in my house. It doesn’t matter to me who the program director is, or whatever radio station, or whatever TV station; I’m the program director for my two sons. So, I determine what they’re gonna hear and what they’re not gonna hear, and when they hear something that they’re not supposed to hear, because that’s gonna happen, then I’m there to help them understand it, put it into perspective, and more importantly, reconcile that against what our values are. And I think that’s where we as individuals really have to operate as it relates to this culture, and some of the negative by-products of it.
CWR: Looking back during my lifetime, I don’t know of any music genre that has had the impact that hip-hop has. Possibly, the Beatles and Beatlemania and all of the British groups of that period, and the Motown Sound of the 70s. When you look at that, how did this all transpire? How did hip-hop music evolve, and how was it transformed into a culture that transcends racial, cultural, and gender boundaries, and has even taken on a global context?
E.P. – Great question. Yes, that is a great question. I think one of the things that is not understood clearly about this audience, is the creativity. You’re talking about one of the most creative populations on the planet. When you marry creativity with ingenuity and dire circumstances, you get this end result. Because you have a population that’s constantly creating, very creative. Coming up with something new, a new way to talk, a new way to dress, a new way to match things, a new way to have social experiences, and the desire to constantly reinvent. That’s the other very important piece.
So you have creativity and ingenuity coupled with dire circumstances that created this tremendous opportunity, and a platform. And so once that platform was created, they all were coming behind it. They all were coming behind it, because they wanted to then demonstrate their own unique self-expression. So you have different artists within hip-hop music who wanted to bring their own unique style and flavor. You remember Humpty the Humpty Dance, you know you had Kid ‘n Play. You know I talked about some of the social conscious rappers, you had Kwame that wore the polka dots.
You just had so much creativity, it was like a canvas. It was like someone said OK here’s a canvas, now go ahead and create. And so if you give that kind of canvas to an artist, and I use artist in the sense of this population, these individuals. If you tell them, you have a canvas now go and create, that’s exactly what they did through the music. Then they were given visual mediums to convey that; video, magazines, now the magazines wanted to see what they were wearing where they were going. And so brands then understood that, oh! LL Cool J likes Kangol hats; OK great. Run DMC wears Adidas sneakers. They started to understand that these individuals had that type of visibility, so they became vehicles and a conduit for the brands to reach that desirable consumer, and those individuals within the music knew it as well.
In places like Tokyo, they have always imported western culture. They’ve always been fascinated by our culture. Hip-hop music became an avenue for them, and the younger populations over in Tokyo to express themselves as well. The sneaker culture. When I worked at Nike, when we released Air Jordans, they would fly over from Tokyo, and buy as many Air Jordans as they can, and take them back to Tokyo. And they would eventually be on eBay, so it was just an amazing experience, but the music became the way that everybody connected with it identified with it.
So now, so on top of the creativity, the ingenuity, dire circumstance, self-expression, let me show you how I’m distinctly different. Because within urban and hip-hop culture, and I’ll say Black American culture, we like to be different. At the same time we want to know what the masses are doing, because it lets us know what’s relevant culturally. But at the same time on a micro level, I want to be a little bit different than you. I want to wear my sneakers and my clothes or my suit, whatever it is, my car, I want to have a different flavor about what I do. So, you then had this dimension that was occurring, as I was suggesting, at the same time, where you were getting unique, self-expression, coming in a multitude of ways. And so that helped the culture to proliferate, even more.
It’s like as if you’re creating software, and when I say these were software developers, that’s exactly what I mean. And their laboratory is the inner city at that time, so they’re constantly creating new software. So just imagine that you’re Apple, Apple’s doing it, you know look at their App Store, right. I have an iPhone. My kids love my iPhone because there’s a million different applications that come with that phone. If it’s games or whatever, it’s all this software. Apple said here is the platform, now you guys go out and create as much software and applications as possible, right. And the same thing happened within urban culture and hip-hop culture. You had the platforms, meaning American consumer culture, popular culture, you know, companies; record companies, media companies, all these people with platforms. And they said OK go ahead and create. And so once you create the software, the new music, the new dance, the new style, whatever, the new songs, we’re gonna run it on this platform for everybody to access. So you had all those things happening, and then the media proliferation allowed it to then project even further. So it wasn’t just about what we got from being out with our friends, you know at the mall, or at the basketball court, or listening to the music on our Walkman, so we had those means to identify with the culture.
But then MTV, came into the picture. And once cable television and MTV came into the picture, then what? Now, if you’re in Iowa, you know, not Brooklyn, NY, not uptown; but if you’re in Iowa, now you can turn on your television on Friday nights, and watch Yo! MTV Raps. And if you’re a suburban kid living in Iowa or wherever that is, you now have a means to instantly access, that culture and that lifestyle. And now you can see, oh! that’s what they’re wearing. “Hey mom, dad, I want to go to the mall and get those Nike sneakers.” “Johnny, why do you want a doo rag on your hair.” You know, because he saw it in that video.
So then media helped to proliferate the culture into the suburbs. And that ‘s one of the reasons why, I say a lot in lectures, for the suburban parents who are wondering how in the world, their kid has an image and a poster of 50 Cent on their wall. It’s because they’ve been able to access the culture through the proliferation of media, and as a result they have gotten a glimpse into a world that they didn’t know existed. Or they knew existed, but they didn’t know how it functioned, they didn’t know the rules of it, they didn’t know the codes, if you will, they didn’t know the way that they could adapt and adopt it immediately into their own experience. And one other thing I should say about this piece, while I’m here, the suburban piece, this suburban cipher that I talk about. But there is also the alternative urban cipher, which is also suburban kids, but it’s the fusion of hip-hop and skate culture.
So there’s a whole population within the suburbs that don’t necessarily want to replicate the lifestyles I just indicated, with the kid wanting to run out to the mall and buy whatever sneakers he saw the rapper wear or whatever. There is a more simplistic, expression of the alternative urban cipher, which are the skate kids who have a little bit of hip-hop flair, but they don’t wanna overly commercialize themselves. So they don’t see themselves as that kind of canvas, to let brands just kind of announce themselves to the world, if you will. And so, that’s important to just talk about the dimension within the suburbs.
And then, the other cipher I did want to mention to you, and this does speak to your question in terms of, in conclusion, answering your question about how this culture permeated and proliferated the way that it did. Because you then had, and have these different segments who have their own unique experience around the culture, who keep it alive in this very unique way. So there are remnants of hip-hop culture within each of these ciphers and each of these segments, that unite them, and at the same time there are nuances within each of these ciphers and segments that make them unique, and that helps the culture to continue.
There is the organic urban cipher, you know and I talked about this cipher in the sense that they are products of hip-hop’s Generation X as well. There is the contemporary urban cipher. These are Gen Xs 30 up, who realized their aspirations, they once talked and dreamed about the fancy cars and fancy clothes and all these things, now they actually have the means to attain them. And so they’re overtly commercial in a way. Think about a guy like P. Diddy, you know, it’s like you’re glamorous and all these different things. But the organic urban cipher is essentially the same, age range, 30 and up. But they’re anti-commercial, they want the purest expression of hip-hop. Artists like Jill Scott, India.Arie, Musiq Soulchild, some of these folks, the whole neo soul music movement; these are individuals do who constantly seek that highest expression of hip-hop. There is a heavy HBCU population within this organic urban cipher as well. So each of these segments, keeps the culture moving and growing and morphing into something new.
The last piece that I’ll add in terms of how and why it got here, in addition to everything I’ve just said is, the notion of reinvention. And that is another one of those key words, and I’ve thrown out a couple in the course of this discussion. Reinvention is vital to urban culture and to hip-hop culture, it’s about constantly reinventing oneself. And that’s what the best artists have done. You know someone like Diddy, you know, he was Puffy, he was Puff Daddy, then he was Puffy, then he was Diddy, and all these different things, it’s because reinvention is necessary for survival. If you’re a kid in the inner city, you know, you’ve gotta reinvent yourself. You’ve gotta constantly be able to find a unique way to project who you are. And in music and in hip-hop culture, reinvention has been critical, just as it is for this population to constantly find new ways to reinvent themselves. But also, to reinvent brands, and to reinvent products. Think about the Outkast song, Shake It Like A Polaroid Picture. You know, bringing brands back into relevance.
Right now the Gatorade brand is reinventing itself as G, you see these commercials with just G on it. And that’s out of hip-hop, so hip-hop helped reinvent the Gatorade brand, because G, is a term that’s taken out of hip-hop. So whether or not the core Gatorade drinker understands, they see G and they think, oh! G, Gatorade, right. But no, G means, to us we know what a G is, right. A G is, you know that’s like, that’s swagger, you know someone says he’s a G, that’s validation, right. So, the creatives behind that campaign recognized that duality, and the lexicon. And that’s the other thing that hip-hop culture has done in terms of how it got to this point commercially. It’s allowed brands to reinvent themselves, to become relevant, to become meaningful. And at the same time allowed language to be used in very creative ways, as Gatorade did. By taking a word, that instantly stamps it as something that’s official. So when they’re saying, that’s G, they’re telling us that that’s something that’s official, within the culture. Like, forget the other makers of drinks, you know, that’s G, that’s something that’s official.
So the impact of this music and this culture is one that has also impacted Madison Avenue as I write about in the book. In terms of how advertisers have used the culture for positioning and making brands relevant. So, this culture at the same time, and these individuals within the culture certainly saw opportunities to take their influence and carry it to Madison Avenue and to film. And so as we are talking about the proliferation of it, and the question you just posed, how it got to this point and so forth, it wasn’t just the music you know, it was the films. I have a little chapter, hip-hop Madison and Vine in the book, that talks about how hip-hop influenced Madison Avenue through commercials, and then film through the movies, through an entire genre of movies. Individuals like Ice Cube, you know, who started in hip-hop music, became a great filmmaker. John Singleton, of course Spike Lee, all of the individuals who took some piece of this culture and put it on the big screen. And so you then had all of these various platforms again as I was talking about with these individuals who were so creative and looking to constantly create; look at all these available platforms that came available to them, and they fully maximized it.
CWR: I would like to go back to your comments about reinvention, which really leads into another question that I was going to ask. You know there have been many different music genres through the ages, from bee bop to R&B, to disco to soul, to rap to hip-hop. Many people thought that hip-hop was just going to be a passing fad that would become passé. You mentioned the comment that Mos Def made about the question he was asked about where hip-hop was going. But going back to your statements about reinvention, is that probably the single most important factor in the sustained success of hip-hop and its longevity as a popular music form?
E.P. – I think that, that desire to, to reinvent, is crucial toward the long-term survival of the culture in a sense. And just survival instincts, again, think about the backdrop of where hip-hop originated. In this population, being from, myself included, I grew up in an inner city environment in Pittsburgh, a very tough neighborhood. A very tough part of town. Three boys, so things were very difficult for us, and our story is very similar to that of many others. But as a result of that, there was the, just the survival instinct. And when you come from that type of environment, there is an instinct to find a way to survive. And that became part of the hallmark for this generation, by any means necessary. We knew that we had to figure out a way to survive, to make it. We again benefited from the generation before us, and our parents, and their parents who had the will to overcome, seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but stood in the face of it, and conquered it.
So we believed that, we took that, we were fortunate to have that come before us. And to have the Civil Rights Movement come before us. Because we knew if they did it we could do it. We knew that the struggles of our parents, and their parents, and their parents, created this opportunity for us, and we wanted to take advantage of it. Once that door was cracked open, we were flinging it open all the way. And we knew that we then had the opportunity to find success, because of those that came before us. So I always take time to acknowledge the sacrifices of those who came before us, because if not for them, none of this would have been possible.
On some level it would have existed, but clearly, if not for a John Johnson, what he did with Ebony. People like Tom Burrell, Burrell Advertising early on that I talk about in the book, and the list goes on. There are many, many, many others, you know, who paved the way. And I’m just talking in a media sense now, but that’s a big part of what allowed this culture to continue to live. Because we then had magazines, and people like Quincy Jones with Vibe Magazine. People like Carol H. Williams on the advertising side. All of the people that kind of came ahead of us and paved the way; gave us a sense that anything was possible. That we could achieve our goals. That’s just the essence of music, to continue to innovate.
When I was at Nike, we had a famous, not a famous, but we had a kind of tagline, or something that we used, and it was “innovate or die” when it came to designing a new product. It was like “innovate or die.” And with the hip-hop generation it’s much the same, we gotta continue to innovate, we gotta keep innovating, we gotta keep reinventing. And that’s why when people say is hip-hop dead, is it gonna die; you know I don’t believe it has or it will. Hip-hop as it once existed, is no longer existing purely in that sense. The hip-hop that we came of age with, and I’m speaking of Gen Xers now, who were in high school in the late 80s, into college. Hip-hop as we knew it, with a lot of the social consciousness that I talked about, the political awareness that I talked about, some of those things; and just the positive expression of it. It’s not existing purely in that sense, but it continues to reinvent itself and morph into something else, and I believe it will soon find it’s way back to a place of positivity and expression of political awareness, social awareness. It just becomes a sign of the times.
And there are even artists as we speak who are attempting to write music about some of these things that I’m talking about. But it’s tough to break through that paradigm in media, and radio and TV, when they are accustomed to a certain; it’s like when they are running Microsoft 6.0, but you know you’ve got Microsoft 10.0, they are gonna run 6.0 for as long as they can. And that’s the same thing that’s happening in the culture. It’s not as if there aren’t positive hip-hop artists, we’ve gotta find a way to allow those young folks who have a desire to channel the culture in a positive way as artists and individuals, we’ve gotta let their stories be heard, we’ve gotta give them a means to express themselves, and in this new digital era, that’s going to happen. Because those same platforms and the same proliferations that I alluded to that occurred when hip-hop was coming of age, it’s happening again, with wireless, and social networking, and all these platforms, the blogs, all these channels, you can broadcast yourself, you can do all these different things.
So now these same individuals are gonna have an opportunity to do the same. So we’ve gotta tell those stories and create those platforms for the full-range of expression within the culture to be seen and heard. And one such story that I love to share, and one of the highlights of this whole experience for me in writing the book was a trip and a visit I made to Brooklyn, NY. And there is a program called Behind the Book, it’s a non-profit, and they essentially bring authors into inner city schools and allow the students to meet the author. But more importantly, they make the book part of the curriculum. It was Brooklyn Community Arts & Media High School, in the heart of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, with housing projects around it. So they read my book, and I went in and talked to them about it, and that was a day that was really transcending for me, just talking about where they were located and what that means, for these students, and I was amazed.
First of all the course that adopted my text was one that was examining the role of advertising and the psychological impact of messages on young peoples minds. So they were having discussions about this very thing; the “N” word, and is there too much violence in the music, and how to portray women in the music. And these young people were intelligently, stating their opinion; the young ladies would say, “He’s not talking about me when he uses that ‘B’ word. You know I know who I am.” You have these statements and affirmations coming from young people that were very rewarding.
And then I spent some time in the school and I went to different classrooms. Now typically most of the authors, they come, they read the book, they talk to the kids and they leave. But I love connecting with our young people, and our students, so I stayed around. The principal was, “Are you sure?” I was like “Yeah, I’m good.” So I was drifting from classroom to classroom, and in one classroom, I went in there, well I could hear it, it was like some beating on the desk, and like a little bit of rapping. You know kind of the stuff I did in high school I write about in the book. We would sneak in the bathroom and do our little rap, battles or whatever. So I went in the room and there was a teacher in there. And I’m like, this teacher is allowing this to happen. I walked in and he said, I’m teaching the kids, how to compose a 16 bar hip-hop song. So they understand that these young kids, especially the guys, have a desire to do music, to write music, so they said OK, let’s create a class in a classroom environment where they are able to do so. To write a song, to learn how to structure a 16 bar song, etc. So I said well that’s very neat. So then I said what are they writing about. And he said they are writing about the strife in Sudan. And I said ohhh, OK! Now I get it. So they were constructing a song about the strife in Sudan. I thought that in and of itself was an amazing way to take their interest, their passion, and connect it with something that was not just educational, but at the same time, their sense of awareness around a key issue in the world.
I walked into another classroom and the students were working on MAC machines, MAC computers, and they were actually creating motion video. They were creating their own videos. In another classroom they had actually designed some products, some apparel, and talked about their creativity, their ability to know what’s nice in terms of clothing and apparel. But they were designing apparel. And I said OK that’s neat. And the teacher said yeah, we are doing it for a group of homeless women here in Brooklyn. And I said that to say, every now and then, we just have to touch down with our young people to get a real true sense of the hope and possibilities that exist. And certainly there are different challenges, and in this case, again we are in the heart of Brooklyn, in poverty. But, the hope that I felt at BCAM, that day, stays with me to this day. Because I know that, the one thing that hip-hop has shown, it is that desire, and that will. And our young people have it. That have this persistence, they have that desire, they want to make a difference, they want to make a change, and they want to be understood. And they want us to understand that everything that they fear here is not gonna constitute who they become. And that they have the ability within themselves to, to make decisions and to have thoughts that translate into an experience, in a physical sense, that is a positive one.
And I told those young people when I speak, I told you yesterday, don’t look at yourself as a product of your environment, but look at yourself as a product of your imagination. And so the things that you can imagine for yourself, the things that you can think of, the thoughts that you can place in your mind about who you are and who you want to become. And start to imagine a life for yourself consistent with your dreams and your passion and purpose. And eventually you will open your eyes and you’ll see those very things happening. Because you’re a creator, you create just by virtue of your thoughts. I’ve seen it in my own life. And hip-hop has helped that, because it has given me additional content for my dreams. It’s given me additional hope for my dreams. And it’s given me additional hope, and belief that, we can go out here, and we can change the course of history. And we can use our unique experience to create a significant change. So that ‘s what it’s done, and I believe that that’s what it will continue to do, particularly as this next generation figures its way, and makes its way as well.
CWR: Just one final question. What lessons can be learned from the dynamic proliferation of the hip-hop culture by readers of our magazine, who want to become entrepreneurs, or successful businessmen and women, like some of the people they have seen emerge from the hip-hop culture that they want to emulate?
E.P. – I will take the liberty to, paraphrase, or use, some lyrics from a song that is very dear to me right now, and something that I’ve used in my lectures, and it’s from Jay-Z and his newest CD called The Blueprint 3, and he has a song on there with the artist Pharrel. And the bridge in the song says, “The motivation for me, is them telling me what I could not be.” He says, “The motivation for me, is them telling me what I could not be, oh well!” And he says “If you conceive it, then you can achieve it.” Then he says, “I’m on a mission, no matter what the condition.” Then he repeats “The motivation for me, is them telling me what I could not be, oh well!” Here I am, is what he’s saying. So the fuel, as he says, the fuel for me, is just that, as Jay-Z says, in his opening lyric, he says, “I was so inspired by what my teacher said. That I’d either be dead or be a reefer head. I didn’t think that was how adults should speak to kids.” And so, so that becomes the message for our young people. Use the fuel.
There are those who are banking that you won’t succeed. There are those who are believing that you won’t have the fortitude, you won’t have the desire, you won’t have the ambition to become entrepreneurs, to start your own business, to become educated to the degree that you can start your own business. Or that you can go and change the course of some of these failing companies who are failing because they lack creativity. they lack innovation, they lack the very thing that you possess. So use that as the fuel for you to go out and change the course of history. And the fact that you know someone is telling you what you can’t do. Right now someone is telling you what you can’t do and what you can’t be. So utilize that for the fuel.
And actually what hip-hop music and hip-hop culture did; it was a group, and an audience, and a population, and people said you know what, as Jay-Z said. And we know that from Malcolm X right, Malcolm X’s teacher told him the same thing. You’re not going to be anything, why would you want to do that, why would you want to be that? So he lived up to what they expected, initially. You know, he went out and became a thug. He went out and became involved in crime, and went to jail as a result. And we know the transformation that he went through as a result. But, the point is, don’t live up to what people, expect for you. Live up to the expectations that you set for yourself. And use that as your fuel, the fact that people may not believe that you can be the person that you know you’re gonna become.
About Erin Patton: As an expert on consumer behavior, Erin Patton has been hailed for “cracking the code on the urban market” with his breakthrough 7 Ciphers™ segmentation study that attracted flagship sponsors including MTV, Pepsi and The Brookings Institution. Gifted as a dynamic public speaker with extraordinary communication skills, Patton is highly sought out as a speaker at conferences, symposiums, universities and corporations. Patton is a graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He later earned his MBA from the SMU Cox School of Business in Dallas, where he currently serves on the faculty as an Adjunct Professor of Sports Marketing in the Cox School of Business. He has appeared as an expert on ESPN, CNN, VH1, and Fox News and been quoted in USA Today, Time, Newsweek, Business Week, Wall St. Journal and Fortune. In 2009, he released his first book, “Under The Influence: Tracing the Hip-Hop Generation’s Impact on Brands, Sports & Pop Culture” to critical acclaim.
About The Mastermind Group (TMG): The Mastermind Group is a market intelligence and brand marketing consulting firm. TMG has counseled an exclusive roster of Fortune 500 brands and pop culture icons, including Pepsi, Motorola, MTV, Mercedes-Benz, Federated Department Stores, Inc., Adidas and Coors Light, as well as global sports icons LeBron James and Venus and Serena Williams. TMG also spearheaded NBA-star Stephon Marbury’s award-winning Starbury brand launch that revolutionized the sneaker industry and earned launch of the year honors from Footwear News and Advertising Age in 2006.
The Mastermind Group
Survival In the Age of Tolerance, Part 1 – Women Under Attack
April 21, 2013
By Donell Edwards
Featuring Dr. Iyanla Vanzant
There are many questions in the aftermath of the Rihanna and Chris Brown incident. How widespread is violence in romantic relationships among our young people, on our college campuses, and even in our high schools? What are the causes? What can be done to curb this tide of violence?
If it can be said that anything good has come from the Rihanna and Chris Brown incident, perhaps it is the attention that has been focused on this problem.
The CWR adds our voice to the collective chorus of those calling for an end to the age of tolerance of domestic violence against women, and we promise to continue to focus attention on this epidemic of domestic violence.
Our first step is the two interviews in our feature story for this month. In the two interviews that follow, two leading authorities on domestic violence against women help answer many of the questions surrounding this issue.
First, we talk with Dr. Iyanla Vanzant, who was abused as a child, and later was in an abusive marriage. Dr. Vanzant is considered by many to be one of the foremost authorities in the world on relationships. In this interview, Dr. Vanzant candidly shares her experiences as a woman under attack. She also provides insightful information that helps one view matters from the victim’s perspective, and offers advice for victims, abusers, and advocates.
Next we speak with Dr. Jeanne King. Dr. King is a psychologist and is the founder of Partners In Prevention, a non-profit organization that works with survivors of domestic violence. Dr. King has also experienced domestic abuse in her family, and works with healthcare providers on recognizing domestic abuse, and interfacing with and clinically managing patients who are victims of abuse. She is a seasoned psychologist, published author and leading expert in identifying the subtle communication patterns of battering relationships. Dr. King helps people recognize, end and heal from domestic violence at home and in court.
In our interview with Dr. King, she provides information on how to avoid getting into a relationship that may become abusive, what to do if one happens to be in an abusive relationship, and what help is available and where to find it.
We begin with our interview with Dr. Vanzant.
CWR: Much has been written and reported regarding the alleged attack of popular recording artist Rihanna by her boyfriend and also popular recording artist Chris Brown, who has been charged with assault and making criminal threats. According to TMZ.com, their sources say that Chris Brown’s defense team hopes to get the felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor because of “Rihanna’s own aggressiveness,” and their sources further state that she was the “first one to strike – slapping and striking Brown ‘numerous times’ while he was driving.” This is all so sad, but does it really make any difference who started this, shouldn’t the real issue be that Rihanna was physically abused, and reports indicate this was not the first time something of this nature has happened in their relationship?
Dr. Vanzant: In my mind, the larger question here is the level of violence that occurs in interpersonal relationships. Rihanna and Chris are simply representative of a larger issue within this age group. We seem to take a special interest because they are celebrities. What about the young women all over the country who are being violated by their partners and no one raises a finger or a fuss. The real issue is what is the common thread running throughout the generation of young men that makes them so violent? And, what is the common thread running through the generation of young women that makes them excuse violence directed toward them? What is sad is that when celebrities are involved, we become concerned but no one seems to care about the issue as it unfolds in high schools and colleges around this country.
CWR: As you just mentioned, because of the high visibility of Rihanna and Chris Brown a lot of attention has been given to this issue. Is the Rihanna and Chris Brown situation just an isolated incident in regard to young people within the 18 – 24 year age group, or is this a major problem for young and more mature alike, and is it just something we as a society tolerate and do not discuss?
Dr. Vanzant: This is a major problem in every aspect of society and we act like it does not exist. Violence against women is not only promoted, in some cases it is glorified. Whether it is sexual violence and exploitation or physical violence and exploitation, it is running rampant. Pimps beating the whores, husbands killing their wives, boyfriends stomping their girlfriends is a common, everyday event about which we shake our heads, suck our teeth and expect somebody else to address until it touches us personally. As long as we act like it doesn’t matter and continue to accept the exploitation of women on any level, we will see more Chris’ and Rhianna’s. I believe this event is simply life’s way of telling the world, you better deal with this situation.
CWR: As we alluded to in our introduction, you experienced physical abuse in your marriage. You are quoted in Essence magazine as saying, after ending your abusive marriage of nine years: “I accumulated several black eyes, three fractured ribs, a broken jaw, a displaced uterus, and something far worse: the death of my personhood. In a fit of depression, I attempted suicide.” First of all, why did you remain in this relationship and endure the abuse for so long, and can you provide any insight that may help our readers understand why Rihanna has reportedly resumed her relationship with Chris Brown?
Dr. Vanzant: To ask a woman why she stays in an abusive relationship is like asking a drug addict why they use drugs. At the moment, there is a belief that you cannot do anything differently. At the time of the experience there is a series of conflicting beliefs in operation. I love him. He loves me. I have no where to go. He will find me. The issue of domestic or relationship violence is a cycle of dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors that cannot be explained in a simple sentence. However, my situation was different from Rihannas. I was married and I had three children. I came from a history of domestic violence. I stayed because, like many women in this situation, I had seen it all of my life and had come to know the violence as normal. I am not sure the same is true of Rihanna.
CWR: You have described the troubled times in your life as “dark valley experiences.” Can you explain what you mean as it relates to domestic abuse.
Dr. Vanzant: Imagine that you are living in a situation with someone you love, someone who says they love you yet, they hit you. In my case, they beat you. Imagine that you want to protect yourself from the judgment and criticism of others and, at the same time you want to protect the person you love. Imagine that you chose this person to come into your life, you trusted this person, you share intimacy with this person and they beat you. The experience undermines your self-confidence, self-trust and self-value. This is what makes domestic and relationship violence such an vicious crime. It makes you a victim of your own thinking as well as the person who is violating you. Because of this the depth of shame and guilt you experience makes it difficult to seek the help and support you need. When you voluntarily participate in an experience that is causing you harm, you suffer. That suffering is what I call a dark valley experience.
CWR: In your book, In the Meantime, you wrote, “When your life is working, it is not a dramatic production. We have to break our addiction to drama and crisis. And we have to stop competing.” Please explain what you mean, and are those actions symptoms or causes of domestic violence against women?
Dr. Vanzant: In the context of the book, this statement refers to a tendency to expect our lives to be challenging and difficult. Many of us come from violent, chaotic and unstable homes. As a result, we have come to expect the drama of struggle, upheavals, disruptions, the list goes on. When we mature and begin our own lives, we may have an expectation that we will do the same – – struggle, suffer, feel unsafe, experience violation, betrayal etc. As such, when our lives are peaceful, moving forward without the “drama” we have come to expect, we have a tendency to believe that something is wrong. We live looking over our shoulders waiting for the next big shoe to fall. In the worst case scenarios, we don’t only expect difficulty and drama, we create it and participate in it because it is familiar.
CWR: Some have suggested that rap music and hip-hop music contributes to violence against women because some of the lyrics in this music genre are very disrespectful to women, some feature violence against women, and some promote masochism and misogyny. Are there any studies or is there evidence that supports this theory?
Dr. Vanzant: Why do we need a study to show us what common sense and our eyes tell us every day. A man standing over a woman with a whip in a music video needs no study. Call a woman a B or a Ho’ to a pumping drum beat needs no study. Allowing a young man who just pummeled a young woman into your home, to ride your jet ski needs no study. At the same time, I cannot say that it is rap music and hip-hop music alone. Daddy slapping mommy needs no study. Mommy covering her wounds and scars in order to go to work needs no study. Domestic violence, the prostitution of women’s pain and degradation for profit is a major issue in this society. What do we need to study about that? What more evidence do we need than what we see and hear every day?
CWR: Many times guys project the image of being remorseful, they may even say they will stop the hitting, and may agree to counseling or anger management. In most of these situations, especially when a pattern of physical abuse has been established over a period of time, does this usually work, or is it best for the young lady or woman involved to just end the relationship?
Dr. Vanzant: If he hits you once, he will do it again. The only hope is if he goes into serious counseling or therapy to deal with his issues. Without that, he will do it again. When there are children involved I believe that a woman may need to be required to go into counseling as well as the man. When there are children involved you cannot just end the relationship, however, the nature of the relationship may need to change.
CWR: How can men who have a problem of physically abusing women be helped, first to accept the fact that they have a problem and need help, and how should they proceed to get the help they need?
Dr. Vanzant: Professional therapy or counseling is the only means of help. Violence is not a one time affair. It is a condition of the heart and mind. Any form of violence is a reflection of wounding at the deepest level of the heart and soul. The first thing a man must do is tell the truth about what he feels about himself. Then he needs to find a professional who can help him sort through it.
CWR: You have stated that who you are has nothing to do with “having been raped at age nine, or having been in an abusive marriage for nine years, or having been a welfare recipient, or later being a successful public defender, spiritual counselor, and best-selling author.” Please explain, particularly in the context of being in an abusive marriage for nine years, please explain to our readers how one overcomes all of the pain so that it has nothing to do with who one is, or what one becomes.
Dr. Vanzant: All things are lessons that God would have us learn. Every experience is a divine set up for us to learn and to know the value of who we are as individuals. Every experience is an opportunity for us to identify our patterns of thought and behavior that take us into experiences that do not work. Every experience is a learning device. When we understand and learn not to be victimized by what we experience, those experiences become valuable tools rather than excuses. I learned my lessons very well. I know who I am. I know what I deserve. I have a sense of value and worth beyond my body, my accomplishments and my possessions. The good news is that what is true for me, is true for everyone else. The bad news is, most of us only get the lessons as we mature.
CWR: In reference to your decision to end your marriage and leave your husband, accepting the role of a single-parent, and with no means to support yourself, you stated, “When you make up your mind, things shift.” What was it that finally caused you to make up your mind, and what advice do you have for our readers who may be struggling to find the courage to make up their minds to end an abusive relationship?
Dr. Vanzant: Pain will help you make a new choice. When the pain becomes unbearable you will do something about it. I made a decision to leave the pain. It’s just that simple. When you are just whining and complaining about the pain but not doing anything to eliminate it from your life, it simply means that you don’t hurt bad enough yet.
CWR: You stated “I’m still healing the wounds…I’m still learning to stand up and ask for what I want without fear of losing people’s love.” Do you still feel this way, is the recovery process ongoing, and what advice do you have for our readers who have gotten out of an abusive relationship and are working to recover?
Dr. Vanzant: You don’t get the lesson once and then move on. Every lesson in our life comes back several times in order to see if we will practice what we have learned. We must be vigilant about practicing what we have learned from past experiences. If boyfriend A beat you and you got away, you must be vigilant about making sure that boyfriend B doesn’t yell at you. Hitting, pushing, shoving, yelling are all forms of violence. Sometimes the violence is subtle. As a result of what you have been through you must have clear boundaries and standards. If you experience anything that doesn’t feel right question it, question him. Draw your line in the sand and don’t move the line.
About Dr. Vanzant: Dr. Iyanla Vanzant is an internationally renowned speaker and critically acclaimed best-selling author with over 8 million books in print, and her book, In the Meantime, was a #1 bestseller and was on the New York Times Best Sellers List for 20 weeks. She is the founder of Inner Visions Institute for Spiritual Development. She most recently returned to television with her highly acclaimed program, Iyanla: Fix My Life, on the OWN Network. She is recognized as one of the foremost authorities in the U.S. on relationships. She is a graduate of Medgar Evers College in New York and earned her law degree from the City University of New York. She is the recipient of numerous honors, including the 1994 National Association of Equal Opportunity in Education Alumni of the Year; in 1999 she was listed among the 100 Most Influential African-Americans by Ebony magazine; she earned the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, Non-Fiction, for Yesterday I Cried; and Newsweek included her as one of the “Women of the New Century.”
Inner Visions Institute for Spiritual Development
P. O. Box 8517
Silver Springs, MD 20907
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