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Hip-Hop Convention Aims to Mobilize Young Voters

Bow ties and baseball jerseys converged Thursday at the National Hip-Hip Political Convention (search), producing a sometimes contentious discussion between staid veterans of the civil rights movement and the younger, trendier hip-hop generation.

The convention, which runs through Saturday, is an attempt to mobilize Hispanics and African-Americans, ages 18 to 35, who are bound by common styles of music, dress and speech, but are not yet a cohesive political force.

"This conversation is important because it is an attempt to bridge a generation gap," said the Rev. Calvin Butts (search), 54, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City.

In the gymnasium of the Metropolitan Baptist Church, about 200 delegates from across the country witnessed rousing discussions of spirituality, arts and culture, grass roots organizing and politics.

One of the afternoon's moderators, Gustav Heningburg, a veteran civil rights activist, compared activists of the hip-hop generation to those of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s.

Speakers ranged from clergy to New York City rapper M1, also known as Mutulu Olugbala, 31, of the rap duo Dead Presidents.

Participants acknowledged the differences between the generations, but urged unity and political activity to reach a common goal of improving the condition of a largely disenfranchised segment of society. Delegates earned their seats at the convention by registering at least 50 people to vote.

The convention's principal organizer was Ras Baraka, a 35-year-old Newark deputy mayor and son of the poet and activist Amiri Baraka. Some of the most animated dialogue arose between Ras Baraka's mother, Amina Baraka, 60, whose activism dates to the 1960's, and Faheem Ratcliffe, 30, culture editor of The Source magazine, an arbiter of hip-hop style.

Baraka and her contemporaries decried what they consider the violent, sexist and materialistic imagery in rap and hip hop music and videos, imagery that supporters defend as a reflection of the realities and aspirations of the hip-hop community.

"Hip hop is much more complex than being positive or negative," Ratcliffe said. "We are the children of the civil rights and the black power movements."