While federal politics bombard us with a constant stream of absurd and disheartening news, BET Music and rapper T.I. hosted an “Us or Else Town Hall” earlier this month to return our focus to local criminal justice issues that continue to cost many Black men and women their lives and livelihood.
Now, the rapper's short film — Us or Else — will air on the network on April 24.
The town hall featured moderator CNN commentator Angela Rye, along with panelists rapper, Talib Kweli, Women’s March co-chair Tamika Mallory, and Nakia Jones, the Cleveland police officer whose passionate response to Alton’s Sterling’s killing went viral last summer.
After discussing T.I.’s short film on police brutality, which the rapper produced as part of his socially conscious Us Or Else: Letter To The System EP, Rye delved into a round of questions spanning from how to bridge generational divides that may hinder social justice work to the role of artists in the movement.
When Rye asked what the next steps are in response to police brutality, Kweli asserted, “We have to be active before the tragedy.”
“For me the best way to do it is to align myself with the people who do the work even when the tragedies don’t make the news," he said. "Whether it’s through groups like Dream Defenders or Black Youth Project, or the most famous right now, Black Lives Matter. There are groups of people who are in the communities who do this work 24/7 that I think is our job, as artists and influencers, to uplift the work that’s already being done.”
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The panelists also lauded Jones for her bravery in denouncing colleagues who hold dangerously racist attitudes towards Blacks and Latinos they patrol, and they noted that Jones, unfortunately, proves to be the exception and not the rule within America’s police system.
Rye also asked some particularly pointed questions of each panelist, and provided a floor for T.I. to candidly address skepticism others may have about his budding activism.
“I started making trap music because that’s where I was at the time,” he shared, stressing that people forget artists are not one dimensional.
Audience members added thoughtful questions as well, including what kind of social justice work each of the panelists engage in so they, too, can get involved in the movement. Mallory does extensive anti-violence work as co-chair of Gun Violence Awareness Month while Kweli aims to support existing organizations through his Action Support Committee. T.I. and Jones cited their volunteer work and community engagement focusing on youth.
Catch the short film and the panel Monday night at 11 PM ET.