UGK Ties Cost Atlanta School-Board Candidate Union Endorsement

Circulating the hip-hop rags is a thought-provoking story about how Byron Amos, former vice-president of UGK Records, lost the Atlanta Federation of Teachers' support in his bid to sit on the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education because of his affiliation with the label.

"Hip-hop is unfairly held to a different standard where the mainstream is able to separate the actor from the character in movies," Amos responded in a statement. "They don't to the same thing for hip-hop. Art imitates life, good, bad and indifferent.

The subculture of hip-hop and R&B and the reality that it represents cannot be ignored. That is the real life to many people and I have the vantage point of being on both sides of the equation and have gained invaluable experiences that I will be able to use to help move a people that have been overlooked, underestimated, and thrown to the side because of the culture they've adapted.

As Rocks Off lay awake at 5 a.m. this morning, we had not reached Amos, and were left alone with our thoughts on the matter - deadline looming. We remembered the piece we wrote in May of last year slamming the Texas State Board of Education for excluding hip-hop from Texas textbooks.

But it's one thing to have an opinion that's perhaps safe about this matter, and it's another thing to raise the dialogue to a grander level like LZ Granderson did this week, arguing that Rick Perry's rock is the least of the black community's worries. We don't know that we'll be doing that today, but Amos's situation raises larger questions about the relationship, or lack there of, between public education and hip-hop, and whether there should be one.

It would be safe to write a "UGK for Life," "R.I.P. Pimp C" " and "screw the Atlanta teacher's union" story, get 50 comments saying "right on!" and go into the weekend feeling good about ourselves, safe in the confines of UGK's hometown.

But it's another thing to put a column like that to the real test - the test of self. So we asked ourselves, if it were our daughter in the Atlanta public school system, and Amos was elected to the school board charged with governing the system that educates her, would that be good enough for our nine-year-old Grace?

That's the real question, isn't it? You can chant "Free SPM" to all your homeys, but would you let your own daughter spend the night with a convicted child molester in a 6x9 jail cell? Do you believe in his innocence that much? That isn't a poke on the forehead to SPM fans. It's just a question. You don't have to answer it to us, but to yourself.

In answering our own question, we battle with the complexities. We wonder if a former vice-president of a tobacco company running for school board would be treated the same way. Cigarettes are legal, but they kill people. That's not an opinion. That's fact. Does it make that person bad, unfit or undeserving of serving on a school board or a union's endorsement?

We think about the time former San Antonio mayor and Clinton administration cabinet member Henry Cisneros shook our hand as a nine-year old - the same age as our daughter - and how we credit that moment with changing the course of our lives.

We wonder if Bun B, honored by our own Houston mayor with a "Bun B Day" proclamation in August, were called by Amos to talk to youth at an Atlanta school, if that moment would have equal or more impact on their lives compared to a semester of lecturing by an educator to live or act a certain way. That's not meant to dilute their importance. That's reality.

Then we think about how the teacher's union population probably views hip-hop, obviously not favorably and for justifiable reasons. Hip-hop has its own contradictions and problems to deal with.

It can be the CNN of the streets without endorsing "purple drank" and stating they're going to slap a bitch when she gets out of line. It can hold credibility while representing the cruel realities of ghetto life, but it's chosen not to and consequences come with that, deemed fair or not.

And so it's in that respect that the teacher's union has taken issue with Amos. Hip-hop is bad. Therefore hip-hop record labels are bad, and so are the videos they produce and all the people in them. We see how they are connecting the dots and it's their right to do what's best for the image of the organization and membership, but are we the only ones that feel that's a small way of thinking?

By essentially stripping his endorsement, they are stating that in their eyes, he is unfit to serve the students of Atlanta, when in fact they did believe he was capable and the right person just a few days prior. And so the question becomes, "How much of Amos being in a rap video should be considered in his candidacy?"

Seems like we are asking more questions than coming closer to our own answer. And that's telling of the relationship between hip-hop and public education. In the public school system, it's nonexistent, so it's hard to determine whether it's appropriate because there's hardly any precedence. But whether the system wants to acknowledge it or not, the relationship exists with its students.

In the tough streets of Southeast Houston, some students listen to Houston's Lil Bing - a convicted murderer who hasn't released a single piece of music in almost a decade - as much or more than they do their history teacher.

Far away, in a much more pristine area of the country, our daughter mouths the lyrics to a Pitbull song that's sexual in nature. She didn't learn it our car, she heard it at an expensive horseback-riding summer camp Rocks Off and her mom pay for. Her private school's Quaker curriculum nestled in a white, conservative neighborhood, secluded in the beautiful forest hills of Montgomery Country, Md., can't hide her from hip-hop.

The point is hip-hop isn't going anywhere and it doesn't define a person's character because it's in their lives. It doesn't make students murderers, or our daughter promiscuous, and it doesn't make Amos a drug-dealing pimp.

We think that's the injustice here. Not that Amos lost the support of the union - that's their right - but that an entire genre of music continues to be generalized and carries the burden of societal problems, when so many youth identify with it and hold that form of music dear to them, regardless of the mix bag of content and messaging. And instead of harnessing the power of hip-hop to try and improve public education, they shun it.

The bottom line is hip-hop has to work on its image if it wants to help effect positive change and be seen credibly, whether you think that's fair or not. And the public school system needs to wake up and understand that hip-hop is an institution in this country that's in the lives of its students, whether they like it or not. It's a tool, not a full-blown enemy.

So could we face our daughter if down the road she fronted us on our decision to vote for Amos, if we determined he was the best candidate? Yes. Because the more important lesson we'd want Grace to learn is this: Life isn't black and white.

One moment in time, one YouTube video doesn't define people's entire lives. The good and the bad of individuals and of life are threads intertwined with each other in the same rope and you use all of it to climb to where you need to go.

Amos may not be your idealistic, cookie-cutter school board member, but at least, unlike most elected officials, we know who he is now, and not after they get into office.

And that goes a long way in our textbook.

Email Rolando Rodriguez at rolandorodriguezjr22 at gmail dot com.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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