Hip-hop artist Treble NLS — the nom de plume of 22-year-old Shyheim Banks — never thought of his art as activism before joining 1Hood Media earlier this year. That outlook changed after becoming more involved in the nonprofit.
“We are activists because we are telling the honest stories of people of color,” he said. “we’re controlling our own portrayal in the media,” he said.
1Hood Media in North Oakland, along with Center of Life in Hazelwood, give young Pittsburghers a chance to explore the music industry, from learning instruments to producing their own tracks, while also giving them an outlet to find their voice.
Founded in 2006, 1Hood Media is a collective of socially conscious artists and activists who utilize art to raise awareness about social justice matters. They offer workshops, curriculum consultation, media literacy training, conflict resolution, lyricism, songwriting and vocal instruction, music production; they also teach blogging, photography and videography.
According to Banks, who was already involved in the local rap scene, 1Hood gave him a chance to take his career to the next level, teaching him how to earn a profit, manage his finances and market his music. 1Hood also provided him with a platform to perform for larger audiences and work as a teaching artist in the organization, helping youth in the area with self-confidence.
“I help them to find their worth as people, because it’s very hard to find your worth as an adolescent,” he said.
Taliya Allen, 1Hood’s director of arts education and cultural enrichment, says the goal of 1Hood’s programming is to engage people with tools that are innate to them. Allen, who has a background in education, realized the gap in children’s understanding was not correlated with their ability to create.
“They could create almost any level and create beautiful pieces without any formal education. So the thing is to engage people at these various levels and help them understand how their creative potential can be their gateway to the world,” she said. “They can go out and they can do fantastic things with just their words, their bodies, their songs their voice, you know, these tools that are natural to them.”
Allen says that 1Hood gives children of color an opportunity to realize their potential in a society that tells them they don’t have any.
“We have so many young people who come to us who feel alienated by the school system, but can come to us and come to similar partners in other agencies and find a voice for themselves,” she says.
Center of Life in Hazelwood has a similar mission to 1Hood’s. Center of Life serves Hazelwood and its surrounding communities with academic out-of-school programs and experiences in music and arts, like its jazz and Kreating Universal New-School Knowledge Movement, or KRUNK, programs.
Its jazz program provides music instruction for students from kindergarten to 12th grade. KRUNK Movement expands on that for those in grades nine through 12 by instilling professionalism and teaching music production, graphic design and photography, with those who participate getting paid for what they produce.
“It’s a good opportunity for families to expose their students at an early age, and then they’re able to master instruments or vocals by the time that they’re older and consider it as a real career option, which is really our ultimate goal,” says Joy Cannon, director of programming at Center of Life.
For Neil Martin, Center of Life’s business and compliance manager and former KRUNK Movement participant, the program was a way for him to do something “cool” and make friends in a safe space.
“There are a number of us who have returned to Center of Life to teach youth following in our footsteps. The impact KRUNK has had on my life can not be overstated,” he wrote in an email to The Current.
Cannon says that learning music — which helps promote critical thinking — helps students in their daily lives.
“Along the way, we end up enriching them academically as well because different music skills translates to other academics,” she says.
Because of its universality, Cannon says music — and the other artistic modes that are associated with it — are able to reach young people in ways other forms can’t.
“If you’re looking to communicate with young people especially, music is really the way to do it to get a message across,” she said.