Home News Center YJLI Alum Rashad D. Hawkins Uses Arts Activism to Build a Better Baltimore

YJLI Alum Rashad D. Hawkins Uses Arts Activism to Build a Better Baltimore

August 27, 2020
Courtney M. McSwain

Tell us about your organization BMore Awesome, Inc.

We focus on addressing systemic inequity through intersecting arts activism and entrepreneurship training. We were founded as an organization in early 2015. When we initially started, we had an innovative idea to create a nonprofit record label that used the arts as one of the hooks to engage young people and teach them the activism and independent business skills necessary for artists, but also could be transferable in advocacy projects. That original idea didn't attract funders, and our grassroots base didn't generate enough dollars to support programming and the whole organization, so we shifted to partnering more with groups that already had young people and a base of support, including funders.

We've done contracted services with schools and arts organizations, speaking engagements, and worked with advocacy organizations in the past. We've even been hired to organize things like the first Mayoral Forum on Arts and Culture in 2016.

In 2017, we got involved in school-to-prison pipeline work. We worked with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and other coalitions to get the first-ever school police policy in Baltimore established that moved school police from uses of force to de-escalation tactics. That year we started actively getting back into activism campaigns, and in 2019 we got funding from the Open Society Institute to continue our advocacy efforts

Right now, we're going into the 2021 legislative session focused on COVID-19 and systemic racism. One of the bills that we already have sponsors for would declare racism a public health crisis. There are 11 different points in the resolution that would address systemic inequity, and it covers everything from identifying language to education, funding, job opportunities, contracts, grants and more. That's something that we're focusing on as well as supporting justice and youth justice efforts.

We've grown organically, and we have an unorthodox model, but it's led us to be where we are today. We try to meet the needs of directly impacted people the best way that we can, and we try not to bog ourselves down too much in bureaucracy [so we can meet people's needs]. When COVID-19 hit, we fundraised, redirected funds and got grant money to do a COVID-19 relief grant to help independent entrepreneurs, artists, and young people. We have a lot of irons in the fire, but all of it is based on our mission of addressing systemic inequity through arts activism and entrepreneurship.

How do you define arts activism? What are some of the ways you all uniquely tackle advocacy?

Art activism can be defined differently by whoever is doing it, but when you start to look at grassroots activism components, arts are always at the forefront. The tools to raise awareness, mobilize people and change public opinion always involve the arts, but unfortunately, it's rarely respected or highlighted.

For us, the arts and activism have never been separate. When you look at classic movements, people always leave out hip-hop. Hip-hop itself was a movement. A lot of the musical genres, such as jazz, the blues, and rock and roll, all originate from impacted communities dealing with poverty and inequity. If you listen to old Tupac songs, he was talking about police brutality. Hip-hop often reaches the communities that traditional sources of activism have the hardest time reaching. We're one of the organizations looking to harness that and use it in the most effective way possible to push for systemic change.

How did YJLI impact how you see yourself in the youth justice or broader social justice movement?

The thing that differentiates YJLI from other programs is that many of the folks coming in are not only people of color but also directly impacted. And they're coming from different parts of the work with different perspectives. We shared the same belief that activism isn't a job for us; it's a lifestyle. Some of the most impactful training in YJLI had to do with working on ourselves as humans to connect better with each other and the population we looked to serve and empower. We were reading books or doing different things that developed us as leaders and reconnected us to what this work is about, which put us in a position to do this work authentically.

How are you hoping that BMore Awesome, Inc. can impact young people in Baltimore?

Long term, we want to create a Baltimore that values and fosters youth voice and leadership. We want to strategically and intelligently start to chip away at the different policies and practices that create systemic inequity and make it impossible for us to see the world that we want to see. Realistically, we know it will take anywhere between 20 to 50 years before we get to the "Atlantis" Baltimore that we want to see, but we want to push that ball forward as much as possible while we're active.

What can NJJN do to support you?

One of the biggest things is helping us raise awareness, which also helps us with funding. So being highlighted and acknowledged in things like this is great. We'd also love to participate in more collaborations or get information on funding opportunities that we can tap into. The technical assistance that NJJN provides for policy work is also very helpful and just sharing information about what we're doing.


Be sure to visit BMore Awesome Inc., online and on Instagram, and check out Rashad on YouTube

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