By Beth Reese Cravey Wed, Mar 26, 2014 @ 9:46 pm | updated Wed, Mar 26, 2014 @ 9:53 pm
The first life lesson Dorothy Pitman Hughes bestowed on the group of Jacksonville fifth-grade girls was the importance of rap.
Not the musical variety, but the talking variety. As in “rap session,” getting together on a regular basis with girls they trust, to solve their collective problems and support their collective dreams.
“I lived through a lot,” said Hughes, 75, an African-American civil and women’s rights activist since childhood, co-founder of Ms. Magazine and a longtime New York City businesswoman. “I made the decision early on to change what I could. … I couldn’t do it without other people.”
The 10 girls she met Wednesday participate in Girl Matters: It’s Elementary, a Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center program at two local schools that focuses on increasing school success among elementary-age girls.
Hughes, who now lives in Jacksonville, told them about her life, her accomplishments and her struggles, such as enduring “racism, classism and sexism” along the way.
She said she first learned about rap sessions when she watched her mother gather with her friends on the porch of the family home in Georgia. She encouraged the girls to form their own rap groups and said she would certainly join them on occasion if invited.
“Always know there is someone you can rap with, who will listen to you,” she said. “Get together and talk. You will get experience and understanding from someone else about what’s bothering you.”
Some girls realized they were already building rap groups. When they have problems, one of them said, “I go to someone I can trust that’s in my age group.”
Hughes said she was part of the “second wave” of U.S. women’s rights activists and that they could be the third wave, with help from each other.
“We fought and changed things. You are the product of the fight,” she said.
But the fight continues, in the push for economic empowerment and job opportunities. “You’ve got to take on the battle.”
The girls agreed.
Having a job, one of them said, will “build you up and make you responsible.”
Hughes said she intended to ask Mayor Alvin Brown and the school district to help youth find jobs in their communities. When she was in New York City, she once brought 1,500 youths to City Hall to ask then-Mayor John Lindsay to urge businesses to hire young people.
“I think the mayor would be very excited to see 1,500 of you,” she said, with a chuckle.
She also urged them to make jobs a rap session topic. And when she said she hires 12 youth every year at her Jacksonville bookstore and asked if they were interested, all 10 raised their hands.
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109