[Kamikaze] Do the Right Thing


Brad Franklin

Let's be honest. I'm sure all parents agree that kids need discipline. Kids need to learn respect; kids need to learn tolerance. But what happens when a kid feels like he doesn't see those qualities exemplified by the adults around him, adults who are charged with instilling in them those same values?

What do you do?

You'll have to admit, the Itawamba County School District has had a tumultuous year. A year ago, it stopped a high-school prom to prevent Constance McMillen from bringing her girlfriend to the prom. Instead of seizing a teachable moment, the board leaned on policy and cancelled what is, for most high school kids, one of their greatest nights. Now they've got another lawsuit on their hands from a student who alleges that his constitutional rights have been violated, and in a unique instance, I might add.

I was called as an expert witness last week in a hearing for 18-year-old Taylor Bell. Bell, a student at Itawamba Agricultural High School, is like any other high-school student: He plays sports, likes to hang out with friends and likes to make music. In fact, one of his compositions is at the center of this controversy. A song he penned around Christmas insinuating that some Itawamba coaches were involved in improper behavior got him suspended from school and sent to an alternative school for the semester. School board members said that one line in particular was a threat of violence against the coaches.

As I sat in that courtroom and listened to the proceedings, I felt a huge chasm between the adults and the young people. It's the same feeling I've felt before when debating people who comment on the JFP site. It's the same feeling that I felt sitting in corporate meetings with businessmen who felt I wasn't worthy of being there, the same feeling I get from folks who ignorantly try to judge the hip-hop culture, those who pass judgment, those who stereotype because of what they've heard.

When I saw the school board cherrypick through Bell's lyrics again and again, I knew that the disconnect I often talk about was afoot.

Indulge me for a moment. Could it be that this school board is so out of touch with the students it serves that it's doing more harm than good? Are they adhering to a code that doesn't take into account a new generation of students? Would it be necessary for me to testify to board members about the nuances of hip-hop if they were a little more in touch?

Perhaps they didn't know about the metaphors, the alliteration, the bravado and the machismo that comes with the genre. Perhaps they didn't know that sometimes folks turn to music when they can't express themselves. Perhaps Bell felt like he couldn't count on the adults around him to investigate the accusations, so he wrote a song. Maybe they would have known that they didn't have a "killer" in their midst, and that it would probably serve their constituents better to look into some of those accusations.

I can't say with certainty whether they have looked into what Bell was saying. I'll admit, the profanity in the song made it hard to listen to. Plus, students can lie. But, ultimately, they do have some rights. Right?

At the end of the day, all hip-hop isn't bad, and I can't say in good conscious or from experience that Bell posed a threat. Real hooligans don't make records. If Bell's education has been compromised for even a day because of a song—a song posted on his Facebook page, on his time, with his equipment—then he should be made whole. We can't expect our kids to do the right thing if they don't see us doing it.

And that's the truth ... sho-nuff.


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