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Black artists with disabilities call for greater inclusion in hip-hop

29 Oct 2020

Krip-Hop Nation, an artist collective started by Leroy Moore Jr., seeks to promote disability awareness and representation in art forms. Image courtesy of Leroy Moore Jr.

Ebonique Little, Contributing Writer

From an early age, artist with cerebral palsy Leroy Moore Jr. said he recognized the limited opportunities for people with disabilities. Now, he and a collective of 800 musicians, poets and visual artists are shifting the dialogue within hip-hop culture through Krip-Hop Nation.

“I’ve been an activist since birth,” Moore said.

Founded in 2007, the collective seeks to promote disability awareness in the music and media industries through an internet talk show, mixtapes, performances, educational workshops and conferences.

Moore said the musical film “Porgy and Bess,” in which the main character was Black and disabled, was pivotal in improving his self-esteem. It was the first time he saw someone who looked like him on screen.

He was further intrigued by his father’s jazz and blues record collection, including famous disabled musicians like Robert Winters, Walter Jackson and CeDell Davis. Moore said this was the extent of representation of Black disabled individuals in the media.

“Once Abandoned Now Resurrected By Passion” by Krip-Hop Nation visual artist Ottis Smith shows individuals with disabilities taking over an abandoned building. Image courtesy of Leroy Moore Jr.

As a teenager, Moore wrote letters to news outlets, questioning why there was little inclusion of the disabled community and its history. He said the response was troubling — many television producers lacked interest or knowledge regarding this group of people.

“So when I saw that, I was like, ‘OK, if you don’t know, then I’m gonna find out on my own,’” the artist said. “And so today I’m still doing that work — still researching Black disability issues.”

Part of Moore’s work included a three-part interview series of Black deaf hip-hop artists, which aired on the KPFA California talk radio station in 2006. He captured the attention of about 20 artists with disabilities, which fueled the beginning of the Krip-Hop movement.

Every year, Moore and his artists hold concerts that allow them to collectively showcase their work. This year’s event was postponed due to the pandemic, but the group plans to reconvene after the coronavirus subsides.

In July 2019, Krip-Hop Nation gained international exposure as disabled artists from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africavisited San Francisco for the organization’s Disabled African Musicians Summer Bay Area Festival.

“This year, we were gonna go back to South Africa,” Moore said, “but because of COVID, we did an online concert benefit.”

Moore’s main goal with the events is to counter ableism, or discrimination based on physical abilities. They also inform music executives of their marketability even though they may not fit the mold of well-known musicians.

“There’s ableism in the Black community,” Moore said. “And we need to work on it, so Black disabled people can come back home and work in our Black community.”

In the past, Moore said the artists received pushback from the general public; people sent hateful messages and destroyed their promotional signage for events. Moore said the group continues to face obstacles in garnering widespread acceptance.

“It continues today in getting any kind of love mainstream,” Moore said. “Like hip-hop magazines, hip-hop musicians — they just don’t recognize Krip-Hop.”

The musician seeks to educate the greater community through his other works, such as books and poems. For over 20 years, Moore has spoken at colleges to advocate for the inclusion of disability history courses.

In light of Disability Awareness Month, Moore spoke at a virtual workshop on Oct. 21 about the history of disabled art, traced from slavery to modern day. Hosted by VCU’s Partnership for People with Disabilities and the Inclusion Project, Moore centered the talk around his book, “Black Disabled Art History 101.”

“I wanted to bring Leroy [Moore] in as a speaker because he has a very strong message,” said Jack Brandt, program coordinator for the Partnership for People with Disabilities.

The partnership is an affiliate of VCU’s School of Education, and its activities revolve around four programs for people with developmental disabilities: community living, early intervention, health and education.

Krip-Hop Nation rap artists Leroy Moore Jr., Lateef McLeod and Antoine Hunter. Photo courtesy of Leroy Moore Jr.

Moore was brought in under the Inclusion Project, a student-led endeavor funded by the Virginia Department of Education aiming to increase disability awareness and sensitivity in schools. Brandt reached out to Moore after members of the Inclusion Project requested a “high-impact” speaker.

Brandt, an educator in VCU’s disability studies program, became familiar with Moore’s advocacy work about three years ago through his research on disability rights and policy.

Brandt said he wanted people to understand how disabilities impact social justice movements and see art as a powerful method to achieve this.

“We need to talk about disabled artists and provide them with a platform,” Brandt said.

Moore said many students have a gap in their knowledge when it comes to disability history, but he enjoys enlightening them. Moore hopes to grow Krip-Hop Nation through more musical and educational events.

“With culture and music, we have a lot of things that we contribute to this society,” Moore said of the Black and disabled community. “And they need to be recognized.”

Source: Commonwealth Times

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