From King’s Dream to street dreams: Just being Jay Z is enough
By D. Alexander Bullock
In the wake of Jay Z’s so-called beef with actor and activist Harry Belafonte, Hova has been criticized for saying that his presence is a charity — his existence provides hope. At first blush, these words seem to have been baptized in a pool of arrogance; however, further examination reveals that they are the words of a man who has successfully escaped the urban ghetto and his existence proves that street dreams do come true. Harry Belafonte dreamed with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; he dreamed of an America cured from the cancer of race prejudice and healed from the sickness of institutional racism. Jay Z and many urban youth have dreams too — street dreams. They dream that they will be saved from the sin of window shopping, lifted out the pit of project poverty and escape the gas chamber of the ghetto. Whatever the 1963 March on Washington was about, there were no signs or speeches about this kind of dream.
On Aug. 24, the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was commemorated. The 1963 March was indeed historic. It helped galvanize the labor movement and the civil rights movement around a common message of political inclusion and economic justice. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his I Have a Dream speech and immediately captured the moment with a timeless vision of a prophetic dream.
Fifty years later, the speech remains a classic. Fifty years later, the civil rights movement is over. This second march was not a march to change America, but rather a march to mark a moment in time — to remember the change. The 1963 civil rights agenda, so appropriately expressed by Dr. King, was political and economic integration. It was a movement for the full inclusion of Blacks and other minorities with middle class aspirations to be included in the so-called American dream. This version of the American dream was obviously and intentionally middle class.
There are other dreams in America. There are dreams of being ghetto fabulous. There are street dreams. The 1963 march was not about urban America’s street dreams. It was not about the ghetto’s dreams. Ghetto dreams are about being ghetto fabulous and escaping from the projects; the third verse from Nas’ “Street Dreams” is instructive:
Growing up project-struck, looking for luck — dreaming.
Scoping the large niggas beaming, check what I’m seeing —
cars, ghetto stars pushing ill Europeans.
G’n, heard about them old timers OD’n.
Young early 80’s, throwing rocks at the crazy lady —
worshipping every word them rope-rocking niggas give me.
The street raised me up giving …
I thought Jordans’ and a gold chain was living it up.
I knew the dopes, the pushers, the addicts, everybody
cut out of class, just to smoke blunts and drink noddy.
Ain’t that funny, getting put on the crack money
with all the gunplay, painting the kettle black hungry?
A case of beers in the staircase, I wasted years
some niggas went for theirs, flipping coke as they career.
But I’m a rebel stressing, to pull out of the heat no doubt
with Jeeps tinted out, spending never holding out.
The lyrics reveal that, since 1963, Dr. King’s dream has lost ground to the dreams of America’s urban masses. In the urban ghettos of America, trapped in poverty, subject to substandard education and broken families the ultimate concern is not integration — it is escape from the ghetto. The civil rights movement justice project has been superseded by just getting out of the projects. The favored few that have used their basketball or lyrical skills to escape from the prison of project life and become ghetto fabulous are the new drum majors for justice. The movement to escape from the ghetto is not a movement for minority political and economic equality. It is a movement to have all the trappings that capitalism can provide. Successful street-dreamers are examples to those left behind that success comes to those who don’t commit suicide behind the iron current of project life. There is a longer conversation that must be had about the relationship of these two dreams; however, to those with street dreams, Jay Z’s existence is enough.
D. Alexander Bullock is pastor of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church and the founder and national spokesperson for the Change Agent Consortium.