Toni Blackman, entrepreneur and the first elected Hip-Hop Cultural Ambassador to the U.S. Department of State, taught Stony Brook students the art of hip-hop mediation at the Charles B. Wang Center on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Blackman’s journey as an artist and mindfulness instructor kicked off in 2018 following her brother’s suicide. Although she admits always having an interest in rap, her brother’s death acted as inspiration to use her artistic skills as a means of helping others.
“I was dealing with hip-hop since middle school,” she said during the event. “I was rapping as a cheerleader in high school. When my brother passed, I started my journey… it’s important if you have an idea, you have the courage to share it, and remember who you’re doing it for.”
Combining rhythmic beats, freestyle verse and meditative techniques, Blackman hosted a fun-filled night of self-exploration and mindfulness. By incorporating music, Blackman encouraged the audience to feel more comfortable in expressing themselves, a technique that certainly did not go underappreciated.
Anne Klein, a 60-year-old home companion — similar to a home health aid — heard of the event and convinced her friend, 62-year-old Linda Dunckley, to join her.
“I love hip-hop,” Klein said. “My daughter listens to it in the car, and I love all of it. [Blackman] does a really good job making it fun for everyone, especially younger people.”
Dunckley, who works as a teacher’s aide in Rocky Point, added, “I’ve done guided meditation before, but never with hip-hop. It’s definitely great for younger audiences.”
Both Dunckley and Klein noted their favorite component of the show was the end, where Blackman used a mantra to freestyle a song while the audience sang the chorus. The words “so what” were sung while Blackman came up with lyrics that used positive affirmations to communicate ideas of self-respect and assurance.
Evan Kim, a junior mathematics major, notes that the most memorable part of the show was during the first exercise, during which Blackman asked the audience about what words they associate with relationships.
“It took too long for people to get to love,” Kim said. “You heard things like complicated, toxic, but it took a lot more people to finally have someone say love. It’s sad, but it makes you think.”
For the rest of the exercise, Blackman had members of the audience come to the front and participate in a spoken word piece. As the exercise went on, those who went up got more comfortable with self-expression and eventually touched upon topics such as independence, support and respect.
“Your relationship with yourself is the most important,” Blackman summarized after the spoken word performance. “And one should have the capacity to do the same thing for others as you do for yourself.”
Blackman’s event was part of Stony Brook’s Black History Month Program, coordinated annually by the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Black History Month Committee. It was co-sponsored by the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery and the Humanities Institute of Stony Brook. Additional support was given by the Art and Music Departments.