By Jessica Koslow
It's a Saturday in October 2011 and people jam into MacArthur Park Recreation Center for J.U.i.C.E.'s second Free Cypher Jam, a free battle with no prize other than bragging rights. Breakers both young and old take turns entering the cypher, trading funky sets of footwork, poses, slides, spins, flips and rocks.
The crowd seems mesmerized, partly by the live DJ spinning break beats but more likely by the smooth moves unfolding center stage. The onlookers are as diverse as the city of Los Angeles, and hip-hop is their unifier. Bad day, good week, hard life, troubling family; the dance floor is their soapbox, a creative outlet to express what's on their mind. There is nowhere else they would rather be. J.U.i.C.E. provides the space, but the hype participants create the empowering space.
Lamar Glover and Daniel Rizik-Baer, co-executive directors of J.U.i.C.E. (Justice Uniting in Creative Energy) since April of 2011, are constantly blown away when they stop by their Saturday workshops for at-risk youth. One instance at a music production workshop stands out in particular for Rizik-Baer.
"Lamar and I were speaking with young kids who used to be on the streets gang banging who are now having discussions about criticism versus critique," he says. "These things go way beyond hip-hop. That's the biggest thing for us that we're trying to get across. We're building knowledge, confidence, self-awareness and ways of thinking that translate to other parts of people's lives. What we do in our program, and I think it's a beautiful thing, is we make sure we are focusing on experiences that facilitate conversations about all aspects of life."
In existence for 10 years, J.U.i.C.E. is a nonprofit arts program for all ages, providing space for kids and emerging adults to interact with hip-hop elders as everyone builds their skills. J.U.i.C.E. prides itself on being an inter-generational program. Every Saturday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. at MacArthur Park Recreation Center at-risk youth, transition aged youth, and adults come together to create and practice all elements of hip-hop: music, visual art, and dance. Anyone can freestyle in the b-boy/b-girl open practice, learn how to spin on turntables, freestyle rhymes and record and produce music, and take graffiti and mural painting classes.
Glover views J.U.i.C.E. as a stepping stone for kids to delve into Los Angeles's rich hip-hop arts community. "We've seen lots of folks move through the program and matriculate into professional artistic careers in all elements of hip-hop," says Glover proudly. "It's been a special place to be."
More than the generous grants from organizations like the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and California Arts Council, J.U.i.C.E. runs on heart; that of its volunteer teachers, administrators, directors and board. "Everyone has other jobs," explains Rizik-Baer. "We do other things to support ourselves, and then spend all of our free time trying to make J.U.i.C.E. the best it can be. Of course, the more funding we get, the more effective we can be."
It's hard enough to secure funding for hip-hop arts programs in the first place, but add a crippled economy to the equation and times have never been tougher for J.U.i.C.E. Securing grants is a difficult process.
"I just finished graduate school for social work with a focus on management planning," begins Rizik-Baer, "and one of the things I learned is that they are looking for real results and concrete numbers, which requires time and resources. Without funding to implement the solid programming that grants are looking for, it makes it difficult to prove concrete results like people expect. It's a vicious circle."
Rizik-Baer continues, "The sad thing is that there is only so much heart people can have before they burn out. That's real to us. But social justice is part of our mission, and part of social justice is making sure people get paid properly and can afford to eat and have a roof over their head."
Until further funds are found, J.U.i.C.E.'s heart beats on. "We're not the type of nonprofit that sits around waiting for grants and donors," says Rizik-Baer. "We are hip-hop in the true sense of word. We want to be able to expand and have self-sufficiency."
Hip-hop culture continues to impact and inspire communities abroad. J.U.i.C.E. understands why, and taps into this movement to uplift its own backyard. "People look at hip-hop as a tool for organizing or consciousness-raising," Rizik-Baer says. "In a lot of ways, I look at it the other way around. Community organizing uses hip-hop as a tool because hip-hop is a language. The very foundation of hip-hop really was about combating violence in poor areas, about getting youth away from gangs and into positive forms of self-expression. Hip-hop is a true form of human expression. Kids come from various walks of life and bring their different experiences and enter a space on common ground, which allows us to see life in a complex way."
For more information, visit http://www.rampartjuice.com.