03RapatDogwoodEditor’s note: In the March 7 issue of Up & Coming Weekly, Karl Merritt wrote a column titled “Rap at the Dogwood Festival?” He lamented that rap would be featured at the festival in 2018 and explained why he felt this way. He received several emails in response to that column. In the following article, he responds to some of what reader Aissatou Sunjata wrote. Her thoughts were published in a letter to the editor in the March 21 issue and can be read here; it is the second letter: www.upandcomingweekly. com/views/4865-logically-flawedmusket- argument.

I want to share and respond to some of what was said by a reader who, rather vehemently, disagreed with what I wrote. The letter was sent by Ms. Aissatou Sunjata. With her permission, I emailed Sunjata my thoughts and questions as prompted by her letter. After a few days and a follow-up email, she emailed me saying her schedule would not allow time to address my comments or questions. Consequently, what I say here is in response to her initial letter to the editor.

From the first paragraph, Sunjata states: “If Mr. Merritt’s mentee is fortunate he will not be so strongly and staunchly biased against rap music and perhaps give some background and discernment involving rap music. Rap music, like jazz, like the blues, like country music, has a history.”

As I have repeatedly written, my life experiences indicate that a proper framework for thinking is essential for successful living. That means values and beliefs that lead a person to choices that produce fair and positive outcomes. Therefore, my assignment in mentoring the 13-year-old black girl that I mentioned in that column is to help her develop such a framework; not to tell her what to think.

Here is a basic example of what I mean. Today is Saturday, March 24, 2018. My mentee and I are scheduled for a reading session, by phone, at 5 p.m. At 12:14 p.m., she sent me a text explaining her call today would come from a different phone number than usual. I have never talked with her about calling on time. The conversations are about being individually responsible, identifying opportunities that are life-enhancing and going after them … these kinds of values. For weeks, my phone has rung at exactly the agreed upon time. I have not told her not to listen to rap; that decision will be made within her thought-processing framework. My lamenting rap at the Dogwood is about impact on thought-framework development, on paradigm shaping.

I am not alone in contending that rap can have a negative influence on individuals. Read the paper at this link: www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/792/ the-influence-of-rap-and-hip-hop-music-an-analysis- on-audience-perceptions-of-misogynistic-lyric. There are articles that use general statements to give value to rap, but part of this one deals with facts and reasoned analysis. At one point, the paper says, “While a correlation may exist between exposure to misogynistic music and audience attitudes regarding violent acts against women, a causal link cannot be demonstrated between listening habits and resulting misogynistic behavior.”

This says to me that the type of rap discussed in my column can adversely impact that 13-year-old’s paradigm, her framework for decision-making. It might not directly cause negative actions on her part, but will likely influence thought patterns that will, coupled with other destructive conditions, result in unwise choices.

Then, from Sunjata: “There is rap in gospel music. How can it all be bad?” Years ago, I watched a young man do “gospel rap.” I processed it through my paradigm and decided, “Not for me.” Since I made that decision years ago, it only seemed fair to see if the genre was different today. To that end, I watched several gospel rappers on YouTube. Some of them were: Tre9 performing “Pull Up on Ya Block;” “NC Female Christian Hip-Hop Cypher #NCFemaleCypher;” Sicily performing “Problems Music Video-Christian Rap” and Lazarus performing “Walk by Faith.”

As before, the words were meaningful, but, for me, not worshipful and definitely did not encourage me to a paradigm rooted in a faithful walk, or relationship, with God. In most cases, if I turned off the audio, I could hardly distinguish these Christian rappers from those described in my column that prompted the letter from Sunjata. With one or two exceptions, their dress and movements were similar.

On my part, there was a sense of being entertained rather than sensing God’s presence and worshipping him. When all this was processed through my thought-framework, my paradigm, it was rejected. Without a doubt, this genre appears to be an attempt to reach young people where they seem to be. If that statement is true, and I believe it is, we have sunk to an alarmingly treacherous position as a society. I do not view Christian or gospel rap as redemptive for the rap genre.

Here is one of two statements in her letter where Sunjata says I took credit for rap being included at the Dogwood Festival: “It is funny that Karl Merritt is taking credit for the Dogwood Festival’s inclusion of Rap this year and then bemoaning them adding rap music.” I asked that she tell me where I took this credit. There was no response. If someone else can show me where I made this claim, I would appreciate it.

Further, Ms. Sunjata says: “Very tired of people not wanting to alter or change anything in Fayetteville except what is important to them. I don’t enjoy baseball, but okay, there is going to be a field and a team. Perhaps the choice of selecting Coolio might not be appropriate for the audience which will attend the Festival. How will we ever know unless they give it a try?”

Trying something new should be based on a logical assessment of the likely outcome of doing so. It appears to me the likely positive outcome of a baseball team in Fayetteville passes the reason test. As Sunjata seems to admit, that is probably not the case with rap at the Dogwood, given what has been the audience for that particular event in the past.

My contention is that the measure of success of rap at the Dogwood Festival should not be how many people attend. Instead, it should be how attendees’ framework, paradigm, for decision-making is affected. Obviously, my contention is that the effect will be negative. Consequently, trying this new thing does not pass the test of reason for me.

The bulk of my original column about this issue focused on how I am convinced that unfair actions, better described as pressure, by some members of Fayetteville City Council produced the decision by leadership of the Dogwood Festival to include rap in this year’s events. I find it of note that Ms. Sunjata did not mention that section of my column. In light of her seeming commitment to dealing fairly with people, I would have expected agreement relative to the case I presented in that section.

For me, the bottom line of this discussion goes back to Proverbs 4:23, from the New International Version of the Bible: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” This is not a reference to the physical heart, but, rather, to that invisible place where our thought-framework, our paradigm, resides. In great part, we guard that heart by being careful what we expose ourselves to. Above all, I hope this is the course that 13-year-old black girl will follow. Not only do I wish this course for that 13-year-old, but for every person and for me.

Photos: Left: screenshot from the YouTube video “NC Female Christian Hip-Hop Cypher #NCFemaleCypher.” Right: Media photo from coolioworld.com.

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