'#BarackTalk' Sparks Dialogue on State of the Union, Young Voters

Macy L. Freeman | 1/27/2012, 8:48 a.m.

Hip-hop and politics intermixed during an evening of panel discussions that kicked off the second annual #BarackTalk State of the Union watch party on Tues., Jan. 24.

"When we look at national elections, we expect for the president to solve every problem that affects us," Chicago rapper Rhymefest said during the first session. "So now, especially black voters, we need to become more sophisticated in how we view politics."

Rhymefest, who also mentioned the recent Internet craze surrounding President [Barack] Obama singing Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," participated on the panel with Michael Skolnick, co-president of Global Grind, Janee Bolden of Bossip.com and Shaheem Reid of XXL magazine.

The talks focused on President Obama's image and influence, and the impact of the music industry on politics. The watch party later featured an impromptu speech by Barbara Paz Conejo, a resident of Ward 8 and employee at Busboys and Poets on Fifth and K streets where BarackTalk was held. In her speech, Conejo spoke about the state of the public school system, specifically in D.C., and called for a re-evaluation of the purpose of public school education.

The event, sponsored by the League of Young Voters in conjunction with AllHipHop.com and Rock The Vote, was broadcast through Ustream and on various sites. The first #BarackTalk in 2011 garnered 7,000 viewers. During this year's event, the number of viewers increased to more than 32,000, according to New Orleans-based rapper and event moderator Dee-1.

Presidential Accountability

Speaking on the second panel were Maryland rapper Phil Ade; model Sabrina Hunter; Jamira Burley, coordinator for the Peace Alliance and Student Peace Alliance, and Chuck Creekmur, CEO of AllHipHop.com.

Issues included the importance of entrepreneurship, the role of the media in spreading political awareness and the president's accountability.

"The president is the leader of our country, but by the same token, we have to take responsibility for ourselves and only then will we really begin to make the change and progress in this country and our own individual community," Creekmur said. "I think each and every one of us needs to really take a young person or an old person under their wing and really help them find their way, too."

Burley questioned whether Obama will be able to inspire young voters in this year's elections as effectively as he did in 2008. She said a lot of young people are dissatisfied with what the president and his administration have done to address their issues and concerns.

Throughout the event, audience members and guest speakers gave their opinions on budding political issues until the room silenced for the State of the Union address. Everyone's eyes were glued to a projector screen while Obama made his way to the podium to address the nation.

Inspiring Young People

At the end of the night, Burley didn't see the president's address as something that would rally young people to vote for him again. She does however think the right change in the president's campaign strategy could inspire young people.