WASHINGTON –Howard University School of Divinity is again bringing high profile speakers, academics and performing artists from across the nation to spread the word during its 95th Annual Convocation next week, but this year something’s different.
The message is being delivered through hip hop.
Names of some of the guests are familiar – like syndicated radio talk show host Michael Eric Dyson, the man EBONY named one of the nation’s most influential African Americans, and the Rev. E. Dewey Smith, the singing pastor from Decatur, Ga., whose YouTube videos routinely get five- and six-figure hits.
But some are new to Howard. They are Christian hip hop artists Mali Music, Sean Simmonds, Da ‘T.R.U.T.H., Rhema Soul and The Ambassador from the MisFits 2011 tour. They will be performing Christian hip hop and rap at a free concert when the tour hits Cramton Auditorium at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 2.
The convocation’s theme this year is “Religion and Culture: Connecting the Church and Hip Hop,” and the music and culture of hip hop promise to be a part of everything during the two-day event.
The Rev. Delores Carpenter, a professor of religious education in the School of Divinity for 30 years, said she chose the theme to help bridge the gap between young people and the church. “It’s one of the great challenges in the traditional church, how to attract and retain young people,” said Carpenter, the first woman and first African-American senior pastor of Michigan Park Christian Church, where she served for more than two decades.
Hip hop, she said, might be part of the answer.
“There is evidence that young people are gravitating toward churches that are incorporating hip hop into their services.”
The first day of the convocation begins at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Reid Temple A.M.E. Church in Glenn Dale, Md., with Bishop Dwayne Debnam, senior pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in Catonsville, Md., and young poet and author Sheri Booker. The day includes an awards luncheon, a book fair and dinner and concludes with the Christian hip hop concert in Cramton.
Despite early rejection, Christian hip-hop has managed to become a force in religious music. Christian music awards shows such as the Gospel Music Association Dove Awards and the Stellar Awards have added rap and hip hop categories. The current MisFit 2011 tour features some of the hottest names in Christian rap and hip hop.
Dyson, an author and sociology professor at Georgetown University will be discussing the importance of the church’s need to reach out to the hip hop generation during a panel at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, in Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel.
Dyson raised eyebrows this fall when he began a class called “Sociology of HipHop: Jay-Z.” The course examines the music and career of rapper, multimillionaire and music impresario Jay-Z and their social and cultural significance.
Smith, who often sings during worship services at his Great Travelers Rest Baptist Church to the delight of attendees, will close the convocation with a service at 4 p.m., also at Andrew Ranking Memorial Chapel.
Carpenter said she hopes the panels and music will give participants a chance to examine “hip hop as a tool to reach out to youth, to see it as an ally rather than an enemy of the church.”
Director of Communications
Office of University Communications