Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Wisdom from Jay-Z

I recently read Jay-Z's book, Decoded, which was one of the best books I've read in the last year. It's part biography, telling the story of his life, and part "decoding," or explaining, the poetry of his rap lyrics.

In parts of the book, Jay-Z talks about the public housing projects where he grew up, known as Marcy. Some of my clients (nonprofit organizations) assist people living in housing projects, and/or people living at or below the poverty line. I thought that Jay-Z had some important things to say about where he grew up, and I wanted to share them. I was particularly struck by his description of dealing with government agencies and bureaucracies, as some of the organizations I work with spend enormous amounts of time helping poor people to navigate these government systems:

In places like Marcy there are people who know the ins and outs of government bureaucracies, police procedures, and sentencing guidelines, who spend half of their lives in dirty waiting rooms on plastic chairs waiting for someone to call their name. But for all of this involvement, the government might as well be the weather because a lot of us don't think we have anything to do with it - we don't believe we have any control over this thing that controls us...

Housing projects are a great metaphor for the government's relationship to poor folks: these huge islands built mostly in the middle of nowhere, designed to warehouse lives. People are still people, though, so we turned the projects into real communities, poor or not. We played in fire hydrants and had cookouts and partied, music bouncing off concrete walls. But even when we could shake off the full weight of those imposing buildings and try to just live, the truth of our lives and struggle was still invisible to the larger country. the rest of the country was freed of any obligation to claim us. Which was fine, because we weren't really claiming them, either.

No comments: