NOHO Magazine, Vol. 4 No. 10 January 31, 2002 "Who's Going to Take the Weight?" by Juan Maldonado http://www.nohola.com/Archives/2002/Jan02LL/features.html "Who's going to take the weight?" Sometime back in the early ‘90s-the era of hip hop when conscious rap was at its peak – the group Gangstarr posed this very serious question to anyone who would listen. Meaning, who would stand up and take responsibility and leadership in the situation that people of color were undergoing. The question was posed to anyone that would listen, but it was particularly intended for those immersed in the culture of hip-hop. Fast forward an entire decade, and Guru (the lead vocalist of Gangstarr) might be pleased to find that somebody took his question seriously and is willing to tackle some of the prominent issues surrounding children and young adults growing up in those same situations. Enter Dawn Smith, hip-hop connoisseur, community activist and founder of Justice by Uniting In Creative Energy or J.U.i.C.E. for short.J.U.i.C.E. is not your average community center serving adolescents and young adults in the Los Angeles area. "Why not?" you may ask. Well it's because it uses hip-hop as its focus to draw kids into their center and away from the streets. It is the program’s mission to provide a safe center run by and for young people, focusing on skill building in the arts surrounding hip hop culture: music, word, art and dance. Since its inception in June 2001, J.U.i.C.E. has been serving 30 to 100 people, ranging in age from 6 to 30 year-olds on a weekly basis. It offers open turntables and advice from their resident D.J. to anyone wishing to learn the art of turntableism, a large outdoor art space for graffiti artists wishing to evolve in their craft, dance floor for b-boys and b-girls and emcee workshops for those who have dreams of becoming the next Outkast or Jay-Z. Furthermore, sometime in the near future a six-week workshop will be held on music production. It will focus on basic computer literacy and music making, and once the workshop is over the participants leave with a CD that they created themselves. This is probably one of the most innovative ideas in violence prevention programs in quite some time: taking an art form that the kids feel that they relate to and using it to foster their creativity and well being. The really interesting thing about this unique community center is that it is run by and for youth. With the exception of Dawn and a few other people who are there to provide supervision and some mentoring, it is the youth who do most of the mentoring to each other. This not only builds their leadership skills but does wonders for their self esteem as well. A kid who may feel like he has nothing to offer society might be surprised to find that another person, maybe even an adult, can use his advice on a certain breaking move or that someone else might want to hear his or her opinion on the latest political issue. This is yet another component to J.U.i.C.E., social-awareness. Being that hip-hop came from the streets it only makes sense that politics are endemic to this art form. The center, by way of hip-hop culture, teaches the kids that they are socially accountable to their communities. Unfortunately Dawn has had to struggle in the area of funding for the center. According to Ms. Smith there are two very large obstacles to acquiring funding for J.U.i.C.E.: 1) it is a community center dealing with hip hop, which most adults don't understand and may even see as the root cause of the problem and 2) funding for community centers is usually reserved for agencies who have been in existence for a minimum of two years. Further, in a field such as social services, which leans towards measurable outcomes, an agency such as J.U.i.C.E. may be frowned upon. Mental health and community experts have difficulty measuring the good that an agency such as this, as well as hip hop in general, may have in the lives of children and families. All that the hip hop culture has to offer as its defense is millions of testimonials from people the likes of Biggy, a 16 year-old participant, who stated that to him "Hip Hop is life." And as famed author William Upski Wimsatt once wrote pertaining to the power the culture has to touch people, "In many circles, it is almost cliché to say, 'Hip Hop saved my life.'" Dawn continues to be committed to her cause despite the obstacles placed in her path. And J.U.i.C.E. continues to provide services – without funding – to young adults in the Rampart area looking for a space to get away from the troubles the streets may bring as well as a space where they are able to express themselves creatively.