The 60th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington and the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop met last weekend in Brooklyn, through a surprising announcement from the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza: the library’s membership roll has increased by 16,000, due to the introduction of a limited edition of library cards featuring images of J-Zee in conjunction with the 125-year-old institution’s “The Book of HOV”, exhibition on one of the borough’s most famous, if not most powerful sons, and his well-known revelations about the life-changing impact of Rev. King on his writing, his rise and his mission to spread the word about the importance of reading and getting an education.
In honor of Jay-Z’s body of work, the Brooklyn Public Library and Roc Nation joined forces in June to create the 13 limited –edition library cards, each featuring art from an iconic JAY-Z album –from Reasonable Doubt to 4:44. Thirteen cards are available at different branches across the borough, and visitors can collect all of them.
The temporary exhibition, released in time for the 50th anniversary of hip-hop is expected to close this fall. Its epic celebration of Jay-Z’s career includes, according to the press release, “thousands of archived objects, including original recording masters, never-before-seen photos, iconic stage wear, prestigious awards and recognitions, as well as videos and artifacts from every facet on Jay-Z’s professional life.”
Our Time Press is not suggesting there is a relationship between the respective lives of Dr. King and rap artist Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, king of the Marcy Houses. We do see the great Civil Rights leader, were he alive today, understanding and relating to Carter’s strategic use of power to foster interest in literacy, self-motivation, social justice, and education as tools of the dream.
Born in 1969, one year after King’s assassination, Jay-Z’s active participation in social justice movements was reported in various media, including Digital Music News, the first media outlet to report the artist’s filing of a lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Correction (over the conditions suffered by inmates at Parchman Prison). He partnered with the NFL, among others, to support programs for underrepresented communities. In 2020, Jay-Z and Roc Nation, reacting to the tragic death of George Floyd, purchased full-page ads in newspapers, featuring the words of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther Jr.
Yet, Jay-Z seems to understand that legacy of King’s March was as much about the purpose of the message as it was about the eloquence of the oratory, and the elegance of the inspired “I have a dream” speech — intended for the world. MLK Jr. was a genius organizer, and a proponent of social justice, education and self-empowerment.
As a child, he was a promising student, reading at the 12th grade level when he was in the sixth grade at I.S. 318. He never completed high school. After overcoming a dark stretch, he set out on the road of urging young people to complete their education to avoid the mistakes he made. In a fall 2009 interview, he said, “I’m a long shot. I didn’t go to college or graduate high school. It’s about following your dreams,” adding that what was needed was self-motivation: “What’s needed is: education … that drive … determination… and you never give up. Hopefully, I can touch a few kids with what I say, and we’ll see from there.”
Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter rose to fame in the early 90’s and became a record label owner, and businessman. He was the first billionaire hip-hop artist, with more than 140 million records sold. He won more than 20 Grammys – the most of any rap artist.
Carter has paid tribute to MLK’s legacy through several songs, including: “My President is Black (Remix)”; “What We Talkin’ About” and “Made in America,” among others.
For more information about the exhibition at the Brooklyn Public Library and the commemorative limited-edition library cards available at some libraries, visit the www.bklynlibrary.org or the thebookofhov.com.
- by Bernice Elizabeth Green