Next Level Live!

The third of a four-part virtual program series, Next Level Live!, took place on Thursday, June 11, with Next Level Director, Junious Brickhouse; and Next Level Founding Director & Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mark Katz; moderating a discussion with Next Level alumni and dancer, Melanie Aguirre, and beatboxer Baba Israel.    

As a cultural diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Meridian International Center, Next Level uses hip hop to create connections around the world while promoting conflict transformation, entrepreneurship, artistic and professional development among younger and underserved audiences.  

Black Lives Matter. Brickhouse began the program by addressing the nation’s unrest:  

“Though this moment is pressing on us, we would be remiss to pretend that this moment is something new. Four hundred years of systemic racism is not something we just noticed. It’s sensitive and personal in a lot of ways. As a black man in the United States I do this work everyday. At Next Level we do this work, not just here but abroad. At Next Level, we're looking at the way we operate and how we can do better. The solution comes from all of us working together and creating standards to remove racism and not tolerating it.” 

Life-long Community ServiceAguirre spoke of her commitment to community service that started when she was young. “The list goes on for the community work I’ve been a part of in New York City through the platform of dance,” she said. “The intention was to bridge the gap through generations and styles of dance that built relationships. Today, so many of these relationships are going to protests together and dancing and utilizing what’s going on for good.” Now, in the middle of the pandemic, Aguirre has shifted her focus to fostering community digitally by offering classes, mentorship and free meditations. 

The Next Level Experience: Mentorship and Relationships. For Next Level Turkey alumni Aguirre, the relationships made in the experience have continued to thrive. “I made so many authentic friendships,” she said. “ We check up on each other and see what they’re up to and I give them praise and power and mentor them from a distance.” For Israel, who travelled with Next Level to Croatia, “it wasn’t  just about teaching but about building relationships with the  hip hop community. Croatia stood out to me because of the children and women participants - breaking age and gender barriers - it was a real feeling of community and a deep level of commitment.”  

Creativity in Lockdown. Israel, who has been teaching virtually for many years, felt uniquely prepared to help his current students during the pandemic. “Despite this barrier of space and time we can use tools to stay connected,” Israel said. “For my students, writing and art can be a release, a catharsis and it’s part of a self-care system.” Israel applies his own teaching methods on his art: “I freestyle to understand my own consciousness. As a white person in hip hop I’m trying to model my process and be open and have uncomfortable conversations.” 

Hip Hop’s Origins and Future. As Next Level programs travel to countries like Turkey and Croatia, it provides opportunities to share the history of their hip hop community in the United States. For Aguirre, “it deepens the understanding and essence of the art. It brings value to whomever is learning it and I remind my students of their contribution to this history”. As students learn about the context of hip hop in American history and add their own story, “it’s how we sustain and create legacy,” concluded Brickhouse.  

The session concluded with performances by both Aguirre and Israel. A recording can be found here 

Project summary

Next Level Live! | June 2020
Regions: Western Hemisphere
Impact Areas: Cultural Diplomacy
Program Areas: Culture
Partners: Public Sector
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