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Teens use beats and rhymes to process, organize in aftermath of Zimmerman acquittal

Deepa Fernandes

The Global Awareness Through Hip Hop youth group meets near Leimert Park in the aftermath of the Zimmerman acquittal.

Hip Hoo Youth group

Deepa Fernandes

Teens Lee Greenwood and Alena Monet Tyler Hamler have been talking with friends about how "unfair" the Zimmerman acquittal was. Greenwood freestyles while Hamler scribbles poetry in her notebook.

Kaos Network

Deepa Fernandes

Community arts space near Leimert Park where the group "Global Awareness Through Hip Hop Culture" meets for its summer youth program.


Lee Greenwood hasn’t been to any of the protests on the George Zimmerman trial verdict. His mom won’t let him.

But the 15-year-old Crenshaw Arts and Tech High School student is outraged at George Zimmerman’s acquittal on murder charges in the death of Trayvon Martin. So he’s been tweeting about it and, yesterday at a meeting of his hip hop youth group, he freestyle rapped about it. (Hear Greenwood's full freestyle verse in the radio feature.)

“Rest in Peace

To Trayvon

Your death won’t be in vain.”

Social media has lit up with anger over the verdict — and spontaneous protests and vigils have sprouted nationwide. Much of the anger has come from teens and early twentysomethings. Young people were at the forefront of protests in New York City’s Time Square.

RELATED: In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, what sort of conversations are you having?

Greenwood said Trayvon Martin has been all he and his friends have been talking about these last few days.

“We talked about everything that happened throughout the jury [trial], … and it just didn’t make sense to us,” he said.

“That could have been me,” he added. “That could have been any black kid.”

Greenwood’s hip hop group, Global Awareness Through Hip Hop, meets daily in a community arts space just opposite Leimert Park, a traditional hub for protests in Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, the collective spent the afternoon using a makeshift stage to freestyle, act and use poetry to process their feelings about the case.

The youngest of the group, Elena Monet Tyler, goes to Palms Middle School.  The 12-year-old scribbled in a notebook the whole time, working on a poem to express her outrage over a verdict she sees as unfair and a sign of deep racism.

Tyler said she and her friends usually talk about clothes or boys, but not now.

'What really matters'

“When things like this happen, all that other stuff doesn’t really matter,” she said. “It’s what happening now that really matters.”

The group is led by middle school teacher Sebastien Elkouby. He provides the music equipment, the space and the facilitation skills to help the young people channel their feelings.

Eliyas Allah, 14, is the producer of the group. As they got started Tuesday, he said he was thinking of producing a song with a slow beat and audio samples of various television news anchors reading the Zimmerman trial's headlines.

Elkouby said this artful expression is the first stage in letting youth channel their passion into activism.

Historically, most change movements have been lead by youth, according to Van Jones, who runs a think tank called Rebuild the Dream which focuses on economic issues for young people.

“Emmett Till and his murder in the 1950s really created the consciousness among his generation, and that became the 60s Civil Rights movement,” Jones said.  

He said today’s young people are using different tools to express their outrage – but they are just as important.

“There would have never been a Trayvon Martin movement, we never would have heard of the case except that young people used social media to push the issue,” Jones said.

Twitter is just the newest way that youth can build power, he said, and he doesn't think this movement is subsiding anytime soon.

“I think you’re going to see an avalanche now of young people demanding a change in the criminal justice system,” Jones said.  

At the Cal State Los Angeles campus, a group called Mother’s Day Radio wants to help them do that. 

The multiracial group meets regularly with local high school students to give them leadership training.

“By doing this we’re not forgetting about those communities, those high school students, that really need other leaders like us as well as other people of color to come and talk to them and let them know that this is our country, too, and that we deserve to be respected,” said Nereida Jacobo, a senior majoring in Liberal Studies.

She said this week’s events have given them a weighty issue to talk about – and an opportunity to teach kids not much younger than them how to channel tears into action.

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