Thursday, January 28, 2010

Intersecting Losses

This week has marked an important loss of two great people who have shaped many a person's life, but particularly hip-hop community members and the many scholars of hip-hop who pursued critical histories during their education journeys.

This week, Howard Zinn, Professor of History at Boston University and author of a People's History of the United States, passed away. Zinn was a fiery political activist and excellent writer, who brought to light the history of peoples maligned to the corners and crevices of history.

Zinn encouraged students to look more critically at the history they were reading, asking not what the history said, but who was doing the saying? Such efforts to disrupt the status quo influenced countless activists, scholars in law, history and political science, not to mention students of all ages. His work helped encourage a history that was more responsive to the masses, and that did not reside in the white-washed mind's eye of the historical studies apparatus. His work critiqued what history was and developed a theory for what history could be.

Likewise, this week, Donnie Simpson, long-time Washington, DC DJ steps down from his post at WPGC radio. Donnie Simpson began working in radio in his hometown of Detroit at the tender age of 15. He relocated to DC in the late 70s. In 1981, he made is television debut at the local Washington, DC NBC affiliate. In 1983, he joined BET becoming one the first VJs in the country. Simpson has greeted visitors on his morning show on WPGC since 1993. Donnie Simpson has been a shining star in the DC radio community for some 30 years and his departure will leave a tremendous void for this community. He has been an active participant in charitable organizations and also established his own scholarship fund, with his wife, for minority students.

The combination of these two events should have a significant impact on hip-hop listeners and scholars. My guess is that more than a few readers have stories of how reading Zinn for the first time made them reconsider historical studies and how listening to Donnie Simpson in the morning put them in a positive mood. It's not every week that two legends leave us, and we'll be hard pressed to find someone to carry on their respective legacies.

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