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Passing the Mic Festival Focuses on Education and “the System”


Last weekend marked the 12th annual Passing the Mic festival, an event held by the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiative (OMAI) which highlights the importance of hip hop arts in the greater Madison area. This event features many artists including First Wave scholars – members of a UW-Madison fine arts scholarship program – other teens from across the Midwest, and some internationally renowned performers.

Passing the Mic started out as Latino film festival, but once the OMAI office opened, it quickly changed into a hip hop festival that emphasized spoken word poetry. The objective of the festival is to recruit talented young artists onto the UW-Madison campus in an attempt to garner interest for the First Wave program, and be excited about the opportunities that await them. Willie Ney, the director of OMAI, says the program “celebrates diversity in times of division and negativity. It’s a wonderful way for people to come together to celebrate diversity.”  He says he hoped the festival would bring in large crowds who will have transformative experiences, go back to their communities and discuss it. This festival is a collaboration with the Wisconsin Book Festival in an attempt to bridge the community with the performers.

This year’s theme was Hip Hop in Education. From Thursday through Saturday, the performances were lively, thought provoking, and deep. On Friday, the event consisted of four performances from First Wave scholars. After each performance, the artist would be critiqued by one of the special guests and respond to the critiques. Each performer would recite a poem about how influential hip hop was when dealing with the pursuit of knowledge. One of the performers, Lucien Parker, even stated that “hip hop should not be implemented into another system, it is it’s own system.”  he then went on to say that the reason everyone was attending the festival was to see where hip hop was implemented, which was in First Wave.

Another performer, First Wave sophomore Jamie Dawson, wrote a piece about education and finding the truth. In her poem, she addressed resilience, balance, and the finality of systems, especially in education. She states in her response that “being inside of systems, you think it’s the end all be all, but you must pursue the truth.”  She had a lot to say about the festival.

“This festival is important-it doesn’t happen often-but what it symbolizes is a connection with the community, the importance of art, and the ability for youth to keep speaking even as we enter academia.” To her, the purpose of the First Wave share outs is to engage with the special guest correspondents. Before meeting, the students would often read the works of said correspondents, and it was a chance to interact with them.

Dawson first learned about the festival when she was a freshman. Her cohort was asked if anyone would be interested in participating in the First Wave component and Jamie thought it would be a great way to spread her poetry. In her words, the festival was incredibly important because “being able to bring in professionals across the midwest and sometimes world proves that our work doesn’t just end at the stage, and it can affect people afterwards,” Dawson says. With this year’s theme, Jamie hoped it would give a boost to people and encourage them to think more about education and the nuances within it.