If you read this column regularly, you're likely aware I'm a big believer in the power of civil society, which can simply be defined as society sans government.
We're so used to our elected officials and bureaucrats fixing things for us that we easily forget just how impactful individuals and small groups can be; how a good idea, believed in and pursued by even just a handful of advocates, can make a meaningful difference in the lives of many.
Take, for example, the work of John Moore and Sammy Lowdermilk, co-founders of an organization named Hip-Hop CHA.
Roughly a year ago, John and Sammy started Hip-Hop CHA after a series of discussions among numerous locals revealed a shared desire for a music festival featuring the area's best hip-hop talent.
On the chance you're not too well-versed in the hip-hop world, Southern artists have influenced the music genre in major ways since the mid-1990s. Most bigger cities in the region have their own roster of notable acts. Atlanta is usually thought of as the mecca of Southern rap, but places like Memphis, New Orleans and Houston also have churned out loads of marquee hip-hop names.
John and Sammy knew that Chattanooga, on a smaller scale, could contribute similarly. However, they also knew that a successful festival showcasing our city's artists would require more than slapping an event together.
There needed to be more substance. Something deeper.
So they positioned the festival as a culmination, of sorts, of a longer-term community-building effort. Because that's what the hip-hop scene here was missing more than anything: a dedicated, unifying force bringing people together to collaborate, compete, promote each other and sharpen each other's skills.
Area nonprofits have Causeway. Startup businesses have Co.Lab and Launch. Rappers now have Hip-Hop CHA.
I asked Sammy earlier this week to tell me about Hip-Hop CHA's first year. He talks about it like a proud parent. As he should.
In its first year alone, the organization has worked with nearly 100 area acts and promoted multiple concerts attracting thousands of attendees. But it's about more than putting on shows. It also has hosted networking events and educational classes.
And it's those offstage endeavors that point to Hip-Hop CHA's greatest strength, its holistic approach to cultivating artists. Sure, providing a music venue and a good sound system is important, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Evidence of this can be found in the itinerary for Hip-Hop CHA's inaugural festival next Saturday — yes, it's happening — at the Revelry Room and elsewhere on the Choo Choo campus. In addition to a dizzying schedule of performances, attendees can participate in classes about marketing, how to book a show and how to monetize online music platforms.
Essentially, they can learn how to be a professional.
Casting an eye forward, I had to ask Sammy about the biggest roadblocks facing the organization he and John started. He named two big ones.
The first is funding. I had assumed Hip-Hop CHA was attracting funds from local foundations, but no. It's self-supported by event ticket sales and, well, the organizers' own wallets. That's amazing.
The second struggle is having to continually push back against preconceived stereotypes, that hip-hop is synonymous with gangsta rap — you know, the kind Tipper Gore warned you about. Sammy wants to change not only perceptions about the music but also perceptions of hip-hop culture.
That, he says, will pave the way for more wins.
What John and Sammy have created is worth applauding. And supporting.
Chattanoogans are rarely shy when it comes to bragging about our startup scene, and Hip-Hop CHA easily could be one of our most successful.
Contact David Allen Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.