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What's The Word?: Farewell

Weekly Volcano hip-hop columnist Josh Rizeberg signs off

Tacoma-area Universal Zulu Nation

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In the late 90s and early 2000s, I worked for the Tacoma Facts newspaper. The Facts is the oldest, longest running African-American newspaper in the Pacific Northwest and they still publish in Seattle. I was given the job because owner/editor Dennis Beaver liked my spoken word/poetry. Beaver let me write about anything concerning the community. We had an office on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. I got to know every business, mosque, church and nonprofit on Hilltop Tacoma. It was my job to write about this community.

In the year 2004/2005, the city bought a bunch of buildings on MLK Way. The City closed Browns. The dealings of Browns is easily researchable. Other Hilltop businesses were pushed out too. Not by force like Browns, but by the remaining building owners. I know for a fact that many businesses had their rent quadrupled within one month's notice. This caused many of the businesses to have to leave. By 2004/2005, at least 21 African-American owned institutions had closed on The Hill. Even if there was a local who had enough money to lease these new higher-priced buildings, they were kept out. I know plenty of people in the music community who wanted to start venues. They were told by the building owners that they would not get leased to if hip-hop was a part of their business.

Recently, many new tenants moved into said buildings. These tenants are paying less than what the tenants paid prior 2004/2005. Many of these tenants paid $1/month for their first month's rent, and now pay around $550/month.

It was my goal to get the city talking about these issues, which I did three weeks ago in one of my columns in the Volcano. I have done that. Conversations about gentrification have popped up on multiple mediums, and in coffee shops and around water coolers.

Before I started to write for the Volcano, I was often one out of four hip-hop artists the alt rag would cover. It was three other white kids - Can-U, evergreenOne and Rockwell Powers - and I that received press. It was my goal to broaden and diversify the hip-hop coverage of our city. I have done that too.

All this time, unbeknownst to me, King Khazm of the Seattle 206 Universal Zulu Nation and members of the Universal Zulu Nation Supreme Council in New York City were watching me, vetting me. They were keeping track of my community work. Finally, this year, the organizations gave me permission to start a Tacoma-area Universal Zulu Nation chapter. We will formally announce ourselves in the next month when we finish up our constitution, protocols, etc. This is the highest honor a hip-hopper can be given. It will take all of my spare time and energy to pull this chapter off.

It has been rewarding to write for the Volcano, but I am signing off for new work. No longer am I a hip-hop journalist for the Volcano. I am stepping down to focus all my attention on being the director of the Tacoma-area Universal Zulu Nation. Z's up!

LINK: Josh Rizeberg written word for the Weekly Volcano

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