Auburn Hip Hop Congress: Cultivating a Creative Community
Auburn Hip Hop Congress (AHHC) practically defies explanation. Trying to pin down what the nine-year-old chapter of the national nonprofit does is a lot like trying to explain what a community does. Locally, they host events, facilitate workshops for teens and young adults, and bring speakers and performing artists to juvenile halls and schools.
Through youth programs and community outreach, they aim to foster the creative energy of local youth, providing them with opportunities to discover and pursue their passions and break down barriers of stigma to build meaningful relationships. As their name implies, they do this through the elements of hip hop: things like DJing, b-boying/b-girling (breakdancing), graffiti art, emceeing, and knowledge of culture.
Early on, co-founders Natalie and Rocky Zapata found themselves hosting rapping workshops in their living room and graffiti workshops on the front porch. From those humble beginnings, the organization has grown to provide a staggering number of community resources.
On Mondays, they do enrichment, like storytelling and social skills, at local elementary schools; on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they bring inspirational speakers and artists from all over the world to Placer County’s Juvenile Detention Facility and Pathways Charter’s iCARE program; and on Thursdays, they host a free writing and debate class, where youth can practice various forms of writing and learn how to have a civil discussion. Every fourth Friday is open mic night, which welcomes performers of all ages and talents to the stage at General Gomez Arts and Event Center.
“We had our youngest performer this last open mic. He was three years old and told a joke on stage,” says J Ross Parrelli, AHHC artist and teacher. “We also had a four-year-old sing ‘Girl on Fire.’ We have duets being made on the spot with youth who just met.”
And that’s only their “usual” weekly lineup. Additionally, they’re known for hosting well-attended community events throughout the year, including the 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in January and an Earth Day festival in April. Still to come are a Dia de Los Muertos celebration and a Grammy-style “Give Thanks” award ceremony to recognize educators, youth leaders, and community members in November.
Through August 3, the organization is hosting an event called “Growing Peace Camp,” which welcomes youth ages 5-18 and includes workshops on mindfulness, a media arts program with videography and editing for junior high school-aged children, and job training and volunteer opportunities for high schoolers. Among the highlights are a cooking class taught by Mason Partak (who was on Food Network’s Chopped Junior) and bracelet making with Leah Nelson of Becuz I Care (who went viral in 2016 for giving homemade loom bracelets to strangers with a simple directive to pay it forward).
There are so many different aspects of what AHHC provides, but the common thread is it’s all about serving the community, building up youth, and creating safe spaces for them to explore their creativity and artistry, ultimately becoming empowered to express themselves.
“...[Since] its birth, hip hop has been uplifting the voices of the people in our communities and bridging the gap between differing generations and belief systems,” Natalie says. “New leaders are born, communities grow more connected [and work] together, and truth continues to be spoken into power. Change is possible.” auburnhiphopcongress.strikingly.com
by Jennifer Resnicke
photos by Dante Fontana