I was born roughly 12 years after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his momentous "I Have a Dream" speech. My generation, raised on the first wave of hip-hop music and odes to Malcolm X, was angry with King. We thought his overtures to interracial cooperation were a mid-20th-century brand of "Uncle Tom-ing," what my mother's generation called "shuffling." We found it difficult to reconcile King's dream with the rise of crack cocaine, urban blight and black incarceration.

Many of my childhood friends parlayed that anger into prison, gang life, absentee fatherhood, and what Iceberg Slim called the "poison of street life." In my case, hip-hop culture not only piqued my intellectual curiosity, but also inspired me toward college and graduate school. It was there (thanks to the University of Virginia's Claudrena Harold) that I learned about a different King and realized my friends and I had digested a "Disney-fied" King.

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Copyright © 2013 Style Weekly. This article first appeared in Style Weekly, August 27, 2013.

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