Meet the Emerging City Champions: Kia and Zak

Kia Moore

Charlotte, North Carolina

Meet the champ:
Kia Moore is the Creative Director of Hip Hop University, an organization that works with “at-opportunity” (typically described as at-risk) students through tutoring, mentorship and community outreach. Moore brings a background in journalism and communications to the table, but music, and its role as a catalyst for social change, are her true passions.

How she’s innovating:
Moore is the brain behind Hip Hop Orchestrated (H2O), a music group “blending musical genres to connect people.” It works to disrupt the racial and socioeconomic stereotypes that often divide the musicians and listeners of hip hop and orchestral music. H2O organizes mini-concerts and workshops, playing with dynamic ways to merge the two types of music and groups.

This past year in Charlotte, Moore felt her project was timely, and its mission was particularly important. Last September, the city erupted in violent protests after a police officer shot and killed a 40-year-old black man, Keith Lamont Scott. This was one of a number of political outbursts through the year: “A lot of devisiveness has come to the forefront in Charlotte, and I think it has surprised a lot of people,” says Moore. “This disconnect was happening right in front of our faces and it was very loud,” says Moore of the violence in Charlotte. “That gap [between] the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ seems to be getting wider and wider.”

Photo Credit: Tyrus Ortega Gaines via HipHop Orchestrated

“The whole goal of Hip Hop Orchestrated is to bring harmony,” she says. H2O is far from having achieved total harmony in Charlotte, Moore notes. But now, it’s about “starting murmurs and conversations from one side to the other.”

“We’re getting people into places where hip-hop artists wouldn’t normally be invited. We’re playing these hip-hop songs that have messages like, ‘This is what’s going on with the ‘have-nots,’” she says.

Zak Mendez

San Jose, California

Meet the champ:
Zak Mendez is a member of the Community Space Activation Team — that’s outdoor space, not outer space — a part of San Jose’s Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services department.

The team’s primary focus is to launch San Jose’s first ever open streets program: Viva CalleSJ. Mendez’s passion for the development of creativity, culture and community identity meshes well with the team’s objective of engaging the community in placemaking projects, programs and activities that encourage creative expression in public spaces.

How he’s innovating:
Mendez senses a strong lack of identity in his community. Why? On the outer reaches of the Bay area tech bubble, San Jose is becoming less and less affordable, “making it inaccessible to a lot of the people who were born and raised in this area,” he says.

His project, Youth Placemakers, is a fellowship-like opportunity for youth to innovate in an underutilized space. Participants will learn what it takes to identify a space and a budget, along with how to build and market their own projects.

“I’d like to give the next generation of people who are going to grow up here, who might not be able to stay here because of the difficulties of surviving in this area, the opportunity to claim some kind of identity,” says Mendez.

Placemaking, says Mendez, is a way to revitalize underutilized and non-traditional spaces, “so that you can turn them into community spaces where people can gather.” The city’s existing Youth Digital Arts Program will provide additional access to tools, technology and mentorship for youth participants to develop their artistic skills and express them publicly.

“In doing that, we’ll start to develop a more civically engaged future, and we hope to develop some talent out of these folks and give them the opportunity to figure out how to claim their space and try and hold onto it as long as possible.”

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