Activists use rap to spread message of justice

Danielle Lerner

Rap music pumped through speakers in a dimly lit ballroom as performers paced in front of a crowd, microphones in hand. Audience members, the majority under age 25, held up their phones to record the rappers. The scene might have been typical of a basement concert or youth group dance, but the purpose was greater than that.

More than 70 people gathered Thursday at the Chestnut Street YMCA for a rap session designed to bring up topics of police-involved violence and racial profiling.

The session, hosted by anti-violence movement Hood 2 Hood, featured local rappers Soon Tonio and Soon Raja rapping and also speaking about the violence that has gripped Louisville in recent months.

The session was dedicated to late community activist Angela NewbyBouggess, whose 19-year-old son Michael Newby was fatally shot several times in the back outside a liquor store in January 2004 by an undercover Louisville Metro police officer. The officer was fired and charged with murder but acquitted.

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Hood 2 Hood founder Christopher 2X said Newby's death and Bouggess' legacy of peace inspired the need to reaffirm the importance of positive dialogue in the wake of tragedy.

Soon Tonio said his personal experiences with gun violence have been similar to those of Bouggess.


"I can relate really, really easy," he said. "I have family members deceased from police and friends dead from gang violence. ... But we have seen what rapping and music can do in the community, especially in the kids."

Following musical performances, Soon Tonio and other local rappers pulled up chairs in front of the audience for a frank discussion on community attitudes toward police. After a record number of homicide investigations and nearly 500 shootings in 2016, Soon Tonio said some in Louisville's black community perceive police as acting more aggressive toward black people.

Earlier in the evening, 2X asked attendees if they felt unnecessarily profiled or harassed by police. More than half the people in the audience raised a hand in confirmation.

"We have people trying to protect life from the people that are supposed to be protecting us, so we feel like we're alone," Soon Tonio said.

Soon Raja cautioned people to remember that police are only doing their jobs and to try and temper their emotions when dealing with law enforcement.

"They put us here and come bother us and we let them bother us because we bite back," he said. "The way to get away from this is to not bite back."

Soon Tonio said they are planning more rap sessions as a way to continue to spread a message of justice to young community members. As for police, he said, "They are free to come to a rap session and listen to the community."

Reporter Danielle Lerner can be reached at or 502-582-4042. 

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