We Have to Become the Change We Hope to See

 

Forbes OZ Summit Series: T.I. Harris, Rap Mogul

On May 21, we interviewed key Opportunity Zone players at the inaugural Forbes OZ Summit in Newark, New Jersey.  

Today "T.I." Harris is a renowned rapper with nine Billboard Top 10 Hits and three Grammy wins. But growing up, he was the product of his environment. A high school dropout, jailed several times before he turned 14, Harris became involved with drugs and the “trap” street life (also defined as spaces where drug deals take place). However, his love and commitment to rap allowed him to sign his first record deal in 1999 with LaFace records.

Harris has been dubbed one of the early architects of modern-day trap music, a style of hip hop defined by its hostile and gritty lyrics. Lyrical content typically revolves around rappers’ experiences with poverty, crime and violence. Harris eventually started his own record label, called Grand Hustle Records, and has collaborated with many other hip hop artists to date. 

Recently, Harris has become a political activist, advocating for more community investment to create better environments for African Americans to thrive. The late rapper and friend of Harris, Nipsey Hussle, was passionate about breaking degenerative cycles of poverty and crime. Hussle encouraged Harris to take advantage of the opportunity zone legislation in order to “benefit and revitalize the underserved areas of society that we all come from.” 

“There is a dire need and huge void to be filled for economic development, affordable housing, and a lot to be served in these areas of society,” Harris explains. By advocating for community investment, he brings institutional issues to light insisting that the “racial wealth gap needs to be addressed in conjunction with investment into these communities, not separate.” 

For the future, Harris hopes that opportunity zones can be self-sustaining. He envisions that the dollar will circulate within the community, for the benefit of the community, helping to close the “voids that exist and have existed for decades.” He believes the incentive can be used to help offset the kind of harm he experienced in his early years. Harris also leaves us with a strong call to action, suggesting that “we have to become the change we hope to see. All of us, especially those of us with extreme means, have to lead by example.”