Over 100 Urban Cusp supporters celebrated the online magazine at a private launch party on Saturday, October 15, 2011, in Washington, DC at Lounge 201, a popular event space on Capitol Hill. Although UrbanCusp.com has been up and running for the past three months (having gone live on July 1, 2011), the soiree was an opportunity for Founder/Editorial Director Rahiel Tesfamariam to meet and interact with some of the publication’s strongest supporters via a reception and moderated Q&A discussion, as well as celebrate with close friends. Several individuals traveled long distances to partake in the evening, which was described as a “5-star launch party.”
The event was the perfect stage for Tesfamariam’s exhibition of the Urban Cusp mission. The night started off with Tesfamariam greeting guests as they entered the lounge, to the tune of old school Hip-Hop and R&B playing in the background. Muted images from the documentary Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes flickered on the television screens that lined the walls of the lounge, as guests enjoyed the complimentary appetizers and open bar. All of this as visual artist Reshada Pullen furiously live painted to transform a photograph from her laptop into an oil painting on canvas.
During the meet and greet portion of the evening, Urban Cusp supporter Shani Gholston, who is an attorney, exclaimed, “I love the magazine! It’s something we really need. Current media does not do a good job of representing us well. So we need something that does that. I’m excited for the magazine.”
Writer and activist Rebecca Lenn said the magazine content is unique, “I think for our generation it’s an extraordinary nexus for all things faith, culture, politics, and policy. Frankly, I can’t think of any other publication in paper or online that interprets all of these things that reaches people and connects with young folk. Faith is not apart from our politics and the day-to-day culture of our lives. Justice is intersectional. It’s not just about one issue. There are converging issues and that’s what Urban Cusp is about.”
Shortly after guests were settled, event host Trudy Caldwell thanked all of the attendees for their support of Urban Cusp and introduced Grammy-Nominated progressive Hip-Hop artist Christlylez Bacon. Bacon performed a human beatbox routine that had nearly every head at the event nodding to the beat. His performance was the perfect segue into the moderated Question & Answer discussion.
The Question & Answer portion of the event was moderated by 30-year music/media industry veteran Paul Porter, co-founder of Industry Ears, founder of Rap Rehab, and formerly of BET. Tesfamariam and Porter, seated at the front of the private room, started the discussion with Porter explaining how the two met, “I got a tweet from Rahiel in August to check out Urban Cusp. Everything I saw connected with me. It looked good and it talked to me. I said ‘this is the media that we don’t get in the mainstream.’ So I knew I had to support this sister. So I re-tweeted her everyday. I was just so proud to see this. Today is the first time we have met although we talk reguarly.” After a few initial questions from Porter, Tesfamariam took questions from guests in the room and Twitter, as the successful event was widely hailed throughout social media. Here are some excerpts from the Q&A:
Rahiel Tesfamariam: It started as an idea to inspire young men and women as I was engaged in juvenile justice reform. Our kids were dying and the system was flawed. I saw culture as the greatest influence over their lives. But what I saw in the media (like hypersexuality and materialism) – none of it was positive. I felt helpless; absolutely helpless. I didn’t understand why we had 20 something storefront churches on a block and the block had not changed. I decided that I had to take every experience from my past to create something new. I love music, style, fashion and I was like what do I do with all this? So Urban Cusp was a way to synthesize it all and to get people talking.
RT: One of my recent statuses I posted this week was “I have 99 problems but a shortage of quality friends isn’t one.” People think we have offices across the country but [Urban Cusp] is the result of my friends’ love and commitment to me. No matter what my problems are- because I have so much that matters- the rest is really insignificant. When you have that base, it doesn’t matter, but I would say my problems are primarily financial.
Because there are so many more people in my life now, discernment is critical. People connect with me and I have to determine what people’s motivations are. Also, I am trying to bring together faith, hip-hop, and add social justice to that. I get [from people] that these things do not go together and other people saying this is great! I have no idea who is right but I have to silence all the voices.
RT: What Urban Cusp is to me is what it could be to everybody. It means you don’t have to lay down your love of one thing for another. If you love Christ and Hip-Hop, you can have both. There are all of these contradicting things out there but Urban Cusp is a way of saying, “Reclaim your identity and culture for yourself.”
RT: There’s a quote that says “preach the gospel at all times and when necessary – use words.” I believe we spread a message at all times. My friends are influenced by me and I am influenced by all of my friends. This in itself is hope. There might be someone in here I can reach and that’s my focus. I’ve given up on attacking corporations.
RT: My background is in community organizing so I place emphasis on the power of the people. If we de-emphasize the power of corporations, we better recognize the power of the people.
RT: I don’t think it will exist in 20 years. I want to be doing something brand new. I think it will stay alive as long the need exists. I’d love to get into the publishing side, films and multimedia. I would like to think that in 20 years we will all think that Urban Cusp was a great thing but it’s now turned into five different new things since then.
RT: That’s political [laughs]. We had this question on Urban Cusp and it started this huge debate on the site. Okay, my top five, and these are not ranked: Lauryn Hill/Fugees, Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z and Lupe Fiasco.
RT: I have never been a nine to five person, ever. I am not the kind of person to report to any office everyday. And I was waking up everyday thinking – I can’t do this anymore. I decided that I no longer wanted to be on anybody’s payroll ever again. I also decided that I couldn’t remain in the shadows of my mentors. When you stop supporting the dreams of your mentors, then you can start building out your own.
RT: I need to say that it was a very, very, very, painful process. I do believe that God sometimes has to break you down to build you back up. 2010 was a year of tremendous loss and then I felt God was about to come after my money. Soon enough, God said to me, “Will you lean on me for your daily bread?” What I have gained from that is that my faith is now in a place that it has never been before. I didn’t have the age because I’m 30; I didn’t have the gender, because I’m a woman. But more than anything, I have a faith that I’ve never had before. My faith now is indestructible because I’ve seen that God can do the impossible.