Ebonique Little, Contributing Writer
The importance of disabled Black artists was emphasized in a workshop hosted by VCU’s Partnership for People with Disabilities on Wednesday. The event spotlighted Leroy Moore Jr., founder of Krip-Hop Nation, a collective of disabled musicians, poets and visual artists.
Moore, who has cerebral palsy, recognized disparities in disability representation within the music industry as he grew up in the 1980s. Moore founded Krip-Hop Nation in 2007 to call for greater inclusion through educational workshops and providing a platform for artists to distribute their work.
“I’ve always loved music since I was a kid in the ’80s,” Moore said. “Being disabled, I always thought ‘Where is disabled Black people in music?’ I didn’t see it in hip-hop.”
Moore’s book, “Black Disability Art History 101” — which explores the work of Black painters, dancers, musicians and actors with varying disabilities from the early 1900s to today — was central to Wednesday’s discussion.
“I wish there was a book like the one you’re holding now when I was a kid,” Moore said.
He opened the event with a musical selection from Krip-Hop Nation titled “Story Never Told,” a collaboration with rap artist Keith Jones. The song speaks up about ableism with the lyrics, “Disabled Black boys was always outside looking in.”
Moore told the story of Millie and Christine McKoy, enslaved and conjoined twins who were forced to participate in fairs and “freak shows” during the late-19th century as their only outlet to sing and dance. Moore said disabled people were often exploited through these shows.
Other lessons in the workshop included an interview with rapper KRS-One, who traced the origins of popular spoken word game “The Dozens” to Black disabled slaves. The discussion progressed with a video of Crip Heard, a 1940s vaudeville dancer who had one leg and one arm.
As Moore shed light on many underrepresented individuals, some event attendees said they were compelled to further research this history.
“The event brought me joy as a Black disabled academic and my goals for teaching, research and community outreach,” said Virginia Board for People with Disabilities member Alexus Smith.
The event ended with a Q&A from the audience, discussing the future of Krip-Hop Nation and goals for disability inclusion.
Moore said his greatest vision for Krip-Hop Nation is to facilitate conversations surrounding ableism. The collective has yet to be invited to other mainstream hip-hop events, and he said they are sometimes met with resistance at their own events.
“People were ripping down our posters, and we got ‘I hate you’ emails,” Moore said. “People used to say we are putting down hip-hop because we’re talking about disability.”
Moore said society should recognize disabled people and seek to uplift their art.
“People think putting up a hashtag is work,” Moore said. “Be critical — that’s what I did to my teachers when I was young. Say, ‘You know, you’re not teaching my history.’”