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Saturday, September 30, 2023


UH Law Center commemorates Black History Month with guest Paul Butler

In his lecture, Paul Butler analyzed the work of several different hip-hop artists and suggested that their music can be a way to help others understand the African-American experience. | Nimrah Siddiqui/The Cougar

In honor of Black History Month, the University of Houston Law Center hosted a lecture and reception on Feb. 16 featuring Paul Butler, a professor of law at Georgetown University and author of “Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice.

Butler’s analysis of hip-hop songs by Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce, Tupac Shakur and Angie Stone supported the argument that hip-hop is much more than entertainment: it provides an insightful and realistic commentary on notions of crime and justice that can educate people about the African-American experience.

It’s ground-level reporting on how justice really works in the United States by the people who best know,” Butler said.

Jacqueline Del Villar, a first-year law student, has found hip-hop to be a useful teaching tool in her time as a public school teacher.

I taught for four years in public school, and I teach for a non-profit,” Del Villar said. “I use hip-hop all the time, and I think it does have an incredibly powerful message.”

While there are more doors open for African-Americans than ever before, there are still things getting in the way of their progression, said Leonard Baynes, a dean and professor at the UH Law Center.

A panel discussion following Butler’s remarks included federal district judge Vanessa Gilmore, who has used literature to reach out to children of convicted criminals. Eric Sundin, a first-year law student interested in criminal law, death penalty law, and public defense was motivated by Judge Gilmore’s innovative methods in community service and outreach.

Butler said the solution is to see race and understand that experience to better engage in conversations on crime and justice. Race often plays a significant role in life experiences and access to resources and opportunities.

“We have this myth that the ideal is for us to be color blind, to not see race or ethnicity,” Butler said. “And, of course, that is impossible.”

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