Cypherways Uses Hip-Hop to Generate Ideas and Enthusiasm for Greenways

facilitators at Cypherways event
Rappers Cullen “Fellowman” Wade (left), Envy (second from left) and Bernard Hankins (right) facilitated a lively discussion with participants. Special guest Chance Dickerson (center) joined for the encore. Photo by Meredith Cole.

The Piedmont Environmental Council and the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation’s Imagination Foundation teamed up with Cyphertank on November 17 to follow-up a successful kickoff event with an evening of facilitated discussion about trails and greenways — with a beat.

Spoken-word artists Bernard Hankins, Cullen “Fellowman” Wade and Envy rapped a freestyle improv to get the creative juices flowing, unleash abundant quality feedback and multiple layers of meaning. “The warm-up got me thinking of issues in an entirely new way,” said one attendee.

The seventy-plus people in the room then divided into three groups, each facilitated by one of the rappers. They brainstormed potential greenway destinations, barriers and what a greenways journey might include.

The cypher process opened participants to new possibilities, including the potential for seemingly contradictory truths to successfully co-exist. For example, several people suggested that there be wayfinding and signage, but they also like to get (safely) lost from time to time. There was talk of moonlight and handholding, and other topics not typically included in public meetings.

The evening concluded with a (w)rap-up and debriefing back in the large group that summarized findings and recommended paths forward. The event yielded lots of useful data but it also brought people together, generated enthusiasm for the project, and suggested a new way to run public meetings.

“Ever since [the events of] August 12, I’ve been looking for something positive to work on that would bring the community together. This might be it,” confided a second attendee. The project is about bridging gaps in the community with physical connections but it is also about finding a process that unifies and galvanizes.

Cypherways provided some definite clues for how to accomplish that.

This project is a collaboration between The Piedmont Environmental Council and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to work with communities in Charlottesville and the urban areas of Albemarle County to envision and implement a connective system of greenways. It is supported with a grant from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation (CACF).