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Two Activists–A Former Death Row Inmate and Hip-Hop Head Challenging Hip-Hop Culture–Bring Messages to Eckerd College

By Alizza Punzalan-Randle
Published October 3, 2013
Categories: Academics

Juan Roberto Melendez, a former Florida death row inmate turned human rights activist, and documentary filmmaker Byron Hurt, a hip-hop head and gender violence prevention filmmaker who challenges manhood in hip-hop culture, will bring their messages to Eckerd College on October 8 and 9.

Both programs are free and open to the public. Eckerd is located at 4200 54th Avenue South in St. Petersburg. For more information, call 727-864-7979,, or visit Eckerd’s public events calendar at

Juan Melendez, spent nearly 18 years on Florida’s death row for a crime he did not commit. His talk, “Innocent On Death Row,” is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m. in Fox Hall. He will be joined by Mark Eliot, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Upon Melendez’s release on Jan. 3, 2002, he became the 99th death row prisoner in the United States to be released with evidence of innocence since 1973. Melendez was convicted in 1984 at the age of 33 with no physical evidence linking him to the crime and testimony from questionable witnesses. His story highlights the myriad of problems that plague the death penalty system, in particular its high risk and inevitability of being imposed on the innocent, its unfair and unequal application on the basis of race and ethnicity and its almost exclusive imposition on our most defenseless and vulnerable members of society—the poor. This event is sponsored by Eckerd’s Amnesty International Club in collaboration with the Amnesty International Florida Death Penalty Abolition Campaign.
Byron Hurt, an activist, writer and documentary filmmaker, will tackle issues of masculinity, sexism, violence and homophobia in today’s hip-hop culture in his talk and documentary film screening, “Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes,” on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m. in Miller Auditorium.

Filmmaker Byron Hurt, a life-long hip-hop fan, was watching rap music videos on BET when he realized that each video was nearly identical. Guys in fancy cars threw money at the camera while scantily clad women danced in the background. As he discovered how stereotypical rap videos had become, Hurt, a former Northeastern University football quarterback turned activist, decided to make a film about the gender politics of hip-hop, the music and the culture that he grew up with. “The more I grew and the more I learned about sexism and violence and homophobia, the more those lyrics became unacceptable to me,” he says. “And I began to become more conflicted about the music that I loved.”

In the film, Mr. Hurt, who pays tribute to the genre while challenging the rap music industry’s misogyny, urges artists and producers to take responsibility for glamorizing destructive, deeply conservative stereotypes of manhood. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was later broadcast on the PBS series Independent Lens.

Mr. Hurt, is the former host of the Emmy-nominated series “Reel Works with Byron Hurt.” A founding member of the Mentors in Violence Prevention program, the leading college-based rape and domestic violence prevention initiative for college and professional athletics, he also served as an associate director of the first gender violence prevention program in the U.S. Marine Corps.

This event is part of Eckerd’s Presidential Events Series, The Human Experience: An Odyssey, and is sponsored by several campus groups, including: the Women’s Resources Center, Department of Athletics, Eckerd College Organization of Students (ECOS), Center for Spiritual Life and Afro-American Society.