2024 Lehman Lecture Breaks Down Hip Hop With A Heart

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"All the way up": Fat Joe describes his journey from the streets of The Bronx to the top of the music charts.

The 54th Herbert H. Lehman Memorial Lecture brought together former Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. and Hip Hop legend and entrepreneur Fat Joe (Joseph Cartagena) on March 26 in a wide-ranging and enthusiastic conversation about their professional journeys, experiences growing up in the Bronx, and their ongoing commitment to making the borough a better place.

“The Herbert H. Lehman Memorial Lecture celebrates the people who dedicate their life and career to public service and social justice,” said Lehman College President Fernando Delgado. “Rubén Díaz Jr. and Fat Joe have always strived to create positive change within the community, echoing the College’s dedication to fostering a community-driven and engaged environment for our students.” 

The decades long friendship between Díaz and Cartagena served as a backdrop for their conversation about humanitarian values and civic-mindedness—both core to the College’s mission and personified by its namesake, Governor Herbert H. Lehman.

“We are different individuals in different times,” said Díaz of Gov. Lehman, “but we share the same mission, the same vision, the same heart.”

Watch the 54th Herbert H. Lehman Memorial Lecture.

Both Díaz and Fat Joe paved their own unique paths in politics and music, respectively.  As a Lehman alumnus and member of the Herbert H. Lehman College Foundation Board of Directors, Díaz has been an advocate and force for change in the Bronx. He served as a Bronx State Assemblyman for 12 years then as Bronx Borough President for an additional 12 years, where he led an unprecedented revival of the borough in areas of economic development, job creation, health, and housing. Currently, he is the senior vice president of Strategic Initiatives at Montefiore Einstein.  

Cartagena is a Grammy-nominated recording artist who has leveraged his acclaimed, four-decade career to support numerous philanthropic efforts in his hometown and overseas. Among many initiatives, he has funded computers for local schools, incentives for student success, and critical humanitarian aid in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. These projects were successful not only because of his personal wealth, but also because of his friendships with others in a similar position to give back.

“My family, my community—that’s my ‘why’. Inspiring others is what I am about,” he said. "I call it Hip Hop with a heart.”

Most recently, he’s been in Washington, D.C. working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to push for greater transparency in healthcare costs as well as criminal justice reforms.

All of his efforts deserve wider recognition, Díaz feels. “I want people to know the Joe that I know,” he said.

In one of his many asides, Cartagena noted that his first paid gig was at Lehman College. No longer a New York resident, his return to campus as a celebrated entrepreneur and philanthropist marked a significant full-circle moment for him, in keeping with his exhortation to students in the audience: dream big, but always remember where you come from.