Just got through in credible experience at Sheepshead Bay HS in Brooklyn, where I was invited to talk about the history of hip hop to two classes of special needs students one led by my wonderful former student Anne Brewka. The day began with my passing through a scanner and a metal detector, which I always set off because of my artificial hip, after which Anne met me and gave me a heads up on the group I would be talking to. Many of the young people in the group in the two classes were physically disabled, some less so, and twelve of the twenty plus in the group had their own paras, some because they were in wheelchairs, some because of behavioral issues.
What happened was a living embodiment of the principle "never judge a book by its cover" and even more so of the principle, "every child has magnificent gifts to offer the world." In the course of a 90 plus minute presentation in which I lectured, asked questions, played music, and rapped, the students in the class turned what began as a lecture into an old school hip hop party with students rapping, dancing, creating complex rhythms on their desks and on the floor and asking great questions. Freed from some of the restraints and discipline more "socialized" students display, these young people let loose with an explosion of talent and of joyous creativity that blew everyone in the room, away even the paras, who started the day somewhat dour and then clapped their hands with the beat and cheered their students on. And the teachers just let the party going on. It reached it's high point when I put on Afrika Bambatta's "Looking for a Perfect Beat" and a 7 minute b-boy b-girl battle began.
I have had great experiences speaking to high school groups where people dances, rapped and beatboxed. But nothing like this. Nothing like brilliant questions coming from a young man in a wheelchair who understood the essence of what hip hop lyricism can mean to disfranchised young people who are routinely treated with contempt. Or three young men in a special needs class creating beats on a desk for another one of their peers who rapped brilliantly. Or two young men trading b-boy moves that would have gotten them dollar tips on the subway
This is education. This is what should happen in our schools. Every day. It is art that unlocks the key to the mind and the soul. Not for some students. For all of them