Peace, unity and positivity. These are the goals Akron-based rapper and youth mentor Ameer Williamson, aka A-Minus, is striving for through his workshops such as the residency presented at Garfield Elementary School May 17.
Simply put, Williamson's purpose is to use the workshops to teach the history of hip-hop, and demonstrate how its elements can be channeled to positively influence and guide children towards a more peaceful way of life.
About 10 years ago Williamson began his own campaign to stop the negative messages about crime, sex, drugs, and other wrong influences spread through rap and hip-hop. While he cannot completely stop them, he has been able to use this popular genre to reach many young people and encourage them to see a different, more loving, happier side to life.
Williamson, Latif Hughes, aka True, and DJ Dramatize spent the entire day at Garfield working interactively with the children by individual grade levels. They taught them about the history of hip-hop music with the goal of letting them see that this genre could and should be something positively motivating and inspiring rather than the negative portrayal of crime and indecency typically associated with rappers.
The five grade level 45-minute sessions culminated at the end of the day in a schoolwide assembly with the students dancing to songs sung by Williamson, songs that encouraged and challenged them to redirect any negative thinking, to focus instead on helping, loving, reaching higher, putting a value on education, defying peer pressure to "fit in," and standing up to bullying.
While it was often noisy in a positively expressive, acceptable manner, the reactions of the students were enthusiastic; they were clearly tuned in to the message being delivered. They paid attention to those messages and asked intelligent questions during each question and answer session.
At the end of the whole-school assembly, Garfield Principal Karen McGinty asked A-Minus to again show the students the video they had seen earlier, of young people mingling with homeless people, sharing the message of love and hope through rapping.
Since the inception of Ohio Regional Music Arts and Cultural Outreach (ORMACO), founder and Executive Director Thomas Sigel has consistently provided varied genres of music for the entertainment, enlightenment, and education of all ages, with a concentrated effort to give children in the community as great and broad a cultural exposure as possible.
Sigel said he likes to "mix it up" and expose children to different cultural experiences. He has accomplished this by presenting classical performances, jazz concerts, and educationally-based productions highlighting the musical cultures of many different countries.
Some of the most recent of ORMACO's nearly 100 yearly presentations are: Urban Troubadour, a children's concert program for woodwind quintet; Introduction to Korean Music featuring composer Jin Hi Kim; and Songs of Grit, composed and performed by students.