Beats, Rhymes & Life Studio
Idea Leader: Eugene Whitemore
Location: Oakland, CA
Partner Organization: East Bay Asian Youth Center
Project Summary: Saddened by the lost of a fellow student who was gunned down and killed, Eugene Whitemore, 18, and his fellow planners were inspired to create a safe, engaging place within troubled Oakland High School. Working with Beats Rhymes & Life Program, students were drawn to the school to work with caring adults in a new music studio.
School-based Hip Hop studio helps teens build community, valuable skills and hope
Students at Oakland High face many barriers to academic success. For many students here, school is not seen as a priority, or a place they even enjoying being, which might explain why the truancy rate is so high here. For many of these students, the challenges and stresses of daily life make it difficult to concentrate or be successful in school. Some of these barriers include family issues, lack of money and community violence. For example, just this year another Oakland High School student was gunned down and killed. His name was Raymen Justice and he was only 17 years old.
Raymen’s death impacted many people, especially students in the Beats Rhymes and Life Program. For many youth, Raymen represented hope. He was a living example of how a student behind in school could turn it around and reach success. Raymen had worked really hard to catch up in school and was on track to graduate. He was an inspiration and leader to his peers. His death was devastating and left many students and adults sad and hopeless. The Beats Rhymes and Life Studio project set out to create a space for students to build community, develop skills and talk about life issues.
The studio was a part of the Beats Rhymes and Life (BRL) program at Oakland High. BRL met after school three days a week (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). During these sessions, students in BRL learned to make beats and develop songs that reflected their life experiences. Attendance for the group was pretty consistent, but the group did struggle to come together due to personal conflicts among participants. The conflict did have an impact on the progress of musical projects. In the end, the group was able to resolve its differences and contributed songs to a compilation album (It’s a Teen Thang!) and carry out three public performances.
You can listen to the album at here. Some other successes of the group included attracting two additional adult program volunteers, Eric Shapiro and Luke Soriano. Both Eric and Luke joined the program in the spring and have been teaching students advanced recording and performance techniques. Although many of the students in BRL continue to struggle academically, their attitudes towards school have changed.
One student who goes by the name of “Skooter” stated,“If it wasn’t for BRL, I would have dropped out this year! This program is the only reason I come to school right now. Music is the only thing I have; it’s my life!”
Skooter is a 9th grade African American male and he, like many other young African American males on the verge of dropping out, need a place to feel welcomed and connected to their school. A place where they can embrace their passion and build relationships with caring adults who can help them navigate daily challenges but most of all provide encouragement when they feel like giving up.
Another student who goes by the name “SK” talked about how BRL helped him cope with Raymen’s death and turn things around in school.
“Losing Raymen had me messed up, he was my brother,” said SK. “When he died everything went wrong, my teachers were being jerks and I was failing most of my classes. But BRL helped me to turn it around. I got my first 2.0 this semester and everything is looking better.”
We are very proud of SK and he has really stepped up as a leader for other youth in the program. This year SK did something we have never before seen. When asked to write a song titled, “It’s a Teen Thang!” for our compilation album, SK brought in a song he recorded with his mom singing on the track! It’s a very touching song you can listen to here.
All of the students that participated in Beats Rhymes and Life this year gained something very special from the program. They learned they are not alone in their struggles. They learned how to use their music to tell their life stories, strengths and dreams. But most important, they gained a sense of hope. We are very grateful to America’s Promise Alliance and the My IdeaGrant Program. We look forward to continuing to work together in the future to help students at Oakland High be successful at school and beyond.