Jay-Z may have abandoned plans to publish his autobiography but his life story may still impact others in a positive way. A father and son team of educational activists has taken the stories of Shawn Carter and over fifty hip-hop and R&B stars to promote literacy among children and inmates. In 2001 Charles and Randy Fisher founded the Hip-Hop Summit Youth Council to help fill the void left by budget cuts and other challenges in the education system.
“We attended a rally that Russell Simmons sponsored with the UFT in 2002 and we thought it was one of the biggest things we’d ever seen with hip-hop being involved in education,” Charles Fisher, Chairman and Founder of the HHSYC, told The Urban Daily. “At that point we felt hip-hop needed to step up to the plate and get more involved in the system and we launched the ‘Read To Succeed’ project and that evolved into the ‘Read To Succeed Through Hip-Hop’ project. We wanted hip-hop to take center stage in motivating young people.”
Mr. Fisher has a long and successful resume in the music industry that includes serving as the Director of LL Cool’s Camp Cool J Foundation and an entertainment consultant to the White House. In 2006 Mr. Fisher and his son Randy, the Executive Director of the program, began plans to create a series of hip-hop books that would be school approved and help promote literacy among under-performing students. In 2008 they published the first of 50 books on stars like Alicia Keys, Beyonce and Lil Wayne.
“The books are [made of] previously released material that you can find anywhere but it’s the positive aspects about the artist’s life, their trials and tribulations,” Randy explains. “It is truth about the artists the kids admire to inspire them to read and to get the artists more involved in the schools.”
There is an essay contest that follows the completion of a book where students can win iPods, cell phones and even cash. After participants finish books on the celebrities they can move on to others in the series about historical figures like Malcolm X and Langston Hughes.
“As an activist I know that poverty and ignorance are the root cause of social ills in our community,” says Charles who also produced the “Game Over” anti-drug documentary. ” It costs $216,000 to house a juvenile offender for one year and you can [put a child] through grades 1-12 for $158,000. It’s a better investment in education than the prison industrial complex. Eight out of 10 inmates are H.S. drop-outs. Those numbers tell me we have a serious problem in our system and I wanted hip-hop to be a part of the solution. Through these books we can do something constructive and show young people that there is a correlation between education and incarceration.”
The Fishers also have inspired inmates to obtain their G.E.Ds after reading their books and want the series to serve as a stepping stone to success in other areas.
“The last stage of the program is financial literacy,” Charles adds. “We know that hip-hop is about bling-bling to a lot of people so when the kids are reading these books they’re really reading to see how these guys made all of their money. So knowing how 50 Cent made all of his money is tied into financial literacy.”
Presently the Fishers are in talks with Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes to participate in an up-coming tour for later in the spring that will extend through the summer. They are also gathering a lot of support in Albany among elected officials.
“We’re working with Malcolm Smith, State Senate Majority Leader and New York’s School Board Chancellor,” Charles says with excitement. “The New Era hat company has also come and board. By the time we get to the summer we’ll have have a real movement across the board of corporate, private and celebrities to support our initiative.”
As for support in the community, the response from parents and students has been strong.
“You do have a couple of old school principals that don’t like hip-hop but even they can’t deny that the books are positive and the kids like them,” says Randy. “Parents love the books because their kids are reading.”
If you’d like more information about the Read To Succeed Through Hip-Hop curriculum visit their website at www.hhsyc.org or send them an email to email@example.com.
If you are in the New York area on May 27th make sure to attend a HHSYC book signing at the Hue-Man Bookstore hosted by 106 & Park’s Terrence J! The event will take place at 2319 Frederick Douglas Boulevard between 124th and 125th streets from 6pm-8pm.
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