Break Every Yoke

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 07 2014

Making a statement

MH was an enigma. On paper, he seemed like a model student: 3.73 GPA, 1400 SAT score, 92% attendance. But in person, he was distant, sarcastic, and noncommittal. When asked about his personal life or postsecondary plans, he would change the subject; if pressed, he would insist he was going to become a world-famous rapper or producer. He missed his SAT retest in November—not because he overslept or missed the bus, like many of his peers, but simply because he didn’t feel like taking it. MH was his own role model, and nobody else could tell him what to do. For months, my teammates and I were at a loss.

In December, I decided to try a different approach. I told MH that many colleges had a music/production program, and although he didn’t have the formal training to apply directly, he could start college as an undecided major and transfer into music after taking the prerequisites. If worst came to worst, he would have a college degree to take to the job market, which would all but guarantee a higher starting salary. This was enough to get him started on applications.

Then came the personal statement. If there’s one thing I know about my students, it is that they hate structured writing prompts. After reminding MH all winter break long to work on his personal statement to no avail, I sat him down this week and asked him to write a rap instead. My two conditions were that it had to be personal, and it had to address what success after high school meant to him. Over the course of a few hours, he created the piece below (reprinted with permission). I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves.

There’s something about attacking a track
Get me in a celebratory feeling
Feeling like nobody is willing
Or capable of keeping up with my skills at any given moment
If there is thrill in the hunt
There is glory for the victor
Picture me being supported by
Drowning out my sorrows with a bottle
Letting my dreams fall in my lap
Like a stack of Legos
That’s child’s play
I ain’t been one since I had to take care of my siblings at age 10
Since then I felt more grown than
A college graduate
No kids
A stable job
Making over 80K
With benefits
And I want that
So I can’t have no more chances
Drop out of my hand
Done fumbling the ball,
No more hiking it boy
I’m picking it up and taking it home
The only way I learned was to do it was on my own
My first introduction into hip-hop
My dad was scratching on the turntables in basement
Inspired to start rapping then just
Didn’t know what it was yet
But I do know that
This is a basic dream of every teenage minority
In Philly
The difference is I put heart in it
I don’t talk about popping off guns
Selling drugs
I speak facts
Things that really happened to me
While they continue with that redundancy
Endless loop
They stuck and they just don’t know
Some of my friends are a part of that lifestyle
But they just can’t let go
Partly because a family molds a certain image
Of your personality
If they ain’t there to support you
Then you left all alone like
Macaulay Culkin
But you don’t have the money like they have
So riddle me this right before I end it
Why is it a struggle to survive in a city
Where everyone is supposed to be your brother
There is a lot of envy
So many blank stares
Feels like death got me in his rearview mirror
I’m trying to get out of that now
Taking back my own future
Starting leading
I’m in charge of it now

One Response

  1. TR

    I just want to say thank you for this teach for us blog that you have. I have been reading several of your posts and It’s so refreshing to see another christian who has joined this movement and survived. I am currently in my 1st year and it’s been quite the experience but other Christian corps members and alums like yourself give me hope. Thank you again and continue to let God use and lead you.

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New city, same vision

Rhode Island
High School

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