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Rapping for Social Change

Through his organization Rap Force Academy, Nueva alumnus Rahman Jamaal ’96 has been pioneering Hip Hop education for the last fifteen years, since he first encountered the educational nonprofit Hip Hop Congress. He helps people improve their communication skills through writing and performing rap songs in workshops designed to enhance a person’s self-expression and awareness. Students build their artistic creativity by playing with words and trying out their own voice as they develop their musical prowess and employ nuances of sound to write a rap.

“The students themselves are the most meaningful sources of inspiration in my work,” said Rahman. “When I can provide the language to legitimize a student's expression as artful, and I can see the sense of pride they develop upon realizing they have creative ability, it feels good to know I have assisted in their growth process.”

That motivation to help others developed in Rahman’s life when he was just a kid.

“Really young, I remember having this thought that if I’m going to get these opportunities of learning and being able to travel around the world, it’s my responsibility to bring that back to the hood,” said Rahman.

His view of his own privilege, the world, and his global responsibility were shaped in part by Nueva class trips traveling to Japan and camping in local natural forests, which were some of his most memorable Nueva moments. He was also greatly influenced by his experiences in Nueva’s Self-Science classes.

“We had the opportunity to problem-solve our day-to-day social issues in a group setting and learn the value of empathy and communication.”

Through Rahman’s rap workshops many different kinds of people have developed their creative ability, including students, teachers, actors, voice artists, public speakers, business people, and singers. He has also partnered with schools, juvenile halls, nonprofits, and afterschool programs to teach language arts curriculum through rap.

“You can teach anything through music,” said Rahman. “It’s math, it’s science, it’s language arts, it’s history, it’s all of these core subjects.”

Rahman even developed a high school Hip Hop curriculum that was approved as a Visual and Performing Arts Standard for the University of California system. In order to get that, he had to change the course’s name to Spoken Word Theater because some people had negative associations with “Hip Hop” and didn’t possess the cultural literacy to move past those connotations.

“The biggest obstacle I've had to face is the public perception of rap music and Hip Hop being detrimental to society, as opposed to an educational tool,” said Rahman.

Undeterred by challenges of public perception, Rahman is more committed than ever to his cause and has even returned to the source of the idea for Rap Force Academy, which was born out of his experiences with Hip Hop Congress. Now Rahman serves as the Executive Director of the nonprofit grassroots organization, which cultivates a sustainable network of artists, activists, and educators through intellectual collaboration and sharing resources to move society towards a more just and equitable future.

Ever since his initial exposure to Hip Hop Congress fifteen years ago, Rahman has been helping people tap into their creative talents to tell their own story, unlock new abilities, and share their message.

“I want students to know that they have all the power in the world within them if they can become aware of the sounds that they produce in the world.”

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