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Class Pictures

When I was in the fifth grade, school days often felt like a time when I had to turn my creativity and my imagination and my brain way down. This was not the case at the Koger Center for the Arts last month. Experiencing the pure joy of 2,000+ Richland School One District fifth graders having their BEST. MONDAY. EVER. was one of those moments in life where my brain was not turned down. My brain was turned all the way up.


Location: Koger Center for the Arts, University Of South Carolina

Program: Beats To The Rhyme: A Youth Songwriting Project powered by Love, Peace & Hip-Hop, Columbia, SC. Audience: Richland 1 School District, Columbia, South Carolina

Level: 5th Grade

Coordinator: Janet Parenti @janetlynnparenti 

Host: Darius "Czar" Johnson

DJ: Kingsley "KingpinVOV" Waring

Music Producer/Recording Engineer: Marcum "MIDIMarc" Core

Emcee/Vocal Coach: Shaquelle Wiley aka Quelle the Prophet @QTPLOL 

Tech Support: William "Chill Treez" Ritter

Video Produced by: OTRMG

Video Director: Sherard "Shekeese" Duvall

Camera Operator: Adrian Williams

Special thanks: @KogerCenterfortheArts, @UofSC, @richlandonetv9585, Mixed By Czar, and @otrmediagrp (OTRMG)


Officially, I would describe our Beats To The Rhyme program like this: “As hip-hop music becomes more widespread in educational settings to help enhance student connection to school curriculum, Love, Peace & Hip-Hop has developed innovative and engaging hip-hop music programming. As part of our W.E.A.L.T.H. Initiative, we recognize education is fundamental to giving our youth their best chance to succeed, and creative expression is a major key. Beats To The Rhyme uses the elements of songwriting to promote creativity, collaboration/teamwork, respecting others, critical thinking, public speaking/performance and following directions.”


Unofficially, I would describe it like this: “HEY! LEARNING CAN ACTUALLY BE FUN!”


Before the first yellow school bus pulled up to the Koger Center, which is home to performances by the South Carolina Philharmonic and the Columbia City Ballet, I was making my way all around the auditorium, looking at it from all angles to imagine the space filled with fifth graders. 



I have a pretty great imagination, if I do say so myself. But even I couldn’t have imagined the energy, excitement, and enthusiasm of these children or just how much they would enjoy our program. And, for me, that’s called a great day of work. 


In my role as program coordinator for Love, Peace & Hip-Hop, I can and will spill plenty of ink describing the pedagogical objectives met by an innovative songwriting program like Beats To The Rhyme, but right now I want to focus on something else. 


If you’ve ever been a fifth grader (and even if you haven't), you know what it feels like to belong and to not belong. Fifth grade often feels like a perilous time of expanding your experience of this world, which also means expanding your understanding of who you are as a person.


Getting to know yourself is a lifelong process, and sometimes it’s really hard. It’s hard at age 10. It’s hard at age 50. Rewinding back to me at 10 years old, I had no idea what this life had in store for me. And I had no idea what I had in store for this life. Rewinding back to me at 30 or even 40 years old, I still had no idea what was in store. 


But looking at my old class pictures, I can begin to piece together an understanding of what was coming. In elementary school, I was the girl in the not-cool clothes and the long, usually tangled, brown hair. I was medium height, which meant I was placed squarely in the middle of class photos. I was surrounded by classmates and friends who also didn’t have very cool clothes because most of us were kind of on the poor side. Demographically, we were a refreshing mix of races and ethnicities who engaged with each other more based on who was the best at drawing unicorns in art class, or who made it to the king spot in 4-square during recess, or whose mom packed them Cheetos at lunchtime. (Spoiler alert: It was Renee. And, as a school lunch buyer, not bringer, and as a shameless lover of Cheetos, I always tried to sit next to her.)



Fast forwarding to another class picture about 30 years later, I’m still the one who doesn’t do much in the way of cool clothes and still has the long, kind of tangled brown hair, but this time I’m with a new set of classmates and friends in our Hip Hop Family Day Class photo. Again, demographically, we were a refreshing mix of races and ethnicities who engaged with each other more based on who brought what talent to the table and how much heart they had.



At the time, I didn’t quite believe I belonged in that picture. I didn’t quite see how my talents and abilities were more than just generally helpful, but instead, were integral to the mission of us all becoming who we were as an organization – which includes me.


I sometimes wonder in passing if that picture looks odd to uninformed observers. And then I realize I don’t actually care if it does. Because I really like being ME and doing ME things, among people who are also doing their ME things, especially when it results in glorious moments of freedom and joy for an entire school district of fifth graders.


And if those kids carry any sense of that freedom and joy forward to the next 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years, for me, that’s called a great day of work.






To learn more about Love, Peace & Hip-Hop's educational programming, contact Janet Parenti at Janet@HipHopFamilyDay.com.

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