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Kanye West Foundation garners support in fight against national education crisis

By Cinque Muhammad | Last updated: Sep 28, 2007 - 10:03:00 AM

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Kanye West and his mother, Dr. Donda West, at a Borders bookstore to sign copies of her recently published book Raising Kanye: Life Lessons from the Mother of a Hip-Hop Superstar. Photo: Calvin Muhammad

CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) - In an Aug. 24 visit to his hometown of Chicago, 30-year-old hip-hop mogul Kanye West hosted his Kanye West Foundation’s (KWF) inaugural benefit to raise education awareness and encourage children to stay in school.

According to Strong American Schools, an advocacy group trying to make education a priority for the next U.S. president, 1.2 million students drop out of high school every year nationwide, only 46 percent of Black males graduate from high school, and only about half of the nation’s Black and Latino students graduate on time from high school.

This severe education crisis has moved the KWF and its co-sponsors to action in an effort to break this cycle. “The concept of over 50 percent of African Americans dropping out, I still can’t grasp that! Think about how you would feel if you lost 50 percent of your bank account right now,” said Mr. West to a room full of reporters, illustrating the magnitude of the dropout problem. “So we should be pretty upset that 50 percent of our students are dropping out.”

The day’s events, co-sponsored by Ariel Capital Management, LLC and Strong American Schools (SAS), included a press conference announcement and VIP Reception/Silent Auction at Hotel Sax Chicago, followed by an incredible Benefit Concert at the House of Blues in which the six-time Grammy winner performed tracks from his highly anticipated new album, Graduation. “The purpose of the foundation is to get kids interested in school so that they will want to be there,” said Dr. Donda West, Kanye’s mother, KWF board chair and former chairwoman of the English department at Chicago State University. “Its one thing to say, ‘Stay in school,’ and another to establish a curriculum that actively involves youth in their own education. So certainly we’re developing that curriculum,” she concluded.

Established by Kanye West in 2003, Kanye has contributed over $450,000 in support of programs designated to help young people. The foundation’s signature initiative, Los Angeles-based Loop Dreams, is a rap and music production program that involves learning how to produce musical tracks and write and perform raps in a hands-on environment.

The program is named after the ‘loop’—a fundamental music production technique in which a sample is played repeatedly. It combines core subjects with aspects of Hip Hop to increase literacy, develop critical and analytical thinking skills, cultivate positive habits of mind and keep students more interested in school.

“How does Dr. Dre, a musical genius, layer all these down? How do they do these things constantly? What about the engineering? How do they put this together? What about the poetry aspect, the rhyming stanzas? You can do a hip hop theory. What was this person’s history?” asked Mr. West, as he discussed ideas behind his concept for the program.

“There are so many textbooks that can be written about hip hop. It has been around long enough to have enough history to do textbooks on it that are very pertinent. People are still into it, so now is the perfect time to capitalize and use it to educate people and get people excited about education.”

Dr. West acknowledges the fact that young people today learn very much through music, and it can be applied practically to help them succeed in their general education requirements. “If you can teach a kid what a metaphor is in a rap, certainly you can move them to Milton and Shakespeare and whatever else he needs to pass the S.A.T. We plan to marry the traditional and the non-traditional.” She further explained that the program infuses the principles of respect, self- discipline, commitment, responsibility and integrity into every lesson plan in order to help students “build character that will be necessary, no matter if you’re going into music or what have you.”

Near the close of the press conference, Mr. West offered an anecdote of his experiences in school. “When I was in school it was almost illegal for us to listen to rap music anywhere near the school. It was so taboo that we would have to sneak into the bathroom to listen to it,” he recalled. “So instead of telling our kids to turn the music down, why don’t we tell them to turn the music up, and just ask questions about how it’s made? Because, it took very intelligent people to develop machines, to use programming, to use Pro Tools to produce a lot of the things that kids listen to everyday.”

In Spring 2008, the foundation will launch the Loop Dreams Teacher Training Institute in Chicago, providing training for Chicago teachers interested in incorporating Hip Hop into their curriculum to motivate students, compelling them to stay in school and graduate.

“I definitely want to do this in Chicago, where I grew up, where I feel the most loyalty, so it means a lot me,” Mr. West said. KWF also plans to expand their efforts to Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

Mr. West is currently celebrating the success of the recent launch of his new album Graduation, which hit stores Sept. 11.

(Visit www.kanyewestfoundation.org for more information on how to get involved.)