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Building Community Through Hip Hop

All of the Above in Lansing uses the fundamentals of hip hop to engage kids in community change.
Birthed out of seeing a need in the community for social change, All of the Above hip hop academy was created around the philosophies and fundamentals of hip hop culture, giving youth the opportunity to participate and engage with others around the community to help bring about positive change, social justice and raise awareness about issues affecting our neighborhoods.

According to the director of the program, Ozay Moore, hip hop is composed of four basic philosophies and fundamentals: break dancing, graffiti, DJing, and emceeing. All of the Above aims to guide and facilitate an experience to engage youth in the history of each philosophy, develop techniques within each one and explore collaboration.

The program provides a social context and economic backdrop for hip hop culture and breaks the stereotypes that are prevalent in status quo, which associates hip hop with drugs, violence and apathy.

It all started last June, when Ozay spoke on an economic development panel and met John Duley- former professor at Michigan State University and referred to as the "Godfather of Civic Engagement" of Lansing’s Edgewood Village. The panel was organized by Angela Waters, a hip hop advocate in the Lansing community, who is also the organizer of Lansing’s Hip Hop Appreciation Week.

Ozay, a recording artist by trade now residing in Lansing with his family, was no longer touring as a part of his profession. After participating on this panel and feeling encouraged by John Duley’s wise words on community involvement, he was left with the question "How do we cultivate hip hop culture here in the city, and cross pollinate to get people involved?"

Considering Lansing is surrounded by Michigan State University and the tens of thousands of youth that attend, it may seem surprising that there is so little involvement in the arts from youth living on campus. Ozay was certainly surprised by this upon his return to the city six years ago and thought that if we can cultivate the arts here in the city, people may stick around and invest in the community- make it their own, so to speak. But he believes it has to start with the people already here.

He realized that he could pass on his skillset in the field to younger generations, and through hip hop, engage them with their communities. And if he was interested in doing this, most likely, other hip hop professionals currently residing in Lansing and no longer traveling the country for their work, would feel the same way. At that point, the idea for Lansing’s own Hip Hop Academy was born.

All of the Above was formed and classes began that summer. Professionals within their tenant of the hip hop fundamentals are not only teaching artists to the youth of Lansing, but are mentors as well. They help the youth to cultivate and develop an individual take on the culture, while at the same time highlighting the benefits of community, and encouraging collaboration- for each class of students works together, combining the benefits of street art/graffiti with break dancing, DJing with Emceeing, and combinations thereof.

While All of the Above is exploring the idea of becoming their own 501(c)3 at some point, they currently partner with the Oak Park YMCA to offer their classes. While there may be a benefit down the line of becoming their own nonprofit, the root of their program is collaboration. Ozay sees significance in working with other programs in the community to collaborate around his project, rather than relying upon themselves solely.

The current classes are aimed at an age group of thirteen to eighteen years old, due to a certain level of maturity needed to understand the philosophies. Though, the Academy runs on a case by case basis if an individual is able to handle the content. Courses run two times per week, for approximately eight weeks, with a price of $70 for YMCA members and $75 for non-members. However, All of the Above will not deny a student, so if money is an issue, there are scholarships available, for "no kid will be turned down."

All of the Above relies on word of mouth to gain attendance for their program, and hopes that the results of their project speak for themselves. Kids who attend the courses go back and tell their friends and family, and the next week will bring additional youth to participate in classes with them. This community organization is making waves in the city and spreading positive messages throughout the town. The hip hop academy hopes to continue to engage youth in the movement and to put Lansing on the map for arts and positive change in the state.

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