Hip Hop N’ Ya Don’t Stop: Jacob Lawrence Inspires A Rap

Students from Takoma Educational Center, three in Harlem Renaissance-style costume, look at work by classmates based on Jacob Lawrence's The Migration Series. Photo: James R. Brantley

Working with a work of art like Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series as often as I do, it is easy to become jaded by what truly is a masterpiece of American art. Countless school tours, in-classroom workshops, reading and re-reading our dense teaching kit, sharing the same stories of its inception and creation would make any museum educator tire of the series. However, last week’s Community Celebration with the middle schoolers of Takoma Education Campus  illustrates how no matter how many tours I give, I will always be inspired by The Migration Series and the way it connects with people of all ages.

The 6th-8th graders at Takoma studied the series as part of a partnership with The Phillips Collection, weaving it into their Harlem Renaissance-themed semester of study including reading Harlem Summer by Walter Dean Myers, a novel about an African American boy coming of age in 1920’s New York, just as Jacob Lawrence did. The students, who had experienced their own displacement and migration due to a fire at their school, became inspired. The Community Celebration featured spirited performances based on connections they made to the Lawrence works. 6th graders Raekwon Ali and Niles Townsend even performed an original rap song, The New Negroes,  about the causes and effects of the Great Migration:

6th graders Raekwon Ali and Niles Townsend perform their Jacob Lawrence-inspired rap on stage. (James R. Brantley)

The New Negroes

From slaves a new negroes, yeah look now we’ve grown. We got our respect now were well known. Migrated from da south went a da north. Got freedom a have a house. Thurgood was good in court. Now we come forth a imply da force. We’ve come along way please don’t hate now wait. Dis is our rap song Okay! Okay!

Got da great depression ain’t no mo messing jamming new negro now were all known it’s a long wait but dis our fate now please don’t hate….. Okay, back to da present, chris rock , will smith, ain’t no black stepped up to be hesitant. See this is our destiny, written before time began, as we rose to the stars from da deepest point of da sand!

Da great migration we in da north not da south. Now we got jobs to put food in our mouths. Have no more troubles have no more worries. We can see very clear everything not blurry. We committed no sin with da doubling. We did our thang now we can proudly sing.

Chorus: Listen to our people We r the New Negroes (3X)

Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah. We r the Negroes(2X)

See more photos from the Celebration here.

Margaret Collerd, Teacher Programs and Outreach Coordinator

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