Miami Dade County Community Forum

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Not all Rap is dirty

From Miami Herald:

"In the past few months, Kelvin Jennings and his buddies have taken their first plane ride, toured the Everglades for the first time and gained local celebrity for writing and recording an eco-conscious rap video in a real-deal Miami recording studio.

Soon the teens' mugs will be recognized statewide, as the newest faces of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Everglades restoration campaign.

And it all started with the Jacksonville teen's knock at Nanciann Regalado's door, peddling homemade CDs of rap music with a positive message.

``She thought I was trying to scam her at first,'' said Jennings, 15. ``She put the CDs on. She liked it and three months later she called the school looking for me.''

It turned out Jennings, a then-eighth grader at Jacksonville's Paxon Middle School, was selling the CDs as part of GEAR UP, a federal mentorship program for disadvantaged kids. He and friends Quinterius Cameron and Shawn Cameron had been working with their mentor, Travis Pinckney, on recording equipment at the school.

Many of the songs deal with drugs, violence and personal experiences of death and jailed family members.

``We created music about their pain, how their pain could actually make them stronger,'' said Pinckney, a senior at the University of North Florida. ``We released a lot of negative energy and refilled it with positive energy about academics.'' Regalado, an outreach coordinator for the Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville, was brought to tears as she listened to the CD. She wanted to reconnect with the young man who had such an effect on her.

As she telephoned schools throughout Jacksonville searching for Jennings, a bigger idea took form. Regalado would use her own free flight credits to send the kids to Miami, let them tour the Everglades, and use their talent to produce an eco-conscious rap for the Everglades restoration campaign.

The three North Florida city kids had never been anywhere remotely like the sprawling, lush river of grass. After a day of hiking and canoeing, they were inspired to stay up until 3 a.m. crafting rhymes. Then they headed to a Miami studio to record the music and video under the group name The Path of Righteousness. When you get there, you'll receive information; Of what you need to do, to enhance conservation; Takes the whole community to cause a transformation; Save the Everglades for the next generation! the boys rap on the final video.

That was back in April, but the idea just keeps growing. The video debuted May 18 at Paxon's Eco Awareness and Career Fair, along with a billboard near the school.

The video gained a nationwide audience June 25 when the National Parks Service posted it on its website. ``It really resonates with the audience, from 7-year-olds jumping around to teenagers,'' Regalado said.

Now the Corps of Engineers has plans to expand the billboard campaign to inner city locations statewide, including Miami. Bernadette Morris, president of Sunshine Communications, the company that runs the Corps of Engineers' outreach campaign, said the billboards could be up by early fall.

Regalado constantly gets e-mails from educators who use the rap to teach about the environment and others who were simply impressed with the video.

She and Jennings have developed a friendship. He often uses ``Ms. Nanciann's'' garage as a recording studio, making more uplifting, cuss-free raps with his friends, and inviting other classmates to join. The members of The Path of Righteousness hope to make it big someday, but for now, they're reveling in the current limelight.

``It's like a huge experience for us to ride each and every day and see us on the billboard,'' Jennings said. ``I had to just do something positive with myself for this to happen.''

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