South L.A.'s 'Global Awareness Through Hip Hop Culture Program' shuts down due to budget cuts
Due to budget cuts, the Global Awareness Through Hip Hop Culture Program, run since 2006 at the Accelerated Charter School in South Los Angeles, has been terminated.
"The situation's pretty much the same all across the United States: Any program that involves art and music and isn't part of the standard curriculum is subject to budget cuts," said program founder Sebastien Elkouby. "They're trying to cut off any and all extra fat. I just left a meeting saying that the school has to focus exclusively on getting kids to four-year universities, and not on arts or sports. It's an understandable sentiment, but the class was helping students in other ways that are pertinent to their lives."
Conceiving the curriculum as a hybrid social studies and music education class, Elkouby had successfully enlisted big-name hip-hop artists to lecture the class, including KRS-One and MC Lyte. Just last week, he recruited acclaimed underground producer Apollo Brown to work with students. After meeting them, Brown decided to produce a beat specifically for the kids.
"We're seeking to give our students a brand-new perspective on their environment and global awareness," Elkouby said. "Even 'A' students sometimes lack the awareness of what their responsibility is in this world, where they fit in, and what's their life purpose. We use hip-hop because it's attractive to them and a viable tool to explore those questions."
As of June, the budget cuts will eliminate Elkouby's staff position. For the program's first three years, he had a full-time salaried position teaching five daily Global Awareness classes. Recently, cutbacks had curtailed it to just one daily course.
In addition to the social-studies element, the program also taught students the art of rhyme and production. Last year, they collaborated with Red Bull for a showcase. Afterward, the energy drink company donated production equipment to the school.
Elkouby says that he's repeatedly discussed taking the program to other schools, but that despite interest, the funding isn't there. Additionally, he's approached several rappers to sponsor the program, but none have yet agreed.
"The program has touched so many lives. I’ve had parents tell me that this is the most they've ever seen their students enjoy school, and the kids obviously love it," Elkouby said. "It's had a really powerful effect, especially when you look at things like the achievement gap and the dropout rate. We've been really trying to make a big impact and we've succeeded. But the funding just isn't there."
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo: Students in the Global Awareness Through Hip Hop Culture course with producer Vitamin D; Credit: www.globalawarenessthroughhiphopculture.com