Kendrick Lamar-inspired 'Be Alright' scholarship takes hip-hop education viral

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Kendrick Lamar performing at the Made in America Festival. (Colin Kerrigan / Philly.com)

Rapper Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" has become the black joy anthem of 2015.

The lyrics, "We gon' be alright!" are chanted in protests, shouted at house parties, tweeted in solidarity, and spewed in fierce rebuttal.

Now the proclamation of joy in the face of adversity is the inspiration behind the "Be Alright" college scholarship launched by Oogeewoogee.com.

The Philly-based online publication, founded by entrepreneur Tom Stafford, is a "global multimedia outlet with an emphasis on Hip Hop and counterculture, and how those two intersect with society and current affairs," while stressing financial, technological, and multicultural unity.

Wilkine Brutus, content director of Oogeewoogee, says the scholarship is a way to take all those goals and make a "tangible impact."

It began when English teacher Brian T. Mooney of High Tech High School in North Bergen, N.J., began to pair Lamar's critically acclaimed album To Pimp A Butterfly with Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye in his lessons. He reported on the experience in his blog, Why I Dropped Everything and Started Teaching Kendrick Lamar's Album.

The post reached Lamar, who then visited the high school. Lamar listened to the students' poetry, gave a special performance, and participated in a rap cypher. In Mooney's class Lamar wasn't only rapper but author. Education met hip-hop.

That prompted the folks at Oogeewoogee to launch the scholarship.

"We always wanted to create a hip-hop-inspired scholarship," said Brutus. " 'Alright' came at the right time and visit to the high school gave us a concrete idea of what we wanted."

One student from High Tech High School will be awarded $1,500 to go toward tuition and book fees.

Recent High Tech graduate Ben Vock, 18, will be submitting his spoken-word poem "After Kendrick Lamar's 'Mortal Man,' " which he performed for the West Coast rapper during his visit.

Vock says that in the piece, he revealed that "at times I've been weak to my own ignorance." He says that hip-hop education has exposed him to the black narrative in America.

Vock will be attending Oberlin College in the fall, with a major in creative writing, a concentration in education, and a minor in environmental science. He says the scholarship is a way of telling students that they "gon' be alright."

Mooney says, "That's what this is all about.

"It's great the Kendrick visited our school; the experience was phenomenal," said Mooney. "It's also really important that we figure out how we can fund the work of urban and hip-hop education."

The Lamar visit and the media attention it garnered has changed the perception of hip-hop education in the school district, Mooney says. In his English class and his after-school "Hip Hop Lit" class, he aims to encourage students to engage in a "critical dialogue about the media they consume." Mooney says Lamar's work is literary and worthy of study at a time when education is often "reduced to memorization and regurgitation."

"Real learning is much different than that," said Mooney. "Real learning is messy."

For the "Be Alright" scholarship, students submit a 2-3 minute video that explains the positive aspects of hip-hop while showcasing their talents, whether it be in rap, poetry, or visual art. It will then be posted on Oogeewoogee's Facebook page. The submission with the most "likes" and "shares" wins.

"We need students to be civic-minded and introspective. We want them to always analyze why they're influenced by certain types of art and lifestyle," Brutus says. "We want them to be confident enough to produce their own opinions and art - to understand and control what goes in and out of their minds, and to be cognizant about subliminal and overt messages."

Oogeewoogee plans to bring the scholarship to Philadelphia and nationwide..

Voting is open to the public. It begins at 8 a.m. on Friday Aug. 21 and ends at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 25 on Oogeewoogee's Facebook page.

sballin@phillynews.com

215-854-5054 @sofiyaballin