“These boys give me hope for how communities can come together and thrive. Their music isn’t about the random ideas that pop into a teenager’s head. It’s very centered on their perspectives on how we can redefine relationships that we can have with one another, ending violence in all forms. They are my hope for the future.” – Sushmitha Ram, Special Education Learning Specialist at DRW College Prep

By Kamani Mayes (Flamo)

My name is Kamani Mayes (Flamo).   I’m an 18-year-old artist from the Westside of Chicago, IL. I’ve been making music for 6 years. Ever since I was young, people told me I was very good at rhyming. That motivated me to make music. I got my stage name, Flamo, from a friend that passed away. He loved to make music as well, so I will keep striving and staying focused on making music. I come from a family full of talented musicians. I feel like I was destined to make music and I am dedicated to pursuing a rap career to create wealth and safety in my community.

Freshman year is when I first met my rap partner, Tyrice. We didn’t really have much in common and we didn’t talk to each other until later on in the school year because I used to freestyle every now and then and my partner discovered my talent, so he decided to pursue a rap career as well.

By Tyrice Jackson (T-Money)

My name is Tyrice Jackson, or T-Money. I am an 18-year-old artist from the Westside of Chicago, IL. I’ve been making music for four years. When I was in 9th grade, I was not into rap. I was more into basketball. One day, I saw my future partner Kamani and he was at the table just freestyling. Everybody was right there just watching him freestyle, so I went over there and asked, “You are good, how you do that?” He said “it is easy, try it.” He put on a beat, so then I started rapping. After I was done, he said, “you are good you need to start writing that stuff down.” Immediately, I went home and started freestyling, then that is when I started to think I want to start a rap career. The next day at our school, DRW, I asked him, “Do you want to make a song together?” He said, “yeah, of course.” That was the first step to how we got together.

By Sushmitha R Ram

My name is Sushmitha Ram. I am a Teach For America Corps Member and second year Learning Specialist at DRW College Prep, a Noble Campus. I teach math, science, and government in both a self-contained and inclusion settings.

In college, I focused my studies and work on social justice and activism. I was deeply inspired by the Black Lives Matter and Reproductive Justice movements. When I was accepted into TFA, I applied and interviewed for many different teaching positions at charter public and traditional public schools around Chicago. I got ten offers. After thinking hard about it, I realized that the Noble Network – DRW specifically – had missions that matched my own.

The curriculum at DRW is Afro-centric. Each subject is infused with African-American empowerment and history. Our principal, Jennifer Reid, created the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness statement for all Noble schools. At DRW, I am an academic teacher who is empowered to infuse a freedom-focused framework to empower our students.

In my classes, I have two seniors that have really helped me to look at teaching and my role in a different way – Kamani Mayes and Tyrice Jackson. I met them last year when they were juniors. We had the typical teacher-student interactions them – I’d teach, they’d take notes; they’d make jokes, I’d keep them on track. Part-way through the year, though, I noticed them making beats with their pens and pencils on their desk. At the end of the year, when they were helping me to clean my classroom, they asked me to listen to the songs they had written. They were remarkable. Not only were the boys talented, but they were also so clearly passionate about their music.

Donald Jones, a fellow senior at DRW College Prep, is the student manager as well as beats creator for Tyrice and Kamani. He has shown dedication and support by guiding the boys’ music through organizing gigs and creating possible beats for their music. Donald also was part of discussion spaces for all of us to brainstorm possible song themes related to one of our main questions: “How do we showcase the dignity and honor of our women, children, and LGBTQIA+ siblings in our communities?”

To keep the spark alive, I contacted a friend of mine who is a music producer and invited him to talk to my students. He told them all about the great artists to listen to and learn from, how much to practice, and what microphones are good to use. Around the same time, I was preparing for my summer job at DRW and came up with the idea that the students could just work with me over the summer as summer music interns. So they came once or twice each week, watched documentaries about the history of rap, analyzed song lyrics and poetry, and discussed the words that lyricists choose to use in music. They wrote their own raps and poems. They even started using SAT words in their songs. Their vocabulary soared.

One of the main themes throughout our summer discussions was how music can be used as a form of resistance. The boys began to think about the injustices that they experienced and began to write about them and how to overcome them. They also wanted to gain performance experience. Over the summer, we prepared to perform at our school Town Hall. In September, they performed an original song, “School,” which inspired the 300+ student body to do well in school that year. They were amazing. They were asked to perform at graduation later on.

I recently came into contact with a documentary filmmaker who was making a film about human trafficking and was interested in adding sections about how music can be used to help find power and liberation, especially during times of such struggle. When he spoke to me about this project, I let him know that I had two students who are a perfect example of how powerful music can be and he decided to include them in the documentary. The aim of the documentary is to talk about healing from the pain of human trafficking in all people – men, women, and non-bionary folx. Although the two have never experienced the horrors of human trafficking, they have witnessed sexual violence among their community members. They’re able to use their experiences and strong sense of empathy to write powerful lyrics about healing. We’re so excited to see how it plays out in the film. They will also be featured in a podcast, Never Trending.