Grammy-winning rapper T.I. visited West Oakland’s Cole Middle School today to speak about the importance of education and smart choices (and to perform some of his 1,500 court-ordered hours of community service following a plea agreement in a federal weapons case).
T.I.’s advice included catchy one-liners like “School is an investment that will get you paid later on,” “Trust me, there’s nothing sexy about being 32 years old and staying with your mama,” “You can be smart and still be cool,” “Being stupid don’t make you a gangster,” and “Not thinking, being stupid, can kill you.”
For the most part, the kids seemed to be soaking up every word. Some looked positively transfixed by the star power in their midst. Maybe they came away inspired by T.I.’s message of hard work and staying out of trouble.
I wonder, though, how the impact of the rapper’s words stacks up against his life story, in the kids’ minds. They are well aware of the fact that T.I. is rich and famous — even though he dropped out of school in ninth grade, and even though his rap sheet includes 32 arrests, by his count. They probably also know he’s recently been convicted of weapons violations.
When I posed that question to Jumoke Hinton Hodge, a community activist and the Oakland school board member-elect for the West Oakland district, she said she felt I was asking it “from a dominant culture perspective.”
“Sometimes our role models are the people who didn’t finish high school,” Hinton Hodge said. She pointed to another famous high school dropout, Bill Gates, and asked whether anyone would question his motivational speaking credentials (Gates dropped out of Harvard).
Maybe not, I said, but Bill Gates hasn’t been arrested 32 times.
No, Hinton Hodge said, but it’s not so simple: “It’s really easy, if you live in the ghetto, to get caught up and go to jail 32 times. … I’m tired of people acting like we don’t live in different worlds. … Unfortunately, or fortunately, the model for them is a dude who’s been busted 32 times, has just come off house arrest and has made millions of dollars. … That’s our reality.”
What do you think?