As I happened to be visiting the state of Georgia this week, I became aware of a controversy involving the rapper T.I. (a.k.a. Clifford Harris) and whether or not he should be allowed to visit with local school children. T.I., one of the top selling artists in America, does regular visits to schools to discourage participation in gun violence and to encourage educational achievement. One parent was up in arms over his children being exposed to the artist, citing T.I.’s background as a convicted felon.
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My only thought is that perhaps both the parent and the school need to think some things through before they overreact.
1) Your kids are listening to TI, whether you like it or not: The more you try to keep them away from him, the more they are going to seek him out when you’re not looking. When someone our kids respect is interested in giving them a positive message, we should allow and encourage our children to listen. Beyond that, there are millions of black boys across America who are little TIs in the making: they will either be the productive version of TI – the brilliant businessman advocating for educational achievement, or the counter productive version of TI – the dope dealer on the corner. Either way, many of them are more likely to respond to the rapper than to their teachers, and that’s just a fact.
2) The school should give parents a choice: The reality is that there are some parents who don’t want their kids exposed to T.I., and the school should respect that. Not every kid is going to listen to a rapper, and the idea that we have to bring out rappers with violent lyrics to influence our children might be a bit problematic. Perhaps we can consider expanding their list of role models rather than reinforcing the ones they’ve already chosen through the media. At the very least, parents should be given the option of taking their children out of the event.
3) TI has a message that is worth sharing: T.I.’s credibility as a maturing and reformed human-being adds value to his story that some children will notice. A goody two-shoes coming into the school and telling kids not to use guns is not going to have the same impact. At the same time, T.I. has to ensure that he doesn’t make himself into a hypocrite by getting locked up again. That would make him appear to be just another celebrity out running his mouth for good publicity.
4) TI should keep reconsidering the messages in his music: I love T.I.’s lyrical capability and I listen to his music carefully. In some ways, T.I. is as conflicted as the late Tupac Shakur when it comes to sharing both messages of redemption in one sentence, and provocations of “ignant” behavior in the next. T.I. has to realize that his children are going to listen to his lyrics when they are older, and he is going to have to account for every word. Perhaps there is a way for him to show his true brilliance by making the message a bit more consistent.
Bottom line: If I were the principal of a school, T.I. would be invited every single year. This also goes for Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and every other artist that my kids are listening to every single day on the radio. I would follow them up with leading black scholars, doctors, and lawyers, so that our kids can see that rappers aren’t the only ones “doing it big” in our communities (I know a lot of professionals who earn a lot more money than T.I., LeBron James and almost any other celebrity in America. Education is the key to true power in America). The truth is that kids can benefit from hearing adults remind them that there is nothing cooler, hipper and more relevant about being black in America than to also be highly educated. We’ve got to communicate with our children in every way that we can.