Mr. Mooney, who teaches freshman English at High Tech High School in North Bergen, N.J., played Mr. Lamar’s album (edited, of course) “To Pimp a Butterfly” to draw correlations to Ms. Morrison’s novel.
Using a literary lens called “hip-hop ed” that he learned during his graduate courses at Teachers College at Columbia University, Mr. Mooney asked his students to reflect on the dichotomy of black culture in America — the celebration of itself and its struggle with historic oppression. His students’ sudden understanding shined through essays, colorful canvases and performance art.
Mr. Mooney, 29, blogged about his curriculum and shared his students’ work online. The blog racked up over 10,000 Facebook shares, and hardly a month passed before Mr. Lamar discovered it.
On Monday, Mr. Lamar not only became a guest lecturer in Mooney’s small classroom at High Tech, but he also became a pupil. Mr. Lamar’s manager sent a note to Mr. Mooney in April saying the performer was interested in visiting. He did not charge a fee, but the school and its foundation paid for the stage setup.
“I was feeling incredibly grateful and humbled that my work received that much exposure and reached that wide of an audience that Kendrick himself read it,” Mr. Mooney said.
The administration at High Tech High School, a magnet school, embraced Mr. Lamar’s visit. Mr. Mooney packed about 50 of his students from his world literature freshman class, after-school hip-hop literature class and extracurricular slam poetry club, for a session with Mr. Lamar.
Selected students performed spoken word sessions and raps for Mr. Lamar. “You’ve chose the wrong butterfly to pimp,” spat Hamza Qureshi, an 18-year-old senior, paying homage to Mr. Lamar’s album. Mr. Lamar praised Mr. Qureshi’s poem with finger snaps and complimented his punch lines. Even Mr. Mooney showed off his rapping skills, and Mr. Lamar’s head bobbed to the beat. “Man, this is a blast,” Mr. Lamar, 27, told the class. “I can see the energy. I can feel the energy.”
The class discussed the inspiration behind Mr. Lamar’s albums and his perception as an author himself. Mr. Lamar signed students’ artwork along the classroom walls and took selfies with beaming students. “When I talk to kids, I’m really listening,” he said. “When I do that, we have a little bit of a bigger connection than me being Kendrick Lamar and you being a student. It’s almost like we’re friends. Because a friend listens.”
The class joined the rest of the student body, about 650 in total, in the school’s field house. Mr. Lamar sat on a panel with Chris Emdin, Mr. Mooney’s mentor from Teachers College and creator of the #hiphoped movement; Jamilia Lyiscott, who recently received a Ph.D. from Teachers College; Mr. Mooney; and some High Tech alumni to critique performances by the students.
Sade Ford, an 18-year-old senior, took the stage with her performance titled “It Takes a Village to Raise a Butterfly.” She touched upon leaving behind her hometown, Jersey City, and her coming journey as a first-generation college student at Rutgers University. “The best part is the effect that she can give her perspective from different walks of life,” Mr. Lamar commented.
Another senior, Benjamin Vock, 17, created his poem within a day, inspired by Mr. Lamar’s song “Mortal Man.” He bemoaned the pain the black community felt with the deaths of young black men such as Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and the privilege he experienced growing up white. “That’s dope,” Mr. Lamar said. “You identify with my community and what’s going on in the world. And I appreciate you for that.”
To close out his visit, Mr. Lamar took a single song request. He settled on a performance of “Alright.”
“It’s truly a blessing to be in front of you all,” Mr. Lamar signed off. “I will be back. That’s a promise, y’all.”
article by Colleen Wright via nytimes.com