In Sulphur Springs, teaching kids the ABCs of R-A-P
Fifteen-year-old Stefon Johnson wants to be a rapper. So the Street Music Workshop in Sulphur Springs sounded good to him. He gets to use professional equipment, eat Krispy Kremes and share his lyrics with adults who won’t harp on him if he drops an occasional F-bomb.
“I’ve been getting better because just coming here helps me show my talent,” says Stefon, who’s been attending the program since it started in June.
The Street Music Workshop is a free weekly gathering at the George Bartholomew North Tampa Community Center. Children and teens of all ages — though it tends to be mostly teenage boys — drop in to hone their skills in rap, spoken-word poetry, singing and deejaying.
Co-founder Lance Arney know the odds of becoming a big-time rapper are tiny, and the program isn’t about giving people false hope.
“The idea behind the workshop is to help bring out what they want to express,” says Arney, 36. “It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be a hip-hop star, but it’s helping build confidence in whatever they want to become.”
Arney is executive director of the Moses House, a nonprofit that organizes the Street Music Workshop and other art-based community outreach programs. The workshop’s co-founder, Carlos “DJ Chang Bang” Corcho, is a full-time turntablist with gigs at South Tampa’s Hyde Park Cafe, Cheap and the Kennedy.
For the class, they use Corcho’s personal deejaying equipment and speakers Arney bought from a Salvation Army with his own money. The support staff includes about eight adult volunteers: community members, professional deejays, University of South Florida anthropologists and Lashunda “Shunda K” Flowers, formerly of the hip-hop group Yo Majesty.
In a typical week, anywhere from five to 20 neighborhood kids trickle into a tiny room of the rec center, where they pass a microphone and try to one-up each other’s lyrics — unwittingly sharpening their literary skills, Arney points out.
Sixteen-year-old Sharmain Saddler, the group’s only female regular, writes songs about “everything that’s true in life,” she says, including “people dying from diseases, single moms working out two jobs, baby-mamas and making money on the streets.” Sharmain, who wants to become a professional R&B singer, stumbled upon the Street Music Workshop while attending a computer class in the same building. She says her attendance encouraged her to write more and taught her about song production.
But not everyone in Sulphur Springs has a sob story, the teens are quick to point out. Several group members rap about their pride in Barack Obama, and 20-year-old Jeff Hilaire (with the mic in the photo above) attends the Street Music Workshop as a way of networking for his Web site, hoodsuccess.com.
The organizers’ long-term goals are to secure a grant to build a permanent music studio, release a CD of the students’ songs and provide more opportunities for them to perform live. The teens got their first shot early this month during a community festival.
“Some of them are really talented,” Corcho says.
The Street Music Workshop is held every Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the George Bartholomew North Tampa Community Center, 8608 N. 12th St., Tampa. Free. Children and teens of all ages are welcome. For more info, call Carlos Corcho at (813) 317-3960, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or check out themoseshouse.org.
-- Dalia Colon, tbt*