The following is a guest post by Rickey Williams, a talented teacher and leader who lives in LA and works for SEA Charter Schools. He works in a very tough environment and has a higher graduation rate than the LA public schools. His work is an inspiration to many.
While “Roasting” is an art, it has nothing on “Flowing”. I started noticing a lot of students going to the back of the lunch yard during break and lunch. I wasn’t sure what they were doing, so I decided to check it out. It turns out they were laying beats on the lunch table and others were taking turns flowing.
They were essentially roasting on each other, but with rhymes to a beat. It was freestyle rapping. I could not believe how good they were. The REALLY fun part was that every time I walked over there someone would get on me.
“Mr. Williams got a problem and he can’t fix it, His shoes look like two big ol’ biscuits!”
After the flow, everyone started hi fiving and yelling, “Williams got on biscuit shoes, Ahhh hahaha! I always had the same response. I stood there with my hands in my pocket and a silly smile on my face and said, ”Heh Heh, Yeah.” After a while I got tired of standing there with nothing to say. It was time for me to create a flow.
I started preparing the next day. On the way to work and home, I practiced my flow. I would be at stop lights rapping with all of the passion in my soul. Veins were popping out of my neck as I embodied the hip hop spirit. I would look over and see other drivers looking at me with concerned eyes.
It was coming together. Now, because they were all rapping on the fly I had to deliver it so that it seemed like it was off the top of my head. After 3 months, I was ready.
I was nervous all morning. I kept talking myself out of it. ”Just do it tomorrow”. The lunch bell rang. I had to do it. I couldn’t back down. I walked out to the lunch yard. The students started to gather. Someone started the beat, then someone started flowing. It wasn’t long before someone got on me. I had on some new glasses. They were the preppy kind with dark brown, horned rims. You know, the ones all the cool kids had. This kid started on me.
“Mr. Williams in the class writing out hall passes, he came to school this morning in his little brother’s glasses”
Everyone was laughing and yelling, “Williams got on his little brother’s glasses!” It was pretty funny. Ok now’s the time. This is the moment I’ve been preparing for for the last 3 months. The beat was still going. Everyone knew I never had a came back, so everyone was just waiting for the next person to flow.
My heart was racing. I started sweating. I felt like my face was super red. It was now or never. I just started rapping…
I come down everyday to South Central LA at 8 Not to player hate, but to educate- I’m a teacher, a reacher a borderline preacher- Now that you’ve heard me flow, I know you know you can’t win- Don’t get mad, don’t get sad, don’t boo, don’t hiss- I’m sure yo mama told you there’d be days like this- You can bag on me for what you think you see but you can’t know me cuz you can’t go deep- You’re like a boat that floats on top of the water- I’m a sub that dives deep into unchartered waters- The reason I got so much is so there’s more to love For my sweet Laura Jean who has beauty from above- You see I just got one lady anybody got more a little shady- You still a boy so you might not understand, but if you keep on trying you will become a man Just think of that little engine I think I can, I think I can
To hear Rickey deliver this in his own special way, click on the audio file here.
When I finished everyone was just staring at me. The beat was still going. It was silent, then some kid in the back yelled, “Williams can flow!” Everybody started high fiving me. It was a glorious moment! It could have gone much, much worse.
Something happened that day that I never could have anticipated. Something changed. Maybe it was because of my rapping styles or my hip hop magic, but probably not. I think it was more because of my effort to get in the mix. In the days following kids started bringing their written raps to me and asking me what I thought about them. I’m no rapper, but they began to see me as an adult who cared, even though my secret motivation was revenge, hahaha. Shhh don’t tell nobody.
Our school has a high turnover rate because kids are coming out of juvenile hall and camp and, unfortunately, going back to juvenile hall and camp. We had new students starting weekly. Kids who were there the day I rapped would bring new students to my classroom to introduce them to me. They would say, “This is Williams. He can flow! Show him Williams!” That is still the only rap I know. And it took me 3 months to learn. To guard my secret I would just say…”I’m not really feeling it right now, we’ll see what’s up later”.
I’ll never forget that day. It was another lesson about closing the distance. Even though my initial motivation was survival and revenge, haha, what happened was that my relationship with my students changed. Not only did they share their raps with me, but they started sharing their lives with me. Even though I was the teacher the most important lessons were coming from my students.
This was first posted on Teenager Sense and has been lightly edited.