CHAMPAIGN – A fourth grader takes the microphone at Booker T. Washington STEM Academy in Champaign, to cheers from his classmates.
Professional hip hop artists – who go by the stage names Klevah and TRUTH – have set clear rules for the freestyling circle, or cypher, over the course of a week with the students. In the process, they are teaching the elementary school students mental health skills.
“[The things we talk about are] being fearless, without judgement. Checking yourself and making sure that you are in a good space to even just bring yourself to the cypher,” TRUTH says.
Klevah and TRUTH make up the hip hop duo Mother Nature. They met while attending the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana and started the group after opening for a Run the Jewels concert together in 2015.
The two formally established Mother Nature as a youth development nonprofit in 2016. They have brought their “Miseducation of HipHop” workshops to hundreds of students at schools, colleges and youth festivals.
TRUTH says this side of their career always felt right because they have grown so much themselves through music.
“Everything that we’ve learned so far, in regard to us building our business and building our lifestyles — and our pathways — was all through hip hop,” TRUTH says.
“It just [made us think] how can we break this down for a fourth grader for high school for college students to really know that everything that you need you already possess.”
As TRUTH and Klevah wrap up their last workshop with BTW students, they ask the students to fill out a survey about the week and whether they would like Mother Nature to come back.
One girl engraves a large “YES!” into her survey, with much underlining. When asked what she learned during the workshops, she says, “that I’m a genius,” before skipping off to her friends.
Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.