A New York-based student advocacy group assembled a panel featuring rapper Remy Ma Wednesday (Sept. 27) to discuss the immediate problem of high school dropouts in the nation.
The Entertainers for Education Alliance (EARS) hosted the symposium at City University of New York in front of a crowd of about 200 people.
New York Council Member Charles Barron, Mrs. Nancy Jones (mother of rapper Jim Jones), Randy Weingarten (president of the United Teachers Federation), Ebro Darden (assistant program director and music director for New York's Hot 97), and L. Londell McMillian (entertainment attorney) were among those present to discuss the weighty and problematic issue.
Across the nation, high school graduation rates have dipped to staggering lows in several cities' educational system.
A recent study determined that the graduation rate in several cities fell under 50%.
The graduation rate for Detroit was 21.7%; Baltimore touted 38.5%; and New York City, slightly higher at 38.9% as of 2005.
In June 2006, New York's graduation rate sank more to 32.8%.
Remy Ma, who has a 6-year-old boy, said that parents must be more accountable for their children's success in school, and that the system must support those who do get proper education.
"I didn't graduate, I dropped out in the 12th grade. I have more money than all my friends put together," said the Bronx-bred rapper. "In reality, the people that graduate, the jobs are not out there like that."
Charles Barron, a mayorial aspirant in New York City, said that there is also a systemic responsibility that is being neglected in the political arena.
"I think we have a twofold struggle, one that we are responsible for and one that the system is responsible for. We also have a struggle for liberation," Barron said. "If we act like punks when it comes to White men in power...nobody respects you I'd you have no power. Why don't we [minorities outnumber Whites in New York according to Barron] have control over a $53 billion budget. White men got too much power."
Barron was also highly critical of how New York Mayor Bloomberg has handled the education system and the dispersal of the budget toward education.
Ebro Darden, meanwhile, expressed that Hot 97 has attempted educational outreach to school districts but has been refused due to a number of highly-publicized violent and controversial acts at the radio station.
"[The school system] don't want us involved, but the kids listen to the station," said Darden. The Oakland, California native also strongly suggested that those serious about changing children's education should seek independent funding and after-school programs that cater to kids' sensibilities.
One such interest is Hip-Hop, said Assemblyman Ruben Diaz, Jr., who has continually used rap as an educational tool.
Diaz has worked with Ne-Yo, Fabolous, and Remy Ma to help encourage kids to stay in school.
"Parent, adults have to embrace Hip-Hop. The English language is such a powerful thing," Diaz said. "No disrespect [to Young Dro's] "Shoulder Lean," [but] the vocabulary is not extensive."
The panel participants sparred verbally, often disagreeing on the reasons for the high drop-out rate.
"I'm one of these people that could be making a lot of money and I'm not. I'm not on this panel to do a blame game," said Tara Martin, who represented for Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz. "The reality of the situation is our children are being passed along in a system that doesn't care about them."
Despite the argumentative banter, most agreed on the reason for discussing the topic. "Our kids are our first priority," said Tonya Lewis, moderator and cofounder of EARS.
Mrs. Nancy Jones, who educates children though her daycare, echoed the sentiment and stated that dropping out wasn't an option for her children.
"My mother played a role, whereas you had to graduate from school. Mothers fathers, teachers, we play a part," Jones said.
A number of panelists were confirmed but unavailable, including rappers N.O.R.E., Sean "Diddy" Combs, and Fat Joe.