Every day another tragic story of intolerance gets added to the pile. The future of our country and the world at large looks pretty bleak—if you believe we are powerless. But I can’t go there. I have to believe that we can DO something. That we can make some change happen. Otherwise, why not just give up and live in bunkers underground?
Thinking about change on a large scale—nationally and internationally—is a tall order. How can we move the needle even just a hair? Can we lean on music to work some magic here?
Letting Go of the Baggage
When my daughter Emily was around three years old, an African American girl sat down next to us at the library. Emily pointed to the girl’s arm and asked, “Why is your skin brown?” The girl’s response was striking. “Because my mom and dad are like that. My brother said it doesn’t come off.” That last part hit me hard.
I went on to explain to Emily that friends are all different colors and come from different places. But, explaining it very simply like that didn’t feel like enough. The diversity of the people in our everyday lives allows us to have a uniquely dynamic social experience. I’ll admit the topic was uncomfortable for me, only because I have already been exposed to the heaviness of how skin color can define you.
Emily wasn’t fazed. Her innocence knows no undiscerning in terms of judgment. This year when her first grade class studied Martin Luther King, Jr., she and her classmates were stunned that not so long ago they wouldn’t have been allowed to sit together at lunch because of their skin color. To them, this idea was ridiculous. And their reaction shook me awake. Kids are not inherently biased. Skin color means nothing until someone or something gives it meaning.
If there is going to be change and acceptance and tolerance in our future, kids are where we need to start. It’s not a new idea. But it’s an idea that can’t wait anymore.
This is where music fits in. It becomes the voice inside your head. It reinforces messages in a way that is direct and relatable. Music can empower children with the fuel and fire to move forward with the desire for change, peace, acceptance, and a more inclusive world.
Starting the Conversation with Our Kids
Oakland-based Alphabet Rockers deliver hip-hop music infused with positive messages. This seems simple but the work of Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd, Jr. goes deep.
Their latest release, The Playground Zone, is a different album for the Alphabet Rockers. It boldly steps into a more social, personal light. Produced while at the Oakland Zoo Labs Music Residency, McGaw and Shepherd created a powerful album that shines a light on timely issues related to race, ethnicity, neuro-diversity and the strength found in community.
These topics may not be obvious dinner table discussions and for sure they aren’t always comfortable to initiate. But we have a responsibility to guide our children—and to help shape their perception of themselves and the world. How children process and integrate words, ideas, fears and beliefs are what drive their thoughts and actions. This is where change is going to happen.
McGaw and Shepherd are passionate about putting their craft to work and helping parents and educators engage and connect with young children. The music plants seeds of acceptance that can grow to empowerment and knowledge that can ultimately change the world. As a parent, the songs offer a roadmap for questions like: How do I get the conversation started? How do I keep it age appropriate and simple? How do I talk about acceptance in a way that won’t be misconstrued or create more anxiety about what goes on in the world?
As a group, the Alphabet Rockers are stepping forward and putting out the call—for all of us to step up. Change is not going to happen just because it’s the right thing. Or with two hip-hop artists on a stage. We are all responsible. In “Change the World” McGaw and Shepherd emphasize that it’s time to make the changes that we suggest to others. It’s time to recognize the power in numbers and walk together.
Wishing for the day where we don’t have to hide – who we are, how we pray, how we love – it’s all right
Everyone gets the chance to speak their mind
And people stand up – stand up for what’s right
How about you – would you make that change?
How about me – will I do the same?
Wishing for a time when the world’s safe for all
And no matter who it is there’s help when we fall
No one feels alone – love is the call
And people feel safe without borders, or walls
How about you – would you make that change?
How about me – will I do the same?
The brilliance of The Playground Zone’s foundation is that it’s built around the playground—a familiar place where kids get to be kids. It’s a testing ground for negotiation, a lab in itself for divisions and collaboration. It’s where you find who you are and who you want to be with. As serious as this may sound, play is at the heart of if all. The playground is meant for all children to find a place to coexist together. To feel confident that the ground they are standing on belongs as much to them as to their best friend or the kids climbing monkey bars and playing tag next to them. This self-evident truth is the subtext for The Playground Zone.
We Are Not All Created Equally. That’s a Beautiful Thing.
Children start off with a clean slate, able to see equality across differences. In fact, without other influences, labels don’t even emerge for a good portion of their little lives. Differences are curiosities but easily embraced. As children grow and outside influences seep in, they become aware that not only are they different from their peers, but those differences mean something. In songs like “Oddball,” the Alphabet Rockers welcome the idea that we are all different.
This song goes out to all the brains of the world
We all got them, they all work differently
You feel like you don’t fit in? Well…
In “Gimme Some Skin,” Alphabet Rockers take a familiar gesture and turn it into an opportunity for connection between races, highlighting the magnificence of different skin tones coming together. The symbolism of something so basic and familiar is electrifying when spoken through Shepherd’s voice.
Skin color is a spectrum we know that fact
Highlight its beauty through high five contact
Human is human we have the same parts
Skin tones are different but not too far apart
Every high five is special because we are
The colors, together they raise the bar
Bringing us together, dropping that guard
The Lyrical Flow—Conversation is Key
Through lyrically poetic verses, hip-hop and rap speak out and communicate to others who can relate. McGaw and Shepherd passionately and confidently begin timely conversations carried along by their own self-expression with heartfelt lyrics and rhymes articulated over infectious DJ beats. Their technique is solid and clear. Their quest to encourage inclusion, tolerance and equality is felt in every syllable.
Unity and love are at the forefront of the Alphabet Rockers’ messages and with those guiding principles kids are encouraged to embrace their uniqueness, rock an ultimate high five with a friend and just get their wiggle jiggle on. A refreshing spectrum that has the possibility to make a significant, rippling impact.
Alphabet Rockers’ music presents their young audience with a fundamental shift in thinking—to see the world with more open and tolerant eyes than generations before. The Playground Zone gives parents a place to start conversations with kids and a place to let the music speak for itself uniting us with a vision of liberty and justice for all.
The Playground Zone is available through the official Alphabet Rockers store, iTunes, and Bandcamp.
More information on Alphabet Rockers can be found at their official site.
Stay in touch through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.