Do me a favor and take care of each other alright. It doesn't matter the color, we are all family."- Prince- May 3rd 2015
As my summer of 2018 fades into a mosaic of incredible memories and dreams coming true, I would be remiss if I didn't take time to share some reflections and offer a sincere and heartfelt thank you to Purple Playground and everyone who made Academy of Prince a reality. Prince is most famous for his work as a musician and pioneering recording artist but he was also a champion for education. Throughout his life he worked publicly and privately with world renown educators like Marva Collins and Geoffrey Canada as well as numerous educational non profit organizations to provide young people with opportunities to learn, thrive, and realize their fullest potential. It was in this spirit that Heidi and I approached Academy of Prince. As I reflect on our work together over that hot and humid week in August, the irony is that although Prince was the focus and catalyst for the work, it was the students who were really the super stars in my eyes.
In those five short days I witnessed 12 young people come together purely out of
a love for music, creative expression, and a sincere and beautiful curiosity about their hometown legend that changed the world with his songs and artistry.
The program began with a burst of energy and excitement. After we introduced ourselves the students were ready to go! Our motto became "Where's the Funk", a phrase we used often to come together and to acknowledge when a groove was working or when something cool was happening. This was an expression of love and appreciation highlighted through clapping and dancing.
The first dance we learned was the Housequake and from that moment a special connection was made between all of us. Although Heidi and I barely knew these students, it was apparent that we were creating a very special bond with them through the "Funk", a universal, spiritual language that Prince mastered and used to communicate his message of love and to connect people through out the world. After day one it became pretty apparent to Heidi and I that our job was not so much to teach them about how cool Prince was (which we did), but more importantly we had a responsibility to empower and help them find the Funk, and give them opportunities through songwriting and creative expression to use the funk to build community and to help make the world a better place, just like Prince did. This notion of finding the funk through studying Prince became our ethos. The amazing guest speakers Mark Bonde, Andrea Swennsen, Jon Bream, and local singer/songwriter PaviElle French helped to humanize Prince by highlighting how he took his love for music and creativity and combined it with hard work, dedication, and courage to change the world. The students also got to works with former Prince collaborators Bobby Z, Matt Fink, and Jellybean Johnson who all graciously spoke to the students and played on their original song recordings.
Many people ask me what it was like to meet and work with these iconic musicians. It was definitely surreal because when I was the age of the students these people were my musical gods! But meeting and working with them in the context of Academy of Prince, I saw them as important allies helping us empower our students to realize their dreams. The unsung heroes in the success of Academy of Prince was the HSRA. TC Ellis and Phil Winden worked with us to provide an ideal space to teach and record. TryBishop, a young producers and engineer and Lakame McGee, a young musician, were amazing and we are so grateful for their talent and time. The final day and culminating ceremony was so very emotional. One of my fondest memories of Academy of Prince was looking out at the families of our students and seeing just about every race, socio-economic class, gender, sexual orientation present and on one accord - the Rainbow Children Prince envisioned. Seeing the students everyday and marveling at their amazing talents and gifts was truly a blessing.
Although we only worked together for a week, their energy, joy, curiosity, and love of learning has truly transformed me and for that I am most thankful.
Academy of Prince fills me with the same level of excitement and positivity that our fearless leader gave us every time he performed a concert or released a new album. Prince lives through the students and with your help and support the Academy of Prince will continue to provide this opportunity to students all over the world until the end of time...