RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. – High school junior Rakim Williams has always known that rapping would get him somewhere in life. He raps at home, at church, at school –virtually at all times. His dream is for his rap lyrics to get his family to a better place – somewhere besides the Riviera Beach home they’ve always known. He wants his family to see the world one day, so he creates rap lyrics to give them hope beyond their despair.
Recently he moved a little closer to that dream by leading his school – Inlet Grove Community High School in Riviera Beach, to win a national honor and an $8,000 prize. Rakim, on lead rap vocals, along with his schoolmates, teachers, staff and community volunteers, rapped their way to a national honor with their rap video on healthy eating.
The small charter school, with barely over 600 students, was among three schools nationwide to win big in the SkillsUSA/Lowe’s Social Media Campaign Challenge. Inlet Grove was the only Florida school to make it to the finals and eventually to the top three.
SkillsUSA is a nationwide, nonprofit association which boasts over 300,000 students and 17,000 teachers in the trade, technical and skilled service industries. Inlet Grove, which offers various career academies for their students, including web design, TV Production and culinary arts, is among SkillsUSA’s affiliate schools.
To enter the challenge, students had to complete a written application and create a three-to-five minute video explaining why a community or school project is important, how it will be conducted and what they expect the outcomes to be. Five finalists were selected based on their project proposals and supporting social media plans.
The finalists launched the final phase of their campaign during SkillsUSA Week from February 7 through 13.
Inlet Grove chose to promote and build an art and garden learning hub as their project. The garden will provide healthy food choices for the students at the school. The hub will have an 8-foot high tower garden, a panoramic mural, and an outdoor multi-purpose classroom in which teachers can teach outdoors. The space will include paved walkways, raised flower beds and native plant life. Local Lowe’s employees, which served as mentors on the project, will work together with students during each phase of development including planting and maintaining herb and vegetable gardens. The school’s culinary students will also maintain the garden, where they will grow chocolate hot peppers, kale, tomatoes, lettuce, peas, watermelon and more.
It was teacher and special projects coordinator Diane Jacques, who came up with the idea for the rap video. Rakim took it from there and free styled the lyrics. He composed and performed the song, along with a supporting cast. The three minute video was directed by TV Production student Terence Graham, a 16-year old junior known for his directing skills. He even had a premonition about shooting green beans, and it came true. Jacques and his schoolmates said he is a master director. “He’s pretty good at coming up with interesting ways of shooting things,” Jacques said.
Another component of the contest was to promote the project via social media. And that’s where 17-year old senior, Derico D. Jones, Jr., stepped in. As a mere teenager, he already runs his own web design and graphics business, which he started two years ago. After graduation he’s headed to Arizona State University to study Graphic Information Technology. For the contest, he marketed the project on social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, GooglePlus and Instagram.
Non-Diana Emmanuel, a sophomore, was a performer and background singer in the video. She said it was challenging, but worth it. “Your pitch has to be spot on, because if your pitch is off key, it’s not going to flow. It was stressful to a degree, but it was fun,” she added. The students produced the rap song in a professional recording studio, thanks to Jacques’ son, who previously owned a studio. And while most schools sent a straightforward informational video to support their project, Inlet Grove put theirs to a rap beat. It turned out to be a great choice, landing them in the top three nationwide.
Local Lowe’s mentors were also featured in the video, as well as a cameo appearance by the school’s dynamic principal, Dr. Emma Banks.
Banks said it was all in fun, but with serious implications. “I’m extremely proud of my students. They worked hard to distinguish themselves and they did. We are an A-rated school with a 92 percent graduation rate. Nearly 98 percent of our graduates complete college or enter the military, eventually to the top three.