kelvin-jennings_web.jpgKelvin Jennings’ persistence paid off.

When the Jacksonville middle school student needed to sell his last four rap CDs, he knocked on Nanciann Regalado’s door, and waited until someone answered.

Regalado said she was initially reluctant to answer the door for a hooded stranger after dark. But she had a feeling she should talk to him, anyway, so she did.

After listening to Jennings’ sales pitch, she not only felt compelled to buy the CDs, but also to listen to them. What she heard impressed her so much that she set out to find Jennings, and to offer whatever assistance she could.

The nature lover’s purchase of Jennings’ self-created CD was the catalyst for a new DVD that fuses his passion for rapping and her affinity for the Everglades. The result, “To the Everglades,” is a music video that touts the beauty of the natural habitat and the importance of its preservation.

The production describes Jennings’ and two other young people’s impressions of their first trip to Everglades National Park.

The students, including Jennings, Quinterius Cameron, Shawn Cameron, their mentor, Travis Pinckney and guest artist rapper Carl Duckworth (C-Note) composed the music and lyrics. The song was recorded at Sonshine Communications, a public relations and marketing firm in North Miami Beach. 

The finished product debuted on Tuesday, May 18, at Paxon Middle School in Jacksonville as part of the school’s Eco Awareness and Career Fair. It is now available for viewing on YouTube and at the Everglades’ website.

“With this music video, we hope to reach out, inform and engage urban youth in learning about the environment and the importance of Everglades restoration,” said Regalado, the program manager for strategic communication and outreach for the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District. “The Corps is reaching out through the universal language of music to bring the Everglades to a whole new part of the community.”

Jennings had no idea that his diligence, sales savvy and the positive messages on his rap CD made a deep impression on Regalado, who eventually tracked him down at his school.

“A few months [after he sold her the CDs], I wasn’t expecting her to call me. She called the school looking for me,” Jennings said.

His suggestion that she give the CDs to youth “hanging out on a corner” really stayed with Regalado, who said the content of Jennings‘ CD stopped her in her tracks.

“I was amazed at what I was hearing. It was this young man’s story. All good, positive stuff, but by the sixth track, he’s got a song on there that’s called ‘My Daddy Ain’t Alive,’ and so by halfway through the sixth track, I’m crying,” she said. “And by the last track, which is called ‘Heart of a Champion,’ I was just so moved by it that I said, ‘I’ve got to get in touch with this young man to thank him and encourage him.’”

The idea to have youth rap about Everglades preservation seemed the natural thing to do, said Regalado, whose job involves introducing the environment to socially and economically disadvantaged segments of society. She said that aside from giving the youth reading material about the Everglades, the Corps had no other involvement with the video’s content.

“We intentionally tried not to influence them in any way,” she said.

Regalado and her Corps colleagues took the youth on a trip to the Everglades in April, where they toured the national park, learned about its wildlife and canoed along its alligator-populated waters.

Jennings, 14, said the trip had a big impact on him, and helped dispel myths that the wilderness is a frightening place with dangerous animals intent on attacking humans.

“I thought it was going to be bad, animals [were] going to be all out,” he said, adding that now, “I can’t wait to go back. It was fun.”

Fun is definitely a part of the music video. On it, Jennings and his friends dance and rap about the Everglades. Each youth wrote his own lyrics, touting respect for the environment and the importance of preservation.

Regalado said that another key purpose for exposing the youth to the Everglades is to introduce them to the numerous career opportunities available in the wilderness industry. Nearly every career available in the “regular” world has its counterpart in the wilderness industry, Regalado said, including, but not limited to, lawyers, accountants, law enforcement personnel and architects.

Jennings said he dreams of a career as a rapper, performing positive songs on popular awards shows. If that doesn’t work out, he said, he’d like to become an architect.

Photo courtesy of Sonshine Communications. Kelvin Jennings