Real Stories

                From Real Educators

Rethinking Immigration: Discussing Cultural Identity through Hip-Hop Music

On January 30th, 2017, New York City Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Farina issued a letter explaining the urgency of protecting immigrant students within our schools. Government-issued travel bans temporarily halted travel of people originating from countries in portions of the Middle East, the Sahel, and Eastern Africa. The ban created a level of suspicion and isolationism that created local, national, and international concern. In the midst of this landscape, discussions about immigrants and celebrating the diversity of our students were emphasized. Chancellor Farina also underscored the need to continue protecting our students and their families.

This conversation explores the music of New York-based emcee Chosan. As a Sierra Leonean artist, Chosan’s music promotes aspects of the culture. It describes his unique experiences as an immigrant to New York City and the struggles surrounding daily life. His music reflects one aspect of what it means to be an immigrant in New York. Yet it is also significant in opening up discussions about some of the challenges of being an immigrant.

Our conversation emerges from other workshops that we have co-facilitated for teachers and students within New York City public schools as well as at Lehman College. In our presentation, we will discuss how cultural identity shapes our students’ lives and how we can talk to them about immigration streams in meaningful ways. The goal of our workshop is to use Chosan’s songs to engender conversations about the importance our knowing our students’ identities and valuing them within our classroom communities.

Dr. Abimbola Kai-Lewis is the Special Education Coordinator at Community Partnership Charter School. She has worked in schools both in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Apart from her teaching experience, Dr. Kai-Lewis is an ethnomusicologist studying African hip-hop music and culture. She completed her dissertation at UCLA on the South African hip-hop collective Cashless Society. She is currently collaborating with New York-based Sierra Leonean emcee Chosan to explore how his music reflects the experiences of local immigrant communities.

Chosan is a Sierra Leonean emcee living in New York City. His albums include The Beautiful Side of Misery, Diamond in the Dirt, and Till I Touch the Sun. Chosan is currently working on his forthcoming project N18, an exploration of his evolution as an artist from his time living in London until the present. In addition to his hip-hop career, Chosan is also a designer for his clothing line, Paint Soul, and works as an advocate for homeless youth.


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