Soul singer Anthony Hamilton was part of the all-star lineup at this year's UNCF: An Evening of Stars, which honors stellar students who have overcome huge obstacles to get their education.
Sharing the stage with Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Erykah Badu and Patti LaBelle, Hamilton was on deck to celebrate some impressive students, including history-making pilot Barrington Irving, the youngest and first black person to fly solo around the world.
Hamilton spoke to The Root about the show, his passion for education and why he thinks some students should think beyond four-year colleges.
The Root: What attracted you to participate in UNCF: An Evening of Stars this year?
Anthony Hamilton: When they called me and asked me if I wanted to be part of it, I said yes because I'm a father and a real stickler for education. My son, Romero, is currently studying at Cal State in Los Angeles. And [the show] was amazing. It was a great group of people and a wonderful group of students. I just like seeing everyone dressed up, looking snazzy. And I am always a big fan of hearing Jill Scott sing, and I love Musiq Soulchild. He's a good friend.
TR: As a musician, how important do you think it is for students to be educated in the arts?
AH: There needs to be a way to gauge kids. There should be testing to see what these kids are more drawn to. Are they more into arts or academics? I know I could have studied a little harder, but a lot of my classes were slightly boring. Math was just … I wasn't really interested in it. I was more interested in health and science. I was into the body, cells, vitamins, nutrients, and of course, I was also into music.
There should be some kind of way to test kids to find out what they are most attracted to and use that knowledge to educate them. From birth, some kids are wired in a certain way, but we force them to learn the same way as other children do. And then they fail, because they are set up to fail. They are really bright kids, but we don't understand how their minds work.
We need a way to detect the best way to teach these kids so we have more kids graduating, staying in school and not feeling so isolated. Sometimes school can make you feel like you're dumb if you're not interested in things that other kids seem to excel in. But I believe that there is a lane for every child.
TR: President Obama, in his State of the Union address, spoke about community colleges and how they can be better utilized. What do you think of alternatives to the four-year college?
AH: Four-year colleges are great if you are going to learn what you need. But if not, it's a waste of money. Not everyone is four-year college material. I wasn't. But I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew the course I needed to take. If you've been in the inner city all your life, some kids need to go off to college or study abroad and come out from under the umbrella because [going away for college] helps you mature. But community colleges are and can be just as effective in teaching.
TR: What are you most passionate about in education?
AH: Right now, it's your passport to get to the next level. Without it, they'll hold you on one level and make it hard for you to get to the next. It's almost like your first job is to get an education. It tells people, "OK, this guy is responsible enough to stay the course. If he can finish school, we can hire him for this job." Education is freedom. Education is power.
Akoto Ofori-Atta is The Root's assistant editor.