What do education and music have in common?
A lot. That is probably why renowned gospel artist Marvin L. Sapp and the Black Alliance for Educational Options decided to team up to increase awareness about the academic choices that parents of young black students have and also produce a moving, spiritual concert that everyone can enjoy.
"The whole gist of the tour is about ensuring that everyone who is anyone in the urban community understand that we don’t have to settle for failing schools, be it charter or public. But we have to stand up and be willing to do what it takes to affect change in the lives of young people who are our future," the BET award-winning artist said.
Sapp has shown his commitment to education, with the recent opening of his public charter school Grand Rapids Ellington Academy of Arts and Technology Charter School (GREAAT).
The school, not quite in its second year, is an arts-integrated middle and high school of the performing arts located in the West Michigan area. It focuses on courses in instrumental music, vocal music, dance, graphic arts and theater arts. It was the brainchild of his deceased wife, Sapp said.
"My wife was passionate about making sure that young people excel and exceed and succeed in the area of education. She was a college professor herself so her passion was for young people to be the very best that they could possibly be," Sapp reminisced. "The fact that she grew up in meager surroundings and struggled … but still was able to … become a professor at the college level speaks volumes as to who she was as an individual. Really what it is, is letting young people know that you may come from challenging circumstances but you don’t have to be a victim of your surroundings. Rise above it and be better."
The gospel artist also sees the bigger picture behind the movement, understanding his own privileged access and how unfair it is to the average individual from a poor community.
"It's about making sure that the urban individual has the same opportunity as the affluent and suburban individual. I’m able to send my children to the best schools because I can afford to but what about that single, unwed mother in the hood?" Sapp said. "What about that couple trying to make ends meet but has to send their child to a failing school? Shouldn’t they have choices? That’s what it really is all about for me."
"Our kids are really struggling in schools, all of the statistics point to a dire situation for our children educationally." Kenneth Campbell, president of the Black Alliance of Educational Options (BAEO), added. "We need to do a lot of things to improve the chances for our kids, but without education we don’t think these things are going to be successful."
One of the answers for both was a multicity tour to raise awareness in quite a few Southern states where schools consistently fall well below national level to promote educational opportunities. An added allure is a free, live performance featuring Sapp and his comedian brother Hen Sapp.
"The 2014 School of Choice Tour With Pastor Marvin Sapp" includes a community discussion about black students' education status and the options available for their parents, who are seeking better opportunities for their children.
And so far it has been working. Both Campbell and Sapp have been pleased with the turnout, having already performed at a few locations when The Root spoke with them.
"People love to hear Pastor Sapp sing but this is an opportunity to not only hear him sing but also hear a very personal message about the importance of parental choice and the work that he’s doing in Grand Rapids," Campbell said.
When BAEO did a similar tour with the singer last year, they entertained and educated about 12,000 people in six cities. This year, the tour has expanded to 11 cities, and their target audience is much, much bigger.
"We increased the number of cities for the tour because ultimately we want to reach more people with our message to inform, inspire and empower parents to mobilize and learn about the value of parental choice in helping to increase achievement for Black students," said Campbell in a press release.
And they both hope to continue their collaboration, and make it even bigger, for as long as necessary.
"Preferably, if everything works out the way that we expect for it to work out, 2015 will be a bigger year," Sapp said.
"This is very important that we take this word to our community," Campbell said. "It doesn’t happen as often as it really needs to."
Members of BAEO, including Campbell and Sapp, will continue to tour the Southern cities for another week. On Saturday they will be in Jacksonville, Fla., before passing through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and closing off next Thursday in Memphis, Tenn.
"We have a situation in the black community that's very unique in that we are really not engaged in many of our states or even on the national level at the level that we need to be in educational reform and parental choice … we’re not at the table," Campbell said. "We hope to bring to our communities … just increased awareness and to point out the fact and raise level of consciousness about … reform and parental choice. Our kids are really struggling in schools. We can’t continue this way. We think this is a crisis."
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.