This Local Nonprofit is Making Learning Entertaining

We spoke with the minds behind Reading With a Rapper about student literacy and music.

By DeVaughn Douglas May 19, 2022

After two years of school from home and COVID-19 restrictions, the promise of interactive activities is more than enough to peak the interests of young students who spend most of their time in the virtual realm. To help them become more excited about English and language arts, Houston-based nonprofit Legends Do Live creates educational initiatives focusing on entertainment. 

One of its more popular programs is Reading With a Rapper (RWAR), which tackles gaps in student literacy with popular music. It's the root of a problem that many educators and founders Jarren Small and Douglas Johnson see as one of the biggest obstacles to student achievement.

“When we would visit schools and speak with teachers, the No. 1 problem we saw was students' grasp of reading,” Small says. “The abilities developed in ELAR will affect a student in all subjects across the board.”

The breakdown of lyrics happens over a series of classes that incorporate using a pair of headphones, DJs, projected songs, and an entire course curriculum led by trained educators. Students break down lyrics from various MCs such as Bun B, Rapsody, 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, etc. At the end of the class, students are sometimes surprised by a guest appearance by one of the rappers whose lyrics they have been dissecting.

Small and Johnson have partnered with the Houston Independent School District to create the 2022 Senior Fest. The weeklong event kicked off on Sunday, May 15, and included a citywide all-star basketball game, a three-day forum focused on music, sports, tech, finance, health, and a concert, and will close with a field day block party this weekend. 

“Over the last few decades, there has been a separation between local schools and the communities they serve. Our goal with events like this is to get the community and students engaged,” Small says. “When they are engaged, you can almost immediately see positive results.”

While many of us remember field day as a day of fun and games, Small uses the week to help set up the curriculum for the upcoming school year. He has worked with Houston producer Stoppa and rap legend Bun B to executive produce a mixtape of music that students will be working using in the fall. For Small, the programs are a way to connect with the local community.

The work done by Legends Do Live does not just stop with creating music. It has partnered with Kroger to provide food pantries at local schools, hosted campus cleanup initiatives, given scholarships to teachers, hosted events for Teacher Appreciation Week, renovated teachers’ lounges, and still managed to provide supplemental educational programming for students.

“We’re trying to impact communities around the country,” Small says. “We’re especially trying to help those communities that are underserved, and the core of those communities are the schools.”

Senior Fest week is in full swing and will end with a return to POST Houston for a Fun Day Community Block Party on Sunday, May 22. 

For more information on Legends Do Live, RWAR and Senior Fest or to donate to the organization, visit here.

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