Activist uses music to connect global culture

Posted at 11:06 AM, Jan 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-30 11:06:46-05

Jimmie Thomas was a college student at Florida A&M University when he received a piece of advice from a professor that would ultimately redirect his course.

Thomas, a Tallahassee, Fl. native, was studying to become a teacher as a way to connect with young people who shared a similar upbringing.

“I thought about it when I was in college, and I realized that I only had one black male teacher growing up from elementary to high school that wasn’t a PE coach,” he said.

That all changed after he signed up for a journalism course and heard the professor tell students that “with one television show, you can reach a million people.”

Thomas took heed.

“When the professor said I could reach a million people with one television show, and then thinking back to when I was going to teach, I would have only been able to reach maybe 160 kids a year," he said.

When the class ended, Thomas set his sights on stepping outside of the classroom to instead use television production to make a difference in his community.

He eventually connected with a fellow student, Jermaine Fletcher, to produce shows for FAMU’s TV station, covering news targeted to young African-Americans and broadcasting interviews with local entertainers.

Not long after graduation, the two decided to revamp their college production ideas to create a venture that would educate people through music.

Curators of Hip Hop was born soon after in 2009.

Curators of Hip Hop documents hip-hop culture internationally through its online platform and documentary film, “The Curators Vol. 1: Story of Independence,” which screens at schools and libraries across the nation. Here in Baltimore, they collaborate with local musicians and also groups such as Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, #SaveADopeBoy and Bmore Than Dance to merge art and activism.

The group works to connect Baltimore-area artists and activists with others doing similar work internationally as a way to help spread their message of positivity to a wider audience. With help from Curators of Hip Hop, artists are able to perform in other cities and speak on panel discussions about their social activism and impact.

“Curators of Hip Hop is important in Baltimore because we connect the community leaders, the artists and the people who represent hip hop culture in a positive light with other people in the city and outside of the city,” he said.

Thomas, now a behavior specialist by day in Montgomery and Anne Arundel Counties, thinks this type of global discussion and creative outlet for area artists is critical. In his line of work, kids from difficult backgrounds lack opportunities for growth and rarely have a voice in the city to impact change. Of his 70 clients, he says, only three had fathers in their lives, a sobering fact that compels him to work even harder to further his mission.

“A lot of people know about physical health, but they forget about the mental health with some of these kids not having a father in their lives and seeing some horrific things as a child, and how it messes them up. My job is to help them get over that,” he said.

With Thomas’ leadership, Curators of Hip Hop has used music to push young people to the forefront, producing a fundraiser show to help Bmore Than Dance secure a new practice space for students. Their documentary will also screen at three Enoch Pratt libraries in February to show kids what it takes to be a musician.

“When you connect with kids on a whole different level, on a whole different frequency, nothing is impossible.”

“The Curators Vol. 1: Story of Independence” screens at the Enoch Pratt Free Library Feb. 2-4, 2016. Click Here for more info.