JMBLYA, Dallas' growing gumbo pot of a music festival, is returning this weekend for a second year with an amplified purpose. Marked for last year's appearances by Grammy rivals Kendrick Lamar and Macklemore, this year's lineup boasts a slew of highlights with the likes of Chance the Rapper, RiFF RaFF, Cashmere Cat and DJ Drama.
Outside of the bill's eclectic hip-hop/EDM mix, what's really special about JMBLYA 2014 is its collaborative efforts with local organization Support Our Students. Together, the two are working to open doors for Dallas Independent School District (DISD) students to learn about the music industry. It's a process that started last year and will evolve further this year in the form of a "Student Summit" with local school board and media members.
On the eve of the festivities, DC9 at Night spoke with Support Our Students co-creators Christian Yazdanpanah and Julianna Bradley about JMBLYA's significance, this year's Student Summit, and "one of the dopest student programs out there."
DC9 at Night: First off, what is Support Our Students?
Yazdanpanah: Support Our Students is an organization that Julianna Bradley and I created as a way to organize the youth voice and share it with policymakers. Our emphasis is on ensuring students' voices are part of the educational conversations occurring.
Bradley: Support Our Students is developing a bottom-up approach that builds power from the grassroots level by empowering students to speak for and organize themselves.
How did JMBLYA and Support Our Students initially come to collaborate?
Yazdanpanah: I've known the creators of JMBLYA for years and worked with them to donate tickets to a number of concerts to students who have done well in school and overcome adversity. When I told them I was planning a Student Summit to gather feedback on what was negatively impacting student achievement they told me they were getting ready to announce JMBLYA 2014 and asked me how many tickets I could use. I thought 50 was a pretty big ask so I was pleasantly surprised when they told me to invite more students and they would gave 100 tickets.
What prompted Support Our Students' involvement with JMBLYA's progressive emphasis on direct student involvement?
Yazdanpanah: Last year ... inspired me to focus on creating more experiential learning opportunities and ultimately led to the creation of Support Our Students. Students were excited to meet artists like Kendrick Lamar, but after introducing them to music industry professionals like Scoremore's Sascha Guttfruend and the Observer's Vanessa Quilantan, they were able to see more than just one career path into an industry they really want to be a part of.
Bradley: Christian had standing connections with the folks at Scoremore and we are leveraging those to make this student programming more exciting for the students. ... We want this student summit to resonate deeply with the students who come, for them to be able to celebrate the hard work they will be doing during the summit, and to see that people outside of the realm of education and politics also support their efforts to advocate for their right to a high quality public education.
What is Support our Student's role in the festival and what is your ultimate goal?
Bradley: Ultimately, we want our leadership to reflect the demographics and life experiences of our students, many of whom live in poverty and face multiple barriers to success, and for those concerns to be at the forefront of policy decisions. We hope that Mayor Rawlings and the other community leaders who attend the summit walk away asking themselves how they can continue proactively bringing young people into the conversations about improving our community and for S.O.S. to be a source of student leaders who can help do so.
Why does S.O.S. emphasize the views of students within today's education system?
Yazdanpanah: With a background in marketing, I see it like this: The education system is a huge product, and the consumers of this product are an entire generation of voiceless kids. They hear all of these adults talking about the problems with their generation and how they react to education, but are they being asked for their feedback? No. These kids are experiencing things none of us have any idea about but that's part of what makes them powerful. The power of the youth is undeniable and the sooner it's realized and their voices are heard, the sooner we can empower the change we all talk about. And it happens a lot faster with a big music party at the end.
So how is that reflected in the Summit itself?
Yazdanpanah: At the summit, these students lead their own discussions about issues that they care about. We're just there to provide encouragement. They talk about what's negatively impacting achievement but also discuss possible solutions that could have a positive impact. It's not about pointing the finger of blame, it's about bringing a sense of responsibility that we can all do more.
Bradley: The students coming to the summit are from Adamson, Lincoln, Madison, Roosevelt and South Oak Cliff High Schools, which are some of our lowest performing schools. All the students coming to the summit took part in a listening session on their campus where they started to consider the factors that are negatively impacting student achievement. Many will come fired up to continue that conversation, and will be ready to ask questions directly to the panel of leaders that help steer the district's and city's priorities. In these listening sessions, all students have indicated they are not feeling the benefit of the $1.2 billion operating budget for Dallas ISD. This can be a vehicle that helps ignite change.
Last year rapper Kendrick Lamar spoke with student regarding the importance of hard work and education. Is there an artist that will be speaking with students on similar issues this year?
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Bradley: Unfortunately Chance the Rapper has been ill leading up to this event, and we are awaiting confirmation on whether or not he will be able to participate. We may include other artists but would like him to share his experience volunteering on the Obama campaign.