As the House’s inaugural Hip Hop Education Community Connector, Marcus Singleton is doing what he loves most: engaging with students through Hip Hop; helping them to explore who they are and who they aspire to be; fostering a sense of belonging; and striving for meaningful change.
Spend two minutes with scholar, educator and Hip Hop artist Marcus Singleton (a.k.a iomos marad) and you’ll realize this man is a deeply compassionate thinker, both grounded and energized by a view of life that values reciprocity, sharing experiences, exchanging ideas, building community and working toward social justice.
In his cohesive and compelling vision, education is not the kind where lessons are a one-way knowledge deposit from teacher to student, but instead, where individuals gain wisdom from each other. Key to this philosophy is Marcus’ infusion of Hip Hop – the fifth element of which is knowledge of self – into education, which proves an apparent and imperative fit. He demonstrates how education stands to be profoundly enriched by Hip Hop.
With an inspiring generosity of spirit, Marcus brings all of this, and much more, to his new role as the inaugural Hip Hop Education Community Connector at Hart House, which began last term.
“My work at Hart House is a continuation of my learning,” he says, underscoring the importance of Hip Hop in this personal journey. He was drawn to this movement “because it was very conscious, very conscientious, not concerned about consumerism. It was about the issues in education, in communities, especially those that are marginalized.”
Marcus suspects most people associate Hip Hop with performance, deejaying, graffiti art, break dancing (“kids spinning on their heads”) but it’s more than that. “‘Hip’ means to know, and ‘Hop’ means to move or spring up into action. So, the more you become aware and knowledgeable, the more you want to create change,” he explains. In this way, Hip Hop is – or promises to be ‒ integral to both social justice and education.
“Real Hip Hop allows you to be comfortable in your own skin and express your voice. Whether you’re a kid from the suburbs, or a kid from Jane and Finch, it allows you to be yourself,” he says.
His ideas around equity began to take shape in 2009. A trip to South Africa with Seth Naicker (Heita South Africa) had a lasting effect on him. “That's when I learned about social justice. We met with activists working with Nelson Mandela, Steven Biko and Desmond Tutu. That transformed my life. I really wanted to do that type of work.”
This is precisely the type of work he sees being undertaken at Hart House. “The House is a perfect fit for me because the people there think outside of the box,” he states. “The Hip Hop Education Program is ahead of its time.”
He was first introduced to the House when he taught a Hip Hop writing workshop. “Shout out to Danielle Dinunzio, Coordinator, Access and Community Engagement! She took a chance on me, someone from the States, not even Canadian. That meant a lot.”
Marcus was equally impressed with Humanz of Hip Hop: A Human Library, organized by Hart House and UTSC Department of Student Life in 2020. “They had actual human beings become ‘books.’ People could come in and choose what book they wanted. I was one of the books! To me, that was mind-blowing ... After that, I thought, I gotta work at Hart House!”
He believes his ideas and those of the House align perfectly. “We’re on the same page when it comes to Hip Hop and the approach to education, reimagining how communities can come together, engage in conversation and move toward creating change,” he explains. “I've always seen myself as somebody who tries to think differently, to reimagine the classroom, to reimagine curriculum.”
He says about his role as Hip Hop Education Community Connector: “I love it. I was telling my wife: this position is tailor made for me. I'm in Hip Hop heaven right now!”
Community Building is What Interested Him Most about the New Role
Marcus comes to life when connecting with others. “I love building community. I'm from the South Side of Chicago. Even though the perception of Chicago is hyper violent, there’s always a sense of community there, right?
“That's the best part of this Hart House position: Engaging with people, being in conversation with them. How’re you doing? How’re you feeling? I like getting to know people and what they're going through. As human beings, we need that interaction. Hart House is about connecting communities and connecting students.”
He particularly enjoys working with the team. “The staff is amazing. They mean so much to me. I can't put it into words.” Working closely with Zoe Dille, Manager, Learning and Community; Marco Adamovic, Program Coordinator; Michelle Brownrigg, Senior Director, Co-Curricular Education & Chief Program Officer; and students Kayja Edwards and Randy Ali, he says, “I'm learning so much from them. They add to my understanding of the work that I want to do. They give me foresight to what I can do in the future.”
Much Accomplished in a Few Months
Marcus has already undertaken a great deal. His calendar is fully booked. He regularly hosts Hip Hop Education Community Connector Chats, virtual drop-in sessions ‒ organic conversations to share, learn and grow.
Earlier in February 2022, he was a guest on Producers’ Circle, a collaboration between Hip Hop Education and the Hart House Student Music Committee. “Marco organizes these events where people come, display their beats, and discuss production and recording. Some participants are medical or psychology students involved the Hip Hop on the side. It's amazing to hear the music they're doing!”
Twice this month, on February 10 and 24, he will be a guest speaker at a BEE event. The Brotherhood of Ethnic Excellence, or BEE, is a Hart House Youth Advisory program building stronger connections between Hart House, University of Toronto (U of T) campuses and young Black men in Grades 9 to 12.
On March 8, 2022, Marcus will participate in a program, co-presented by Hart House and Fresh, Bold, and So Def at the Universal Hip Hop Museum: Women in Hip Hop: Erasure, Trailblazers and Place-makers with curator/archivist/educator Martha Diaz; DJ Lynnée Denise, Professor and Black Music scholar; moderated by Dr. Francesca D’Amico-Cuthbert, Department of Historical Studies, University of Toronto Mississauga.
Social Justice Possible via Education
Education is key; Marcus sees the Canadian Hip Hop scene influencing culture and social justice primarily through education. “The more we get scholars talking about the knowledge-of-self aspect and the more we get young people knowing the history of Hip Hop, the better; the more we can lean toward social justice and see a change.”
Marcus will be guest lecturing for Dr. Andrew Campbell's Introduction to Black Education Studies class at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) on March 29, 2022.
He sees his efforts in education dovetailing with the work of Dr. Francesca D’Amico-Cuthbert and Mark Campbell, Assistant Professor, Department of Arts, Culture and Media at U of T Scarborough. “Their work is shedding light on the historical context of Canadian Hip Hop in a way that adds to social justice movements.”
Marcus is also fully immersed in the scholarship and activism of academic counterparts on a global scale, citing the work of Ohio State University Professor Jay Ross, who has a Hip Hop Program; Columbia University Professor Christopher Emdin, who oversees a Hip Hop education team; and University of Illinois Chicago Professor David Stovall, who teaches Black Studies.
A Scholar to Watch
If you have a sense that Marcus’ star is just beginning to rise, you’d be spot on. A scholar to watch, he is currently working on his PhD on Hip Hop pedagogy within Black Studies at OISE, under the supervision of rosalind hampton, Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Justice Education. His PhD is about creating space for Black students to have autonomy of their own learning, being able to express their own stories, especially if they're in oppressive learning spaces.
To learn more about Marcus’ role at Hart House, to which the House is deeply committed, visit his profile. He also has his own podcast series: Boom Bap Chat | Everybody's Hip-Hop Label, which airs every Thursday night at 10pm (est). (This sample is from Educators Night.) For more on Marcus, see the video that U of T’s Lisa Lightbourn produced in 2020. Also, OISE’s Perry King penned a stellar article on Marcus in 2019.
See what's happening with Hart House Hip Hop Education today.