Community activist Anthony “King” Blackman is using hip hop songs and videos to educate high school students on practical career choices.
Since last year, the founder of Blackman Music Group record label has shared his personal story to promote Miami-Dade Technical Colleges' Career In A Year programs, which provide marketable skills on a fast-track. Blackman says hip-hop music helps him reach young people with the language they speak.
"I use music to shine a positive light on the subject and everything I talk about I know from firsthand experience," said 44-year-old Blackman.
An Alabama native, Black man dropped out of school in the seventh grade, was involved in drugs and gangs and spent five years in prison. He was a 25-year-old man with no job-related skills when he was finally released.
A sales job in Miami provided him with a chance to make ends meet and make a clean break with his tumultuous past.
In 2001, Blackman surrendered his life to Jesus Christ in a Hollywood, Florida hotel room. With newfound faith and music interest, he recorded a gospel album and toured historical Black colleges and universities in the South with the Black collegiate network.
Blackman earned his GED in 2004, graduated from Lindsey Hopkins Technical College and in 2018 founded his own record label, BMGI. He then enrolled in an audio engineer certification program at SAE Institute Miami. Upon completion, he met Luis Diaz, superintendent of Miami Dade Public Schools and offered to speak about his experience in high schools. Within months, the project led to a contract aimed at increasing the enrollment at the seven campuses of Miami Dade Technical College.
The programs Blackman helps promote range from aviation to barbering to web development and digital design. Many do not require a high school diploma or a GED to enter, but high school credentials are necessary in order to qualify for Federal financial aid.
"Students learn by application, these are hand-on trades that you learn as you go and can use immediately to start making money," he noted. "The reality is that in Miami-Dade a black kid with a new four-year degree will start out with a $36,000 annual salary and they can't even live with that. With a vocational program they have a career in less time, earn more, and have no debt."
Blackman was one of nine men who participated in the Circle of Brotherhood’s 22-day hunger strike last year. He is an executive member of the community-based organization and is dedicated to stopping gun violence and creating economic prosperity for the Black community. While Blackman uses a music video portraying the Peacemakers as an introduction to his own talks, students also benefit from guest speakers like Ed Haynes, a member of the Brotherhood and owner of Haynes Security, Inc. which serves a high-profile clientele including Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Metrorail.
"The project's musical approach hooks the kids and transforms a stuffy subject into something hip and exciting," said Haynes who adds that he runs a multi-million dollar company and never earned a college degree, so there’s no recipe to follow.
"Instead of going to college and having thousands of dollars worth of debt, they learn that they can go into a technical trade and start generating revenue immediately.”
In addition to his talks, Blackman has also produced commercials in English and Spanish for the Career-in-a-Year initiative, which are playing on local radio stations and are accessible on social media. A Creole version is also in the works.
Blackman said his project has resulted in a soaring social media engagement and increased number of inquiries.
"I see youth all the time when I'm out and about who remember me from my presentation and hunger strike. They see me as a role model," he said. "When I share my childhood, a lot of students ask me for solutions and through my community relationship I'm able to point them to the services that they need."
"As a black man, my ultimate goal is to help our communities become a decent place to live."