Jo Reed: From the National Endowment for the Arts, This is Art Works, I’m Josephine Reed. This is a Special Back-to-School-Edition of Art Works that explore arts education, hip-hop and how the two can come together to create dynamic classrooms.
My guest is the multi-talented artist, Emmett Phillips, whose passion for poetry, hip-hop, and theater has led him to become a visionary teaching artist.
Emmett Phillips takes us on a journey through the dynamic relationship between spoken word and hip-hop, emphasizing how rhythm and poetry converge to create an art form that has redefined music, culture, and expression. The Des Moines Iowa native is as passionate about the power of arts education as he is about hip-hop. Emmett is an award-winning teaching artist who has also created innovative arts education curriculum that’s been used in Des Moines public schools, by community organizations, and at Iowa State University. It’s a curriculum that has hip-hop at its root--making it accessible, enjoyable, and empowering for students as a mode of self-expression. And he has seen dramatic results both in and out of the classroom.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Emmett Phillips earlier this week, here’s our conversation.
Emmett Phillips: My name is Emmett Saah Phillips Jr. I am an actor, poet, hip-hop artist, and teaching artist located in Des Moines, Iowa.
Jo Reed: And I think we should start with hip-hop because that's where it all started with you, didn't it?
Emmett Phillips: Absolutely, absolutely. Specifically, I started with freestyle rap and battle rap as a middle schooler. Never really thought that I would be doing some of the things I've been able to do with that skill. But yeah, it started as a passion that grew into full-blown work and career. So I'm really, really grateful for hip-hop.
Jo Reed: You've also been really clear about what hip-hop is and what it is not. So expound on that for us.
Emmett Phillips: Yes, hip-hop is a cultural movement that is about uplifting the people, giving a voice to the oppressed, and really creating stylistic ways to showcase who we are, what we stand for, what we care about through different mediums, not only through lyrics, but through graffiti, through dance, through all these different hip-hop expressions. So hip-hop has always resonated with my soul because those are things that excite me and things that make me want to get engaged in my community. Hip-hop is the soul of the community.
Jo Reed: You were in the military. You joined the National Guard as a medic. What led to that decision?
Emmett Phillips: Yes, so as a young artist and creative that was going through middle school and high school, I never really thought that I would go directly into college right after school because I always was like, I need something more adventurous and more dynamic. School is great, but I like to do different things with my time, and I wanted a different experience than what most of my peers were doing. So I remember I had a friend who was interested in the National Guard and kind of put me onto it. And I also had an interest in the medical field, and so I decided to become a medic right out of high school. And that decision really set me up for a lot of the success I have because the discipline and the focus and the drive that I cultivated through the military really helped me as an artist and as an educator. So it was actually a really good gift that I got through being in the military.
Jo Reed: And did you continue with hip hop while you were in the military?
Emmett Phillips: Absolutely, Jo. Absolutely. I went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for basic training, but in my downtime, when I didn't have to do my extra PT, when I didn't have to focus on the next day's challenges, I would be writing raps. I would be focusing on memorizing lyrics. And I actually got an opportunity to perform an original rap that I wrote at a church service that we had because one of the churches on the base was the only place that I saw people get to perform material. So I created a piece, and I had a drummer that was from Chicago that was on the base with me and they drummed for me, and I rapped. And I was like, you know what? I thought I was going to join the military and throw my passions for hip hop and artistry to the side and just focus on this new career path, but it found a way to stay with me. And even after basic training, when I went to my AIT, my Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, I found a way to record on the base there, and I performed in downtown San Antonio while I was going through medic school. So it just never left me. It was the power of the arts.
Jo Reed: You decided to leave the military, and that led you to arts education. Can you tell me about that journey from the military to arts ed?
Emmett Phillips: So I joined the National Guard in order to be able to continue going to school while I was in the military. I started out with a desire to be a medic, but then that kind of matured, and I wanted to become an Army physician. So it was a benefit for me to get into things like ROTC in college so I could get on the officer track so I would have a faster route to become a PA in the Army, a physician's assistant. So while I was in college, I also started volunteering at a Boys and Girls Club, so mind you, I'm military trained now. I'm a hip hop artist since a child so when I started working with children at the Boys and Girls Club for the first time, I had like a desire to start sharing some of the craft I knew while I was working at the Boys and Girls Club. Now granted, I wasn't hired there to like teach the art, but I found a way to sneak it in because I was like, you know, I know these kids will love this. So I used to kind of like mix in some hip hop games and some theater, some drama activities that I created myself into like my daily work schedule there with those kids and I saw how it animated them, I saw how it made them light up. And it became like a really big passion of mine. So while I'm still going through military training, I'm in ROTC now, I'm finishing, you know, I'm working through college, I'm like getting so much fulfillment through teaching art and through doing this volunteering with these kids. So when the government shutdown happened in 2012, I believe, the funding I got for my ROTC scholarship had to be retracted because technically they didn't have it anymore, so they would have to retract the funds and then offer it back to me after the government shutdown was resolved. So there was like a two-week period where my contract was rescinded. I wasn't able to do my ROTC drilling for this time. Honestly, it was a very pivotal moment in my life because I started doing some soul searching and thinking about, well, if they offer me this contract back, do I still want to continue this path or do I want to explore the arts? Do I want to, you know, continue to teach? Do I want to develop this other side of me? And I chose to definitely follow my passion and my heart. So after the shutdown, when they re-offered me my ROTC scholarship, I chose to reject it and pursue working with youth, teaching art and making art, and I've never looked back since.
Jo Reed: You've talked about, how important being a teaching artist is to you, and I'd love you to explore that so much more, not only why it's so important to you, but why it's important to the students and to the larger community as well.
Emmett Phillips: Well, it started first with being an artist myself. So when I was young and first diving into hip hop, which was my first love, I found that first as a listener, because I definitely listened before I started experimenting myself. I was like, okay, these MCs that I'm listening to, the MF Dooms, the Jay-Zs, the Kanye's, I'm like, this art form is not only is it entertaining, it's exciting, and it feels like they're confident. They have a message. They have this positive energy about them, so I was attracted to that, and when I began to start writing my own lyrics, start, start, when I began to start freestyling with my friends, battle rapping, the feeling I felt in the moment was just something that, you know, I just really come and learn to value. I valued that freedom that I got. So I learned that the more I rapped, the more I performed, the more I freestyled with my friends, the more confident I grew. My passion for lyrics made me more passionate about education. I wanted to read more. I wanted to learn more words. I wanted to expand my vocabulary. I wanted to understand what some of these very intelligent rappers were communicating because I didn't know some of the things. So hip hop became like a backdoor Avenue for me to like care a lot more about education period, it made me more hungry for knowledge, I think that is really phenomenal. And then also made me a more confident communicator. I felt like I could speak in front of the class more, which led to performing in front of people. Hip hop just had all these hidden gifts within the art form that really transformed my life. So as a practitioner of the art, all the enjoyment I got out of it, the self-expression, the boost in self-esteem, the ability to connect with others, I saw so much value in that, that it just became a drive for me to transfer that passion to others. So as soon as I became able to get in front of youth and get in front of students and even adults and other artists, I went into teacher mode. I had to share the gift, I had to help people open up those creative channels in themselves because I know what it can do for me. So my hope was that it could do the same for others. And over these years, because I've now been a teaching artist for 11 years, I have seen the transformation take place before my eyes, I've seen students go from the fly on the wall who will never speak or never raise their hand in the classroom to the one that can give a book report and get a round of applause like it's nothing. I've seen people find their voice, I've seen people go from shy to confident, I've seen those transformations happen over so many years and it really just lends so much credence to why it's important for art to be taught and for artists to share their gifts and to multiply the impact of their art by becoming a teaching artist. It has been the most rewarding path that I could have chosen for my life.
Jo Reed: I would think with youth particularly, hip-hop is so much their language, so they must be so open to it, used to hearing it, and being able to, not just be a listener, but to participate in it must be so invigorating for them.
Emmett Phillips: Yes, absolutely. So when I first started teaching youth hip-hop craft, you know, it would stay in the classroom, I would watch them go from, they don't even want me to look at their page or they're not ready to share their stuff even in the small group right in the beginning, but then that grows into they can share in front of a group of 20 kids. And now at the point of after I've done this for a few years. I have youth that I've worked with for several years that have performed in community festivals in front of hundreds of people. Some youth have performed on TV with me in front of many people, you know? So, the level of confidence and growth and joy that I've seen them have is really amazing. And it also teaches them to transcend their limits. Because these are all kids that will start off telling me no, "I'm too shy for that," or no, you know, "I'm going to forget. If I go perform I'm going to forget my lines. Can I bring my paper?" All the little natural anxiety that comes with it. I see them conquer all of this stuff over and over on repeat, so I know the power of teaching arts.
Jo Reed: You have worked with Oak Ridge Neighborhood for quite a while. Can you explain what is Oak Ridge Neighborhood and what is the work that you do there? Who are the kids you work with?
Emmett Phillips: So, I've worked with Oak Ridge Neighborhood for the past four years. And Oak Ridge Neighborhood is a multi-tiered entity, it provides housing for mainly refugee youth and low-income families. They provide English language learning support, they provide adult learning centers, and of course they provide after school care and infant care for youth. So Oak Ridge is a very vast enterprise, and I happen to work with the Youth Department. And within the Youth Department, I teach the arts. So I started a program there called OYEA, which stands for Oak Ridge Young Educated Artists and within that program our youth have created their own plays. They've written them, they've acted in them. And performed in them. They have worked on songs, they've worked on poetry and we also have a DJ program that we just started as well. So, yeah, I'm a teaching artist there, and Oak Ridge is a special community because it does have the largest population of African refugees in our state. So it's a very beautiful mix of culture, talent, and energy, and these young people really reflect that energy and that raw originality that makes working with them on creative projects really exciting and really dynamic. Like you may see in our music video, “Success Is My Protest”.
Jo Reed: “Success is my Protest” is a great music video but before we talk about it. Let’s play an excerpt.
Jo Reed: So that’s a flavor of Success is my protest—we’ll have a link to the full video in the show notes. So, Emmett--How did this video come to be? How do you begin a project with the young people you work with?
Emmett Phillips: Oh wow. Yeah, so particularly with “Success Is My Protest”, so that started due to-- what's really special about that is that project came out of a time where society was going through very, very major shifts. That was in 2020. So we're experiencing COVID full on, and we're also experiencing the protests from George Floyd. So there's just a lot going on in that time and here we are doing summer programming. So I had a friend of mine that I used to mentor as a teaching artist who came in to collaborate with us to do some type of art project that was just a response to the times, and so we all came together and we brought our youth together and we were like, “hey y'all, y'all see what's going on in society right now? You're seeing that there is a lot of energy around justice, a lot of energy around people wanting to be heard, how do y'all want to be heard? What do y'all want to say? How do you want to express yourselves at this time?” And this idea of “Success Is My Protest”, that was kind of like a whisper that I heard as we were brainstorming, because we're all brainstorming ideas and I heard this Success Is My Protest, you know, jingle like a whisper in my mind, and I formed the first four lines of this hook and I rapped it for the kids and I was like, “y'all like this? Does this vision feel like? Does it feel like the moment?” And they were all like, “Yes, let's go!” Then I had students that just started writing with them there and the adults around started helping kids form their pieces of the song. They all just resonated with that message, “Success Is My Protest”. We see the protests going on in the world, but there's also more ways to protest than just being out in the streets, there's more ways to protest than doing things that everyone else is doing. Let's do something our way, let's have our voice being heard in our own way. They have been able to perform it all over the city and I'm really proud of what we were able to accomplish.
Jo Reed: I can see why you would be. Emmett, I’d love to hear one of your own poems.
Emmett, I would love to hear one of your own poems.
Emmett Phillips: Yes, okay. I'd be honored to share. So I'm going to share a piece called “Rise” inspired by Maya Angelou's “Still I Rise”. "I realize we've been lied to. We've been oppressed and deprived, too. But they can't damage what's inside you because like Maya Angelou, we gonna rise too. See, I've been living in this nation through sensory deprivation, cultural appropriation, incarceration, probation, promotion of self-hating, liberty, still waiting to come, police waving they guns, you best be watching your tongue. They even aim at the young. I pray I see 31. When will this evil be done? What have our people become? March to the beat of the drum. What if the drummer is scum? Will you keep dancing or run? A simple question, right? What good is ambition without direction? America lacks affection. See Department of Corrections. If you have some objections, I'm just being objective. I speculate on this prison state and they call me a skeptic. But I'm more like a cop tick just privy to some knowledge. If ignorance is blisters country's happy and agnostic. But on another topic when I turn my focus cosmic and fly over the continent with Confucius in my cockpit, I no longer react. I'm more inclined to watch it and leave it up to God, but she told me that I got this. So I'm gonna do my work here. Day to day and year to year, coast to coast and peer to peer, my mama smiling ear to ear. Keep the faith, leave the fear. Keep it up cause change is near. Keep it up cause change is near, said keep it up cause change is near. Take a stand or even kneel. Talk your shh like key and peel. Show them how you really feel, show them how to keep it real. I realize we've been lied to. We've been oppressed and deprived too. But they can't damage what's inside you cause like Maya Angelou we gonna rise too." Thank you.
Jo Reed: Oh thank you. That's a wonderful poem. Thank you. Can you talk about the relationship between spoken word and hip hop?
Emmett Phillips: That's a wonderful question. To me rap is rhythm and poetry, hip hop is beautiful poetic lyrics over amazing beats,, even over beatboxing. So to me poetry especially spoken word is like the a capella version of hip hop. I know not everyone views it that way, but I certainly do. Sometimes I perform poetry lyrics as hip hop lyrics, to me they're interchangeable. But it's just making the word alive. I was probably a poet before. A rapper, but to me they're really closely related.
Jo Reed: You've created curriculum for public schools, for community organizations, just a lot of curriculum. I wonder what it is you wanted to accomplish with the arts education curriculum that you've developed.
Emmett Phillips: Yes, I've been fortunate to create curriculum that's been used in Des Moines public schools, used with 4-H Polk County and with Iowa State University and my intent has always been to make poetry accessible to people that have never been exposed to it and also make it fun, I feel like if you get introduced to a new concept in a way that you can enjoy, then it has a better chance of sticking and resonating with the audience. So I wanted to take the craft that I've learned and been so passionate about and condense it into small teachable segments so that people even outside of me could lead lessons and hopefully get great results with their students. It's always just to make it fun, make it accessible, and break things down so it doesn't seem so complex. Sometimes if you didn't grow up being a poet or a hip hop artist it can seem daunting to jump in. So I like to take off the fear of it and not make it seem like a giant beast of a thing to have to learn but something that you can take in digestible bites and incorporate into your own psyche over time and activate your inner poet.
Jo Reed: In fact, you received a C21 Impact Grant because of your work in arts education. What is that award and what were you able to do with it?
Emmett Phillips: Yeah, so that award was a grant that was awarded to me based on work I've done, and it was really just a nod to the impact I'm making on my community with my passions. When I received that they were like, Yo! This is for you to invest in your career, invest in what you view as valuable, and that's exactly what I did. I was working on launching my first business at the time. So I used that as investment capital to start “Speak Your Peace” and also to fund events that I threw in the city for the youth and pay artists to perform at some of my events. So I just made the best use out of it as I could, and It really motivated me because I've done so much as an artist without being compensated financially. It was actually really cool to see that people do value the work I've done and even though I didn't do a lot of things for money, it was cool to see financial reward come back in an unexpected way for things that I was doing just out of my heart. So I was really grateful for that at that time.
Jo Reed: I wonder how the work you've done in arts education has enhanced your own creativity.
Emmett Phillips: Oh, that's a wonderful question. Teaching the arts that I engage in from poetry, hip hop to theater has made me a much better performer of those. I think the best way to really demonstrate knowledge of something is to teach it. So being a teacher for as many years as I have has really just sharpened my sword, 'cause I'm an educator that also still performs, I still do plays, I still perform in shows and I teach five days a week. To me, it's just submersing myself in the culture from the student to the practitioner side, it just keeps me enveloped in the art. I really love it. I also get very much inspired by students. Students bring a lot of brilliant ideas out of me and really challenge me to go further and to stay on top of my own game. They push the envelope for me and then I'm able to use my age and expertise to give them some legs up, but they definitely keep me on my toes, they keep the art forms exciting for me. It makes me fall deeper in love with the craft to be able to teach it.
Jo Reed: You also work with the community group called “Culture All” and through your work with them, you and three of your students were the closing artists in the 2022 World Food Prize Ceremony which is a major international award recognizing individuals who have increased the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world. And the ceremony takes place in the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines. That must have been an extraordinary experience for you and for the students
Emmett Phillips: Yes, yes. This event almost brings me to tears. Not only did I get to put my pen to the test and write something that I know would bring honor to all the parties involved, but also create a piece that involved youth to perform at this World Food Prize. I got to write in a little theatrical skit within this poetry performance for the youth that performed with me. I had an elementary school student, a middle school student, and one high school student that got worked into this performance, so they also got to deal with the pressure and also the glory of rising up to perform in front of over 600 world leaders and political figures, and they knocked it out of the park. So really, the fact that they're performing in front of all these people and it's also being televised and they did it without being nervous. They actually brought a level of artistic excellence to it that really blew me away because I would have been happy with anything they did, but the level of the way they executed it actually had me blown away in the moment in real time. I'm watching them like, wow, this is better than we've ever rehearsed, I'm like, this is ridiculous, man, they're good. So all their anxiety and fear, they were able to put that in the back burner and really just rise up and be glorious as I know they are and that motivated me to perform even better as their teacher. So that was one of my favorite moments as an artist personally and also as a teaching artist, because it was just beautiful on all fronts and they earned all those claps and those standing ovations that they got and I was just filled with so much pride for them.
Jo Reed: It was wonderful and yes, it was a huge standing ovation too, in fact. Congratulations to all of you on that. You've said in many interviews that your Liberian heritage is very important to you as is the fact that your parents are immigrants.
Emmett Phillips: Yes.
Jo Reed: I wonder how that's reflected in your work and in the way that you work.
Emmett Phillips: Well, with my parents being both from Liberia and then me being born here, I grew up with basically two cultures. So I always felt connected on a deep level to my African roots but also very connected to growing up in America. And growing up here and understanding the racial landscape and the oppression that my family has to experience being here and that I've had to experience but also having a connection to a homeland. I think it equipped me to navigate through this world, navigate through modern day America with a global sense of unity, so I always felt connected to the whole. I think that that inspired me to want to do work in the spaces of diversity, equity and inclusion with my art as well because I always wanted to tear down some of these barriers because they never felt solid to me, like racial barriers, discrimination. It always felt like a hindrance to humanity, to our growth as a society. So growing up with parents that didn't grow up with overt racism and prejudice in their own homeland and they raised me in a space where some of these things were happening, it equipped me to understand both sides of the picture and to really try to show the love and the unity that to me is so needed in our communities
Jo Reed: You do so much. I'm barely scratching the surface of everything you do. So I really have to ask you, how's that work-life balance working for you?
Emmett Phillips: <laughs> You know what, really I'm honestly still working on figuring out what a work-life balance looks like. That's probably my greatest challenge because I love the work I do, I love doing plays, I love teaching hip-hop. I love performing, I love working with awesome organizations and doing all these different things, but it does have a cost. The energetic cost of this type of work I do is quite high, so I'm actually learning how to let myself relax, how to let myself take time off, how to say no to certain opportunities even though I know I can do them and do them really well. I'm learning to force myself almost to stop because I don't know exactly where this drive comes from, but I have a lot of it, and sometimes I need to park it and reflect and take it easy. I'm working on that myself.
Jo Reed: I'm glad you mentioned theater because I don't want to leave out the fact that you're an actor as well. In February you played Boy Willie in August Wilson's “The Piano Lesson” at the Des Moines Playhouse. Hooray for that.
Emmett Phillips: Thank you.
Jo Reed: Is it a transition for you to go from being a hip-hop artist to having a script and to perform words that aren't yours with a cast and a director?
Emmett Phillips: First, I would say just to kind of bounce off of that last work-life balance question, so taking on that role as Boy Willie in “The Piano Lesson,” my work-life balance was definitely challenged. I had to literally take some time off of work away from the kids because that role was a hefty and serious role and I was about to run myself into the ground doing that. So I did have to take some time off to get that together. Now as far as moving between the art forms, theater, poetry, hip-hop, to me as a performance artist, they're just different veins of the same river to me. It's just like a different hat. It's more challenging for me to take on a script because it is easier for me to conjure up my own words and do that, that's easier for me, but I do have a passion for storytelling. They don't always have to be my own stories that I've written. When people like August Wilson or Lorraine Hansberry write brilliant things, then I challenge myself to adopt their words and also put my own spin on how they're presented and I rise up to that occasion. It is very hard for me, it's hard for my brain, I could freestyle or make something up on the spot easier than I could memorize something. But for certain stories, like the piano lesson, I think it's well worth the challenge and I love putting myself through the work, through the hard work that it takes to take that script and get it into my body so it's not just in my head and then be able to live that on the stage. It was very hard work, but I loved it and I loved the process of it.
Jo Reed: I wonder what traits you think a teaching artist has to have. What do you think they need to bring into that room when they're dealing with young people?
Emmett Phillips: First, enthusiasm. You have to be excited about your art form, you have to be excited about the fact that you are entrusted with guiding these youth into a deeper creative relationship with themselves. Enthusiasm is super important, and I think that if you lead with that, then it makes everything else a lot easier. I would say you have to have some talent, you have to have some talent. With young people, I think it helps for them to see their teacher be able to demonstrate the art form that they're teaching, so for me as a teaching artist, it's cool that I can show kids videos of me performing on TV or performing at festivals so they're like, oh, okay, so this person really does this. I should listen to them. It helps to build that credibility through just showing and proving your talent and even performing in front of them or doing whatever you're asking them to do, a great teaching artist has to be willing to do the silly game or do the monologue or perform the poem in front of their kids at any given time just to show them that you're willing to do the same work they are. And then also, I would say patience. The creative process is a very sensitive thing, you don't want to rush it, you don't want to come down hard on a young person who's budding in their creative process, so patience and delicacy is also really needed. People are going to stumble. People are going to have anxiety, people are going to have many challenges when they're first starting, so you have to be very delicate and caring to be an effective teaching artist as well.
Jo Reed: Why do you think hip-hop is such a good art form to bring to arts education?
Emmett Phillips: I would say hip-hop: It's definitely a language that they understand, it's dynamic, it has space for very different personalities. If I named off five of my favorite rappers, they're all very different minds, different voices, different tones, and I think that that reflects what diversity is. That reflects what a classroom might look like. In hip-hop, you could be yourself, you can genuinely be yourself and it's okay. There's a place for you no matter how quirky you are, what language is your first language? It doesn't matter. That's what I always loved about hip-hop. It's malleable enough for pretty much any type of personality. And also, I think it's genuinely fun, I find it to be something enjoyable, I love to play with rhymes. I love creative metaphors. I love the imagery that people can do, the storytelling. I think it's just such a dynamic tool , so organizations I work with like Hip-Hop here in Des Moines have really captivated the heart of youth engaging in hip-hop because not only does it make you a better speaker or more confident in yourself, it'll make you get into entrepreneurship. It'll make you want to sell your t-shirts, it'll make you want to record and put your records out. It'll make you want to do more than just the art form itself. Hip-hop is such an engine, it's like a source of energy that anyone can access and it inspires you to want to create and want to move and be with the people. It's a people's movement.
Jo Reed: Okay, here’s the hard question. What do you see for you in the years ahead, like in the next five years?
Emmett Phillips: In the next five years, I see myself as an international teaching artist with curriculum in all 50 states and also abroad, and I see myself putting on leading full productions, devised theater productions, which would mean productions with a little poetry, hip-hop, and theater mixed in. That's actually my favorite thing to do is mix my favorite crafts together and have youth and professional artists perform together and put on magnificent shows and leave curriculum everywhere I go. That would be my ideal reality in five years.
Jo Reed: Well, Emmett, this is a good place to leave it. Thank you so much. And thank you for all the work that you do.
Emmett Phillips: I appreciate it very much. It was a pleasure to be on this platform. Thank you for an excellent interview.
Jo Reed: Oh, thank you.
That was actor, poet, hip-hop artist, and teaching artist Emmett Phillips. We also heard the Children of Oakridge Neighborhood in an excerpt of their video “Success is my Protest.” We’ll have a link to it all in our shownotes.
We’re taking a two-week break—but Art Works will return with new episodes on Tuesday Sept 5. Enjoy the end of summer and follow us wherever you get your podcasts—leave a rating! It helps!
For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.
Emmett Phillips is a hip-hop artist, actor, poet, and teaching artist based in Des Moines, Iowa. In this podcast, Phillips shares his journey from his early days in hip-hop through his time in the military to becoming a teaching artist who empowers youth through the arts, specifically hip-hop. He discusses hip-hop as a cultural movement that uplifts people, amplifies the voices of the oppressed, and expresses ideas and values with creativity and style. He also talks about his personal growth through hip-hop and how it inspired him to become a teaching artist, helping students find their voices and build confidence.
Phillips describes his work at Oakridge Neighborhood, a multifaceted community organization where he has infused hip-hop into the art program. He details the creation of the music video made by the Children of Oakridge Neighborhood “Success is my Protest,” describing the collaborative process by which it was made and how the project empowered the young people. He also details his work in arts education, creating curriculum for public schools, community organizations, and universities, and the role of arts education in empowering youth, building confidence, and fostering positive change within communities. Overall, Emmett Phillips's work highlights the demonstrable power of arts education, the creative exuberance of hip-hop, and how the two can come together to create dynamic classrooms.