Hip Learning: an interview wit’ founder Naru Kwina

by The People’s Minister of Information JR

Naru-Kwina-of-Hip-Learning, Hip Learning: an interview wit’ founder Naru Kwina, Culture Currents I have known the artist and teacher Naru from the streets of Oakland for over a decade, and within that time he has never ceased to amaze me with the creative necessity of his community projects to our community. His most recent and probably most important work to date, in my opinion, is Hip Learning, which is a Hip Hop based curriculum on human anatomy for elementary school youth.

After I interviewed Naru for my Wednesday Morning Show, I gave the Hip Learning audio cd to my daughter. And before long, she took to it – actually learning more facts about the structure of the human body than I even knew, which brought me to the conclusion that Hip Learning is a vital tool to be used in the education of young people, especially Black youth. Check out Naru Kwina, the founder of Hip Learning, in his own words …

M.O.I. JR: What inspired you to create Hip Learning? When?

Naru: I was inspired to create Hip Learning about nine years ago in 2003, when I was teaching a first grade science class at Walden School in Berkeley. The children seemed bored and I was looking for a new way to reach them. I heard some of them singing a song they had heard on the radio. I didn’t really like the lyrics, but I was impressed that they had learned about three minutes of repetitive syncopation.

I asked them if I made Hip Hop songs for them about science, would that make class more exciting? They all thought it would be fun but doubted that I could even rap. In fact, they laughed at the thought.

M.O.I. JR: What made you want to integrate Hip Hop into teaching?

Naru-Kwina-of-Hip-Learning-on-stage-w-heart-students, Hip Learning: an interview wit’ founder Naru Kwina, Culture Currents Naru: I have been an emcee since 1979, so it was very easy for me to use Hip Hop in the class. After hearing the children recite the rhymes I made for them back to me with so much excitement and enthusiasm, I knew it would work well in the classroom.

M.O.I. JR: How have people responded to you using Hip Hop to teach youth?

Naru: I have had nothing but fantastic reviews from parents, students and other teachers who use Hip Learning. I have received a “Creative Work Fund” grant to produce the “Hip Science Human Body 101” play and companion CD. I also received a grant from the City Of Oakland Arts Funding Program to produce a companion booklet to the CD. The booklet is a story – part fact, part fiction – about how I started using Hip Learning in the classroom.

M.O.I. JR: How has Hip Learning affected the students who have used the curriculum?

Naru: I believe you would have to ask the student and parent this question, but from my vantage point I see the children become energized when the music comes on, and they are very engaged and focused. They are able to maintain the information longer than if they had just read it in a book. Hip Learning locks in the information.

M.O.I. JR: What do you hope to get out of Hip Learning in the next five years?

Naru-Kwina-of-Hip-Learning-spelling-out-Blood, Hip Learning: an interview wit’ founder Naru Kwina, Culture Currents Naru: I plan to do another CD about space and maybe another one about physics. I am looking for new ways to market and hope to be in all the school science curriculum books in the next two years. It is my desire to get into the Oakland public school system next year “by any means necessary.”

M.O.I. JR: What schools have you worked with so far?

Naru: I have been working at Walden Center and School for about 19 years now. I took a four year break to raise my daughter and develop Hip Learning as well our nonprofit, Alternative Minds Foundation.

I have performed Hip Science at a few small private and charter schools but have yet to break into the public school area in Oakland, although not for lack of trying. I have also performed at Art and Soul, Chabot Space and Science Center, the Temescal Street Fair and the Green Festival, just to name a few.

Naru-Kwina-of-Hip-Learning-on-stage-w-dancing-skeleton, Hip Learning: an interview wit’ founder Naru Kwina, Culture Currents M.O.I. JR: How could people get Hip Learning into their classrooms?

Naru: Just go to my website: http://www.hiplearning.org. You can download the songs, link on to videos, or contact me.

M.O.I. JR: How can people hook up with you?

Naru: They can call me at (510) 842-3324, which is my home-office number or email me at hiplearning@hotmail.com.

Thanks for the interview. It really means a lot to me and the work I want to continue doing for our community.

The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and kpfa.org: The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.