langston-league langston-league
Courtesy of Langston League

Langston League Aims To Form New Coalition Of Black Male Scholars From Creative Writing To Technology

With a central focus on educating black and brown male students in the fields of creative writing to technology, Langston League presents an updated curriculum that’ll help kids learn at their own pace.

On the steps of Langston Hughes’ abandoned Harlem-based home grew a new idea that will change the course of a young black man’s future. Erica Buddington, an educator and scholar from New York, sat on those steps of the famed poet’s home everyday for lunch, alone, with her thoughts on how to make kids love to learn again. One day while enjoying her afternoon meal, an unnamed caretaker of Hughes’ 127th and 5th Avenue property interrupted her routine. After noticing Buddington’s daily pattern for quite some time, he asked her if she’d like to see inside of the historic building, which hasn’t been opened for years. She swiftly obliged, not knowing that her curiosity would act as a catalyst in fufilling her dreams. As she marveled at the decoration and inner structure of Hughes’ abode, an image began to project in her mind with every step she took.

“I don’t know how or why this began to happen in my mind, but I just started seeing little boys running around with notebooks and doing creative writing with letterman jackets,” the Hampton University graduate said. “As I walked out, I called my friend and I told her about the experience. I said, ‘I can’t wait until I can start a school that’s like a league of little Langstons.’ And she said, ‘You should call it the Langston League.’”

Courtesy of Langston League

With a central focus on educating black and brown boys in the fields of creative writing to technology this summer (July 25-29), Langston League presents an updated curriculum that helps kids learn at their own pace and on subjects that actually interest them. With outlets that’ll analyze lyrics from hip-hop’s more pensive artists like J. Cole, to how the genre correlates to movements within the country like the Black Lives Matter organization, Langston League marries “cultural relevancy” to real-life topics without neglecting the National Common Core standards that aide in preparation for state testing.

Under the theme “Renaissance & Revolution,” young scholars will also sharpen their comprehension and analytical skills through historic passages from Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists/artists, receive a course on how to use and eventually master Photoshop, Illustrator and Final Cut Pro, and to critically dissect lyrics from today’s top rappers that’ll probably make Genius take their crowdsourcing talents to the classroom.

“It’s very rare that you walk into an organization that has a National Common Core background, an educative background and who understands the different learning styles in the classroom, and also is able to build a bridge with the cultural relevancy because they were immersed at one point in hip-hop, poetry, the arts and are young enough to appreciate the things that the kids are interested in as well,” Buddington said.

Garnering over seven years of educational experience, Buddington studied the behavioral practices of students from her time at Harlem Children’s Zone as their Manager of Agency Curriculum, and how her syllabus could help change their mindset in terms of retaining information.

Courtesy of Langston League

“I realized that a lot of the students that we’re categorizing with cognitive disabilities or IEP’s, which is an individualized education plan for students. Some of these students have experiences trauma or things going on, where they’re developmentally delayed or they can’t focus in class. It’s really a lot bigger than we think it is,” she said. “You’re in a classroom where 30 to 60 percent of your kids have these issues. They have to be catered to in a different way. I had to start amending the curriculum, to get them to retain the information. We used amalgamated Common Core with hip-hop, spoken word, performance art, and/or graphic design and technology within the classroom. To get them to retain, I had to utilize all of these things.”

Fredrick Salyers, a Morehouse graduate and creative consultant at Langston League, also played a pivotal role in piecing together the one-of-a-kind curriculum, which has seen much progress at Excellence Boys, a charter school based in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

Courtesy of Langston League

“We’ve already started teaching and trying to understand the best type of way to present lyricism in the classroom, connecting it or draping it over common core standards so the kids are also learning how to practice reading comprehension,” Salyers said. “To write and use evidence in their responses. To make sure they’re finding ways to become better professional communicators, readers, writers, and thinkers. Our curriculum is different because we’re presenting them with culturally relevant information, but we’re doing it for all types of learners.”

What also makes the venture stand out is the racial makeup of their staff. Comprised of all black men from the classroom to the boardroom, Langston League seeks to combat a recent statistic that states less than two percent of black men are teachers.

Salyars posed the question, ‘Why don’t we make sure that there are men in these classrooms?’ and stated the everlasting impact that a black male teacher can have on their students. “Some of the populations that we serve especially black men, need to see other black men instructing their education and their learning. I think that really helps them as a role model and something to aspire to.” Within the application, Salyers and Buddington created the Superman Clause which calls for a young boy to select a mentor of his choice, whether that be his father, cousin, brother, church member, or one of the League’s educators. “We definitely don’t want it to be another way in which education is sometimes a barrier between communities or families because not everyone has the same access,” he said. “We want the family to learn together.”

In an effort to help these students get a jumpstart in other areas of the arts, Langston League will focus on becoming familiar with design programs. Buddington said she didn’t have that opportunity when she was in middle school, but through Langston League she can provide her students with an experience that can alter their career path.

“I was raised out in Long Island and I had friends who went to white schools in neighboring places and they had Photoshop 101 in middle school. They had coding classes when they were in sixth or seventh grade and I had no idea what these things were until I was in high school,” she revealed. “It gives them that one-up. They’re able to be immersed in the tech aspect a lot earlier and know that they have more options. The reality is that they have so many more avenues when it comes to the arts and with their agility and ability they can definitely do way more. They just need to know about it earlier.”

Like how the spirit of Langston Hughes probably flowed through Buddington that day she stepped inside his house, the HBCU grads hope their students will be covered in his genius just the same.

“We want our students that go through Langston League to really walk out not with just a greater knowledge of the things that we’re exposing them to,” Salyers said, “but also a zest to learn and a love and understanding and a respect for what it means to have an education.”

Courtesy of Langston League

To donate and find out more information about Langston League, visit their website here. Applications will go up on their site, on June 20. Their six week program will commence with selected schools, in the fall.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Mike Coppola

The Cast Of 'SHAFT' Talk Family Traditions, Power And The Film's Legacy

Back in 1971, Richard Roundtree became the face of the legendary crime/blaxploitation film SHAFT. His influence in the role paved the way for a new generation of black detectives filled with a gluttonous amount of swag, clever one-liners, and action-packed scenes. Samuel L. Jackson followed suit in the franchise’s 2000 installment as he took over the streets of Uptown Manhattan and Harlem filling in for Roundtree’s original character.

Fast forward to 2019, and SHAFT’s legacy has risen to higher heights, incorporating Roundtree and Jackson together with an extension of their detective prowess. Director Tim Story created a familial driven movie centered around three different generations of SHAFT men. Roundtree plays the grandfather; Jackson plays the dad—and Jessie T. Usher plays the son. All three embark on a mission that’s laced with dirty politics, Islamophobia, and highflying action in efforts to solve a seemingly homicidal death.

The dynamics between all three are hilarious and dotted with lessons learned from past paternal influences. On a recent sunny Friday afternoon at Harlem's Red Rooster, the trio shared some of the traditions and virtues the paternal figures in real life have taught them. Most of the influence passed down to them was centered on working hard.

“People say to me, ‘Why do you work so much?’” Jackson said. “Well, all the grown people went to work every day when I got up. I figured that’s what we’re supposed to be doing—get up, pay a bill, and take care of everything that’s supposed to be taken care of.”

“For my family, it was cleanliness and masculinity,” Usher added. “The guys in my family were always well put together, very responsible especially my dad.”

In spite of the SHAFT men's power, the film's story wouldn’t be what it is without Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp’s characters. They both play strong women caught in the middle of the mayhem created by the men they care about. Both are conscious of the power they exhibit as black women off and on screen, yet are aware of the dichotomy of how that strength is perceived in the world.

“It’s very interesting because I think a lot of times as powerful black women we are seen as angry black women,” Shipp says. “So it’s hard to have that voice and that opinion because a lot of times when we voice it; it becomes a negative rather than a positive. In order to hold that power, it has to be poised. It has to be with grace, I think there is strength in a strong but graceful black woman.”

“People have an idea of what strength is and how you do it and sometimes it’s the subtleties,” Regina adds. “Sometimes our influence is so powerful and it doesn’t always have to be loud I think a lot of times how we navigate is with conviction and patience.”

VIBE chatted with the cast of SHAFT about holding power, their red flags when it comes to dating, and why the SHAFT legacy continues to live on. Watch the interviews below.

Continue Reading
Sony Music

Meet Zhavia, The Musician Who Refuses To Be Boxed In

If you haven’t heard of Zhavia before, that will likely change very, very soon.

The 18-year-old Columbia Records signee is readying her first major EP 17, which is scheduled for June 14. A native of the Golden State, Zhavia catapulted to national consciousness after making it to the top four of the inaugural season of FOX’s singing competition, The Four, which features Diddy and DJ Khaled as judges. Since then, she continues to rise and tantalize audiences with her powerful, chill-inducing vocals.

The singer-songwriter—who tells VIBE she’s hopeful that her forthcoming EP will be “inspiring” to her ever-growing fanbase—dropped the project’s latest single “17” on May 31. Produced by hip-hop hitmaker Hit-Boy and co-written by RØMANS, Zhavia explains that the retrospective song is more personal than her previously-released tracks, such as the trap-tickled “100 Ways” and “Candlelight,” the stand-out single that showcases the vocal prowess of the petite blonde ingenue.

"’17’ is a song that I wrote about my life story, and how I got to where I am right now,” she says. The track details hardships such as a lack of resources to thrive in her childhood home and staying in a motel in order to accomplish her musical goals. “I just wanted it to be something that [fans] can relate to, whatever it is that they're going through.”

“I saw it in my dreams, I knew that life would change for me,” she croons on the new single. “This is reality, look at me now.”

Zhavia’s humble beginnings start in Norwalk, Calif., as a daughter of two musicians who introduced her to numerous genres. In fact, her mother was a member of a metal band called Xenoterra, and Zhavia’s impressively-versatile vocal range could be attributed to this Chex Mix bag of sonic stylings.

“From doo-wop to punk to R&B, metal, rock...” she says, listing of the types of music she was brought up on, which helped her in honing a unique style. Her own tunes feature an R&B and hip-hop flair and sprinkles touches of other genres throughout, in order for her to remain true to her roots.

“I feel like for the most part, [my music will] always have that R&B feel to it, but I'm always gonna have a lot of different vibes for people to pick and choose what they like,” she explains.

Zhavia's urban-tinged musical affinity was palpable during her time on The Four, where she put her spin on hits such as French Montana and Swae Lee’s “Unforgettable” and Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.” Although she was unanimously selected by the show’s four celebrity judges to advance after a stellar first-round performance of Khalid’s “Location,” she admits she initially wasn’t planning to compete.

“When I was younger, I had wanted to go on a [singing] show, but I had made up my mind. ‘I'm gonna try to do it myself,’” she chuckles. “But, the people that were having auditions, they happened to be at the studio that I was recording at when I was making my own songs. My manager told me, 'Just go sing for them.'”

After showing off her impressive pipes, she was convinced to join the show, and was further influenced to compete after discovering that The Four appeared to focus on R&B and hip-hop-leaning artists.

“I was like, 'Okay, that sounds like me, they'll probably accept the style of music that I do,'” she continues. “I feel like on other singing shows, it's a little more pop, or towards the pop genre. Also, the panel that they had [DJ Khaled, Diddy, Meghan Trainor and Charlie Walk] seemed really relevant, and I could tell it was legit. I figured I'd just try it out, and it led me to where I am now.”

Since placing fourth on the show, Zhavia has proven that her star power was built to last longer than 15 minutes. Other than her forthcoming EP’s release, her gifts have found her among the company of some big names. She can be heard on the soundtrack for Deadpool 2 in the song “Welcome To The Party” with Diplo, French Montana and Lil Pump. Recently, moviegoers were treated to her rendition of the Disney classic “A Whole New World” with Zayn Malik, for the live-action version of Aladdin, which plays during the film’s end credits.

“I think it's been amazing, and it's definitely a lot of exposure that comes in a unique way,” she says of working on big projects with even bigger industry names. She continues by stating that she’s had a blast “putting her own twist” on songs she didn’t pen and doing material “totally different from what [she] would normally do.”

The pressures of Hollywood and the entertainment industry could be difficult on anyone, however, young stars under the U.S. legal age in the limelight may find themselves succumbing to various pressures, temptations and burnout. For Zhavia, she makes sure to keep a level head and a positive attitude in order to persevere in the industry as she matures.

“I feel like it's not that hard to stay focused, because I've wanted to do this my whole life,” she says affirmatively. “It's what I live for. For me, one of my number one priorities besides my family is music. I don't really go out, I don't party, I don't do none of that. I just work! [Laughs] I think for me, it's just focusing on myself and what I wanna do, and what I wanna get done.” She’s also hoping to keep surprising people throughout her career by coming up with genre-bending songs that show off her style, personality and abilities. Let her do her, and watch her as she goes.

“I'm not gonna be put in a box to do just one type of music or one style of song,” Zhavia affirms. “I don't want people to get used to one thing, you know? That's kind of a hard thing to express to the world. I feel like it comes with me coming up with more music, and to keep creating music for people to listen to and get to know me.”

Continue Reading
Mad Connects PR

Case Gets Candid About 'Therapy' Album And Revisits 'Personal Conversation' For Its 20th Anniversary

Today's R&B landscape may be dominated by street-wise crooners with a gritty background, but in the latter half of the '90s, Case was among the first to carry that flag. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York City, Case caught his big break after being discovered by Russell Simmons, inking a deal with Def Jam Records and releasing his self-titled 1996 debut album. Boasting the Foxy Brown and Mary J. Blige-assisted hit single "Touch Me, Tease Me,” Case established the singer as one of the promising new stars in R&B.

Continuing his success with his sophomore album Personal Conversation, and his 2001 effort Open Letter, Case would take a sabbatical from the industry before returning as an independent artist with his fourth album, The Rose Experience. With two additional solo albums under his belt (Here, My Love, and Heaven's Door), Case unveils Therapy, his first full-length project in three years. Featuring appearances from Teddy Riley, Tank, Slim of 112, Floacist, Misha Fair, Alexis Renee, and Teraye, Therapy finds Case addressing matters of the heart and delivering what may be the most transparent album of his career.

VIBE hopped on the phone with Case to get the scoop on his latest album, his thoughts on the “king of R&B” debate, and reminisce through memories of his sophomore album Personal Conversation, ahead of its 20th anniversary.

VIBE: How has the reception been to your seventh studio album, Therapy? Case: It's been good actually. I didn't know how it was gonna be because I wanted to do something different on this album. Since it's been out, it's been doing good. "Make Love" had a real good reception and now the second single, "You," is starting to get out there now, so I'm happy with it.

What was the inspiration behind the project’s title? For me, music is therapy. It's a way for me to get feelings out, talk about things. It's a form of therapy for me, so I think everybody needs that.

This has been praised as one of your more personal bodies of work thus far. What situations or moments in your life inspired the content on this album? Everything on the album is dealing with stuff that I’ve been dealing with, stuff that people that's close to me [have] been dealing with over the past couple of years. So I just wanted to talk about it.

Are they any moments you can pinpoint to or a breakup that provided any inspiration? It wasn't nothing like that. It was just stuff with me and my wife, situations that I had been dealing with. I actually talked about some of that stuff on [TV One] Unsung. It's not necessarily a breakup, it's just trying to get through things, work through things.

The album's lead-single "Make Love" features an appearance from Tank and Teddy Riley. How did that song come to life? For that song, I went to Teddy's house and he was talking and he was like, 'Yo, remember that conversation we had in the club a couple of years ago?' I had told him about wanting to make the sound that I wanted to go for. I had forgotten we had that conversation, but he remembered and he was like, "I made this song based off our conversation." And he started playing me the track and I was like, "That's pretty much exactly it." We recorded that and then when I was done, I was like, "Tank would be perfect for this." So I hit him up and we knocked it out.

Another song from the album that stands out is "You," which is a duet with Slim of 112. What sparked that collaboration? Me and Slim, we were supposed to do something a couple of times in the past and the song "You" was already done. Tevin Terry actually called me and told me that they put Slim on it. They were like, "Yo, listen to this and tell me what you think." My man Tevin Terry that produced it, and I were like, "Yeah, that's dope." He [Terry] was actually supposed to be putting Slim on another song for me and I guess he mixed up the conversation and he pretty much [sent "You"] instead of the other song, but it ended up working.

Have you had a chance to get out on the road and tour yet? Constantly. I'm on the road now actually, but when I first came out, I was on the Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky & Mike Tour. We did that for a few months. So yeah, just constantly on the road. Like I said, the single "You" is out, so we're pushing that right now.

What have those experiences been like? Well, the only one that I'm performing so far from the new album is "Make Love." I did "You" a couple of times and the response for that was really good, too, but I was doing "Make Love" on the Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky & Mike Tour and that got a great response like every time.

Other than the singles, what are three songs from Therapy that you're eager for the fans to hear? I'd probably say "Heaven," "This Could Be," "Strawberry." I performed "Strawberry" a couple of times too, the response to that was dope. "Treasure" is another one, that's one of my favorites.

Late last year, there was a big debate about who the modern day king of R&B is. What were your thoughts on that? There's ain't no king of R&B. There ain't no king of rock, there's no king of hip-hop. There's never been a king of any genre of music and never will be. It's too subjective, everybody has their opinion on who they like the best or what they like so that was my take on that whole debate. I think it's something for people to talk about.

Who are some of the younger R&B artists that you listen to or check for? My absolute favorite is Ty Dolla $ign. I mess with Ty, Miguel. I like Jacquees. I actually did a song with Jacquees for his new album so y'all should be hearing that later on this year.

How did the song with Jacquees come about? It actually was right before all of that “King of R&B” stuff started. He DMed me and said he wanted to work. He asked me if I had any records for him, I had the perfect song for him. I sent it to him and he loved it and we went into the studio; It was like literally two days after that whole king of R&B thing was going crazy all over the internet.

You mentioned Ty Dolla $ign as your favorite artist right now, what about his music or his style sets him apart? He just got so much soul. He got a lot of soul, so coming from my era, I'm into that.

The 20th anniversary of your sophomore album, Personal Conversation, is coming up in April. Was there any pressure going into that album, given the success of your debut? Nah, it was none. I didn't feel any. My biggest thing going into the second album was that people heard "Touch Me, Tease Me." They thought I couldn't sing because on "Touch Me, Tease Me," you don't really gotta sing, that's like talking. So the main thing for me was just, "Hold this." It wasn't any pressure, it was just trying to go all the way in.

"Happily Ever After," the album's lead single, was a big hit at that time. How did that song come together? When they sent me the song, it wasn't done yet, but it was a duet. I loved it, but I was like, "They sent me a duet." I was expecting the whole song. So I went in and rewrote it and changed up what I needed to do and finished writing the bridge. I wrote the bridge, and all that other stuff, then I knocked it out.

Over the years, that song has become a go-to selection at wedding receptions and remains a classic. How does it feel to have a song that's helped mark such a special occasion in people's lives? That's dope to me because my main goal when I started doing music was to make music that people would want to still listen to in 20-30 years. I didn't want to make stuff that people like now and then don't want to hear no more. That was my goal with everything I made. So that makes me feel good.

Another song from Personal Conversation that's considered one of your signature songs is "Faded Pictures," your collaboration with Joe. However, the song was originally released on the Rush Hour soundtrack. How did that opportunity come about? Well, Joe had the song and his manager was up at Def Jam. He was playing some music for Lyor Cohen at Def Jam and he said Joe wanted to do "Faded Pictures" as a duet, so I jumped on that. But the soundtrack, the only reason that that happened was because Def Jam had the soundtrack and they were looking for songs from all of us up there to put on all of these different soundtracks they were doing. And my first single was coming out the same time as the movie so we were like that's perfect. We put it on there for that reason.

Where do you feel Personal Conversation ranks in your discography as a whole? Oh, I don't know, I don't rank them. That's like which one's my favorite kid. I ain't have one.

With this recent album, what was the statement you were looking to make going into it and what do you hope fans get out of it? I don't think it was so much of a statement, it was moreso I just wanted to make...well, I always want to make quote-unquote "real" music. I always want to make that. I hope they get that from it. I don't think it's so much of a statement as it is that I just want to continue to try to make music that people can relate to and that people will want to hear down the road as well as now.

What's next for Case, personally and professionally? Right now I'm on the road promoting Therapy. The new single "You" can be requested on radio, fans should be hearing that quite a bit coming up in the next month or two. And then I actually started, maybe the last week, I think, ideas for the next album so you can look out for that.

Continue Reading

Top Stories