As a disclaimer, this piece does not serve as an endorsement of Kanye West’s “Slavery was a Choice” stance or his friendship with Donald Trump—or even his failed presidential campaign. We can say what we want about his antics and political views but his genius has ALWAYS been undeniable!
Even though I’ve fallen out of love with Kanye West in recent years, watching “jeen-yuhs” reminded me of why I became a fan in the first place. It takes me back to my junior year in college when I rushed to the record store to purchase a copy of Kanye’s classic debut album, “The College Dropout.” I can remember being equally drawn to his story of struggle, persistence, and triumph as I was to his music.
At a time when hip-hop culture centered heavily around hood narratives, Kanye served as the counternarrative to all of that. He started a movement where he made it OK for young Black men to sport a Louis Vuitton book bag and rock a blazer over a pink Ralph Lauren polo with the collar popped. He also made it okay for us to exude confidence in our self-expression that deviated from the hardcore image presented by most rappers at that time.
The irrational confidence that Kanye had in his fashion sense, musicality, and most importantly, himself is what made him a polarizing cultural figure then, and still makes him relevant to this day.
So where does this irrational confidence come from? How was Kanye’s ascension to fame even possible, considering the insurmountable odds stacked against him?
There’s only one answer … his mother, the late Dr. Donda West.
A former English professor at Chicago State University, it’s no surprise that Dr. West had the greatest influence on Kanye’s development as a rapper. From an early age, she blessed him with positive affirmations and gave him the license to manifest his dreams into reality. The way that Dr. West lovingly and consistently instilled confidence in Kanye was just beautiful to watch. Although I can’t prove it definitively, I know that she treated her students at Chicago State the same way because she was everyone’s “Mom,” as mentioned several times throughout the documentary.
In the end, “jeen-yuhs” not only provided us with an intimate behind-the-scenes into Kanye’s creative process and well-documented work ethic as an artist, but it also provides us with an important lesson on the power of manifestations and positive affirmations.
As teachers, we should be loving on our children in the way that Dr. West loved on Kanye. At a time when COVID-19 continues to make its presence felt in so many school communities, forcing teachers to leave the profession at record rates, we must prioritize human connection and the cultivation of joy with our students. As math educator Crystal Watson states, our Black students have the right to dream and we, as teachers, have an obligation to support those dreams. The juxtaposition of Kanye being a college dropout with his mother being a highly reputable English professor is the perfect example of what it looks like to fully embrace the dreams of our students.
Additionally, we must embrace and nurture the dreams of our Black students for two reasons:
- The genius of our Black students is multifaceted.
- When we cultivate joy in our Black students, we are not only prioritizing connection over control but, most importantly, we are giving them permission to be human.
The central theme in all of this is humanity. It’s not about pigeonholing our Black students to believe the status quo’s definition of success but rather providing them with a safe space to shape their own visions of what success means to them and carve out their own paths to success as they see fit. THAT’S how we cultivate joy in Black students.
If watching “jeen-yuhs” doesn’t reframe your thinking around social-emotional learning and inspire you—the teacher—to cultivate joy and normalize empathy with your students, I don’t know what will.