Hip-hop star Chance The Rapper put his money where his mouth is as a supporter of education early in his career. While the stereotype is that rappers spend big money on mansions, jewelry and Jordans to symbolize their success, Chance donated a million dollars to Chicago Public Schools back in 2017. At the time, he was only five years into his career, and his third mixtape, 2016’s “Coloring Book” had recently catapulted him into rap superstar territory with sold-out shows and multiple Grammy wins.
The huge gift to the school system that shaped him made it clear that he has a heart for teachers. “I kept thinking, why do I have all of these awards for my silly little singing,” Chance said. “I’m not out here raising the next generation.” Even after giving a million dollars, Chance wanted to do more.
He met up with General Mills and Box Tops for Education – who have given more than $1B to education. They agreed to assist him in putting on his inaugural Twilight Awards for 2020 on May 8. Because of COVID-19, The Twilight Awards had to go virtual. Chance sat in a tuxedo on his living room couch on IG Live and connected with the 10 honorees via FaceTime on an iPad that he held up for viewers to see each honoree. He broadcast the award on his social channel over three days and in partnership with Box Tops For Education awarded $300,000 –$15,000 went directly to the teacher and another $15,000 was gifted to the school.
“Honestly, this is me talking – I’m not trying to speak for my sponsors – but these teachers are grossly and criminally underpaid,” Chance said. “They take care of our children. And I’m not trying to take shots at capitalism or anything or our government, but let’s appreciate them and let’s honor them.”
Among the teachers from across the nation celebrated for making a difference in the lives of their students was St. Louis’ own Darrion “DC” Cockrell. He teaches physical education at Crestwood Elementary School within the Lindbergh School District.
“He goes by DC, so you already know that he’s one of the cool teachers,” Chance said as he introduced Cockrell on IG Live after shouting out St. Louis and East St. Louis as a “cousin” of his native Chicago.
Chance and Cockrell, who has been a PE teacher at Crestwood Elementary for five years, chatted with the natural chemistry of cousins – or at least close friends – as Chance conducted an impromptu interview with Cockrell over Instagram.
Two days after, Cockrell was still floating.
“I still can’t believe it. It was crazy,” Cockrell said. “When he said the $15,000 for me and $15,000 for the school, I was like, ‘This stuff doesn’t happen to people like me. It still doesn’t feel real.”
Earlier this year Cockrell was named the Lindbergh School District’s 2020 Teacher of the Year for his efforts to engage with his students both inside the school and beyond.
Cockrell and Chance discussed the importance of young black boys having teachers who look like them as they navigate through their education experience.
Chance admitted that he only three black male teachers over the course of his entire primary and secondary education – but those teachers left such an impact on his life that he could still remember all their names and how they impacted his life. And their positive influence plays a role in his heart for educators.
“People talking about representation on screen,” Chance said. “But when you get it in your classroom – and they have this wisdom and are a reflection of you – it’s invaluable.”
Cockrell shared a story of an exchange with a student that added weight to Chance’s words.
“One day I was teaching with one of my kindergarteners – he’s actually adopted and has white parents,” Cockrell said. “He said, ‘Mr. DC, you’re my color.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean? ‘And he was like, ‘You’re black like me.’ And I was like “Yes – and black is beautiful.”
Cockrell also pointed out that a great teacher transcends race and that educators of all colors were critical as he matriculated through the Parkway School District. They helped him see beyond the challenging surroundings of his Fountain Park neighborhood – and that experience is something he seeks to pass on every day.
“I was able to have teachers that love you and care about you, and they care about your well-being and want to make sure you are successful,” Cockrell said. “And I said, ‘I want to be able to give that to kids – especially kids that came through stuff like me.’ I want to make sure that I’m that support, that I’m that guiding light that’s trying to give them the tools to be successful in life.”
That support has taken him to football games, karate matches, spelling bees and more.
“I want them to always feel like someone is there cheering them on,” Cockrell said. “Even after they leave Crestwood, if they ever need anyone to talk to, I want them to feel like I’m that guy.”
Educating during COVID-19 presented challenges and opportunities for Cockrell.
With his 3-year-old son Dawson by his side, Cockrell has created exercise videos to keep his students active as they practice at home learning.
“I feel like they might be a little bit more engaged, because their family and their friends and everybody can do it together,” Cockrell said.
In addition to being recognized by his district, Cockrell is over the moon at getting a national spotlight for the work that he does to help his students to keep fitness a priority in their lives.
“Putting my school on a platform like that was absolutely amazing,” Cockrell said. “And being able to brighten the day of my school, my PTO, my students and my family and just letting them see how hard I work, how much I love what I’m doing and the passion that I have is something that I will never forget.”