Beats and Building Bridges
“Your legacy is not what you collect while you’re here, but what you leave behind when you’re gone.”
Devine Carama left a lot of good behind following his week-long Centre College residency from October 30 through November 3, 2023, because he didn’t just talk the talk – he walked the walk.
Hip hop artist, educator, community activist and motivational speaker… Devine can’t be defined by just one label. Hailing from Lexington, he has made an incredible impact on the local community through initiatives such as ONE Lexington, a youth gun violence reduction program, and Believing In Forever Inc., a nonprofit that focuses on motivating and inspiring local youth towards community leadership.
Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts Executive Director Steve Hoffman has always made it a priority to bring diverse talent to the Norton Center stages. After including Devine in two of the Norton Center’s virtual Culture+ series during the pandemic in 2020, Hoffman knew he needed to bring Devine, in person, to campus and the stage.
“It was evident that his passion for community and social activism, especially through motivational speaking and Hip Hop music, was powerful and needed to be shared through our in-person programs,” said Hoffman. “This was the first time we would have a residency that focused on Hip Hop music, and because 2023 was the 50th anniversary of both the Norton Center and Hip Hop, it seemed to be the perfect time.”
The Norton Center partnered with Centre College’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to coincide Devine’s residency with the sixth annual Building Bridges and Community Day (BBCD). BBCD is a campus-wide event focused on creating intentional opportunities for students, staff and faculty to better understand the variety of voices and perspectives represented by the individuals of Centre’s campus community.
“Melinda Weathers introduced me to Devine when I was working on the digital Culture+ series. Devine ended up being one of our star thought leaders and artists in the series, so she and I discussed bringing him to campus in person to coincide with BBCD and feature him in the Norton Center season,” said Hoffman. “These collaborative activities throughout the week provided great opportunities for experiential learning, community engagement and community wellness.”
The week-long residency kicked off on Monday with a Creative Conversation in Newlin Hall between Devine and nearly 100 students, titled “Lyricism and Leadership: History of Hip Hop Culture and Its Impact on the Community.” He dived into the history of Hip Hop: how it was created to convey the struggles and needs of the underserved black community. Devine stays true to the art form in his own work, using his lyrics to bring attention to issues that aren’t being addressed in mainstream media.
“I know it’s hard to see hope when the path is so muddy / I’m praying every day for all the families in Kentucky / All the sons, nephews, the daughters and the nieces / I pray the sun comes out and the water starts receding / Rain’s poured in plethora and it’s historical weather / Lives have been lost so we gotta come together,” Devine rapped in his song “Kentucky, We Fight,” which was released in response to the tornadoes, flooding and gun violence in Kentucky in 2021.
“We can not forget about the underserved. We have a responsibility,” said Carama during the Creative Conversation. “Who, in 2023, can Hip Hop speak for? Who is underserved?”
Immigrants, the disabled, indigenous people, rural communities… as students spoke up, the list grew, naming groups that one wouldn’t typically hear covered in a song on the radio.
Tuesday brought out the bars – Hip Hop bars, that is. Leading a Hip Hop writing workshop for Centre students, staff and members of the local community, Devine guided the group through the art of writing rhymes with leading questions: What is an issue you care about? How do you feel when you think about it? What can you do to address this problem? What is your hope for the future? By the end of the workshop, attendees were reading their work aloud and celebrating one another’s creativity.
The celebration of creativity and open-mindedness didn’t fizzle out after the workshop. The following night, Devine and DJ JK-47 hosted an open mic night for all kinds of talent – whether that be singing, playing an instrument, reciting poetry or, of course, rapping. The evening was filled with positive energy as people came together to support one another and witness each other’s creativity in action.
Building Bridges and Community Day on Thursday opened with Devine Carama as the keynote speaker, where he addressed the Newlin Hall audience about community activism and leaving behind a legacy.
“My job today is to inspire you to take that chance, that leap of faith in being a bridge so we can perfect your community and our society,” said Carama as he began his address.
Mixing in bits of humor and personal anecdotes while delivering a powerful and necessary message, Devine explored the values and methods of community activism, and how to pour into one’s community and leave behind a lasting legacy. It boiled down to four key principles:
Be yourself, believe in something, be brave and have balance.
As the last day of Devine’s residency arrived on Friday morning, buses delivered 800 local K-12 students for a student matinee performance. Young fans screamed with excitement when Devine’s openers hit the stage: Star Bookie, a 12-year-old Hip Hop artist warmed the crowd up, and local painter and musician Tony Wavy “Hip Hop Picasso” kept the energy high when he performed after Star.
Backed by his friend and fellow musician DJ JK-47, Devine’s set was met with enthusiastic participation from the audience as heads bopped and hands waved along to the beat. They were able to hear a familiar and well-loved genre performed with positive and uplifting messages as Devine rapped and talked them through the history of Hip Hop and how it can be used to improve communities.
The impact of the performance was visible the moment Devine left the stage. One could hear the mumbled beginnings of raps as students began to create their own bars while they headed back to their buses. Some students even took to social media to let Devine, Star and Tony know how much they enjoyed the performance.
“I was one of the students there yesterday. I would just love to say all of you did great, keep it up!” a middle school student posted on Devine’s Facebook later that day.
That evening, Devine closed out his residency with a public performance. Centre students sat alongside community members for a night of talent and inspiration as Devine, Star, Tony and JK gave Danville one last show to remember.
Devine didn’t just arrive on campus, deliver his message and leave. He made connections that carried throughout the week – calling students in the audience by name and forming personal relationships that were evident when those students returned to each event.
Through his workshops, performances and these personal connections, he exemplified the essence of leaving a positive legacy — inspiring others to be bridges of change, fostering creativity and championing community well-being.
Check out the full photo gallery from Devine Carama’s residency here!