By Steve Graham
The Taliban tried to keep Malala Yousafzai from going to school, but they couldn’t keep her down. My 8-year-old, Finn, had never heard of Yousafzai until we saw Shaun Boothe rap about the young Pakistani activist. He was inspired by her story, and by Boothe’s tales of other heroes.
Boothe performed his series of rap-style biographical songs and videos at the Lincoln Center on Saturday night to a sparse but rapt crowd. Boothe had also delivered his raps and a writing workshop earlier in the week to middle and high school students at the Lincoln Center. His work is intense, but aimed at educating students, like my son.
“I learned a lot and I like learning,” Finn said.
Finn also liked being a really big kid for the night.
“I liked it because I like to stay up late,” he said.
Finn is an avid fan of the musical “Hamilton,” and has listened to the album countless times and read some of the book. He was excited to see performances of historic hip-hop songs, just like in his favorite musical.
“His rap songs were really cool,” he said of Boothe’s songs.
Boothe also delivered what amounted to a TED talk-style motivational speech between his raps. Finn learned that both Boothe and the subjects of his songs forged their own paths.
“Write your story, and don’t let other people hold your pen,” Finn recalled Boothe saying.
Boothe started his “Unauthorized Biography Series” with boxer Muhammad Ali, focusing on his controversial anti-war stance.
“Ali gave up all his things to not to fight in the Vietnam War,” Finn said.
Boothe reminded the crowd that Ali was an activist as well as an athlete.
“He cared about people on he other side of the world as much as he cared about the people on the other side of his dinner table,” Boothe said.
He used Ali’s example to show how to fight for the right reasons.
“Are we doing this for a cause or for applause,” Finn recalled Boothe asking in his Ali track.
Boothe also rapped about several inspiring musicians, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Luther King Jr.,and Barack Obama, linking the latter two.
“Martin walked so Obama could run,” Boothe rapped.
I was impressed with how fluidly Boothe connected the stories of these different artists and leaders, and Finn also learned that people can overcome their circumstances and obstacles to achieve goals.
“Our only choice is how we react to situations,” Finn said, summarizing one of Boothe’s messages.