Friday, July 15, 2011

Dark Places for Shining Stars - Part 1

Michelle Alton

My friendship with Maurice "the Authentic" Hayman began serendipitously on a hot Summer's day in Center City Philadelphia in 2010.  He was a Hip-Hop performer doing a free midday concert in "Love Park."  I was a clinical researcher on my lunch break--with camera, of course. It wasn't until a year later that I learned that this talented, brilliant young man was on a lifelong quest that would take him down a path that not even he could have imagined.  Learn about Maurice's life and his relentless efforts to help Inner City youngsters understand that  they can be SHINING STARS. 

I'm tagging along on this journey for a while.  Please join me here as the story, "Dark Places for Shining Stars" unfolds.

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Michelle Alton


Dark Places for Shining Stars (by Michelle Alton) 
Part 1

Maurice Hayman is a college-educated young urban black Hip-Hop performer who grew up poor, was raised by a struggling single mother, and never attended the same school for more than one year. He lives on the edge of a blighted area in North Philadelphia known as “Brewerytown.”  His musical act is called, “The Authentic” -- a remarkably apt monicker for a man who takes great pride in his "realness" and in  “telling it like it is.”

Maurice "the Authentic" Hayman at Love Park Concert
I am a post-menopausal unemployed suburban white Jewish former career woman, who grew up another sort of "poor" and who now lives in Yardley, Pennsylvania. 

In Philadelphia, 37 percent of public school students who start 6th grade will drop out before graduating. For African-American males, that number jumps to 43 percent, and it's 51 percent for young Latino men.  Of those who graduate high school, less than half go on to college.

In my township, according to the most recent available statistics, the total dropout rate is around 5%.  And of those who graduate high school, 93% go on to college.  There is no available breakdown by race.

Maurice and I grew up and now continue to live in vastly different “worlds.”  We dance to different rhythms, hear different drums, read different news accounts and believe different versions of the “truth.”
Politically we are about as far apart as two Americans can be.   But our hearts beat in unison and there are important areas in which we do see eye-to-eye.   For example, we both believe that the children will be the keys to the future in both of our worlds, and that the children are the potential stars, regardless of where they live.

It was a year ago in June of 2010 that I first encountered “the Authentic.”  He was playing in a free lunchtime concert in “Love Park” across 15th Street from Philadelphia’s City Hall.

"Love Park" (with the Swan Fountain and Philadelphia Art Museum in background)

I worked in a building one block away and spent most lunch hours with my camera, exploring the city, two miles in each direction.

"Mixtape" album cover

Never having been attracted or exposed significantly to the hip-hop genre, I wasn’t feeling very much entertained by it.  So I quickly wolfed down my sandwich and was about to take my camera elsewhere, when something caught my ear:  I could actually understand the lyrics, and what was very noticeably absent was the hard, vulgar language of typical street music.  “Authentic’s” language was hard enough, to be sure, but it definitely was not vulgar.  I started snapping pictures, and listened more carefully (lyrics excerpted from Shining Star):

No matter who you are
No matter where you are
You control your future baby
You’re a shining star
I know it gets hard
Got you screaming out to GOD
But I know that you can make it baby
You’re a shining star

“This is interesting,” I was beginning to think.  The beat was catchy, and dozens of people were sitting on benches, standing on the pavement, listening.  Many were dancing.  Everyone seemed SO HAPPY!

The sky is not the ceiling and the ground is not the bottom
You make the choice to add to the solution or the problem

Concert Spectators at the "Love Park" fountain.

Between songs, Maurice’s banter was all about staying in school, fighting the fight, and conquering the odds.  What a refreshing and upbeat message!  I liked this young man, even though I didn’t understand his music.

"The Authentic" performing in "Love Park"

I posted pictures of the concert on my photo web site and somehow Maurice was sent the link and wrote to me to tell me how much he liked them.  During my career in Clinical Research that spanned over 40 years, I often found myself surprised at the lack of clarity in the writing of young professionals in my industry, especially in emails.  In this case I was positively surprised.  The man was a natural!

The “Authentic” played in the park again in August, and I was there.  We still didn’t have a chance to speak, except for a mutual nod.  But afterwards, I received another email from Maurice, thanking me for attending.

After my job ended in October, I wasn’t in the city very much.  But every now and again, we exchanged emails.  Finally, at the end of May, I heard from Maurice that he had organized the “Authentic Minds College Fair” to be held on June 11 at the Martin Luther King Recreation Center in the heart of Brewerytown.  Would I be able to attend and take pictures?

I was intrigued. Brewerytown is a badly blighted ghetto neighborhood in North Philadelphia.  Oh, my GOODNESS!  Maurice did not only “talk the talk,” but he was proving that he also “walked the walk”—and Bigtime!  How could one young man, with or without a mission, accomplish this single-handedly?

Along with the invitation was the promise of a bonus guided walking tour of his “hood.”  “You’ll get photos like you’ve never imagined!”

No way was I missing the Authentic Minds College Fair.  No way in Hell!

Basketball Court at the Martin Luther King Recreational Center

The story will continue over the weeks that follow.  As I came to know Maurice , the man he is, and where life is leading him, so will you.  You will not want to miss any of this tale of Relentless Pursuit, as it unfolds.

Lyrics to "Shining Star" (by Maurice Hayman)
[Listen to it here ]


No matter who you are
No matter where you are
You control your future baby you’re a shining star
I know it gets hard got you screaming out to GOD
But I know that you can make it baby you’re a shining star

Verse 1

To all my people with a dream and some hope for the future
That do it with the spirit of the great Martin Luther
To all my fallen soldiers* I’ll remember you forever
No longer with me now but where you are is so much better
I send a hundred prayers and my love for the youth
That grow up in the city like some battlefield troops
The sky is not ceiling and the ground is not the bottom
You make the choice to add to the solution or the problem
If knowledge is power education is like money
Strong mind so divine you can't take a thing from me
A soldier out for peace but a general for justice
Make every word and every thought I speak be full of substance
To bring a new perspective from my inner city ghetto
Where every day the innocent falls victim to the metal**
We paint another mural and we close another chapter
We only pay attention during natural disasters
But I say its time to wake up
   *   A reference to Maurice's cousin and best friend who was murdered in a gang dispute
  **  During a recent weekend in Philadelphia in the summer of 2011, 32 people were shot on the   streets

Verse 2

So I think about new Orleans
And I think about my Haitians
And pray for the forgiveness of this great corrupted nation
Up early in the morning so I sit and wait patient
As I listen to the garbage that they’re playing on the station
Sex, money, murder we accelerate our death
And sell our soul for pennies till there aint a nickel left
Chains and your rims not a property or business
Then turn around and be the first ones as a witness
Telling all the stories to the judge and the jury
The streets aren’t ever loyal and don’t offer you any glory
That’s word to the victims of a bullet or addicts of that crack
Each moment is a gift and you can never get it back
Get on track you only live once
Can't spend your every moment on the corner puffing blunts*
Or killing off your own with that “D” **
So you can stunt *** when you get the potential to be anything you want
Homie**** time to switch it up

     * Blunts are cigars that have had their tobacco emptied and replaced with marijuana
   ** "D" refers to the slang word, "Diesel," meaning heroin
  *** To stunt is to show off your expensive stuff
**** A Homie is someone "more than a friend"

Verse 3

See I made a vow to make a difference
The things that I’ve witnessed
And do it for my cousins facing time missing Christmas
Coke on the dishes; books in the trash
A negative equation I saw it everyday in class
Girls living fast young, getting knocked up
Daddy on the gristle* with the goonies getting locked up
Now they got us boxed up
Living in America the beautiful the irony caught in the hysteria
We have to educate the youth and lead them to the light
Man its crazy that I think of ya’ll like every time I write
I always keep it real so you feel and know the deal
Of a young black soldier on this urban battlefield
Where the cops hate your skin and the jobs aren’t paying
So you're patient in the storm on your grind just praying
Patient waiting the world is for the taking
No matter who you are
And where you are
You can make it

  * gristle is hard work
** goonies are your gang or click


Additional Photographs from the Love Park Concerts

On Stage

Littles Fan

the Authentic's serious side

Sound Test
  All photographs by Michelle Alton


Anonymous said...

A wonderful story and inspiring message :) Tammy

Carolyn said...

No doubt about it, the boy can write! Incredible lyrics, right on!
It's sad to see where my generation's "experimenting" with drugs has led this nation.

Joe DiGilio said...

You have my interest & attention Michelle. The story is well written and as thought provoking as the lyrics to Maurice's song. Your photography, as always, is outstanding and your selections for this post perfect. I enjoyed reading it so much I read it twice and I'm looking forward to the chapters to come. Good Job, SG.

Monnie Ryan said...

A wonderful story unfolding, and I certainly wish this exceptional young man all the best in his endeavors. He's an inspiration! Terrific photos, too!

Ron McEwan said...

Michelle you held me on the edge of my seat. Looking for the next portion of the story. Great shooting to go along with the storyl. RON

Mitch Spence said...

Terrific story, Michelle, yours about him and his, which is his life. Marvelous. I look forward to the next installment. Mitch

Anonymous said...

Wonderful and inspiring story, Michelle. There is a frankness in your writing here that I am unaccustomed to-- but I like it!! Excellent shots as always...

Robert B