Traverse City Record-Eagle

Arts & Entertainment

March 14, 2014

Flobots classroom project takes off in Denver

DENVER (AP) — The Flobots, a Denver hip-hop band that gained fame with the hit single “Handlebars,” are known for social activism and supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement. Drew Elder, a senior vice president of the investment firm Janus, is more familiar with the cello than with Chuck D.

And while it might seem like Elder and the Flobots would be natural opponents, they’ve come together to form an unlikely partnership.

Elder sits on the board of Youth on Record, a nonprofit formed by the alternative-rap group that brings professional performers from a range of genres, with an emphasis on hip-hop, to provide arts education in Denver Public Schools, Colorado’s largest school district.

Educators say the program can help keep students engaged long enough to earn a high school diploma. “Any time you can tap into young people’s interests, you have a great chance of keeping them in school,” said Antwan Wilson, an assistant schools superintendent.

The Flobots founders say what they started has gained focus and potential because of the collaboration of other artists, as well as development workers and partners from the worlds of government and big business.

Since it was formed in 2008 — and then known as Flobots.org — the program has grown. It attracted donations of a little more than $120,000 in 2008 and earned no revenue from programs its first year, according to financial records filed with the state.

Last year, donations had doubled, and it earned more than $40,000 from its programs. It now reaches 700 students in four high schools and two residential substance abuse treatment centers. It trains artists to teach and puts instruments and recording equipment in the hands of youth.

James Laurie, who performs with the Flobots as Jonny 5, recalled hearing kids rapping while he worked with the AmeriCorps Vista program, a national community service project focused on poverty, in Rhode Island.

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