Wu-Tang Clan member and solo artist Raekwon, who grew up in the low-income housing complex of Park Hill in Staten Island, NY, is involved in a new not-for-profit, Children's Literacy Society, to help the kids of his community.
"It's definitely needed because it's so rough in my neighbourhood that we worry about these kids and we try to give 'em as much hope as we can," Raewkon toldwww.samaritanmag.com.
"It's just us trying to give them a sense of direction from a older big brother or big sister point of view and really just try to commend them when at least they're trying."
Children's Literacy Society provides funds and resources for after-school enrichment programs, such as reading, writing, sports, music, art, dance and nutrition, for at-risk children in Staten Island with a concentration in Richmond County.
"Our goal is to instill confidence and motivation in children to become productive and successful individuals," it states on the organization's web site. "CLS develops, guides, nurtures and supports our future generation with respect and dignity; collaboration with local schools and organizations to connect our programs with families, we continue to be able to 'give a child a chance.'"
Raekwon, now 41, was born Corey Woods. In the late 80s, when he was a teenager, his Park Hill neighbourhood was nicknamed "Crack Hill" because of all drug dealing and addiction. When he linked up with eight other hip hop guys to form the nine-member Wu-Tang Clan in 1992, it became his ticket out. The influential collective has sold millions of albums in its 20-year history and Raekwon, like all the members of Wu-Tang, became a successful solo artist and businessman. He just opened a Toronto office for his record label, Ice H2O.
"I feel like, in my lifetime, I slipped through the cracks and made it," says Raekwon. "But it's really rough for these kids and it gets rougher every year.
"So you wonder why kids do the things that they do? [It] is because nobody's paying attention to them no more. They feel they on their own. They feel like they don't have no hope and this is something that we really gotta start thinking about, saying, 'Yo, is it cute to see a 16 year old kid with a baby or a little 14-year-old male in jail because he killed somebody for something stupid?'
"[Children's Literacy Society] started with the people and it starts with the community and it starts from the media and it starts from the artists. We have to really take a look at our young generation and try to help 'em."
In October of 2010, Children's Literacy Society held its first fundraising gala in Staten Island that was hosted by RZA of Wu-Tang Clan. The Society has big plans.
"Our ultimate goal will be to implement a Center of Excellence, a facility that provides a commendable range of effective after-school enrichment programs for children in need in a number of NYC locations," it states on the web site. "This Center of Excellence will be a model to be replicated in the United States and around the world for at-risk youth."
"We're just starting to get the right people involved," Raekwon tells www.samaritanmag.com. "We have a couple of government official friends as well that are gonna wanna be involved with this. So we're just trying to put together the best thing for my neighbourhood and for everybody's neighbourhood where I come from."
BY KAREN BLISS