I asked Joshua if he’d liked attending Innovations High School.
At first, I judged a book by its cover. I saw the school and I was like, Man, I ain’t feelin it here. I ain’t gonna talk to nobody, I ain’t gonna be cool with nobody. Then I got in, and I slowly, very slowly, started opening up to people. My first year here, I got on the basketball team and I met Mr. Allen. Mr. Allen’s one of the coolest people you could know in the world. He smart, so he used big words sometimes. I feel like, I’m not the type of person to get intimidated when somebody uses big words. I try to find out what they mean, so I can use them. You hang around smart people, people think you smart. You hang around dumb people, people think you dumb. But I got on the basketball team and then everything started opening up. They treat you like family. Even though we might joke on each other, when push comes to shove if something happens, we all there for each other.
We got our own cliques here as well as any, but it’s still a family atmosphere. They don’t force you to do nothing, but they will push you to bring out your full potential. Like when I first got here, Mr. Jackson* came in he told me, We ain’t got no Ds here. It either A, B, C or F. No Ds. Either you pass or you fail. He felt like people were using Ds as just a way to get over. Like, I got a D, I still pass. If you used to failing, if you get a D then a D feel like an A. When he told me that, I was like, Man I really got to come in here and do some work. So my full potential came in. I came here, and people thought I was smart, and it was like, I’m being taught the same thing you being taught, I’m just applying myself. And I start understanding why I saw some people at my old school that got mad when they got a C or a B. When you get used to As, to see you downgrade it hurts. You figure, how I get a B? I thought this answer was right. And you go back to the teacher and you get mad. But it’s a good feeling to know where you came from. My mom tells me I never was a dumb child, I was just lazy. That’s the truth, I was lazy. I wanted to come to school, I wanted popularity and anything else any other student would say they want, but I didn’t want to do the academic work, I didn’t want to go to class.
My mom went to school and college—graduated both. Now she does like she does a lot of stage plays and she also does makeup and she’s making her own clothing line called Juicy Fruit. She makes shirts mainly for plus size women because she feels that, one, if you a plus-sized person, it’s hard buying clothes, and two, for anybody, when you that big you can’t wear everything and everything doesn’t look good. So she made something that looks good and when you wear it, your body won’t be everywhere all out and stuff.
Will it be OK for you if I put your song on the WBEZ website?
I would love that. Any publicity I can get. Right now, the way the music industry is using what they got right now, so you gotta have a lot of attention on you for you to be grabbed out and to be a part of the music industry. Basically, you gotta start out with fans, and then they have to see your fans, plus the fans you can get, will equal more money. It’s not just about, You can sing OK. Right now, you gotta have an image. You gotta be able to sing. You gotta be able to play the part. It’s a music business. Yeah, part of it is just singing or rapping or anything else, but it’s still a business.
Like I tell my little brother, his favorite rapper Lil’ Wayne? Nine out of 10, Lil’ Wayne does more business than he does music. A negotiation could go up to two years, so it’s a business. So any type of publicity I can get would really help.
Are you worried about the competition?
I am the competition, I just ain’t been discovered yet. When I do get my shot, I ain’t going off. It’s like jail. When I get out I’m not going back. I ain’t going back to where I’m coming from. I want better for myself. If a boy plays basketball everyday, he’s not gonna be horrible everyday. He gonna get better. He gonna know something he didn’t. He gonna hit more shots than he hit before.
*LaShaun Jackson is the director of Innovations High School. Formerly a caseworker for the Youth Service Project in Humboldt Park and a supervisor for Pathways Independent Living Services, which serves kids who are wards of the state, it’s his first position leading a school. When he was offered the opportunity to lead Innovations in 2004, the school had been a high school for only four years, and on probation for two of them. Staff and student morale were both low. Jackson asked the entire staff to leave or reapply for their jobs, and everyone left. It is now one of the highest performing schools in the Youth Connections charter schools network.