On Tuesday, Hayward High School students were in sixth period waiting for the bell to ring when they heard a surprise announcement over the loud speaker: "Hayward High, what's good! It's your girl Kamaiyah! Come out to the quad, I'm giving out tickets for all y'all to see Panther. Meet me there, right now!"
It was a prodigal return for the Oakland-raised rapper: Kamaiyah graduated from this very school, Hayward High, in 2010. After signing with Interscope Records following the release of her 2016 mixtape, A Good Night in the Ghetto, she relocated to Los Angeles where she's worked with big-name artists like Drake and YG.
But that's not to say she's forgotten about her hometown -- proven by the visit to her alma mater to give students free tickets to Black Panther, the new box-office smash directed by fellow Oakland native Ryan Coogler.
"When I was growing up, somebody used to take me and my friends to the movies and on adventures and stuff to keep us out of trouble," said Kamaiyah. "When I thought about the movie coming out, I was like, 'We should just rent out a theater and take all the kids to see it.' I feel a great connection because it's based on Oakland and I'm from Oakland, so, why not?"
After Kamaiyah's announcement, hordes of teenagers rushed to the quad for a chance to meet the rapper and snag a movie ticket. One student DJ blasted West Coast rap on a PA system while Kamaiyah, dressed in gold chains and a lilac jersey emblazoned with a 'K,' held court with her fans. Some danced with joy, while others whispered excitedly with their friends.
"I'm actually really juiced! I thought they were lying on the speaker," said a Hayward High sophomore named Pierre, who still seemed incredulous when I caught up with him after he'd gotten his Black Panther ticket. "They like to mess with us, I thought it was a joke, so I just kind of just walked over here."
Even the school administration was energized by Kamaiyah's surprise visit, which the artist organized earlier that morning. "I'm just so proud of her to have been a student here at our school and now to be famous! I'm just speechless," said Vice Principal Andrea Hayes.
Kamaiyah joins several other rap artists who have bought out entire movie theater auditoriums for kids to see Black Panther for free, including Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, and Oakland's own Mistah F.A.B. The film, which opened on Feb. 16, broke box office records on opening weekend and is being heralded by fans and critics as a defining moment in black cinema.
"I feel like everybody needs to see that movie, especially black kids so they can love themselves," said Kamaiyah.
Her former vice principal shares that view. "It's amazing to have an African-American superhero who our students can relate to and feel like, 'This is a superhero who looks just like me,'" said Hayes.
On the subject of role models, Hayes said that she appreciates Kamaiyah for setting a positive example for young people. "I think the role that she's setting for young ladies is if you have dreams, go after them, and anything's possible with hard work."
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED