Young Gifted and Black Teaches Oakland Students History With Music

Young Gifted and Black, or YGB, is a youth performance ensemble based in Oakland. More than 50 performers — ranging in age from 6 to 18 — learn and memorize compilations of historical black poems and contemporary raps, which they perform around the Bay Area.

“We try to cover anywhere from 50 to 100 years of history in our presentation,” said Hodari Davis, director of YGB. The program aims to teach black students aspects of their history not taught in school, and to allow the students to relay their knowledge to the community through performance.

Young Gifted and Black performers rehearse after school at Oakland School for the Arts.
Young Gifted and Black performers rehearse after school at Oakland School for the Arts. (Anya Schultz/KQED)

“Through their own development of confidence and consciousness, they develop the consciousness of others,” said Davis.

YGB has emerged in Oakland from a strong family legacy. Hodari’s mother, Laroilyn Davis, was the original founder of YGB in Ithaca, New York. She started YGB in 1981 when Hodari was in third grade, as she recognized the lack of black history in her son’s curriculum.

The Davis family decided to revitalize YGB in Oakland six years ago when Hodari’s daughter, Ikera Davis, was in middle school. Ikera now performs in the high school group and teaches the younger students.

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Hodari writes original raps for the students to learn, combining them with historical songs and poems he grew up performing. The high school group incorporates more contemporary messages in their sets, with pieces about today’s police brutality and discrimination. The younger students learn and perform mantras from prominent black leaders such as Huey Newton and W.E.B. Du Bois.

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“They don’t perform like cute little kids,” said Hodari’s wife, Candice Davis, who also teaches for YGB. “They perform like they mean it.”

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