Welcome to Black History Month 2024. Once again, Dallas-based artist Tommy Raps is taking the reins to guide you through an enlightening journey of cultural exploration.
Last year, Tommy embarked on a captivating series of social media videos that stemmed from his Daily Raps challenge that started on the first of the year in 2023. As February approached, he turned his platform into a hub for discovering Black history.
Throughout this journey, he not only highlighted familiar figures like Erykah Badu, Michael Jordan, Jimi Hendrix, and Harriett Tubman, but also delved into the stories of lesser-known people such as Wendell Scott (Nascar driver), Dr. Shirley Jackson (nuclear physicist), and Lonnie Johnson (inventor) – individuals whose remarkable contributions may have escaped mainstream recognition.
Tommy researches, produces, writes, raps, films and edits each of the daily videos. That’s a lot of work to put in daily to make it all happen.
“Originally [when I started doing this], I was aware that there was Black History Month, and that everybody does their own rendition,” Tommy said. “As much as I was learning, I wasn’t retaining it very well. So I was like, what if there was an easy summarized way to learn about someone in under a minute? How much can I teach in under a minute? How much range could I get? How many different people can we squish into one history month? It just so happens it’s really easy to find a lot of notable people in the Black community.”
Below is one of last year’s most well-received videos about Neo-expressionism artist Jean-Michael Basquiat, which received over 156,000 views on Instagram.
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This year, Tommy’s goal is to do it all again – every day in February.
“Let’s get into the details,” Tommy said on a phone interview. “Banned books are banned books for a reason, and the reason is usually terrible. So you should always look at banned books. Read banned books and pursue the truth.”
He underscored the disparity between his formal education and the realities of the world beyond the classroom. This dissonance fuels his determination to shed light on lesser-known narratives. Tommy is committed to sharing the authentic histories of individuals within the Black community.
This year, he kicked off the series with Jim Kelly, an American athlete, martial artist and actor (below). So far, he’s completed pieces on Fred Hampton (assassinated civil rights leader), Henry Boyd (carpenter), Queen Latifah (rapper, actress, singer), and James Baldwin (writer, civil rights activist).
Other features Tommy’s looking forward to this year include Spike Lee, Sarah Rector, Nina Simone and Fela Kuti. Check out the Tommy Raps Instagram page for daily updates, and catch up on last year’s history lessons too.
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Jessica Waffles is a freelance photographer/videographer and regular contributor to KXT.
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