#BigThingsThursday is a weekly series of short interviews with people who are doing big things for the community and for the world. If you know someone who's doing big things and should be featured, let me know: BigThings@LucyKalantari.com.
When I perform the song, "Big Things", I talk about how when you have these big ideas, goals and dreams you can't just go home and take a nap. "You gotta work work work work work!" When I met Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd, Jr., I immediately took note: they are doing the work with clear intentions and sincere passion.
Together they form the musical duo, Alphabet Rockers, fearlessly addressing topics like skin color, cultural differences and self-love. They perform at schools, libraries and various stages across the country.
Q. BIG THINGS begin with an intention, what is yours?
A. Our intention is to create a movement where all kids stand up, speak out and feel proud of who they are. We believe that all of us impact culture. And that as children’s music makers and performers, we acknowledge the power of our words, actions, and pictures we create onstage and in music for our kids. We want to use our cultural influence to see that kids grow up with a culture of possibility - where they fearlessly love themselves and stand up for each other.
Q. How are you fulfilling this intention?
A. Last year we set out to write songs that reflected our goals of standing up for yourself, of being bold to speak out against injustice, and to model what inclusivity could look and feel like. We realized that our families were stuck on how to talk to their kids through some of the bigger topics of racism and social injustices, particularly around police brutality and murders of black men, women and children. We were feeling this gap, too. And we knew that we could create this music - we’d been testing it with songs about skin color and real talk about current injustices and how we each can change the world. We were ready to go there for families. In the Spring, we worked with kids in their classrooms to write songs around racism and empathy - and really got a chance to hear their way of talking about these issues. They are brilliant, our kids. AND they need us to invite them into these bigger expectations of how we act and live together in the world. During this process, we met with children’s music makers in four cities to talk about our intentions and seed the movement. We also dove into the dialogue with activists in racial justice, raising diverse families, raising brave girls, and raising proud black children. There was so much goodness, so much joy, so much possibility - and so much responsibility for us.
Our album Rise Shine #Woke is our commitment to this intention. It’s a continuation of this movement of families, educators, activists and KIDS who want a just and joyful world. It’s here, it’s free to stream for families, and it’s available with conversation guides for families who know and want to be allies for their kids and all kids. The music is bold, it is inclusive, and it does the job. In the song SHINE, you see a black boy claiming his beauty and power in the world - one that all of us can lift up, and be so bold as to have empathy for his path. In our song STAND UP FOR YOU, we modeled the work of checking your privilege. How do you check privilege? You first work on yourself, you ask yourself questions and figure out how to shift your patterns. You then can be of service to others - and then again, it’s asking questions before assuming you have the right tools and answers.
Writing and decoding our album makes it seem super complex. It is! But the music is current and easy. It’s chantable, and it’s got beats that even hip hop heads turn up LOUD in the car.
Q. What barriers have you encountered, and how have you dealt with them?
A. There are no limits.
There are no labels.
There’s no stopping us.
We’re turning tables.
– From the song, “What Are You?” - Rise Shine #Woke
For real though, the barriers are everywhere. And this current government is making it worse. Everyday, it’s harder to feel safe. And with that, we’re all uncomfortable, it’s a shared experience of injustice. Being #woke means being uncomfortable and taking action. There is no spacing out and watching TV to relax when we recognize what social platitudes we are permitting in our media. What jokes we permit in our community, etc. And for raising our babies, we have to challenge ourselves to evaluate the children’s nursery rhymes we teach, to examine the “favorite” books we had as kids, to consider that our resources need updating. We need to check our nostalgia–and make sure that what we feed our kids is of service to all people. It’s a lot. And it means swimming upstream. It’s a barrier.
But we’ve really found, parents WANT to do good for their kids. They want their kids to be allies. They want their kids to be the ones who helped, who stood up for others, who loved beyond limits. And parents are knowing how much work we need to do on ourselves to get there. So our limits will be endless. We want everyone to love on this level with us.
We’re in this movement with all waking hours, with all our hearts and voices. We’ll seek out funding support to make this happen - and we hope that we continue to grow with other children’s media makers in this effort.
Thank you Kaitlin and Tommy, for sharing your inspiring thoughts and giving so much to the world!