“First Capture Their Hearts,
and Their Minds Will Follow”
Does the principal of your school moonlight as a rapper? Does he or she win Principal of the Year awards during the day and then collaborate with Grammy award-winning producers at night. Meet Mervin “Spectac” Jenkins, a former middle school principal in Pittsboro, North Carolina. Flocabulary has worked with Spectac on a variety of projects including Shakespeare is Hip-Hop and The Hip-Hop History of the World. We recently put Spec through our 4 question interview.
1. You’ve been both a working emcee and a middle school principal. Did you ever see any similarities between those two jobs?
Absolutely! At the end of the day both were about people in that traditional student age range. On stage you’re judged on how well you motivate a crowd through artistic expression. In the schools you motivate a crowd by being an instructional leader and a people-centered person. No matter if you are a solo emcee or in a group of emcees, you had to depend on your team to make it all come together correctly. Your producer, deejay, dancers… these are the equivalent of school secretaries, teachers, assistant principals and other key players that are responsible for making the goals you set obtainable.
2. What was your proudest moment as a principal? And as a rapper?
As a school principal I was awarded Principal of the Year in my district after having only served one year. I think it was most rewarding because I had no intentions on receiving the honor—none at all. Looking back it was truly amazing how the negative perceptions of a community towards one of its schools had changed so drastically in such a short time frame. I went in focused and with an attitude of we’re here for the students first, parents second, teachers third. Mission accomplished.
Thinking about all the wonderful times I experienced as a hip hop emcee… mmmmm… it’s really hard to pinpoint that moment that beats all others. If I just had to choose one then it would be when I realized, through a good friend, that I was meant to touch people lives through a combination of education and hip hop. This sparked me to design the Life Through Music lectures that I still perform a few times a year when time permits.
3. Where do you think hip-hop is headed next?
Hip hop music and the culture will continue to evolve over the years to come. It’s really hard to say exactly how but I do know it will still mimic something that was done before — whether we remember or not… it’s just the way of things. I’d like to think it will always be a source of information, entertainment, as well as a voice for the underrepresented in the world.
4. What’s the biggest challenge that education is facing in this country?
The loss of black students (girls/boys… specifically boys): lowest SAT scores, disappointing drop-out numbers, school/community violence, etc. I truly believe the missing piece is teachers being more culturally responsive regarding how they teach students. I never forgot a parent telling me that she once heard a principal say (at a school meet and greet one evening many years ago), “First I’ll capture their hearts and their minds will follow.” I never forgot that comment – even use it when I speak sometimes. I lived by it as a school principal myself.