00:53 - Source: WJLA
Protesters block DeVos from entering school

Story highlights

The Black Opera released "Beautiful City" Monday

They hope to inspire kids living in the inner cities

Editor’s Note: Editor’s Note: Art often reflects the political pulse of society. CNN’s #GetPolitical series profiles artists and musicians about the issues they care about.

Washington CNN —  

The Black Opera has a message for new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos: There should be no poor schools.

“We’ve seen what’s going on with DeVos right now and what she stands for as far as education is definitely not going to be a positive for the inner cities,” Jamall Bufford, a member of the hip-hop duo, told CNN. “We need money to go into these public schools and not more money taken away.”

DeVos, an advocate for school choice, believes that parents – not the government – should be able to choose where to send their children to school, but public school advocates fear DeVos will steer funds away from public education.

Related: More artists and athletes get political

“If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools,” DeVos said during her confirmation hearing last month. “But, if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child — perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet — we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high quality alternative.”

CNN has reached out to the Department of Education for comment and have not yet received a response.

Protesters briefly blocked DeVos as she tried to enter Jefferson Middle School Academy, a public school in southwest Washington, DC, on Friday morning before subsequently entering to meet with students and faculty.

The group’s members, Bufford and Magestik Legend, grew up in Michigan — the former in the suburb of Ann Arbor and the latter in downtown Detroit, but their public school experiences were vastly different.

Legend said that while the concept of school choice sounds good, it is not necessarily an equalizer because even when implemented, the choices that are afforded for kids in rich districts are often superior to the ones offered to kids in poorer areas and the inner cities.

“I had a great education growing up in Ann Arbor … The fact that you can be in Ann Arbor and grow up poor like I did but still be afforded certain opportunities is what good public schools can do,” Bufford said.

But Legend, who attended a school of his choice in the inner city, described his experience as “depressing.”

“There were times when we didn’t have toilet paper. There were times when we had to share books and we were supposedly in a better school,” Legend said. “That will either increase the hope in you to where you will want to overcome or it can crush your spirit.”

The duo released the song “Beautiful City” Monday to inspire children growing up in the inner cities to find hope within their communities.

Courtesy of the artist

“There shouldn’t be a poor school. Period,” Legend said, adding later, “I think everybody should have a fair choice of schools. Schooling should not reflect your income.”

In a heated exchange, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray pressed DeVos during here confirmation hearing on whether she would “commit to not privatize public schools.”

“I guess I would not characterize it in that way,” DeVos said.

Bufford and Legend work with young people through music workshops and mentoring programs and Bufford said after seeing “what artistic expression can do for a young person, he worries that if money is taken away from public schools, students would not have access to the arts.

In high school, Legend had hoped to play football, but never got the chance because his school didn’t have the money for a football team.

“The thing that really hit my heart was the fact that I was in the best place, but it wasn’t the best,” Legend said. “That was my definition of what Detroit was, that we’re just not good enough.”

“You should be inspired to learn to a point where you can help your family. You shouldn’t feel like there’s no hope here because you don’t have toilet paper,” he added.