The Corner

A Rapper and a School Reformer Start a Charter in Harlem

Hip-hop artist Sean “Diddy” Combs is putting his money where his mouth is and helping Harlem children receive a better education through a charter school he is starting with education reformer Steve Perry. Is the media congratulating him for his generosity? Not exactly.

With charter schools drawing the ire of teachers unions and even civil rights groups such as the NAACP, it should come as no surprise that Combs’s venture came under fire when it was announced earlier this year. Inexplicably, the Huffington Post said it was “ironic” that Combs had the audacity to support the school when he was once charged with assaulting his son’s football coach (the charges were dropped). The same article questioned whether Combs could be a model for students given his vulgar song lyrics (and you thought worrying about rap music was a conservative thing).

Perry, meanwhile, was attacked for his inflammatory comments about “fighting” and “injuring” public school interests after the Hartford Board of Education rejected a deal to expand charter government of schools in the city, despite its support from the mayor and school board chairman.

If a man that fights with football coaches and sings indiscreet songs teams up with someone who talks about “fighting” teachers unions, will innocent children be in danger at the charter school they helped start?  

Of course, Perry’s schools have not seen a rash of violence, but rather have sent 100 percent of graduates to college, and Combs has expressed a sincere desire to help children growing up in the same place he did. Combs told New York’s Pix11 News, “Instead of me complaining about education, I want to do something about it. So that’s why I’m starting this school.”

Evidently, the pair’s real crime is opposing the interests of teachers unions and supporting school choice. “I know in polite company, you’re not supposed to talk about the unions,” Perry said at a forum in 2013 “But I will. I’ve been to too many cities where the excuses pile up, one on top of the other. You know what happens with those excuses? They kill our kids.”

Happily, the negative press was not able to stop the school from opening, and Combs hopes it will bring opportunity. As a musician and entrepreneur who rose out of Harlem to become a millionaire, Combs should be commended for recognizing when talented kids aren’t being given a shot and then doing something about it. Unfortunately, with groups like the NAACP and teachers unions hardening their resolve to block every attempt at expanding school choice, other reformers have an increasingly fierce battle ahead of them.

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