Michael Wiggins

After Ferguson: UAP Changemakers Initiative Lesson Plan

At Urban Arts Partnership, the Changemakers Initiative encourages teaching artists to explore social justice issues in their classrooms. This lesson was developed by UAP Program Staff Augustina Warton and Jamel Mims, in the aftermath of the police shooting of Michael Brown, as a portable workshop for teaching artists to take into their communities and classrooms. At UAP, we believe that Teaching Artists are uniquely situated to help young people find creative ways to respond to significant events by using art as a vehicle to transform their schools and communities for the better. This culturally responsive lesson plan is built around a critical analysis of a popular Hip Hop artist’s work and public statements. The lesson culminates in the creation of a “hook” for a song. This music-oriented workshop can be adapted to encompass other art forms. In facilitating this workshop, for both young people and adults, we have noticed that many feel compelled to respond through other art forms, such as dance, spoken word poetry, and/or visual art.

Age Range: Middle School, High School

UAP Methodology:







Notes: This workshop should be facilitated, carefully, with students who have access to social/emotional support from a teacher or guidance counselor. This workshop process will be more effective with students who have some awareness and understanding of the facts surrounding the police shooting of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri.

Duration: 90-minute workshop

Essential Questions:
What do you think about what has happened in Ferguson? What do you feel about what has happened? What do you wonder about? What does it mean to you?

Related Common Core Standards:



Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.



Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.

Related National Core Arts Standards:


Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.

Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.

Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.

Anchor Standard #3. Refine and complete artistic work.


Performing (dance, music, theatre): Realizing artistic ideas and work through interpretation and presentation.

Presenting (visual arts): Interpreting and sharing artistic work.

Producing (media arts): Realizing and presenting artistic ideas and work.

Anchor Standard #4. Analyze, interpret, and select artistic work for presentation.

Anchor Standard #5. Develop and refine artistic work for presentation.

Anchor Standard #6. Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work.


Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.

Anchor Standard #7. Perceive and analyze artistic work.

Anchor Standard #8. Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.

Anchor Standard #9. Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.


EXPERIENCE: 15 minutes


Set-up: Place images (see attached) around the room, invite participants to choose the image that resonates with them.

To facilitate the process, say:

  1. Go around the room and look at the images.
  2. Stand next to a picture that you feel strongly about.
  3. Discuss the picture with the people who are standing close to you. That will be your working group.
  4. After reflecting with your working group, come up with a shared response to the picture to report back.

Participants report back, briefly.

STUDY: 15 minutes


Participants will listen to the song “Be Free” by J. Cole.

Set-up: Find the song “Be Free” by J. Cole online at: https://soundcloud.com/dreamvillerecords/j-cole-be-free

To introduce the song, say:

With his song “Be Free.”, J. Cole pays tribute to the late Michael Brown, the 18-year old shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Over a repeating piano loop, J.Cole repeats over and over again “All we wanna do is take the chains off/All we wanna do is be free.” Instead of rapping a verse, Cole chooses to sample interview footage from witnesses of the shooting. I have listened to the song, and I think it is a simple, yet poignant, sign of solidarity with those who have been marching in Ferguson and across the nation looking for justice in the wake of Brown’s death. What do you think?

Participants will engage in critical analysis of the song “Be Free” by J. Cole.

To introduce the process, say:

We will listen to a song by J.Cole., which was posted online by the artist after the police shooting of Michael Brown. Along with the song, J. Cole also issued the following statement:

“There was a time in my life when I gave a f*ck. Every chance I got I was screaming about it. I was younger. It’s so easy to try to save the world when you’re in college. You got nothing but time and no responsibility. But soon life hits you. No more dorms, no more meal plan, no more refund check. Nigga need a job. Nigga got rent. Got car note. Cable bill. Girlfriend moves in and becomes wife. Baby on the way. Career advances. Instagram is poppin. Lebron leaves Miami. LIFE HITS. We become distracted. We become numb. I became numb. But not anymore. That coulda been me, easily. It could have been my best friend. I’m tired of being desensitized to the murder of black men. I don’t give a f*ck if it’s by police or peers. This sh*t is not normal. I made a song. This is how we feel.”

On SoundCloud, he added:

“Rest in Peace to Michael Brown and to every young black man murdered in America, whether by the hands of white or black. I pray that one day the world will be filled with peace and rid of injustice. Only then will we all Be Free.

Participants listen to J.Cole’s song, “Be Free”.

Participants will analyze the song using the SAMSC + ME pattern.

To facilitate the process, say:

Take a few minutes to analyze the Story, Audience, Message, Style, and Context of J.Cole’s song, “Be Free”.  Record your thoughts under each category. After you have recorded your thoughts, we will share and discuss our analysis as a group. Modification: Each group can work on only one category from the list.

Story — What is the story? Beginning, middle, end?

Audience — Who is the audience for this piece?

Message — What is the piece trying to express?

Style — What technique(s) did the artist use?

Context — What made the artist create this work?

+ME – How is this issue related to me?  

Present: Each group is given the chance to share out their responses to the song. If appropriate, each group can use a different artform to frame their presentation. Responses may be written, drawn, shared through digital means (video/audio), or performed live.

CREATE: 20 minutes

Participants will be invited to create a “hook”.
To introduce the process, explain what a hook is:
What is a hook? A hook is the foundation of a hit-single. It can be short or long. It can be a single note, or a series of notes. In the lyrics of a song, a hook can be a line, or phrase, or an entire verse. The hook is what sells the song. A hook is something you can easily remember. A hook doesn’t have to be words. A hook can be memorable, or catchy, sounds, such as “Hey Ya! Hey Ya!” or “Da Doo Run Run”. Ideally a hook should contain one or more of the following: (a) a danceable beat, or rhythm; (b) a memorable melody or tune (c) words or lyrics that tell a story, or describe a person, place, or thing.

Quick assessment:

Ask if students can identify the hook in the song “Be Free”?

Wait for students to answer, then reveal the hook from the song:

“All we wanna do is take the chains off

All we wanna do is take the chains off

all we wanna do is be free

all we wanna do is be free”

To facilitate the creative process, say: Now that you know what a hook is, create your own hook as a response to what’s happened in Ferguson. You can also respond directly to J. Cole’s song, “Be Free”.

REFINE: 10 minutes

To facilitate refinements and editing during this process, say:

  • Listen to the instrumental track a few times before you begin writing.
  • Jot down some of the feelings you want your audience to hear when they listen to your song.
  • Do you want it to be melodic or rhythmic? It should be catchy! Experiment!
  • Draft your ideas first, then edit what you’ve come up with!

PRESENT: 15 minutes

Participants share their hooks. Participants can record their hooks using digital tools (video/audio).

REFLECT: 15 minutes

Participants are guided through a conversation about the work they have created, and the experience of participating in the workshop.


Images for student reflection:

HT_michael_brown_sk_140813_16x9_992 53ee71fd731e9.image  police-2  violence-erupts-ferguson-missouri


Images for J Cole Section

artworks000088132493ariywit500x500.jpg.CROP.rtstoryvar-large j-cole2

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