Jalil Shabazz wins West Side Achievement Award

Youth Worker Jalil Shabazz, 21, is the winner of the 2016 West Side Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth to improve the West Side. Jalil runs programming for teens at Wellstone Center, through El Rio Recreation Center and Urban 4-H. He teaches music theory on Mondays and Wednesdays, and leads the TeenPower group on Thursdays. TeenPower is a group of youth who hang out, make beats and write songs, and explore ways to express themselves artistically.

It’s fitting that Jalil leads this group, because he was part of TeenPower when it started in 2008. Jalil had just become interested in rap and music and was looking for a program that would bring together teens to make music. He met Joyce Strand, who worked for Urban 4-H (a University of Minnesota Extension Program), and together they brought the TeenPower group to life. With mentorship from Joyce and other teachers and musicians, Jalil took on leadership roles within the group and learned musical skills.

Soon, Jalil and Joyce received a grant to extend TeenPower to even younger kids. “I wanted to give back, but not by giving money – I wanted to give youth a program like the one that was given to me and my friends,” Jalil said. Although he was facing personal challenges, including homelessness and becoming a father at 15, he took a leadership role in starting up KidPower, a program like TeenPower, but for younger kids. At first KidPower was a week-long summer camp, but Jalil wanted to turn KidPower into something more stable, and offer it yearlong. So he did, combining KidPower with TeenPower and becoming the producer for their work. 

Now he’s worked with the group for a long time, and has a strong relationship with the youth who attend. His philosophy is always to be open and understanding with the youth. They see his face almost every day when they’re there, and some he’s known for more than half their lives. Jalil helps them capture what’s in their head and what’s going on their world and let it out through music and other forms of self-expression. He’s created a programming culture and space for the young people – they use it for homework, hanging out, and making music. It’s safe, comforting, and fun. One of the ways that he makes rapping and music-making fun is by doing “roasts” with the kids – using comedy to build rapping skills and relationships with each other.

In just a few months, Jalil will graduate from Full Sail College, where he’s been taking classes online and working toward a music production degree. What’s next for him? His goal is to continue making his own music, building his music following, and inspiring youth to get creative and express themselves through music of their own.

Watch "Food Song" and "Do the Lailah" written by the youth and produced by Jalil!