Hip-Hop U: The First Wave Scholars


Minority youth in Wisconsin and elsewhere face immense barriers to success in education and, in particular, music education. Noticing both a challenge and an opportunity in our service area, PBS Wisconsin embarked on a multifaceted collaboration to address issues of accessibility and representation in our state.

Through its Young Performers Initiative (YPI), PBS Wisconsin celebrates young people in the arts across the state and works with partners to support and advance music education. PBS Wisconsin realized that YPI could and should play a larger role in efforts to engage underserved youth in music education.

We reached out to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s First Wave Scholars program, which provides students who excel in hip-hop, dance, song, spoken word, and/or other urban art forms with a four-year full tuition scholarship. We wanted to collaborate with First Wave to develop new educational opportunities for students and educators, and to create a documentary to share First Wave with our viewing audience.

In 2016-17, PBS Wisconsin sponsored 78 music educators to attend First Wave’s annual Hip-Hop in the Heartland conference. We also gathered data to help us understand disconnects in music programming. We knew some educators were already doing inclusion work well and this group helped us create video content to demonstrate how others could successfully incorporate similar culturally relevant frameworks in their own classrooms.

Over the course of 2017, PBS Wisconsin documented the personal stories and performances of First Wave participants and featured them in “Hip-Hop U: The First Wave Scholars.” We first shared this documentary with our broadcast audience of 500,000 weekly viewers on Sept. 24, 2018, and believe it helped give Wisconsinites a starting point for conversations about equality, diversity, and social change during a time of increased racial tensions in our country.

In the years since, the partnership has continued to expand and deepen. PBS Wisconsin has both hired and helped produce work by former students.

Additionally, we have sponsored 78 educators to attend UW’s Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives’ annual conference. Each of these educators interacts with up to 100 different students per week, depending on the number of classes they teach. Many of their students come from underserved communities and diverse populations who may not otherwise have the opportunity to interact with a teacher practicing culturally responsive pedagogy in the classroom.