Thursday, October 9, 2014
Test-taking skills and freestyle rap don’t often go together.
But for academic success coach and hip-hop artist George Morgan, there are no limits when it comes to keeping Mercyhurst North East students engaged in their studies and campus life.
“My primary role is an academic success coach, but I do everything I can to bring this university together,” said Morgan, who has been at Mercyhurst North East since November 2012.
Lately, what that means is sharing his love of performance with the student body to build relationships and promote enthusiasm for the North East community.
An accomplished rapper, Morgan became interested in writing hip-hop music at age 12 when he was grounded after bringing home a couple bad grades.
“I started writing music because, well, I was grounded and I had nothing else to do,” he said. “I found it very therapeutic, because these were my thoughts. I felt free when I wrote.”
He continued writing and performing throughout high school and as an undergrad at Penn State Behrend.
In 2007 after moving to Massachusetts, Morgan met up with a group of guys interested in freestyle rap, and the four of them formed a cypher, a term for a group of rappers freestyling back and forth.
“I’d always been an individual artist, but when I met these guys, I thought, ‘Hey, we could do something,’” he said.
They call themselves Team P.R.O.M.I.S.E. – an acronym for “Please Recognize Our Music Is So Endangered,” which Morgan says represents the unique philosophy of the musicians.
“We feel like we’re leaders, we’re a rare breed when it comes to music,” said Morgan, who performs with Team P.R.O.M.I.S.E. as Buddy Luv. “The music that we make is about real-life experiences that we have. We want to make people think.”
Now that he lives in Erie, there are fewer opportunities for Morgan to perform with his group, though they do send music to each other over the Internet and Morgan travels to Boston to record with them occasionally, most recently in July.
“At the end of the day, I’m not really trying to get a record deal. We do it because we enjoy it,” Morgan said.
Morgan’s love of performance and knack for generating excitement among the student body at North East came together in the spring of 2014 when he and several staff members organized a series of open-mic nights in March and April on the North East campus.
Morgan showcased his hip-hop talents at the first event, performing his song “The Last Hope.” “I got the audience involved too by having them give me a beat, clap with their hands,” he said.
Their second event, a collaboration with the English Department, took place on Poem in Your Pocket Day, a National Poetry Month initiative that encourages people to carry around copies of their favorite poems. With the added incentive of free t-shirts for the first 80 people, this open-mic night saw a relatively large turnout, with about 100 people in attendance and about 25 people performing, according to Morgan. Most students read works by their favorite poets, including Langston Hughes and Maya Angelo, and others shared personal writings or music.
“Events like this are a way to bring people on campus together, and strengthen relationships between faculty, staff, administrators and students. Outside class, we can talk and socialize as well, which helps build relationships,” said Morgan, who is planning the next open-mic night later this fall.
In the age of smart phones and social media, relating to students and keeping them engaged in their studies and campus life can be a challenging job for any teacher or counselor, but Morgan’s outgoing personality and personal touch make him an effective counselor to the North East students.
“I keep it real with them, let them know I’m a human being and we all breathe the same air,” he said. “I think getting personal and sharing my life experiences with them helps them to be more personal with me as well.”
Morgan’s community engagement extends beyond the Mercyhurst North East campus as well. A resident of Erie’s lower west side, Morgan is actively involved with the Erie branch of the NAACP and its Get Out the Vote campaign, and the Erie County Human Relations Commission, which works to eliminate discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.
But while he’s at North East, his focus remains squarely on the students.
“My goal is to have more student involvement, to enhance the opportunities for students out here to get involved,” Morgan said. “One of the things that helped motivate me in college was getting involved. It helps students step out of their shell, and let people know who they are.”