What does success mean to you? KJ Kearney, a Charleston-area native, is helping young people answer that question.
Kearney is Executive Director of the non-profit youth development program, H1GHER LEARNING, where he is working to create lasting change through non-traditional methods of education. The H1GHER LEARNING curriculum is designed for students who connect and identify with rap music and hip-hop culture.
“Hip-hop is used as a scapegoat for what’s wrong in the black community. I feel like I can reach these kids. When kids are comfortable with you they tell you everything. I’m going to expand [their minds] using rap music. Beyond being a student or entrepreneur, it’s about being a good person.”
His plan: Use familiar subject matters including trends, lyrics, marketing, important dates, facts, and figures to explore ideas and identify paths to individual success.
H1GHER LEARNING started out as a niche fashion blog. During the brand’s evolution, Kearney donated more than $12,000 worth of sneakers to at-risk students. Then, after meeting with one of his own mentors, Kearney was inspired to give more than shoes.
“They need to travel, to see things. Some of them have no concept of how big this world is and when you don’t know how big the world is you limit yourself on what possibilities exist.”
As part of his efforts he has been doing a series of hip-hop events to raise awareness and funds for his start-up program. His largest event, the BIG MIX will return for the third time this summer, sponsored in part by the city of North Charleston.
Kearney, who is also an assistant teacher at an alternative school, has been fortunate to encounter mentors in his life and to graduate from South Carolina State University. He credits much of who he is to those experiences. Now, he wants to be a catalyst to creating those opportunities for others.
“Just because you have a situation doesn’t mean you can’t still be successful.”
Words by Victoria Rae Boynton
Photo by Leslie McKellar