A literary adventure between Canadian hip hop legend Wes ‘Maestro’ Williams (also known as Maestro Fresh Wes) and an elementary school teacher started with one school visit.
Western alumna Rhodora Meliton-Vanderpool, BA’98, BEd’99, and Williams, along with illustrator Leon ‘Eklipz’ Robinson, have teamed up to write a children’s book.
Stick to Your Vision. Young Maestro Goes to School celebrates family, mentorship and the contributions of elementary school teachers to children’s success, said Meliton-Vanderpool.
The story highlights the adventures of a young Maestro Wes and his introduction to hip hop music. As part of the plot, young Maestro Wes competes in the school’s writing contest. While nervous to compete, he draws inspiration from his family, teachers, and friend and mentor DJ Greg. With their encouragement, he finds the power of writing and uses his voice to capture the reader.
“We often see how competition plays out in team and individual sports. It was nice to see a young Wes compete in a writing contest and to reflect on how intimidation and self-doubt can play into our ability to perform,” said Meliton-Vanderpool.
She added children need a community to champion their dreams, goals and their potential for greatness.
Williams describes the book as ‘semi-autobiographical.’ He said Mr. Wilson is a real person and was his teacher in grades two and three while the Mrs. Santos character is based on his teachers from grades 4-8. Also, DJ Greg is Williams’ good friend, Greg Nathaniel, who was his first DJ, hip hop mentor and introduced Williams to the producers of his first album.
The book is a tribute to elementary school teachers. Williams credits them for his success because they supported his creative pursuits. For example, his grade four teacher, Ms. Toner, chose him to present a speech to the school.
“I was nervous, but I did it, because she believed in me,” he said.
Other teachers also influenced Williams’ life. He said Mr. Wilson encouraged him to write while his sixth-grade teacher, Ms. Hickey, gave creative writing assignments, allowing him to use his creativity.
“I also recited a winter poem to the school in grade 6,” he said. “I did it in hip hop form and the crowd went wild.”
Stick to Your Vision. Young Maestro Goes to School is for children in kindergarten to grade six. So far, Williams and Meliton-Vanderpool have showcased their work to more than 20,000 people online.
Meliton-Vanderpool teaches at St. Angela Catholic School in Toronto. As part of their studies, students learned about Canadian hip hop history and the work of Maestro Wes. Meliton-Vanderpool saw the school transformed through culturally responsive pedagogy.
However, the learning didn’t stop there. Williams also visited the school and shared his story growing up in Toronto as well as his experiences as an actor, author, producer and motivational speaker. He stressed to students the importance of hard work and to set high expectations and goals for themselves.
After the presentation, Williams kept in touch with the school and became its unofficial ambassador. That’s when they decided to collaborate on a book, said Meliton-Vanderpool.
Williams is a Juno Award-winning hip hop artist whose hit, Let Your Backbone Slide, was the first hip hop song inducted into The Canadian Song Writers Hall of Fame. He’s also a Gemini Award-nominated actor, having appeared on CBC Television’s ‘Mr. D’ for eight seasons.
“I feel there isn’t a lot of Canadian content in the books available to students that celebrate Canadian hip hop and following a young Wes to hear about his struggles, successes and longevity in the industry are important,” said Meliton-Vanderpool.