2 Bay Area 5th graders finish top 10 in national Flocabulary rap contest

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) — The neighborhood near Mount Hood in Santa Rosa is a quiet area where you can usually hear birds singing in the distance.

But lately, you can also hear a different kind of singing – rap music.

The sound is coming from two Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School fifth graders who placed in the top 10 of a national rap contest run by Flocabulary, a company based in New York that creates educational hip-hop songs.

Contestants had to write the verse to a rap song based on a historical figure then record themselves performing it.

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Both Kamal Fisher and Isabella Vasquez finished in the top 10 of the Black History Month contest.

Kamal focused on Vivien Thomas, a Black man who worked developed a procedure to treat cyanotic heart disease (formerly known as blue baby syndrome).

“He is barely mentioned and I wanted to give him the recognition for the hero that he is,” said Kamal, who enjoys rap because he gets to rhyme words and put them to music.

In his song’s chorus, Kamal focuses on Thomas’ quest for a college education during the Great Depression and the challenges he faced as a Black man in the segregated South.

“He was a black man who enjoyed education.
He was praised for his great skill and obligation.
Whizzing through his classes, especially anatomy.”

Kamal was chosen as a finalist in the competition out of 450 entries, but the bigger surprise was that his classmate Isabella not only finished in the top 10 but also won the contest in the primary grade division.

“I was happy and a little bit surprised because I didn’t really think I would win,” said Isabella, who felt intimidated by the quality of previous entries.

Isabella highlighted the life of Sojourner Truth in her rap son.

Truth was born into slavery but escaped. She sued her former enslaver for selling her son and in 1928, became the first Black woman to win a court case against a white man.

Isabella called her a freedom fighter.

“Have you ever heard of Sojourner Truth.
She was a freedom fighter from her youth.
Courage, compassion and a moral compass.
Sojourner Truth was a fighter for justice.”

“We loved her hook. We loved her energy,” said Mike Judd, senior curriculum manager at Flocabulary.

“What was really fascinating about Isabella’s entry, the hook changed throughout her submission. So at first it had some adjectives about Sojourner Truth then she’d have a little bit of a verse and the adjectives would change to reflect what she said in the verse,” added Judd.

Their teacher, Leslie Loopstra, believes that rap music can be an effective learning tool. She encouraged her students to participate but didn’t expect them to have so much success.

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“I’ve had their songs stuck in my head since I first heard it and I think they are powerful,” said Loopstra.

Like previous winners, Isabella’s song will be recorded by a professional rapper for Flocabulary. And then made into an animated video that will also feature her.

The Bay Area also had a winner in Flocabulary’s Hispanic Heritage Month contest.

Milpitas 6th grader Hariharan Srikanth won the secondary grade competition for a rap on the Mexican Revolution.

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