TheBlackManCan is back in Atlanta, GA to bring you another Black Man who is making remarkable contributions to society. We bring to you a Black Man who has always had a passion for math and music and now has turned that into a way to help youth learn both. We proudly present Marcus Blackwell, Jr. Founder of Make Music Count. Marcus sits with down with TheBlackManCan to discuss Make Music Count, the intersection of Math and Music and advice for young black males.
TheBlackManCan: Marcus, tell about your childhood and how it plays a role into the man you are today.
MB: My childhood upbringing was a combination of educational excellence, a love of music, and a religious foundation. My mother as an educator always pushed me to excel in school, constantly reminding me to “be a leader and not a follower”. As the oldest out of three sons I wanted to set the best example I could for my brothers. So in school growing up nothing less than excellence in the classroom was an option for me. My love of music came from my father who served as a music director playing the piano and organ for many churches in the Connecticut area. He would take me along to his every rehearsal to sit next to him on the piano or to sing in the choir. The largest influence on me growing up was my consistent attendance of church. In my family having a religious foundation is everything and that is where I spent the majority of my time growing up in church and it’s that foundation and spiritual connection that I give credit to the success I have. I operate within these three areas to this very day. Always looking to reach academic excellence has forced me to adopt a phenomenal work ethic that allows me to work harder than others around me. My love for music and religious foundation eventually combined into one passion as I now serve as the Music Director for the Fairburn location of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA.
TheBlackManCan: What did you realize that you had a passion for math and music?
MB: My passion for music began at the Artists Collective in Hartford, CT, which is an arts school that was founded by the late phenomenal jazz musician Jackie McLean. At the Artist Collective I began piano lessons at the age of 5 and the rest is history. Music instantly became a love and great passion of mine. It didn’t matter what style of music I learned I enjoyed it all. I grew up competing in piano competitions and recitals and was literally immersed into Classical, jazz and gospel. I wouldn’t be the musician that I am today without The Artists Collective.
My passion for math was realized in high school when I attended The Greater Hartford Academy of Mathematics and Science. Not only did my work ethic allow me to succeed but also I realized that I was actually good at math and even enjoyed doing it. Math didn’t necessarily come easy to me but I enjoyed the feeling of being challenged by a math problem but then also the relief and confidence gained from solving it. From there math and music would forever be my two passions.
TheBlackManCan: Share with us your Morehouse experience. Why did you decide on Morehouse? What does being a Morehouse Man mean to you? Why should students consider an HBCU education?
MB: My Morehouse experience was life changing…plain and simple. Before Morehouse I was a decent student that did well but attending Morehouse made me challenge myself to the point of reaching a new level of potential. Morehouse planted a seed of confidence that made me believe that I could achieve literally anything I set my mind to. My interest in Morehouse however began at birth since my father is a Morehouse Man. I was visiting Morehouse College every summer with my father before I even knew what college was since he was an Atlanta native. But that wasn’t enough for me to attend. As I mentioned earlier my mother always told me to “be a leader and not a follower” so I attended the Coca-Cola Pre College Leadership Program at Morehouse to further investigate my interest. These one-week included lessons on what it meant to be an ethical leader and how it was my responsibility to do well not simply for my own benefit but for the benefit of the community I came from. I had never heard a message like this before. An idea that me bettering myself was only important if it benefitted the community was incredible and sold me on Morehouse. This is what it means to be a Morehouse Man. Academic excellence but also having a social conscience so that you can use what you’ve learned to benefit the community. In my opinion every African American student should attend an HBCU. It’s in this environment where you’re able to reach your real potential and where you learn the values in doing well to better the African American community.
TheBlackManCan: What ignited the spark to start Make Music Count?
MB: The spark to start Make Music Count began with my ability to play music by ear. As a gospel musician about 98% of music learned is through this method. I always meet people who are interested in learning how to play the piano or used to play and want to get back into it. But the issue is that no one wants to learn how to read music. This means that I needed a way to teach people how to play music by ear. In my mind the only way to do this was by incorporating math to explain music. So I created a method where only understanding math steps would produce the sound of music. But this idea sparked the real one. Instead of using my new method to teach music, I believed that I could get students to not only be interested in math but also improve through the same teaching method. So now through this method I began to realize that if music were used as a reward for completing math assignments students would become more open to tackling math questions. So I created a curriculum that was all math based but would derive musical notes to allow students to play songs on the piano.
TheBlackManCan: What is the mission and vision behind Make Music Count?
MB: There are two missions of Make Music Count. The first is to get students excited about mathematics and to eliminate the intimidation that they have when solving math equations. Removing this intimidation will result in opening up more opportunities for students to consider studying and majoring in mathematics in college. The second mission is to validate the art of playing music by ear. Many great musicians learned how to play their instruments by only listening and practicing and hold leadership positions in the music world. Through the technique of playing by ear these musicians understand as much music as someone who studied music in school. My company will validate that learning how to play music by ear is enough to be considered a professional musician.
TheBlackManCan: How does the Make Music Count program work?
MB: The Make Music Count curriculum is centered around learning how to play hip-hop songs on the piano. But the catch is that solving a math equation derives every musical note that’s needed to play on the piano. My lessons currently range from basic addition and subtraction lessons to solving two-step algebra equations. The best part about my program is that you don’t need to have any musical background to participate. If you can count and solve your math equations you can play the piano. Music is used as a reward for completing the math assignments.
TheBlackManCan: How and why do math and music intersect? Why is this area something that needs to be explored in classrooms?
MB: Math and Music have always intersected. You in fact need math to understand every aspect of music. And this is the lesson that students need to be taught in the classroom. It really doesn’t make any sense for kids to like music and not like math. One cannot exist without the other. And if you enjoy and are good at one area then you by default good in the other.
TheBlackManCan: How and why do students develop mathphobia? How can Make Music Count address this issue?
MB: Students develop a mathphobia from teachers and each other. Math is taught to be feared and taught that it’s a class that is naturally hard. once one student believes this then so do the rest. Additionally there’s no connection to show how math is applicable to the real world. Students always wonder, “Where will I use this???” My program is used to eliminate this thinking. I show that math can be useful and even fun when you know how to apply it. Make Music Count takes math and shows how it can be used to play music on the piano. So if students can see that math can be related to something like music it will open up the thinking and discussion of “well what else can math connect to??” and that’s the goal of Make Music Count.
TheBlackManCan: Why is it important to get all students but in particular Black Males engaged and loving math?
MB: Its important to get all students engaged in math because it’s a great tool to use. Math is apart of everything. If you understand that there are so many opportunities and great jobs that will open up for you. But students hinder themselves by allowing teachers to intimidate them.
TheBlackManCan: Where do you see yourself and Make Music Count in the next five years?
MB: In the next five years Make Music Count will be a nation wide curriculum that will change how mathematics is taught in the classroom. My class will show improvement in the math scores of students all because of connecting math to a fun area that they can relate to. I believe that every school needs a program like Make Music Count, not as a class to take over normal math classes but as an extra help method to show students how what they learn in the classroom can be applied to other areas as well.
TheBlackManCan: Why it important for Black Men and Boys to see positive images of themselves?
Black men need to see positive images of themselves because its our reality. Everything about black men in our history is positive. We’re strong, intelligent men and always have been. Young black men need to see this so that they are not persuaded or tricked by the false images that the society would like to brand them with. Once they understand this there’s literally nothing a black man can’t do.
TheBlackManCan: What words of advice do you have for young Black Males of today?
MB: My advice for young black men of today is to be yourself. Don’t be fooled or persuaded by what brings someone else success. Everyone has something that makes them unique and makes them special. It’s the reason why your name is different from everyone else’s. But the reason why you have something unique about you is because there’s something specific that you are required to do while you’re here on Earth. You have a specific goal that you are to reach and obtain that was made just for you to do by the creator. And the way that you find out what that is by doing two things.
1. Understanding what you’re good at
2. Connecting that skill to how you can help someone else.
These two points combined with a great work ethic will take you anywhere you need to go.
Visit Make Music Count Now –> http://makemusiccount.org/
Purchase Books and Merchandise from Make Music Count Now–> http://makemusiccount.org/collections/all