Pittsburgh Changemaker: Bilal Rey Abbey
Kelly Strayhorn Theater is presenting local leaders that have been changemakers in Pittsburgh. Mentors, teachers, artists— KST acknowledges these pioneers. This is Our Story: KST Recognizes Pittsburgh Changemakers.
Bilal Rey Abbey, Heinz Endowment Fellow and Hip-Hip Artist
1- What do you do for the community now and why is it important?
I am currently a Heinz Fellow with The Heinz Endowments. The job of a Heinz Fellow is to act as a tutor and mentor for African American male youth in Pittsburgh public high schools. I have been an active fellow at Brashear High School for the last two years and I believe the work that Kevin McNair, Chance Wideman and myself are doing is a vital step in the process of African Americans reclaiming our community. Right now, the lowest achieving demographic in PPS (Pittsburgh Public Schools) is African American males. There are many factors as to why this disparity exists; none of them are ability. It’s my job to facilitate critical thinking and exposure for our young men so that they take control of their own academic pursuits and identities, and stop shying away from engaging with the school system.
I am also a Hip-Hop artist and part of a group know as the Heroes & Terrorists (The H&T). We chose this name because “life is duality”. Regardless of your self-perception, point of view, and intention, there will also be those that are affected in a negative way by your actions. This is a theme that is present throughout all our music, and also in my programming and interactions with students.
2- What is one defining moment of your life? (When you decided to do what you’re doing now).
The defining moment in my life was when I made a song called Funk 4 Life. The song was lighthearted and focused on my past, present, and projected future experiences with school, music and manhood. After recording and mixing the song I realized that I really enjoyed making songs that doubled as personal notes on life. I realized that the music was helping me grow as a person, and from that moment on I felt that it was my calling to share the information I had gathered about personal growth on my journey with others so they might grow as well.
3- What advice do you want to share with the youth that want to become a changemaker in their community?
The advice that I’d share with youth is always search for yourself. It might sound strange but it’s important to understand that you are never done growing as a person, and because you’re constantly growing you are always changing. You have to be diligent in working to understand yourself and your core values or your social media timeline will define them for you. It’s ok to try things that no one you know has ever done. It’s okay to be different. By fighting your growth you are being your own worst enemy. Lastly, I would provide this old African Proverb Brotha Leon Ford shared with me at the 10th grade We Promise Summit, “When there are no enemies within; the enemies outside cannot hurt you.”
4- What is a song on your playlist? (A song that motivates and drives you?).
I believe that music is like food. I make a conscious effort to monitor what I ingest because it affects my output. This is especially true for music because being an artist myself, I am open to influence from other artists, whether it be delivery or content. The majority of music that I listen to is from my group the H&T because I am invested in our message and identifying ways we can be better. The H&T song that gets me ready for the day is a track called Gratitude, which is on our up-and-coming mix-tape called “Gritz & Grenades”. The track is about being grateful for the positives in life, and understanding that you’re not defined by your possessions. The second track I would say that gets me ready for the day is Respiration on the Black Star album.
Listen to Abbey’s pick for his motivational track, Gratitude and can check out his YouTube for more videos.