Alumni Serving Together – Two Ministries Combine for an Engaging Event
On November 17, two ministries combined into one charitable music event at Brookfield Lutheran Church. A concert was held for those interested in the rap and hip hop genre of worship music. Led by Milwaukee Lutheran High School math teacher and 2003 alum Josh Atkinson, along with a collection of students and church musicians, many of whom are also alumni, it was a night to remember.
The group from Milwaukee Lutheran is called ATK Ministry. They have been growing a repertoire of music over the last two years, and this concert was a culmination of their selections, along with some new additions. They rapped songs by popular Christian artists such as Lecrae, Andy Mineo, and NF, as well as mixes and originals written by Josh and the students, and an original performed by local musician, Travis Stase.
The proceeds of the concert went to a local shoe donation program, Jacarrie’s Kicks4Kids, started by another MLHS alumni, Jacarrie Carr (2010). He collects shoes from anyone who has an extra pair, and gives them to children at different events around Milwaukee that support struggling neighborhoods. Since his program began four years ago, he has collected and distributed nearly 3,000 pairs of shoes to children who can’t afford new kicks.
The concert not only brought in hundreds of people to worship God with a new song, but also $600 to contribute to Jacarrie’s program.
Josh started ATK Ministry two years ago. When he returned to MLHS as a teacher in 2011, he was excited to be working for his alma mater and go to chapels again, which has always been the highlight of many alumni memories. However, he noticed a shift in participation. Fewer students were engaged, but the chapels were just like he remembered. It was the student body who had changed. So maybe the music needed to change as well.
Hip hop and rap are the most popular music genres in Milwaukee. While not completely unheard of, Christian rap has a very small presence in that genre. Josh reasoned, if students are already tuned in to that style, why not get their attention back with that genre and incorporate Jesus’ message with it for chapel? He wrestled with the idea for several years prior. He wasn’t sure if he could pull it off. A tall, white, goatee-sporting dude with glasses is not the typical rapper. But he finally scheduled himself in, and found a student brave enough to perform with him at a chapel. He sang a couple songs, and thought that would be it. The feedback surprised him with all the support! He took more chapel slots, and added students to the stage. With a sizable group, the ATK Ministry was established. Now, Josh works with over 20 students who sing, rap, dance, play instruments, and coordinate the technical designs. Some students even write some of their own lyrics. The group performs at grade schools and even the sister high schools.
Besides using their talents for music, the ATK Ministry also volunteers to work with the students they perform for. At grade schools, they take time to read with and mentor the young students, to connect with them more and bridge the earlier distance from the stage.
Josh’s original goal with this was to connect with students in their element. “Eliminate sleepers” was the challenge he tasked himself with. Josh explains, “Students are guaranteed to be involved with hip hop or rap at some point in their lives, whether purchasing or listening to it, or even creating their own songs for recording. This ministry is an outlet for that musical creativity and interest while incorporating the message that all our schools teach. It’s about Jesus’ love and forgiveness, and urging students to live for God.” Having the same purpose as hymns, connecting the congregation with the word in a memorable venue, these songs are tailored toward today’s student with a faster beat and engaging lyrics.
Jacarrie Carr recalls two simple encounters in his life that stoked a passion for serving a need. He first met a young boy four years ago at the daycare his mother runs. This boy was embarrassed to try out for basketball because his shoes had holes. Being one of ten siblings made it difficult to get many basic items. Jacarrie wanted to help, but also didn’t have much money to part with as a college student at UW-Milwaukee. So he put a request on Facebook to see if anyone could help this boy. The result was a new pair of Jordans, and a happy basketball player!
The second instance was a week later, when a homeless man asked Jacarrie for money. Noticing he was wearing two different shoes, he decided instead to give the man the extra shoes he had in his trunk from basketball practice. Both events gave Jacarrie a feeling of fulfillment and led him to believe he had found his new calling to help his community with such a simple need.
He blasted his idea on every social media platform he had: to collect shoes and distribute them to those who need them in the community. He called his project Jacarrie Kicks4Kids. In the first year, he collected 600 pairs of shoes! The years after that brought in another 1000 shoes annually. He has been requested at events, such as National Night Out, around the lower income areas of Milwaukee to distribute and hopefully prevent any violence that could be instigated over needing such items.
Jacarrie knows the value of personal connections. At every event, he gathers the contact information of the children and families he distributes shoes to. His plans for next year are to reach out to interested candidates and get them into a program to teach them about entrepreneur and business skills. Learning trade skills are necessary for careers, but Jacarrie wants to give the opportunity for Milwaukee youth to build their potential with other assets for the evolving world that don’t just involve social media, such as resume writing, email etiquette, interview tips. He has already begun a class with high school students who have to research and give presentations about business ideas.
Another event he orchestrated was a Thanksgiving drive for five families that were nominated by community members. He and other supporters provided the families with turkey, ham, potatoes, cranberry sauce, macaroni, and specially designed cakes donated by a local baker. The group delivered the food personally and prayed for them. Jacarrie said, “It was amazing to be able to speak with them and restore that household atmosphere for the families.”
With the donations from the rap concert, Jacarrie was able to go Black Friday shopping for his second annual Kicks4Kids Christmas Toy Drive that was held on December 16. He gratefully commented, “I was honored to be the recipient of a donation like that. The spirit in BLC was amazing. It was great to see how Josh was able to get that path set up for those kids singing.”
Jacarrie graduated from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Education with a bachelors degree in Educational Policies and Community Studies, and is currently going for his Masters in Cultural Foundations of Education, which he will complete in May. You can read more about his ministry and learn how to donate at his website, www.jacarriekicksforkidsmke.org, or follow his story on social media, Jacarrie Kicks4Kids.