Independent Media Center catches up with Mother Nature

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Photo courtesy of Nicci Briann

Mother Nature poses for a group photo. The duo have continued their “Deseducation” workshops via Zoom since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thin wooden discs hung from Shasta Matthews ears down to her shoulders. Each earring featured a detailed cutout of Lauryn Hill’s face, immortalized in the 1999 “Miseducation” album cover. Next to Matthews, Tierney Reed wore large round crystals in her ears and around her neck. His red hoodie had a little white text on it: “The murder must stop.”

On Wednesday night, the Independent Media Center hosted Matthews and Reed, also known as Klevah Knox and TRUTH from Chicago hip-hop duo Mother Nature, on “Sounds Like Community.” The conversation was guided by Dr. Blair E. Smith, IU Postdoctoral Fellow in Arts Education and longtime community organizer.

“It’s really good to be here and to be in this black girl energy,” Matthews said.

Since joining UI in 2011, Matthews and Reed have enjoyed promising success as Mother Nature and as founders of their “The Miseducation of Hip-Hop” workshop series. As their reach as artists and educators grow, they remain true to the local and local approach that first brought them to IMC around 2015.

Matthews and Reed described these early years as punctuated by racial trauma. They recalled how Champaign County Council was pushing to build a new prison and how Trayvon Martin’s murder looked like an open wound. Matthews and Reed were brought in to deal with the voices of local black and brown youth.

“No one was listening,” Reed said. “Nobody cared.”

In June 2016, Mother Nature organized her first “Miseducation” workshop at IMC. With support from the Urbana Arts Grant, the joyous event welcomed young black students in writing, producing and performing music.

Matthews and Reed found advice for their Miseducation mission from Dr Ruth Nicole Brown, founder of the local organization Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths. In 2014, SOLHOT hosted Black Girl Genius Week, a week-long celebration of black girls as producers of culture and knowledge.

“Dr. B and SOLHOT were that main thing that showed us reflecting ourselves in a way that was like, ‘wow, this is our life,’” Reed said.

Nowadays, the “Miseducation” workshops operate on a structured and practiced program. “Miseducation” has reached conferences, schools and youth centers across the country and abroad. Since last spring, the program has continued its journey via Zoom.

Matthews and Reed fill each new space with uplifting and uplifting energy.

“It’s really about extracting that genius,” Matthews said, “that genius from the black girl.”

In Mother Nature’s vision, the release of this genius ultimately fuels communities. They believe that young people can learn to care for each other by learning to be creative together.

This philosophy comes to life in Mother Nature’s artistic collective, The Gr8 Thinkaz. This community of peers from Matthews Urbana High School ventured to Chicago. There they continue to support each other in all personal and creative ways that institutions cannot.

“Our home, the Gr8 Thinkaz right now, is our plan to make it a new company for the world,” Reed said. “It’s huge and something that’s going to take forever, but every day we get closer to it.”

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