In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Saint Leo University added a hip-hop element — showcasing the rapper Duke.
The Jan. 21 event was a part of the school’s weeklong series, recognizing the iconic civil rights leader.
Duke shared his story and inspirational words – sometimes conveyed through rap lyrics.
He noted his lyrics often are influenced by the words of the slain civil rights leader, the nation pauses to remember each year.
“He always tried to approach it from a positive light, and that really influenced me and my work,” he said.
Duke, born Bunduki Ramadan, said even before he was born, adversities have influenced his life, and those experiences led to his rap career.
His mother was still pregnant with him when his family fled during a civil war, from their native Sudan to Egypt.
Because of birth complications, Duke was pronounced dead upon delivery, but then was revived.
“By the grace of God, the baby gasps and begins to cry. That baby, that baby was me. That was my first time beating the odds,” he told those gathered.
The difficult birth, however, resulted in a health disorder that limited the use of his right arm.
His family relocated from Egypt to Jacksonville, Florida, where he grew up.
His brush with death, coupled with the encouragement of his parents, compelled him to push forward, despite his disability, the 27-year-old said.
Music has been a focal point in his life.
It started with his first attempt at rapping, during fifth grade.
Over the years, he has drawn inspiration from other hip-hop artists, such as Tupac Shakur, Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West.
Besides enjoying the art form, Duke said it has been a therapeutic source for channeling his frustration.
Among other kids at school, he said, he felt like an outsider, being “caught up in the gray middle.”
Duke noted that at times he was picked on for his dark skin complexation.
During a rap intermission, he explained the range of emotions felt when faced with bullying.
In one verse, he rhymes: “Cool on the surface, but it’s like the oven on.”
He went on: “Music has such a strong impact on your mood, your mentality and your mindset.”
Likening music to food, he cautioned the audience to be selective with what they consume.
He also touched on education.
He told Saint Leo students that by being at the university, they’ve already beaten the odds.
He attended the University of Florida, majoring in economics.
After graduating, he received several lucrative job opportunities.
But, he turned them down.
“My dream was to pursue my music and be able to use that as a tool to motivate people,” Duke explained.
Eventually, he moved to Atlanta to pursue that dream.
He fell upon some hard times, financially.
At one point, he was sleeping in his car.
In one of his song’s, he poses this question: “Now am I really selling my soul, or am I doing what I got to do to get to the goal?”
By working consistently in a music studio and forming new connections, he was able to build a name as a rap artist, he recalled.
Now, he performs hip-hop shows several times a month across the nation.
Delivering motivational speeches at schools also is on his agenda.
He has built clientele through his own marketing agency.
He described his success in another song — getting the audience to rap along.
The audience repeated the lyrics, as Duke rhymed: “I got some food on my plate, thank God. I got some money in the bank, thank God. My whole family is straight, thank God.”
He references Dr. King’s legacy as hope that each coming generation will struggle less than the one before it.
In his acclaimed 1963 speech, “I Have a Dream,” King said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Duke said he’s seen some progress. He said he would like to start a family one day, and he believes his children won’t have to face the same prejudice he experienced.
Duke said there’s power and value in gratitude.
“I want people to be grateful for what they have now,” Duke said. “Being grateful for what you have now is what paves the way for you to have more in the future.”
Published January 29, 2020