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Alumnus Bringing Diverse Youth Voices to Emerson CenterStage

Juma Inniss ’13
By Erin Clossey

Juma Inniss ‘13 wants you to hear something.

The recording artist/producer and media literacy educator is currently producing a group of up-and-coming artists with something to say, and he’s bringing them to Emerson College to debut their work at a Diverse Voices in Communication event, sponsored by the School of Communication.

“The theme of the album is about giving artists voice,” Inniss said of BostonRISE, the EP he and friend and creative partner Jared Price are making with Boston youth, ages 15 to 19. “It’s about these youth artists sharing their stories, sharing their hopes and struggles, sharing their aspirations and self-expression, as well.”

The show will be Thursday, February 21, 7:00-8:00 pm, at Center Stage. The set will span genres, from hip-hop and EDM to R&B and spoken word, Inniss said.

“This event is particularly important because it speaks directly to our students about issues we care deeply about, such as racial equality and social justice,” School of Communications Dean Raul Reis said. “It also helps us to build and strengthen our ties to the local Boston community.”

A bold idea

Inniss has been working with youth for years, as a facilitator with a Boston-based nonprofit, and as founder and director of The Message, a movement that teaches media literacy, critical thinking, and healthy decision-making to young people.

Last year, Inniss and Price, whom Inniss had worked with through The Message, decided to launch an initiative around music, uniting artists across genre, generational, and geographic divides. In addition to building bridges, they wanted to promote Boston’s music scene locally and far afield, and “remind people that our arts legacy didn’t end with New Kids on the Block or New Edition,” he said.

Inniss and Price got a Live Arts Boston grant from The Boston Foundation to launch BostonRISE. Part of the deal was they would give one to three live performances of the songs from the album. Inniss immediately thought of his alma mater.

“Emerson is all about diversity and inclusion and voice and story and empowerment,” he said. “It just happened that the [School of Communication’s] diversity [in communication] initiative was taking shape, and everyone agreed it would be a great way to expose the Emerson community to emerging local talent and to get a flavor of the city they’re in.”

BostonRISE will feature five to seven songs, including work by Inniss and Price, who performs as JPRiZM. They’re looking at a March release.

“They truly are really excited to share their art with you guys,” Inniss said of the young artists. “It’s something we’ve been looking forward to.”

Inniss called Emerson “really pivotal” in shaping his career.

He didn’t follow the standard script, he said. Heading straight to college after high school, Inniss dropped out to pursue a music career. Realizing he needed to learn the marketing side of the business, he came to Emerson to “learn how to do the things I wanted to do.

“There were a lot of opportunities to plug into, as far as my interests as a Marketing Communication major,” the E3 alumnus said. “[I had] faculty who were really aligned with my interests and really aligned in terms of personality and … worldview and general life understanding.”

The Message

When he worked as a facilitator at a youth services nonprofit, Inniss said there was one student who would write and perform incredibly violent lyrics. One day, the student was shot in the face. He survived his injuries, but his attitude sparked a question and a mission for Inniss.

“What could his decision-making and his art look like if we focused on giving him a lens before we gave him a microphone, before we gave him a platform?” Inniss said.

The Message, Inniss’ organization, aims to teach youth to think critically about culture and media. BostonRISE is a natural outgrowth of that, he said.

“They’re all really thoughtful young people with … things to offer in their art and music,” he said. “Media literacy isn’t just about content analysis, it’s about content creation.”

Price, Inniss’ partner on BostonRISE, said he thinks Thursday’s show at Emerson will “definitely provide a good time … and good vibes,” as well as spotlight young artists’ talent.

“I’m excited to see the hard work they’re putting in,” he said.

Inniss said he wants the Emerson audience to come away inspired, hopeful, and “with an increased … awareness of the city they’re in [and] the stories that make up the fabric of Boston.

“We’re not just a college town, we’re a world-class city.”





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