Motown's Musical Torch Lies in the Classroom

Stephen Brock

Stephen Brock graduated from Duke University in 2006 and moved to NYC to be a musician. As a day job, he taught math at Emily Kerry High School in Spanish Harlem. After two years, the school lost funding and Stephen found another job working at the Covenant House, a homeless youth shelter in the city. Little did he know that this necessary job shift would be a blessing in disguise.

At Covenant House, Stephen met a young musician named Hollywood Anderson. Stephen became Hollywood's manager, and together they were able to bring Hollywood's talent to life and all the way to American Idol, where it created a viral moment that left judge Jennifer Lopez in tears. This experience inspired Stephen to dedicate his life to music education. His first step? Moving to Detroit.

Breakout caught up with Stephen and asked him about his latest career move:

Where do you hail from?

Brooklyn by way of Cambridge.  

What is your profession?

Musician & educator. 

Favorite summer moment?

Getting the green light to pack my bags and head out to Detroit to start the next chapter in my life.  

What was your original interest in Detroit?

I kept on seeing the negative press Detroit was getting.  The hard times it was facing.  The fact that it was the first large city to declare bankruptcy.  I asked myself, how could this city, with all of its musical history, be in such bad shape?  More importantly for me, what was going on with the music programs there in the schools?  

What has surprised you the most in getting to know Detroit?

The divide between the wealth and poverty.  I can be walking through a wealthy street in Grosse Pointe and suddenly I cross the road and I’m in a poverty-stricken zone.  Some of the realities here remind me of movie scenes or war zones. It’s crazy.

How did you end up moving to Detroit?

This entire adventure originated thanks to Breakout’s trip to Detroit in June.  At the Neighborhood forum, I asked the panel about the role of music in this "resurgence" of Detroit, explaining my interest in developing modern music programs in the schools here. Each panel member agreed on the importance of Detroit's musical history, that it was a reason the country was rooting for the city. The real kicker, though, was when Veronica Conforme (Chancellor, Education Achievement Authority of Michigan) replied that as a matter of fact, a couple of her high schools had recording studios in their buildings and were unused. It was a eureka moment for me. We exchanged info after the Panel and she encouraged me to stay in touch. A few weeks later, I was put in touch with David Oclander, the new principal at Collegiate high school. He understood my vision and saw it as a way to increase student interest in the school. He invited me out to see the state of the studios. I was was blown away by the facilities, dusty but exceptional, waiting to be cleaned and used. He explained, "I'm gonna go to the administration and say, 'Look, if this crazy guy Brock is crazy enough to come here and make this program happen, I say we let him do it.'"  Sure enough, a few weeks ago, he called and informed me I had the green light to get to work. I sublet my place in Brooklyn, found an Airbnb in the Boston Edison neighborhood here in Detroit, and have been off to the races since.

What does the curriculum look like?

We’re still in the introductory stage of the course, mainly teaching kids about the different roles in the studio - the artist and engineer - and how they function together.  I’m working closely with Quincy Stewart, the head of the music department at Central high school, who built a music program from scratch three years ago.  We’ve now got talented kids in concert band, drum line, creating their own pop songs and raps, and combining them all. 

What are some of the challenges you are already experiencing?   

The exciting thing is for the most part, the kids here are drawn to the studios. That being said, I do want to be cognizant of not overly interfering with the current eco-system.  In order to be eligible to participate in the studio classes, they have to take a certain number of credits and have a minimum GPA. Some of the students are already making excuses or trying to skip class in order to use the studios, so the main problem is having them meet all the requirements in order to be eligible for the classes.  

You are only a few weeks in but what high level goals do you hope to achieve?  

To have a recording program that at least every student in the Detroit Public Studio has access to.  We want to create a network of student-run labels that are all linked together.  But truth be told, I'm only 2 weeks in and still physically dusting and setting up the studios!  

If we were to a chat a year from today, what would you hope to be saying?

That I’ve started something that’s much bigger than me.  I want the focus to be about empowering kids so that they feel like they can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other artists.  Ideally speaking, I’d love for there to be student-run labels, openings, and just having the students be able to dictate where they want to go with their creations.  

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