The Brooklyn Barclays Center hosted a special rally with the I Will Graduate Day (IWG) rally, one of the largest educational events in the city, seeing over 11,000 students and educators gather to promote the importance of high school graduation.
The IWG Organization, co-founded by former music industry executive Tonya Lewis Taylor, aims to improve graduation rates and attendance at public schools. As a part of New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ Project Pivot initiative, many city leaders joined students and performers at the Oct. 24 event to emphasize how crucial graduating from high school can be.
“One day I got invited to a school to bring some of the celebrity artists that I work with to encourage the kids because the kids were not coming to school, and that changed the trajectory of my life,” Lewis Taylor told amNew York on Oct. 21. “I got a call the following week from the principal that said that the following Friday when those kids found out that Roc-A-Fella had taken over their school, the attendance went from 45% attendance to like 93% attendance.”
With her connections, Lewis Taylor realized that she could further encourage young people to take their schooling seriously and has since worked with elected officials to actualize the IWG organization’s goal.
“We are part of the Project Pivot family,” Lewis Taylor said. “We have been there from the beginning with developing the Project Pivot and all of the programming that they’re doing. Everything that we are doing is in alignment with the Project Pivot mission, we’ve given out curriculum that is DOE approved that we wrote that was donated to all the schools in NYC. We know that 330 schools have adopted the curriculum and 157 schools have actually completed the curriculum.”
The IWG Day rally saw a host of exciting pop culture icons grace the stage alongside elected officials, with familiar faces like hip hop artists Fivio Foreign and ballet dancer Misty Copeland encouraging students to pursue their education.
Joining the celebrities were local politicians and leaders in education like Schools Chancellor David C. Banks and Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso.
“Foundationally, what you see here is artists, rappers, sports players and political figures all coming together to let [students] know that the best path in life that will set aside the strongest foundation is for them to graduate,” Reynoso told amNew York on Monday. “[This event] gets them really hyped, gets them really excited and we hope that that carries with them for a long time.”
For students, it was a fun way to spend their Monday with energetic dance performances and celebrity sightings punctuated by brief speeches by community figures to emphasize the importance of graduation.
“It is definitely better than most Mondays, I’ll say,” said one student attendee. “It is really fun to watch a mini concert with my friends and dance and talk about everyone we’re seeing.”
For the entertainers, the event was significant because it was a reminder of what is important to them and their communities.
“I’m thinking about all the kids and when I was this age, I would have loved to get this message,” said performer Tren of music group Underrated Evolution. “To know that even though things may be hard now, it’s going to get better with time if you keep moving and keep believing in your dreams. I never thought I would be here performing at Barclays, and it all starts with one step and once you keep taking small steps it will really add up.”