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Educator and performer T. Mychael Rambo educates and inspires youth and police in Hibbing, Minnesota.

T. Mychael Rambo performing in Hibbing
T. Mychael Rambo performing in Hibbing

“You could hear him all through the Hibbing High School Auditorium. As he captivated the audience with ‘If You Believe,’ from The Wiz,” said Hibbing Foundation fundholder Rosy Kirk of her friend T. Mychael Rambo. “It was hard not to hear his voice. You could hear the people say, ‘oh beautiful.’ He had this way of singing and telling a story and it just melted my heart.”

Rosy is one of the individuals responsible for bringing the Emmy Award-winning actor, vocalist, educator and community organizer to Hibbing. For years she’s worked with T. Mychael, bringing him to the city of Hibbing numerous occasions for workshops, projects and classes with the schools’ drama departments. But a recent visit in January was for a different purpose.

This time he came to Hibbing to help address racial biases and celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. with two performances for youth called “Moving the Dream Forward” and a training for local police officers called “Courageous Conversations.”

“We reached nearly 1,600 students with his two performances as a part of our MLK Day celebration,” said Jennifer Hoffman Saccoman, executive director for the Hibbing Foundation. “And we had our police department, the Chisholm Police Department, the Virginia State Patrol and a whole host of clergy as part of the Courageous Conversations.”

Working Together

“In 2020 we applied for the Owens-Pesavento/Dr. Benjamin P. Owens Family Foundation grant at the Hibbing Foundation with the hopes to get T. Mychael to speak to our students and our officers,” said Hibbing Police Chief Steve Estey.

Chief Estey had heard of T. Mychael’s previous work in the city from Rosy and Jennifer, and thought it would be a great idea to have him come back to specifically talk to the police department and youth about the importance of appreciating and understanding people’s differences.

“Our hopes for the police department and our city are to educate ourselves on racial and cultural biases,” said Chief Estey. “We're pretty fortunate up here in Hibbing. We don't have a lot of the social issues that occur in the Metro. My hope is if we can have up front conversations, we hopefully don't have to have those types of issues down the road.”

With their assistance and additional support from Rosy and Jennifer’s donor advised funds, Chief Estey was able to connect with T. Mychael. In his performances for the youth, he talked about the legacy of Dr. King, biases and the importance of understanding each others’ differences. He also shared a personal story about traveling with his mom to the Jim Crow South and the reasons why his mother packed sandwiches versus trying to enter restaurants they weren’t allowed in.

According to Jennifer, one student intently listening to the discussion even asked “what does Jim Crow mean?’ This was just one example of how his performance impacted the students, educators and police.

“My staff and students had some great discussions in the classroom when they returned to school,'' said Robert Bestul, principal of Hibbing’s Lincoln Elementary School. “Anytime we can bring a discussion around racism to our youth, it’s important.”

His performances resonated with children of all ages.

“The students responded with keen interest and attention,” said Michael Finco, principal of Hibbing High School. “I believe that we need to teach our students that we are all individuals and shouldn’t be judged based on their color.”

My staff and students had some great discussions in the classroom when they returned to school. Anytime we can bring a discussion around racism to our youth, it’s important.

Robert Bestul, principal of Hibbing’s Lincoln Elementary School

Captivating an Unlikely Audience

In his training for the police, T. Mychael took a deeper look at racial bias, exploring subconscious and preconceived thoughts that have led many people of color to have a strained relationship with police.

“There was a lot of apprehension at first when I told my officers what this was going to entail,” Chief Estey said. “They thought it was going to be the same old PowerPoint, basically telling cops they’re racist, but for the cops to give the training a review like they did really says a lot about T. Mychael. The comfort level that he gave to these officers sets him apart. I'd like to have yearly training if I could because he did an outstanding job."

His performances for the students and officers were just two examples of how T. Mychael engaged the Iron Range community.

“He believes in Hibbing and we are very honored by that,” said Rosy, who also had T. Mychael assist drama students from Hibbing on writing skits to tell their own personal stories about bias and discrimination. “He is always saying that we are empowering our community, which makes it really easy for us to call on him for support.”

The Hibbing Foundation is a community affiliate of the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation. Providing local leaders with the tools and resources they need to fulfill their community’s vision is another way the Foundation invests in community-led solutions.

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