In January, a class from Plaisance Middle School clapped and cheered as their attention was fixated on the floor where dancers were breakdancing to hip-hop music. They weren’t unruly students making a scene, but a group of artists with a message on an important topic in today’s culture: gun violence.
Terrance Morgan, founder of The Mission Matters (TMM) Project, has taken breakdance and hip-hop from a performing art of the streets and utilized it as a tool in educating and engaging students across the state in an interactive experience.
Through their hip-hop and breakdancing moves, meaningful lyrics and talks, Morgan and his group tackle topics focusing on a number of topics including self-improvement, self-esteem, work ethic, the power of positive thinking, and a number of other life skills and behaviors.
A Coteau native, Morgan was introduced to hip-hop at the age of 10, watching MTV and music videos and listening to music from his neighbor’s boom box. By 19 he began breakdancing and improvisational dance with teens from the Laotian village near his home. “We started going to underground B-boying (breakdancing) battles; it was more about bragging rights and learning new moves,” he adds.
Soon after, he became part of a network of underground breakdancers competing in Houston and Austin where that dance scene was more popular. It opened the door to meeting dancers who performed in music videos and on stage, which peaked Morgan’s interest in the entertainment industry. “I met a friend who performed with Fly Dance Co. in Houston, and they traveled all over the world dancing with educational messages behind the programs to inspire the kids,” he recalls.
Morgan had the dance skills and also the familiarity of being around students while working at Boys and Girls Club in New Iberia and Lafayette for two and a half years. He also had a strong personal motivation to be an influencer for children. “I never knew my dad and wanted to be there for my kids – and for others,” he shares. “I wanted to inspire them to be whatever they thought they were good at - and that inspired me.”
His first arts education program was in 2005 through Acadiana Center for the Arts (ACA). “Think Positive” was performed at Lafayette Parish elementary and high schools throughout the ACA touring artist roster. He continues to partner with the ACA’s appearing at schools throughout Acadiana. “They have been one of my biggest supporters in arts education since day 1,” says Morgan.
Today Morgan along with dancers and musicians Toriz Hypolit, Kenrie Martin, Legend the DJ, Morgane Prejean, and Nick Sedita travel to Acadiana schools with the gift of a message wrapped in a performance.
One of their most powerful messages – and one well received in schools – is titled TRIGGRD (The Right Intentions Give Guns Responsible Direction), speaking on anti-gun violence. After a performance at The Magnet Academy for Cultural Arts in Opelousas its principal said, “The program put on by The TMM Project, TRIGGRD, was amazing and everything I hoped it would be as a school leader. It addressed gun violence by explaining the emotions of how kids and teachers feel being in a drill situation in a classroom setting…I would highly recommend this performance to be shown in every junior and high school throughout the state of Louisiana.” This month Morgan and company will team up with law enforcement in East Carroll Parish for presentations at two schools.
During Black History Month, TMM performed “Envision the Streets” at a private school in New Orleans. Morgan describes it as “a cultural journey with two dancers, a saxophone and drums showcasing different street scenes from New Orleans, New York, Chicago – even the Caribbean.”
Get HYPE (How You Prepare for Everyday) is a presentation to help prepare students for standardized testing in April and a tool to teach goal setting and productive habits. Presented in March the interactive program features a DJ, music, dancing, a skit that speaks on making good decisions, even a game show involving staff members, all ending with a question-answer session.
Look for The TMM Project at the children’s stage of Jazz Festival in New Orleans this year, along with Amanda Roberts and Lady Chops. Excited about this opportunity Morgan says, “The performance is titled “Makin’ Moves,” and we’ll be speaking to the kids between breaks and convey the message that no matter where you come from, what you’re going through or where you’re going, keep making moves and moving forward. Aside from some great dancing and music, we’ll have a few people speak about their personal journeys.”
Continuing performances this summer, some 45 presentations are scheduled in libraries throughout the state in conjunction with summer reading programs. (For information on this and other TMM school presentations, go to tmmproject.com)
Morgan is also a touring artist for Young Audiences of Louisiana, an arts education organization with 32 chapters across the country. It has brought him performing with dance pioneers the likes of breakdancing great Ken Swift and hip-hop dance legend Brian Green.
At 44, Morgan is still doing handstand freezes, coin drops and other fast footwork with his magic feet. He can lock, pop, break and house dance right up there with the best of them. He continues to travel weekly as a motivational and educational speaker and an artist, performing in schools, libraries and festivals to spread his message of positivity.
Last year, The TMM Project partnered with 38 community organizations, schools, libraries, early learning centers and daycares providing 45 performances and 88 workshops that reached nearly 40,000 children.
A recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Louisiana Volunteer Service award, Morgan believes that all children deserve quality arts education. “One of the most important changes we can influence is the future of youths - to encourage them to pursue what’s important to them in life and teach them how to attain that. I hope to help them realize their true mission and how it affects others in a positive way.”
On April 27, at this year’s Festival International, Morgan and The TMM Project will celebrate the 20th anniversary of his founding the Parc de Lafayette Jam Festival. Known as “the festival within a festival,” the celebration will feature DJs from New York, live music and dancing, taking it all back to where it began, the streets. ■