Teachers always said the same thing when Jermaine was in school…‘Great kid, makes all A’s…talks too much,’” recalled Kay Cole, mother of Fayetteville native and successful musical artist, J. Cole. Kay laughed when she relayed to me that she would just nod her head to the teacher.
In actuality, she knew her son’s outgoing nature would lead to his success and she never attempted to stifle it. These days, J. Cole is known as one of the most successful artists in his industry, having received numerous award nominations including a “Best New Artist” nod at the 2012 Grammy Awards. His sophomore album, Born Sinner, dropped this past June and beat out Kanye West’s new record that debuted the same day.
Despite his continued success and fame in the music business, J. Cole maintains a humble and respectful demeanor which is witnessed by many on his visits back to town working with his non-profit, The Dreamville Foundation.
Cole established the foundation in October 2011 as a way to “give back” to the community he grew up in, whether it be through back-to-school supply giveaways, hosting summer camps or creating a book club for at-risk high schoolaged youth. “Kids are so important to him. He wants to inspire children and let them know the potential that’s in them,” stressed Kay.
One way Cole is reaching out to the community is via his book club based at Westover High School. For the past year, participants in the Dreamville Reading Club have read and discussed numerous novels. It started out being a boys club, but the girls of Westover wanted in on the action. “We had a large percentage of the girls express, ‘Well what about us?’” shared Thomas Benson, Westover’s principal. The books are chosen and tailored for the boys and girls based on what will appeal to them. J. Cole reads the books along with the students and if he’s not in town, he always “Skypes” into the club meetings.
This fall, the students will kick off their year by reading popular novel Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom.
“It’s all about the people you meet in life and how you affect them and don’t even know it,” shared Toni Golding, the school’s literacy coach. Bobby Pickett is enthusiastic about the book club and is excited about his last year of involvement. “Every book relates to Dreamville and being something and making something out of your life,” he expressed. It has given Bobby the “extra push” to attend college. He is looking at pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice at UNC-Pembroke and Elizabeth City State University. Like most kids in Dreamville, he sees J.Cole as just “one of the guys,” and admires him because of his commitment to him and his peers. “It shows that he cares about Fayetteville. Most rappers justtalk about money, cars, clothes… he raps about hard timesas a kid, embracing your flaws…” Bobby added, “He just keeps coming back and helping kids. It means a lot.”
Cumberland County Juvenile Court Judge, Toni King has seen the changes in the children she sees in the courtroom on a regular basis. Former teen gang members have left their gangs because of Dreamville. Grades are also on the rise. “They’ve learned that reading is fundamental and enjoyable through J. Cole’s influence,” she said. Judge King also recognized how people in society can view hip-hop artists and you have to “strip that away.” She conveyed, “Maybe his lyrics at times don’t line up with what you want to hear, but that’s his artistic expression. You just have to know he’s worked very hard and received an education.”
As a Terry Sanford High School and magna cum laude graduate in Communications at New York City’s St. John University, J. Cole actively gives back to the community he grew up in.
“As my career becomes more successful (God willing), I expect the Dreamville Foundation to become more successful and structured as well,” Cole shared. At this time, there are a few sponsors and donors that contribute to Dreamville, but most of the expense is out of Cole’s pocket.
The Dreamville Foundation has its roots in Fayetteville and also has a following in St. Louis, Missouri. There are plans to spread nationwide. Cole is charity-minded and recognizes that all non-profits have their purpose. “At the end of the day, we’re all here to help rather than compete. With that said, I think that what makes us different is that we’re a foundation that is founded and operated by people who are not much older than the kids we are trying to reach,” he stressed.
Judge King has taken full note of the positive impact Cole has had on the students. “For youth in general, when you see a star, even if they’re from your community, it’s very rare to see them come back to the community and interact.” She continued, “When he visits the book club, he sits right there with them.” Golding chimed in, “It’s not about the glitz, it’s about his humble spirit. He really stresses how important school is.”
Inspiring youth to further their education is a definite goal and purpose of Dreamville. “The mission is to reveal to youth their limitless potential through positive life-altering experiences,” said Melissa Heholt, Executive Director. Bobby Pickett is a true testament to the “limitless potential” that’s being fostered in the youth participating in Dreamville.
“The sky isn’t even the limit now because I know I can go beyond that.”