GRAMMY NOMINEE REDEFINING EDUCATION IN GRAND RAPIDS
THURSDAY MARCH 22, 2012
When Marvin Sapp started singing in church at the age of four he never imagined becoming the all-time highest charting gospel artist (based on Billboard’s 54-year history of tracking album sales). “I’m an inner city boy with divorced parents,” said Sapp. “There are certain things you just don’t expect to happen.” But over 40 years later, his voice and his music can be heard on eight highly-acclaimed gospel albums.
Sapp, the Founder and Senior Pastor of Lighthouse Full Life Center Church in Grand Rapids, has received six Grammy nominations, several Stellar Gospel Music Awards, the Gospel Music Excellence Award, and Soul Train Music and Dove Award nominations. The 2010 release of his album, Here I Am, marks the first time in the history of Billboard’s Top 200 chart that a Gospel release has landed in its #2 position.
Prior to going solo in 1998, Sapp sang with the Grammy nominated gospel group Commissioned. “I was twenty-two years old when they asked me to join,” said Sapp. He moved to Detroit to perform with the group, but returned to Grand Rapids when he left the group six years later.
“Grand Rapids honed my skills and gift sets, but it keeps me humble. Being here gives me the opportunity to be me. I don’t get caught up in all the glitz and glamour. Here I can just be Marvin. You can be who you are all the time. You don’t have to put on any airs. It’s a great place to live. It has been a springboard to so many great things.”
For Sapp the word “great” has special meaning. With a shared vision and the guidance of his late wife MaLinda, Sapp has transformed their idea of fully integrating the arts into academic curriculum into a charter school called the Grand Rapids Ellington Academy of Arts & Technology (GREAAT). The school, scheduled to open this fall, will be the first of its kind in Western Michigan.
“People don’t realize the importance of music, art, and dance,” said Sapp, “especially in the lives of children. According to several studies I’ve seen, children with arts in their core curriculum had five times better achievement. The arts have a way of challenging you, pushing you to do more.”
When Sapp attended public schools there were still arts programs in the schools. “If you weren’t academically oriented, you still had the arts you could turn to,” said Sapp. “You could expand your concept of school through the arts. We just don’t have that anymore. When schools started downsizing the first thing they got rid of was the arts. We want to re-implement the arts, to allow the arts to help us to accomplish our goal of educating children.”
In 2011 a design team, commissioned by MaLinda Sapp, started looking at models for the school. They travelled to some of the best – LaGuardia School of the Performing Arts, Harlem Children’s Zone, Envision Academy of Arts and Technology, and Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School. What they found were programs with a strong arts curriculum and programs with strong academics, but few that integrated the two together. Then they learned about Concord Academy in Petoskey, the first school in Michigan with an integrated curriculum. The GREAAT Board hired a curriculum consultant who had worked at Concord for 17 years developing, refining and executing their ‘arts-integration’ model for education. The intent of ‘integration’ is to help students develop an appreciation of how the arts can support their learning. So, for example, kids working on a Shakespearean play would also study the language, culture, and history of that era.
GREAAT hopes to attract students from all across the region as well as students from the Garfield Park neighborhood where the school will be located.
“I want to make change in the lives of people,” said Sapp. “To make sure kids have the same opportunities we had.”
“My late wife had a saying, ‘keep it moving’ she always used to say.” And that’s what pastor, doctor, dad (Sapp is a single parent for his three children) and acclaimed gospel singer, Marvin Sapp, fully intends to do.