Richard Spaulding wears many hats: husband and father, hip hop artist, mentor, teacher, community organizer, grassroots activist.
Now the Lexington man who goes by the name Devine Carama is also the director of One Lexington, a program launched by Mayor Linda Gorton earlier this year to mobilize government and community resources with the goal of reducing violence and improving quality of life across the city. It’s the kind of service to which Carama has devoted his life.
“It’s work that I’ve been doing,” he says. “I know a lot of people who are also doing great work, so how can I leverage those relationships and now these government resources back into the community.”
One Lexington is an outgrowth of the mayor’s Commission on Racial Justice and Equality that Gorton formed last year in the wake of protests that followed the police-involved deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Carama says systemic disparities have existed for years, but the upheavals of 2020 brought new attention to these issues, especially in communities of color.
“Whether it is a pandemic, whether it’s social unrest, whether it’s a natural disaster, people who are already underserved are always going to get it ten times worse,” Carama says.
Part of last year’s chaos, he says, stemmed from schools being closed, which meant children didn’t have access to critical resources, support services, and personal connections. He says young people are also struggling to adjust to life in a world driven by social media.
“Our young women are being degraded in so many different ways,” says Carama. “Young people have access to things that we never had access to at an age where you can’t quite navigate the things that you’re taking in.”
Since the technology is already a part of daily life, Carama says he wants to find ways to use it to build youth up. That means learning new tools like the social media app TikTok to reach young people, even if it means he might look awkward in the process. He contends the internet provides too many negative options for youth, so he wants to give them positive messages to gravitate towards.
“I’m going to push these kids to do the right thing, whether it seems a little cringy, as my 10-year-old step-daughter would say, or a little corny sometimes,” he says, “but I think we can make the right things cool if we do it the right way.”
Staying Active, Staying Humble
Even with his new position in city government, Carama, which means teacher in a Swahili dialect, remains active in his many other endeavors, including his musical career. He says hip hop gave him his voice.
“By nature I’m socially awkward, a little shyer, but hip hop really got me out of my shell,” he says. “It is a blessing that it all started with hip-hop culture.”
Earlier this year Carama collaborated with musicians from the Lexington Philharmonic on a concert entitled Beat of the Heartland that featured several local hip hop and spoken word artists. He says he was inspired to organize the program after his favorite hip hop artist Nas did a concert with a full orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Carama says he wanted to bring diverse parts of the community together and expose people, especially children, to a wide range of music.
“I always try to get kids to listen to all types of music and open your soul up because there’s so much beauty out there that you’re missing when you pigeonhole yourself,” he says. “Having that diversity of taste creates more opportunities for positivity to be pouring into you.”
Through his non-profit organization Believing in Forever, Carama also sponsors a program in the Fayette County schools that encourages children to write poetry around anti-violence themes, and an initiative to collect and distribute children's books on African American history or that feature Black characters. The Luna Library honors Carama’s daughter who died in a car accident last year at the age of 18. He also organizes a community coat drive that delivers winter wear to needy children in Lexington and across eastern Kentucky. Now entering its eighth year, that effort has donated almost 13,000 coats.
One of Carama’s newest ventures is The Black Girl Project, which is giving young women the opportunity to write and record their own music that features positive messages.
“I really want to cultivate this space where college Black women can mentor younger Black girls through music and give them a platform to speak,” he says.
The Black Girl Project is an extension of a class that Carama teachers as an adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky on hip hop culture and leadership. The initial group of students created six original songs that explore the experiences of young Black women, physical and emotional abuse, and the death of Breonna Taylor. The songs are now in rotation on UK’s student radio station WRFL.
“They kept it clean, they told the truth,” says Carama. “You can be real and raw but you can also present in a way to where everybody can relate.”
As if his One Lexington work and his side projects weren’t enough to fill his time, Carama says he continues to do volunteer activities that he chooses not to publicize. He says those projects keep him humble and remind him of the days when he was a struggling single father.
“I never want to lose that feeling because once I lose that, I lose touch with the people and I feel like I’m no longer fit to serve,” says Carama. “Yes, I may have a government job, but it took a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice to get here.”