It wasn’t until David Muhammad found himself on a podcast talking with other educators about sexual assault that the Shawnee Mission East social studies teacher, martial artist and rapper considered writing a song.
At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, reports of two sexual assaults at Shawnee Mission East shook the school community. A police investigation led to criminal charges against a 15-year-old boy and inspired students around the metro area to show support for the victims by wearing black.
One of the girls was Muhammad’s student, and preventing sexual assault became something Muhammad spoke more about.
But it was another speaker on the podcast who offered up another idea: “You should think about making a song.”
And so Muhammad, who raps under the name Brotha Newz, began to write a song inspired by other things that troubled him about the way society, and particularly men, talk about and address sexual violence.
President Donald Trump spoke openly about assaulting women in a tape leaked before the election, but the country’s attention pivoted and allegations of assault against him seemed “swept under the rug,” Muhammad said.
Commercials, television, even Disney movies seem to portray women through the lens of how men see them, Muhammad said, accentuating cleavage, playing up sexual tension and portraying females as sexual objects.
And though as an accomplished martial artist he finds fulfillment in teaching women self-defense, he said part of the process seems to reinforce an uncomfortable reality.
“We keep teaching women self-defense as if it’s inevitable that they will be attacked,” Muhammad said. “Where are the seminars that address men? How do we change a mindset?
Muhammad began writing the lyrics to “Fallen” in May, and continued work on the song through the summer.
Shawnee Mission East students Harper Mundy and Davis Vaugh, former East student Charlie Jensen and Piper High School student Andrew Telthorst are featured on the track.
Muhammad hope his song will spark a conversation about the importance of men talking to men about sexual assault, and combat the ways some men are conditioned to sexualize women.
“My message is that there is no room for debate when a woman has been sexually assaulted,” Muhammad said. “The conversation needs to be how do we teach men better ways to advocate for women.”
“Let this sink into ya pores,” Muhammad raps on the track.
“If she tell you no don’t push for more or think it’s hard to get
Not yours to interpret
Your convictions ain’t legit”
It’s a conversation he said he thinks about a lot as he and his wife raise a young daughter and prepare for another child on the way. And though his first priority is social studies — Muhammad won the Crescent Peace Society’s education award earlier this year — he says it’s also a conversation he tries to have with his students.
He’s mentioned the song in his classes and encouraged his students to help get the word out.
The ultimate goal?
“My petty hope is Ellen DeGeneres,” Muhammad said.
For now, though, he says, he’s hopes the song ignites a conversation that occurs in athletic locker rooms, sorority and fraternity houses, in schools and within families and encourages men to play a more active role in stopping, and not perpetuating, sexual violence.
The message is in his lyrics:
Our rhetoric creates a norm that opens doors to negligence
Gotta change the culture so our ladies feel less targeted
Shouldn’t have to fight for women’s rights
What’s there to argue with?
“Fallen” can be streamed or purchased on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes and YouTube.