Lecrae talks being a 'different picture of a black man in America,' his work to rebuild forgotten community

Lecrae with students and families from Peace Preparatory Academy at an Atlanta Hawks game.
Lecrae with students and families from Peace Preparatory Academy at an Atlanta Hawks game. | Jackieoandco

When people think of Lecrae, the image that often comes to mind is one of a Grammy Award-winning rapper, but it's his work outside of music that's quietly making the greatest impact on people's lives. 

His vast community service work is helping several families come out of poverty and avoid the cycle that befalls so many who are living in impoverished communities across the U.S. 

Lecrae said in an interview with The Christian Post that he hopes to be “a different picture of a black man in America.” Beyond his latest album Restoration, the Reach Records founder wants to help restore the black community.

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"In America, if you know the history of African American people in America, it has been a pretty tumultuous history with a lot of trying times, from slavery to Jim Crow, to civil rights and even now the struggles that continue to persist,” he said. 

"The hard part is a lot of people within the black community have subconsciously embraced this idea that they're lesser than. This idea that they can't ever attain any more than what's been put in front of them,” he said.

“I want to change the narrative. We are more than just superb athletes and entertainers, even though I'm an entertainer," Lecrae continued. "There's more to us than just those categories that get demonstrated, and [I want] to begin to help change the narrative, especially for the younger generation, so that they can see themselves as more than history has painted them out to be.”

Lecrae Moore, mononymously known as Lecrae, grew up in Texas in a single-parent home as drug addiction and incarceration ripped his family apart.

To get to where he is now, Lecrae had to overcome several hurdles in his path.

"It was a tough road for me to get to a place like that. I really did not come to that type of understanding until I was an adult," he told CP. "Oftentimes, we talk about our spiritual transformation and how we have a new identity in Christ, but I think the problem for many of us is that we don't exactly know what that identity looks like or how to flesh that identity out inside of the culture that we live in." 

"Obviously, I had to get over some of the lies that were told to me — both in my community and outside of my community — about who I was. Though I'm embracing this new reality that I'm made in the image of God, how does that manifest itself or play itself out when I walk outside and people don't treat me in that way?" he said.

"That was a process, and it took a lot of therapy, it took a lot of reading, it took a lot of things along those lines. But now, I think I've grown comfortable with that type of understanding, and I can give back to people and help them walk in it."

The father of three said he encourages people of all backgrounds to take advantage of therapy despite the negative stigma it has among some, including in the black community.

"I think that's critical. Trauma is also found in our DNA. It's transformed genetically, so some of the traumatic things that your ancestors may have experienced sometimes get passed down. Therapy is a way to process that; therapy is a way to work through that," he said.

"Especially for me, having therapists who understand God and Scripture, they can find a way to help merge those worlds so that we understand that the mind, the brain, similar to the heart, is an organ and it is made by God," Lecrae added. "There's people, specialists who can help you process that and understand what to do."

Now residing in Atlanta, Georgia, the Reach Records founder is using his influence and resources to bring restoration to the black community. His work has helped launch a school in an underserved community, enabled families to attain housing they can be proud of, and provided them with financial literacy programs so they can maintain and build upon their new standard of living.

Students at Peace Preparatory Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.
Students at Peace Preparatory Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. | Peace Preparatory Academy

One of the initiatives he worked on was the development of Peace Preparatory Academy, a K-5 school that he helped finance and open in The Bluffs neighborhood in Atlanta. For two decades, the neighborhood didn't have a school, leading generations into a life of crime. 

Lecrae and the school's headmaster, Benjamin Wills, teamed up to make it happen. Wills, a black man of faith and area resident, had a desire to serve his community. When he presented the idea to Lecrae, everything came together. 

"There was no school in English Avenue from 1995 to 2015 due to the school district's decision making regarding school locations," Wills told CP. 

"The English Avenue Elementary school, like many schools in under-resourced and underpopulated areas, was closed and students were reallocated to other schools nearby," he said.

Lecrae added: "A lot of people say, 'Oh, are you trying specifically to focus in on the black community?' And I would say, 'yes and no.' I mean, yes, from the standpoint that I have proximity, I am a figure of that community, I come from that community. But then also no. I care about the marginalized, disenfranchised in general. It just so happens that, by in large, the marginalized communities are black and brown people. In Atlanta, it's the black community."

"So The Bluffs/English Avenue is a historically black community that has been just devastated by so many factors," he added. "There hasn't been a school in this community in over 20 years. These kids were choosing to just not go to school. If their parents wanted them to go to school, they had to get bused so far. It was a whole inconvenient circumstance that just wasn't realistic."

Because of the lack of education in the area, illegal drug crimes spiked.

This led Lecrae to partner with others to build the first school in that community in 20 years, and now things are beginning to turn around. 

"We started with kindergarteners and now we've gotten all the way up to fifth grade," he celebrated. "Now it's moved outside of just a school to providing homes in the community that are affordable and good quality because we want people to have a sense of dignity."

In another humanitarian effort, Lecrae is helping to rebuild Atlanta’s West Side. He's buying up neighborhood blocks, tearing down old and vacant properties, and rebuilding new ones.

"So we're housing people. We're educating people, we're feeding people," Lecrae said. "To me, this is the essence of what Christ wanted us to do — to love and demonstrate love and grace toward the least of these, as far as society is concerned. So that's exactly what I'm trying to do in the community."

Lecrae described The Bluffs community as "night and day" from what it was after the Christian academy opened. 

"My friends are now teachers there; friends who moved here from other states have become teachers there. The kids get to see a picture of themselves and the principal, the head of the school. Athletes and celebrities come into the school now because of relationships," he testified. 

Along with providing education, Peace Prep serves children three meals a day, offers therapy and promotes family. The school is in the process of seeking accreditation, which is expected to be finalized in May. 

The artist went on to share the story of a student who "always touches" his heart. When this particular child was a kindergartener, he was left at home alone while his mother went to work. Occasionally, he was looked after by a friend, a drug dealer.

"This guy had a heart for this kid and he was like, 'I don't want this kid going down the same path that I'm going down, but he's out here with us all day. Can I put him in this school? Is there room for him in this school?'" Lecrae recalled.

"We got him in the school; he is thriving in this school. He's a third grader now and it's just a night and day difference. He sees a different picture of what life can be. Prior to that, he was just hanging out on the street. And of course, he would have matriculated into that direction."

"It's just beautiful to see the transformation that's happened. Not just in the kids, the entire community is changed because Peace Prep focuses on the whole community," he emphasized.

"Families have changed. I've gotten to see mothers who have kids there. I have literally, myself, moved them out of one-bedroom apartments, gotten them their first job working outside in a stable job, moved them into a house, their first house that was built by my friends, and it's beautiful." 

Seeing the kids light up is what touches Lecrae's heart.

"Their lives are just transformed altogether. And of course, it's a Christ-centered school, so they're hearing the truth about God and the Scriptures and their worth. So on and on goes the pattern. It's just a beautiful opportunity," he declared.

In the spring, Peace Preparatory Academy will be enrolling students in pre-K through sixth grade. Their goal is to add an additional grade level each year, hoping to one day serve pre-K through 12th-grade students. The school's tuition is on a sliding scale, and each individual family's contribution is determined during the enrollment period. Individuals who want to help the students can also set up one-time or recurring monthly donation.

After children graduate from Peace Preparatory Academy, there are in adjacent neighborhoods both middle and high schools. "However, Peace Prep's model is to grow by one grade each year so that its oldest students do not matriculate until their high school graduation," Wills explained.  

Along with the school and homes he's providing, Lecrae has arranged credit education and financial literacy programs to change the poverty mindset in the community. He's also hoping to reverse gentrification by helping to keep people in their communities through financial education.

His partnership with Experian and the NAACP has already helped 21 families who were facing foreclosure.

The 41-year-old also said he's felt the pressure of being a black man in America, but he refuses to allow it to keep him down.

"I'm always challenged. When I read that faith without works is dead and it's like [people say] 'I'll pray for you.' But [I ask], 'What are you going to do?'" 

He recounted an experience he had in 2006 while on tour with The Cross Movement that inspired him to invest in mentoring and discipling kids in rough situations today. 

"There was a lady who was there with all these kids. And she said, 'I don't have any help. It's just me.' I said, 'This is unacceptable; there needs to be a transformation and change.' I made it my mission, my desire to be that and to inspire and to encourage that everywhere I go," he said.

"It's not easy. It's not sexy. It's not glamourous," Lecrae noted of helping others. "There's no pats on the back for it; you don't win any awards for that, you don't get Platinum plaques, but it's where lives are changed." 

He also shared the story of a student he's mentored since the age of 13 who is now a 26-year-old man. Lecrae's presence in his life has helped him get educated and change his life. The change happened because "he had the visibility of someone like me in his place. And so I just want to see that happen again and again." 

Lecrae encouraged people who want to help others to just "be a half a step ahead."

"You don't have to have it all figured out. If you're a half step [ahead] with these kids and these folks in the community, that's all you need."

When speaking of black men, in particular, Lecrae said, "Unfortunately, for a lot of black men, they fall victim to a cycle. It's a generational cycle. You can't be what you've never seen;you can't become what you've never beheld."

Historically, black men have had the odds stacked against them, he asserted, specifically with the war on drugs, which ravished and devastated the black community.

"Now you have individuals who previously couldn't get jobs because of segregation and issues along those lines, so they took the most undesirable route, which was becoming narcotics dealers," he said.

The hip-hop star then spoke of the "football sentences" drug dealers and users were given as prison sentences. Lecrae said jail or addiction "took them out."

"I was a victim of that; my father was stripped away from my home [by] both incarceration and addiction," he noted.

Lecrae said most men just repeat the cycle because they do not know "what it means to be a black man."

"I didn't know what it means to be a father other than what I've seen around my community," he said. "Unfortunately, a lot of black women are left to carry that load, left to carry the load of being the figureheads in the family, of being the strongest pictures."

Now, he and other black role models are working hard to change that stigma. "To change that dynamic, to step up as black men, as black fathers, as consistent leaders and role models, to support our women in their efforts and to make sure that they know that they're not alone," he said.

"You can't become what you've never seen," Lecrae insisted. "I want to be a different picture of what a black man is in America. It's OK to be educated. It's OK to be a good father, a present father. It's OK to go to therapy; it's OK to cry. It's OK to contribute to your community and not just be about yourself. Those are some of the things that we want to see perpetuated and consistent in the community."

The emcee is also passionate about his partnership with Love Beyond Walls that washed the hands of the homeless to help flatten the curve during COVID-19. He is also committed to prison ministry and building back wealth through his partnership with Collab, a venture fund that supports and finances black inventions, businesses, and tech that would otherwise not receive funding from big banks.

"Typically, we see ourselves as David or Solomon when we read the Bible. We look at ourselves as the most noble characters. Oftentimes, we don't see ourselves as the woman who was bleeding and just wanted to touch the hem of the garment of Jesus, in the lowest position," he said.

"I think when you begin to see yourself as her, and begin to see the community as full of people like her, as Matthew who was a tax collector and was just a traitor to his community. If you drive around English Avenue or where we do a lot of work, there's prostitution all throughout the community. Do you see them as noble enough to walk with, to do life with, to help walk through their issues with? Oftentimes we don't."

Lecrae said believers must not think that preaching at people is magically going to help everything. 

"Yes, the Gospel is what's going to transform their lives, but if you don't begin to implement discipleship and training into their lives, you're just making these spiritual babies and leaving them out to dry," he asserted.

"So if I've never learned what it means to balance a checkbook, and I know the Lord, well, how tempted am I going to be to go back to my old ways? Because I don't have financial literacy, I don't have training, I don't have help in these particular areas. It's a rough road." 

Lecrae recently responded to Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative student group Turning Point USA, who said the rapper "should never be allowed" to perform in Christian churches because he campaigned for Raphael Warnock, a pro-abortion Democrat who praised Louis Farrakhan, the antisemitic leader of the Nation of Islam. 

During an earlier interview with CP, Lecrae explained why he sometimes rubs elbows with people who have different views than him.

"I don't subscribe to identity politics. When I say that, I mean, in America, when you vote, you claim the political party that you're voting for. I am not a Republican, I am not a Democrat, I am a disciple. That's the identity that's most important to me," he declared.

"In other countries, they vote for the person that they think is the best candidate to handle whatever they're expecting. They don't say, 'Oh, I am this person,'" he continued. "So for me, I'm thinking about the community. I'm thinking about how to best serve folks, and I realize there's no political agenda or party that's going to take care of all of the needs that God would have us to take care of." 

Lecrae warned Christians not to assume that when they choose one side or the other that God's concerns about the community are now taken care of. "That's not the case," he insisted. 

"You're always going to leave somebody out if you have an empire agenda. When I say that, I mean this: politics is generally about an empire; it's not about the Kingdom, it's about the empire. The empire's job is to build itself and to get bigger and bigger at the cost of other people. That's the reality. There's always going to be someone on the bottom of that totem pole for the empire to rise," he said.

"The Kingdom is upside down. The last shall be first; the first shall be last. I'm too concerned about the Kingdom to get caught up in the empire. So when you see me with this person, it's because I have a Kingdom agenda somewhere mixed in there. But I don't subscribe to their empirical views or their way of trying to get things done." 

"Sometimes, they're going to [say], 'Look at you hanging out with the drunkards and the gluttons. Look at you hanging out with the politicians who don't subscribe to this, and who do subscribe to this.' That doesn't mean I embrace that. That means that I have a bigger agenda that I want to see accomplished in my efforts to do work there."

"It's always going to be Kingdom," he emphasized.

Along with his work in the black community, Lecrae is working on a new music release, Church Clothes: Mixtape 4, scheduled to be released later this year. To stay updated on what he's doing, visit his website.

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