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103.7 The Beat was founded by Paul Billings when the FCC began to issue low power FM licenses to non profit organizations who work in smaller communities.  Their license was granted in 2001 and the work began and has not stopped.  The focus has been on the urban community and a listenership of music from hip hop to gospel and they have a sincere focus on talk and educational programming on public affairs and politics.  The work has been sincere and like any other purpose driven endeavor, as more is learned, more ways to help are found.  One of those opportunities that has come along is to help young people understand their heritage a little more, and that sparked the Kids Free Trip to Africa program. 


Robert Roundtree is the Assistant General Manager of 103.7 The Beat, and luckily for me, he's one of my better friends, which makes this interview not only easy, but a breath of fresh air and fun.  There's an essay contest that's gotten these students in the running for the opportunity to travel, free of charge to Africa so they can see and experience culture from a vantage point they may have otherwise never known.  They are also immersed in a cultural exchange with kids who actually live in Africa and a lot of things come out that you can rest assured would never happen without the chance for peers to meet face to face.  The ideas that are carried about "What's life REALLY like in America or Africa?"  "Where are we the same, where do we differ?"  "What do you eat?"  "Where do you hang out?"  It's an immersive cultural experience that not many could afford to buy and there is no charge to the kids other than some spending money if it's needed while they are there.

There's a rich historical element too.  One of the biggest, and longest enduring scars that's been left on us all from the slave trade is the lack of identity that those who were part of it have carried.  In my experience, education has been limited about some aspects of slavery.  Learning more for me, has been the first step.  As a society, do we hide the reality of what happened out of shame?  Do we ignore the ideas that parents stood there and watched their kids being sold like livestock or that husbands had to just allow masters to have their way with slave wives and daughters?  A staggering number is, and it's argued higher or lower in some areas, but 24% of African Americans have White European DNA in their ancestry.  It's an awful reality how it got there.  This trip to Africa begins to help younger people learn that their heritage is equally important as anyone else's.  Healing our sins of the past takes work and education on all levels, and sadly, some of it stings.  

A quote from Paul Billings who's a Heights Tiger Alum himself - "Paul Allen Billings, alumni of Muskegon Heights and founder of WUVS 103.7 The Beat, highlighted the contest's significance: "This book will encourage our kids to delve deeper into their rich history, while simultaneously offering an opportunity to three students to witness history where it unfolded."
Contestants will compose essays reflecting on the impact of the book on their understanding of Black History. In March, three deserving students will be selected to partake in the Kids Free Trip to Africa in June – an all-expenses-paid educational journey sponsored by WUVS 103.7 The Beat.

The panel of judges boasts personalities such as Tracee Bruce, representatives from Read Muskegon, and Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System officials. To commemorate the occasion, each student received a personalized autographed copy of Bruce's book, a token made possible by the generous contributions from Read Muskegon, United Way of the Lakeshore, DTE Energy, MillerKnoll, and Consumer Energy."

The essays are being sorted thru as we speak and an announcement will be coming on March 5th to find out which kids from Muskegon Heights High School get to experience this once in a lifetime educational opportunity.  It's not a free ride, it's not a hand out.  There's sincere work going on to help young people find their voice, build their lives and work to make our community better in the long run.  This effort by 103.7 The Beat, Paul Billings and staff is EXACTLY on point for what community radio should be.  They continue to find ways to benefit all and strive to help everyone for a better tomorrow, even if that takes teaching kids, one on one if need be the value and purpose they all have. 

Make sure you follow 103.7 The Beat on Facebook or on the 103.7 The Beat Website.  You'll find out the essay contest winners as well as be able to make a donation to help cover the costs of the trip if you wish.