Michael Austin set out on his musical journey the day his mother began writing gospel songs for him to sing at church. Even at 5 years old, he was moved by the persuasive power of music. Later, as a teen, Austin taught himself piano and guitar, and started writing his own songs, delivering messages of social justice and encouragement through soul-inspired rap.
Today, the Lansing Community College student records, performs and contributes to educational and artistic causes as MikeyyAustin—a rapper from the north side of Lansing. His music, while a form of self-expression, has also become his vehicle for raising funds for college scholarships for teens interested in the arts.
"When we were in school, we didn't have many art programs or initiatives," says Austin, a 2014 graduate of Lansing Eastern High School. "So this is my way of giving back to the city I love while supporting students who live here."
Austin's main venue for fundraisers is REO Town Sessions—a series of once-a-month events held in REO Town. He's closing out the first year of the events that highlight and connect local artists including musicians, dancers, poets and painters with the community. Sessions started in late fall, with the last few held at the Robin Theatre on South Washington. Admission is free with donations recommended to support the Arts Matters Scholarship.
As of early May, Austin and his artistic partners Darion Brown, Tymila Taylor and Elzie Cannon have nearly attained their goal of $5,000. The funds, Austin says, will be split five ways and presented as scholarships to an equal number of deserving seniors from Everett, Eastern and Sexton High Schools come May 22.
"For me, growing up in the environment I did I was lucky to have music," says Austin. "It kept me out of trouble, and gave me an escape which helped me out. I'm looking at the facts and see that a lot of people didn't or don't have the resources I had. That's the biggest influence for what I'm doing."
Austin says the idea for REO Town Sessions germinated from a leadership group he joined at LCC. That group, he says, showed him how to apply leadership principles and practices to his community initiative. Austin will apply those same practices plus lessons learned as he and his partners ramp up for the second season of REO Town Sessions to run next fall through May 2018.
"I think for me, at least growing up, it's kind of like we didn't see much outside our neighborhood," reflects Austin. "The world ended at the intersection at the end of our block. But as I got older, and as I started to explore, I saw things in Lansing that I didn't know about. That made me want to connect with more people and give back when I can."
MikeyyAustin's newest release L I F T E D examines universal themes of identity and social justice, and draws from his experiences of growing up in Lansing. His debut solo project T I N T E D explores issues of spirituality and self-discovery and was influenced by watching the day-to-day interactions of people on city streets.
Source: Mikeyy Austin, Founder, REO Town Sessions
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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