Meet the 2023 Unity Award Winners: TRUE Skool

The social movement uses hip-hop to empower youth and young adults.


TRUE Skool, founded in 2004, is a social movement that uses hip-hop to empower youth and young adults to nurture their talents and skills and challenge oppressive systems in Milwaukee and beyond. Fidel Verdin, co-executive director and teaching artist, grew up in Milwaukee and now – alongside a swath of local hip-hop mentors – leads young people to enact political and social change and create a more equitable future through their craft.

At True Skool, we don’t treat the kids we work with like at-risk youth. We don’t like that language or approach at all. Our understanding is the opposite: These kids aren’t out here getting in trouble. There is a whole system designed to get them in trouble. Even if they’re talented, they don’t have a chance for a bright future unless they have people who have their back to help them navigate it.

Our passion is driven by educating youth in their own power. As they tap into their rap, dance, production or art skills, they find an education and career pathway. But they also begin to understand that they have a voice – a voice that can promote change in our city and beyond.


Nominations are open for the 2024 Unity Awards! 

Know an individual or group committed to bridging divides in our community? Nominate them for a Unity Award by Oct. 31.

Hip-hop has always challenged the powers that be. We’re like superheroes: We use theme music and costumes, and we don’t even use our regular names. 

We’re trying to educate young people – that’s the root of hip-hop. It’s not just about music and entertainment. It’s about uplifting your neighborhood, challenging what you don’t want to see and taking your own power inward and using it to make your environment better.

In a way, our presence as hip-hop artists is a protest. It’s a social phenomenon that’s about pressing against the system. Like Michael Jackson, we say, “What about us?” and try to expose some of the contradictions and hypocrisy we see around us. To do that, we have to do it together. It doesn’t matter where you come from – it matters if you have the skills. Hip-hop breaks down racial, geographic and religious barriers, allowing us to unite around a common desire for change.

Fidel Verdin

A fresh perspective on … UNITY

Unity doesn’t mean uniform. We don’t have to be the same to be unified. Instead, it’s about sharing a mindset to make an impact and find a solution, regardless of our differences. Let’s leave those at the table and get to work on what we want. That’s what we have in common.



This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s February issue.

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