DeWayne LaMont Ewing Jr. ’18 (Sociology), stood on a stage in the University Union Ballroom, looking out at an audience still filled with raw emotion. It was the day after the announcement that no charges would be filed in the death of Stephon Clark, fatally shot a year earlier by police in a South Sacramento backyard.
Sacramento State was holding a campus event featuring music and dance performances by students and alumni. Ewing Jr., a Hornet alum and rapper better known by the public as Consci8us, was the opening act. Since his teens, he had focused his music on empowering individuals to improve their community. Between songs, he issued a call to action.
“The change comes from what we do on a daily basis. Every single one of us has a role,” he said. “It’s a serious obligation that we all have to use our voice, use our platform and use our resources to make a change.”
In ways, the moment was a culmination of Consci8us’ life experiences. Growing up in Oakland provided a deep appreciation of culture and community, but also opened his eyes to the realities of inequality and injustice. Listening to artists such as Tupac Shakur, Black Ice, Nas, Lauryn Hill and Immortal Technique – “conscious rappers” who used their art to promote awareness and spark social change – inspired him to attempt to empower others with his music. Enrolling at Sacramento State challenged him intellectually and provided a platform to spread his message.
“Sacramento as a whole is a place that has a strong community,” Consci8us said. “I always had faculty and professors who encouraged me to be my best, and who provided me with opportunities and platforms, artistically and educationally.”
During the day, Consci8us works for the city of Sacramento, developing and leading youth programs (where he’s known as “Mr. DeWayne”), building partnerships between the city and community, and training other city employees to work with young people.
When he’s not working, he’s performing – at local schools, at community events such as the Sacramento Martin Luther King Jr. Day march, and at venues such as the California State Fair. Most recently, he received two Sacramento Music Awards, also known as SAMMIES, in the emcee and hip-hop/rap categories.
Consci8us began rapping in middle school, but didn’t think of it as anything beyond a hobby until his teens, when he was exposed to conscious rap.
“It really started a whole new direction for me in life, because it showed me that I could be more than a rapper who raps about random stuff that does not add value to my community,” he said. “I realized I could really tell my story, provide insight into my community, and spread positive messages that could impact people and change culture.
“I maybe wasn’t that deep back then, but it was really inspiring to see that, whoa, I could use music to make an impact.”
He adopted the stage name Consci8us as well as an often-issued call to action for people to “stay consci8us” – which he describes as being aware of one’s decisions, God, and one’s purpose in life. The “8” in his name symbolizes the neighborhood in which he grew up, the “80’s” in East Oakland; the day he was born, March 8; and the infinity symbol.
When hoped-for football scholarships didn’t pan out, and his initial application to Sacramento State was rejected, he decided to relocate to Sacramento anyway and enrolled at Cosumnes River College.
“It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life,” he said. “It gave me an opportunity to get a fresh start.”
A few years later, Consci8us transferred to Sacramento State and majored in sociology, exposing him to classes that engaged him as other subject matter had not and helped put his life experiences into context. A course on African American history and the civil rights movement, for example, connected to his childhood in Oakland. While a student, he also worked in the MLK Scholars program, leading lectures, workshops and other programs aimed at keeping students from dropping out.
His work also has been highlighted by California state Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, the Sacramento Housing and Development Agency, and the Los Rios Community College District.
Whether through his work with the city or his music, he hopes he can be an inspiration to young people in Sacramento.
“They see the professional Mr. DeWayne, and then they see Consci8us who comes to their school to perform,” he said. “I think the biggest way I bridge them together indirectly is just by being a fixture in the Sacramento community, and them seeing that I’m this positive, dope rapper that does all of this cool stuff.
“I’m working every day to make an impact with young people and build community.”