"Dinosaur Rap" Author Michael Henry '11MSW Heals and Educates Through Music
My mission is to reduce the impact of poverty and violence on the developing psyche of children and youth by designing and implementing music engagement and performing arts education programs throughout Boston.
Why did you choose to attend Simmons?
Working at the Boston Public Health Commission, I learned about the disparities that plague children, youth, and families and felt more engagement and prevention were needed. I had been researching various graduate programs in the city of Boston.
Simmons was a unique opportunity for me to learn and grow from intelligent, strong, empowered women who were wives, mothers, professors, and survivors all working, teaching and practicing in the field of social work. Simmons prepared me by developing a diverse clinical lens, which I now view the evolving world and clients through.
How did you come to work with Barefoot Books?
A mutual friend introduced me to Katie DePalma, an author and children’s book editor for Barefoot Books. At the time, I was working with children as a musician and licensed social worker. I used music in my clinical practice to help children and youth express, connect and feel safe. Over the years, Katie and I kept in touch. Several years later, she reached out and informed me about an opportunity and asked if I would be interested in submitting a few musical sample works.
Her team asked if I would turn the lyrics of a book into an engaging, interactive and playful rap. I loved the idea and appreciated the diversity and inclusion represented in Barefoot Books’ educational products. So I accepted the voice-over and music production role for Dinosaur Rap. After a year of editorial revision and review, on October 26, 2016, Dinosaur Rap was born. Within the library of Barefoot Books music and performing artists, Dinosaur Rap is the only one of its kind. I look forward to doing more work with Barefoot Books in the future and seeing the evolution of my own personal journey creating educational children’s literature content.
It’s rewarding to witness the success of those who believe in a better future for themselves and a safer world for all.
Do you use your social work experience in your work as an artist?
Being a social worker is not something you can turn off and on. It’s something you are every day in every situation that presents itself. It is just as a part of me as the color of my eyes and skin — I bring it into everything I do and everyone I engage with. I’m also an artist, activist, educator and musician. I don’t think I am ever one without being the other. All those identities are facets of my evolving self.
I use my social work degree to create socially responsible content, lyrics and products for all walks of life. I also perform original music and do public and motivational speaking in youth communities and colleges. My mission is to reduce the impact of poverty and violence on the developing psyche of children and youth by designing and implementing music engagement and performing arts education programs throughout Boston.
How is this work rewarding?
For me, it’s most rewarding to see children’s eyes get excited when they turn the pages of Dinosaur Rap or view the online E-book. I’m always amazed when young adults hear my performance and play the music I produced for the Barefoot Books Dinosaur Rap project. Apparently, adults and children alike cannot resist singing along and moving their bodies to each dinosaur’s unique rhythms and sounds.
I’ve seen numerous kindergarten classrooms use Dinosaur Rap to teach about the many different types of dinosaurs and the time periods they existed. I’ve been in countless homes and seen Dinosaur Rap on children’s bookshelves. Most of all, I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue to support all children’s social-emotional learning and development through music and the arts. It’s very rewarding to help children learn and grow, instill optimism, and inspire them to dream about other places they have never been when their eyes are closed.
Outside of your work with Barefoot Books, you also work with Boston Public Schools. Tell us about your work with the Mary Lyon Pilot High School.
My job as a licensed clinical social worker is multi-faceted, challenging, and high-paced. There is never a dull moment in our community, and every day a new learning experience arises. I work closely with students, teaching them self-regulation, communication, socialization, and life skills through weekly scheduled counseling sessions. I also provide supports across macro and microsystems for administrators, out-patient providers, parents and teachers. Every day there is a great deal of consulting and behavioral support that needs to occur to keep the building, children and youth safe.
During my tenure with Boston Public Schools, there have been many rewarding experiences with colleagues and clients. With my colleagues, working together to build future leaders and lifetime learners is rewarding. With my clients, helping to create self-efficacy, resilience, hope, optimism and self-confidence in the individual is especially rewarding. I have the opportunity to bear witness to one’s journey, transformation and social-emotional growth.
At the Mary Lyon Pilot High School, we are an inclusion setting. We service youth with an array of social–emotional and educational challenges. We instill, design and facilitate learning experiences that empower all students to struggle through the learning process productively. It’s rewarding to witness the success of those who believe in a better future for themselves and a safer world for all. The hope is that our students will become ambassadors for change and help create possibilities and opportunities for others on their own journeys through education and life.