YouTube star Richard Williams, better known as Prince Ea, takes on the education system and more

by | Jun 7, 2018

The 2011 anthropology graduate's spoken-word videos on a variety of topics have connected with a wide audience and earned him a place on Forbes' 30 under 30 Education list.
Richard Williams, Prince Ea

Anthropology alumnus Richard Williams’ ‘s spoken-word videos on a variety of topics have connected with a wide audience and earned him a place on Forbes’ 30 under 30 Education list. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The video opens with a close-up of a goldfish swimming in a bowl, and when the camera pans out, the audience sees it resting in the hands of Richard Williams.

The 2011 anthropology graduate of the University of Missouri–St. Louis is performing under his stage name, Prince Ea, and wearing a dark gray suit while standing in a courtroom with a judge peering over his shoulder.

Williams addresses the jury about the inherent nonsense of judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree. Then he quickly brings the analogy to education as he pretends to put the American school system on trial.

“Tell me, school, are you proud of the things you’ve done? Turning people into robots, do you find that … fun?” Williams says in the poetic language that has defined his work as a spoken-word artist. “Do you realize how many kids relate to that fish, swimming upstream in class, never finding their gifts, thinking that they’re stupid, believing that they’re useless. Well, the time has come, no more excuses. I call school to the stand.”

Williams spends the remainder of the 6-minute video making an argument for how the school system is failing its students, calling attention to the lack of innovation he sees in the classroom, its laser-like focus on meeting standardized test scores and the unfair burden he believes it puts on teachers.

His message resonated with the masses. The video, posted under the headline “I just sued the school system !!!,” has been viewed more than 10.3 million times on YouTube and shared countless more on Facebook since it was released in September 2016.

Williams – who’s generated more than 100 million views on his YouTube channel – has taken on a number of other topics, including marijuana legalization and climate change. But education is a subject he’s returned to frequently, earning him a spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 Education list for 2018.

His views on education grew out of his own experience as a student who struggled in schools largely because he didn’t feel engaged.

“When I was younger, I didn’t care about school,” Williams says. “I was like, ‘I’m just doing this to make my parents happy.’”

A change happened in high school, and he credits hip-hop music for inspiring it.

He found himself listening to the words of rap artists and wanting to know more about the issues described in their songs, and he began engaging more with his teachers in a quest for knowledge.

After graduating from Metro Academy in St. Louis, Williams enrolled at UMSL while working to launch a hip-hop career of his own. He was featured in VIBE magazine after winning the VIBE Verses contest in 2009.

But about four years ago, Williams left what he describes as the often ego-driven culture of hip-hop because it wasn’t fulfilling. After some searching, he realized he could use video to talk more deeply about issues around him and inspire others.

This story was originally published in the spring 2018 issue of UMSL Magazine. Have a story idea for UMSL Magazine? Email magazine@umsl.edu.

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Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik

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