BALTIMORE – Rap and hip-hop mogul Diddy paid a surprise visit to Winston Middle School in Baltimore on Tuesday to remind an auditorium packed with enthralled students to take responsibility, work hard and make “no excuses” in their pursuit of success.
“They see a lot of the bling and all that money, cars. That’s not the important message that we need to get across to the children,” Diddy said outside the Northeast Baltimore school after his 20-minute appearance. The soft-spoken artist, producer and businessman said children need to realize the importance of education and “not try to be me, not try to be any of us…They need to be themselves.”
Formerly known as P. Diddy, Puff Daddy and Sean Combs, Diddy visited the school on the front end of a promotional tour for his next record that will see him traveling to inner-city schools along the East Coast. Mayor Martin O’Malley proclaimed Tuesday “Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs Day” in Baltimore.
Diddy, a 35-year-old Harlem, N.Y., native, said he was heading “straight down 95” to visit “all of the cities, all of the communities which I come from, where the people look like me and talk like me, walk like me, because we need to be inspired by what has come of my success. And I’m telling them the truth though about how I got here… It’s hard work. They need to know that.”
Along with the pep talk, Winston students were treated to tracks from Diddy’s new album, Press Play, set for release next month. Thrilled sixth, seventh and eighth graders bounced and danced in their seats, shouting and shrieking as Diddy and a small entourage worked the stage in front of placards that read “Welcome To A Winning School.”
While school administrators were told of the event a few days ago, Winston students had no idea what was in store for them as they put on their uniforms this morning.
“I was so happy,” said eighth-grader Latia Miales. “He’s my husband!”
For Paris Blake, 14, the fact that Diddy came to his school wasn’t the only surprise. “He was real short,” said Paris, an eighth grader.
Diddy invited a few lucky students to join him onstage. One girl asked for his sunglasses, which he wore throughout his visit. Diddy declined to part with his trademark shades. “But you can have a hug,” he said to the girl.
The mayor’s office said that when Diddy’s representative contacted the city about visiting a public school, Winston Middle School was one of the first that came to mind.
“We thought that Winston was a great choice because the kids have been working really hard, the test scores are going up, and they’re well known for their jazz band and choir,” said Raquel M. Guillory, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office.
Rachel Davis, a first-year seventh grade math teacher at the school, said Diddy’s message matched a motto she has already posted in her classroom. “So [now] I’m just going to put up ‘P. Diddy says: Work hard, no excuses,'” she said.
Yolanda Barber, another seventh grade math teacher, agreed that Diddy’s visit helped reinforce themes encouraged throughout the school. “For us to tell them certain things, and then for a star, superstar or mogul to tell them the exact same things that we tell them on a daily basis, it somewhat validates us,” she said. “It’s sort of like, ‘Your teachers really are right!'”