On March 9, 2017 I had the honor of introducing Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, a founding member of the early hip hop group Run-D.M.C. Young and old of all backgrounds gathered together at the Leeds Place of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center in Westbury for a community forum.
If you don’t already know, DMC is a hip hop pioneer, a rap poet and an inspiring prophet. The packed house at the Leeds Place got to experience all three in a two-hour tour-de-force in which McDaniels taught us about the history of hip hop, delighted us with rap lyrics and moved us with intimate stories of resiliency.
When I introduced McDaniels, I told the audience that I learned that his favorite things to do as a child were to read comic books and pretend to be a superhero. In fact, I told them, he now produces comic books under the DMC—Darryl Makes Comics—label.
McDaniels’ comics are not about traditional superheroes like Batman, Superman, Spiderman or the Incredible Hulk. Darryl, I learned, believes that there are heroes in everyday life with powerful stories to tell. Just like everyone in the room tonight, I said.
McDaniels is 52 years old, six feet tall and solidly built, with muscular arms bulging from his tight black t-shirt. He spoke for two hours without a break, moving about energetically without breaking a sweat.
He inspired the crowd with the story of when he was a young boy growing up in Hollis, Queens, and he was a self-described Catholic-school nerd who wore thick-framed glasses and read comic books all the time. He said he liked school.
He gave a great history lesson about the birth and meaning of hip hop. He described how neighborhood kids who had little in the way of physical resources brought music and art to the parks and streets by plugging turntables and speakers into light poles, making dance floors out of cardboard boxes and creating street art by painting and drawing on walls.
In his talk, McDaniels encouraged the young people in the room with transcendent and core messages of hip hop: “Always be open to do something different. It could change your life.”
McDaniels spoke about his unexpected rise to fame and fortune, exhorting the young people to develop what they like to do, try new things, take chances and, most important, to know that “no matter what you’re going through, you’re worth something.”
He went on to say that despite his early rise to fame and fortune, at the age of 35 he discovered that he was adopted and was a foster child. Around the same time he went through a period of suicidal depression and became addicted to alcohol.
When he finally sought professional help, he discovered that he had been suppressing powerful feelings his whole life, especially things that angered him. Despite the powerful lyrics in his raps, he said that he never wanted to make waves in his personal relationships.
Some of the lessons he learned were: “You have to express your truth. It’s normal to feel. Release what you’re going through. Your situation doesn’t define who you are.”
In time, with the help of his adoptive parents, McDaniels met his biological mom who told him that she gave him up so that he could have a better life.
In the end, before McDaniels patiently signed autographs, posed for photos and chatted with kids and parents, I closed the meeting by saying, “DMC gave his music to the world. And, tonight Darryl gave us his heart.”
Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families. Visit www.northshorechildguidance.org to find out more.