Music as Fuel for the Struggle

This activity invites students to listen to and share music that can inspire and sustain them as they explore ways to battle oppression and push to survive and thrive during these challenging times.


To the teacher:

Amid the coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest spawned by ongoing human rights violations, systemic racism and inequality, it may be tough for young people, and for us adults, to find the energy to stay motivated from day to day. We’re often reminded of the need to focus on self care, take breaks, and to step away from it all.

But sometimes we want to stay in the fight, and we need to be energized in order to do so. Music speaks to our hearts and souls. It connects us to one another, encourages us to keep going, and fuels our passions. Sometimes we don't want to be tamed; sometimes we want to turn up.

Following is an activity that invites students to listen to and share music that can inspire and sustain them as they explore ways to battle oppression and push to survive and thrive during these challenging times.

Note: Songs may express strong views and opinions, and may contain strong language/profanity. This lesson plan is intended for high school students.



Welcome students to your gathering.

Remind them that music has always played a key role in our country’s periods of revolutionary change. 

Share the quote:

Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.   Plato

Encourage students to think about the relationship between music, motivation, and action with responses to the following prompts:

  • What is one song you always put on when you need to get pumped or motivated?
  • What do you need from a song during these moments? What qualities does your song choice have?
  • When you think of protest music, anti-establishment music, or a song with a powerful message, what songs comes to mind?


Listen and observe

Play snippets of songs for students to listen to. You may decide to provide them with the song lyrics as well. While they listen, have students record their thoughts on the following:  


  • What did you hear in the song? What was the main message?
  • What was the mood of the song? How did you feel while listening to it?
  • What lyrics stood out or resonated with you?


Songs to consider

The Beast - Fugees

If I Ruled the World - Nas & Lauryn Hill

A Song for Assata - Common & C-Lo Green

Soldier - Erykah Badu

We the People - A Tribe Called Quest

Get Up Stand Up - Bob Marley

Alright - Kendrick Lamar

Changes - Tupac

So Much Things to Say - Lauryn Hill / Bob Marley

What’s Going On - Marvin Gaye

The Colored Section - Donnie

Police State - Dead Prez 

Fight the Power - Public Enemy

6 Summers - Anderson Paak

Hands Up - Vince Staples

Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud - James Brown

The Revolution Will Not be Televised - Gil Scott Heron


Pair share 

Count off students in twos or threes, or arrange them into breakout rooms where they will discuss for 5-7 minute songs that get them motivated. Tell students to ask their small group members for permission to share what was discussed with the larger group.

Next, invite one student from each group/pair to share out with the larger group something that was discussed or one song that was mentioned.

After that, give students time to come up with their own “Music for the Revolution” playlist. Encourage them to diversify when possible, using songs in different languages, genres, etc. Allow them to share their list with the group, demonstrating the powerful overlap and variation that will occur. Students are likely to be inspired by each other’s lists. 



Have students share final thoughts on the quote:

“Can a mere song change a people's minds? I doubt that it is so. But a song can infiltrate your heart and the heart may change your mind.”   Elvis Costello

Thank students for participating in the circle and encourage them to stay active in the fight for justice, beginning with open, honest conversations with those closest to them. Remind them that sometimes our biggest impact is made in our own homes and communities. 



Extended Learning


  • Create a 7-10 song “Music for the Struggle” playlist to share with classmates. Consider using Spotify, I-Tunes, YouTube, or any other platform that all students have access to.
  • While listening to music that inspires and motivates, ask students to think about what they can contribute to the movement for justice and human rights, and to share their thoughts with their peers. 


Additional Resources

‘Revolutionary’ DJ Mixes:

The Black Power Mixtape (Spotify) & related article

Music at Home: Songs of Resistance (Spotify) 

Jazzy Jeff’s The Magnificent Resistance on IGTV



5 Songs - Hip Hop's Presence in Politics

50 Protest Songs