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’Achieve’ captures obstacles, aspirations of three young men growing up in Cleveland: Dear Cleveland

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’Achieve’ captures obstacles, aspirations of three young men growing up in Cleveland: Dear Cleveland

Ahdonis Gordon practices a song at his school MC2Stem.
Ahdonis Gordon practices a song at his school MC2Stem.
(Marvin Fong / The Plain Dealer)
Sunday, March 24, 2019

by Brie Zeltner

CLEVELAND, Ohio-- Ahdonis Gordon, 15, started writing raps and sharing them with his peers as soon as he entered grade school. For him, the songs were a way of surviving and fitting in.

“It all started when I was being picked on a lot and I wanted to find a way to stop that,” said Ahdonis, who last year co-wrote the song “Achieve” as part the collaboration with Refresh Collective. The song, written together by three teens in a group of about a dozen who participated in the project, is about goals, desires and aspirations, they said. (Find the song at the bottom of this story.)

After taking a break from music for a while, Ahdonis returned to it in earnest last year when his cousin was shot and killed, he said. His cousin Shawn was one of the first people to encourage Ahdonis to rap when he was still unsure of himself. Shawn’s violent death at 29 motivated Ahdonis to work harder, he said, in order to provide for the children his cousin left behind.

“I’m going to find a way that I get everything that he wanted to achieve,” Ahdonis said. “I’m going to get all of that and I’m going to double it, and I’m going to give it to [his kids].”

For Ahdonis and other members of the Refresh Collective, writing lyrics and rapping is far more than entertainment: it’s a way to process strong emotions and deal with the adversity they face.

In a verse of “Achieve” written by co-collaborator James Polk, the teen raps about his need to provide for his family, and the death of his grandmother:

When my grandma died I was just traumatized

When I had to open my eyes and realize…

Antonio Bridget, who wrote the second verse of “Achieve,” describes a breaking news headline about a man killed, and finding out it’s someone he knows:

Cleveland breaking news: Issa man down,

Come to find out it was my man’s now,

And in my head it’s a lot of pain, unstable mind I’m about to go insane…

In Ahdonis’s verse, he sends up a plea to end the violence he’s seen:

No more death upon the pavement…

But ‘Achieve’ is about more than just the obstacles the three young men face. It’s also about their dreams and aspirations, and the path they’ve chosen to take them beyond the life that many of their peers know.

All three boys express a desire for, and a boastful confidence in their ability to acquire, both money (racks) and material things. But they’re clear in what they will and won’t do to get what they want.


“Talk about but I want a 100it racks, I’m makin’ legal money no type of trap…

Cuz’ doing this here I never had to trap,

That’s the truth, and it’s no cap”


“I was up in the back, kept my head high so I ain’t gotta go trap…

Momma, you stressin? I swear I’mma make it.”

Ahdonis was concerned, at first, that people who don’t know the teens’ values and accomplishments would jump to the wrong conclusions when hearing their lyrics about making money. The hook includes the line “I’m a rat like Master Splinter, only thing I’m chasing after is cheese,” a reference to the mutated pet rat cum ninja sensei in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series.

“We’re saying that we’re trying to get the cheese [money]… Some people would think that we ‘trap’ or sell drugs, or do things that teenagers like us don’t do,” Ahdonis said. “People can interpret things the wrong way.”

Ahdonis worried that people would listen to their rap and make assumptions about who they are and what they stand for without knowing them. One of the most important lines of the song to Ahdonis was one he wrote about graduating:

Rockin’ the beat and you know we lit,

I’m graduatin’ high school with my associate’s.

He was careful to explain that he didn’t mean he’d be graduating with his associates, as in friends. “When I say I’m graduating high school with my associate’s, I mean I’m graduating with the degree,” he said with obvious pride. “And I’m going for my doctorate. I was just so happy to put that into a song… I feel like it should be said.”

Like others in the group of a dozen teens who participated in the Dear Cleveland collaboration, Ahdonis believes that his future doesn’t have to be defined by where he grew up, or the adversity he’s faced.

“If we just pay attention, think, focus, do something we love, and do what we’re supposed to do, I think we could all have a wonderful life,” Ahdonis said. “I mean we’re still going to have obstacles, but it’s just something that everybody is going to have to go through.”

[This story was originally published by]