CHICAGO — Rodney "HotRod" Washington, a popular DJ at Power 92 Radio, keeps a busy schedule. He works six days a week and DJ’s home games for Notre Dame’s men’s basketball and football, but DJ HotRod still makes time to give back.
In 2013, he and some friends came up with a way to put a new spin on the old-fashioned high school pep rally by turning it into a dance party.
"So we had three schools — we had Julian High School, Hammond High School and Morgan Park — those were the three schools we had, we did a test run with DJ Taylor, and a couple of Chicago artists and the kids went crazy," Washington said.
This school year, he expects to host more than 30 pep rallies in Chicago-area high schools.
"I try to get so many schools in even though I’ll be tired," he said. "I just, I don’t want to miss no moment with the kids."
And after a big test, Washington often pumps up the volume at his school rallies by bringing along special guests, like local artists Kid Ken and Chance the Rapper.
Although his rallies are packed with fun, Washington also takes the opportunity to speak with the students about serious issues, including gun violence and bullying. He recalls one takeover rally where the students were so affected by violence they didn’t want to dance.
"We didn’t play no music," he said. "It got to a point, like, it got to a point where I think a couple of kids were shot the day before and we were like, 'Man, what’s going on?'"
Throughout his shows, Washington regularly offers words of love and encouragement.
"You gotta think that there’s kids that go through so much at home," he said. "They need time to relax or burn some energy or listen to some music."
And the students enjoy the well-deserved break.
"This is a time where they are just happy, and everybody is excited, just feeling good and in a good mood," student Tia Jones said.
"It brings people together," student Markelis Holmes said. "They have fun, they connect, they meet new people."
The popularity of the pep rally takeover is growing fast with dozens of schools requesting to book Washington. He hopes the idea will someday gain worldwide attention. He is currently looking for a sponsor so that he can branch out to other schools.
Rodney "HotRod" Washington is one of Chicago’s Very Own.