‘BRINGING SAFETY BACK’ - Group of Soldiers, civilians, use rap, hip-hop to spread message of safety

By Jim Hughes, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, Communication and Public AffairsApril 4, 2024

1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Ricky T. Gravely, co-founder of the effort and a safety officer with the 41st Field Artillery Brigade, and Staff Sgt. Michael M. Avant, known as No1zShadow as a performer, work on a project in 2021 when they were both serving in Germany. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Wordz N Vizion’s ‘Bringing Safety Back’ video was the group’s first video to be officially aired directly on the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center’s website. The video was created in support of the CRC’s ‘Reaper-cussions’ theme. Airman First Class Ricky Gravely Jr. played the role of the Reaper. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT NOVOSEL, Ala. -- A small team of Soldiers and civilians combines rap and hip-hop music with stunning visuals in a mission to bring safety back to the Army Family.

Known as Wordz N Vizion WAV, the talented group works closely with the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center (CRC) to spread its message of safety first via the internet and social media, according to Ricky T. Gravely, co-founder of the effort and a safety officer with the 41st Field Artillery Brigade (FAB) at USAG Bavaria, Germany.

“We’re primarily focused on finding more innovative ways to assist the Army and other agencies to cut down on mishaps and fatalities,” said Gravely, a retired command sergeant major who also goes by the moniker Rap Master Ricky when performing. “People relate to music, and we’re excited that barriers are being broken down on how rap and hip-hop are viewed. So, we decided to showcase that rap and hip-hop can tell a story in a more useful and positive manner.”

The CRC has pushed out seven of Wordz N Vizion’s videos via its social media accounts since the collaboration began in 2021. Topics include motorcycle safety, distracted driving, safe driving in Europe, safely celebrating during the Super Bowl, and recklessness and bad behavior while driving. “Bringing Safety Back” was the first video posted to the CRC’s website in 2023.

“Ricky and his talented crew of Wordz N Vizion have dramatically increased the traffic on the Combat Readiness Center’s website and social media platforms where we have uploaded their videos,” said Jimmie Cummings, Director of Communication and Public Affairs for the CRC.

“Despite getting a little bit of ribbing from those who are not rap music fans, we are trying to get the attention of those mostly in the 18-24 age range to inform them on issues that are killing our Soldiers,” he added. “I get emailed the initial report on every death in the Army regarding a Soldier. I read each one of those. It is sad, especially how many Soldiers we lose off duty in accidents compared to on duty, and it is not even close. I was willing to try anything if there was a chance to prevent some of these.

“I have teenage sons and I know what they listen to and what gets their attention,” Cummings continued. “If we did not try using rap music to inform this target audience on safety, we would never know. I have strong support from our commanding general and command sergeant major here on this mission. It’s a win-win situation. If we save just one Soldier’s life, then we are successful.”

Upcoming videos will touch on base operations, physical training, range safety, motor pool operations, Gravely’s niece’s fatal automobile accident and the tools available on the CRC website to help keep the Army Family safe. The group also produces videos touching on suicide prevention and Sexual Harassment/Assault Prevention.

To view the group’s videos, visit https://wordznvizion.pro, or check out the Wordz N Vizion or CRC Facebook pages.

The core of Wordz N Vizion is Gravely and Staff Sgt. Michael M. Avant, founder and CEO of the group. Known as No1zShadow as a performer, he is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. The two met in 2021 when Avant was assigned to the 41st FAB and they began collaborating on promoting safety through their music, according to Gravely.

“Wordz N Vizion WAV isn’t necessarily focused on who actually did it first – we are just excited that the CRC has recognized another avenue to approach personnel safety in a different way,” Gravely said. “And a special thanks goes to the CRC communication and public affairs team and the CRC command team for sharing our passion about educating Soldiers on safety and having an open mind about integrating rap and hip-hop into its safety messaging to reach Soldiers of all ages in mid-2021.

“Also, thanks to Maj. Joe Bush, former PAO (public affairs officer) for the 41st FAB, who first started airing our videos on the unit’s Facebook page and Instagram account in early in 2021,” he continued. “And our message is even reaching out further than just the Army Family, thanks to Morris Hargrove, Cumberland County Schools driver education coordinator, who has shared some of our safe driving videos throughout the high schools of Fayetteville, North Carolina.”

Other members of the group include Janeth Escajeda, video producer and CEO and owner of SparkContent Media, LLC, and also Sgt. Donald V. Williams, who performs as Exotic the Prophet and markets the group and operates its website, and Sgt. Arthur L. Glass III, who performs as Matrikz Stylez.

The name of the group has meaning, according to Avant, who had already recorded over a hundred songs while earning a degree in social work before joining the Army.

“Wordz represents the beginning of all artistically, not limited to writing or other various forms of media,” he said. “Vizion represents the fact that most things are judged at a glance and, once we have created our content, we hope that others are inspired by what they see.”

Gravely and Avant share more than a passion and talent for music, as they both hold safety near and dear to their hearts.

“When I was a young staff sergeant, I was on a funeral detail and served as the senior member in charge,” Gravely recalled, adding that the deceased Soldier had been killed in an accident. “When I presented the flag to the family, the third person took the flag because the first two were crying hysterically. It took all my strength not to lose it myself. I knew then that I never wanted to be in a situation where I lost a Soldier to an accident. I’ve been fortunate that throughout my 41 years of federal service, I’ve lost zero Soldiers or civilians to accidents under my control.”

Having a 19-year-old son in Germany and licensed to drive internationally was another key element of why he’s so passionate about safety, according to the five-time published author under the pen-name Chase Kinawa Coral.

“I’ve experienced accidents myself, and family tragedies,” Gravely added. “Two videos come to mind that hit home about safety: “Stat Paddin” and “Safety Swagger Remix.” “Stat Paddin” is a story about losing my niece in 2009 at age 20 in an automobile accident late at night. “Safety Swagger Remix” explains my motorcycle accident back in 1992, and about how doing what is right and wearing the right gear can not only save your life, but also your career.”

It's also personal for Avant.

“I have lost loved ones in the Army and outside of the Army, so safety is definitely something I take seriously as I continue my career in the Army,” he said, adding that he has served as a safety officer in many of the units he’s been assigned to. “I am always trying to prevent harm coming to my team, directly or indirectly. I feel that oftentimes when we see the vignettes that promote a cause, it can miss the intended audience because it does not appeal to them. I have a gift with music and media, so I challenge myself to translate the messages in a way that has more replay value in an area that people often do not consider using because of how technical music production can be.”

As for the subject matter for the music videos, it’s also personal.

“Life experiences contribute the most to what we may say or focus on in a video,” Avant added. “The good, the bad and the ugly parts of the reason why a life is affected gives us reasons to choose safety in general, but specific topics, like drinking, are always prevalent as our formations attempt to enjoy time away from work.”

Once the words and music are created, the video creation comes into play, in the form of Escajeda and her team.

“Our primary focus is creating visually captivating music videos to complement the safety songs produced by Wordz N Vizion for the Army Safety Center,” she said. “Our aim is to effectively communicate critical safety messages to Soldiers and their families through engaging storytelling and imagery. Ultimately, we hope to enhance safety awareness and encourage adherence to safety protocols within the military community.

“Our collaboration with Wordz N Vizion represents a powerful fusion of music and visual storytelling in the service of safety education,” Escajeda added. “Together, we're committed to pushing boundaries and setting new standards for safety communication within the military and beyond. We're honored to play a role in amplifying the important work of Wordz N Vizion and look forward to continuing our partnership to create impactful content that saves lives.”

And it is having an impact.

“The positive feedback we've received from Soldiers and their families underscores the impact of our videos in increasing safety awareness and promoting adherence to safety protocols,” she said. “Knowing that our work directly contributes to the well-being of those who serve our country is incredibly rewarding and serves as motivation to continue our efforts.”

Wordz N Vizion members encourage their audience to get involved, as well.

“Feel free to engage with us – like and share the products,” Avant said. “If you have topics that you think we should cover in a song, share them. Aside from that, support however you can.

“I know we are doing something unique and positive. I know that personally I am creating a legacy that is a success story in itself,” he added. “As a team, we are grateful to even say that we have done what we have done. I am happy to have our projects heard, understood and acknowledged on a world stage.”