To Pimp a Butterfly: How Kendrick Lamar Helped Shape my Student Affairs Career
Brian Richardson Jr.

Kendrick Lamar is a lyrical genius that has inspired and provoked thought in the mind of millions of people around the world. I am one of them and happen to work in student affairs. As I reflect on this album and how it helped me navigate my first professional year in student affairs, it truly gave me life and helped me “pimp” my situation. As a young black male breaking into the field it can be tricky navigating the system and finding your path. Similar to all new professionals, I was eager to learn, grow, develop and help my students. Working at a PWI with a low representation of minority faculty, staff, or students made navigating that more difficult. With a lack of representation in positions of power or influence, I saw my new position as an opportunity to make a difference. I had To Pimp a Butterfly.

The hidden meaning of the title

In an interview conducted by, Kendrick was asked about the title of his new album. Kendrick was quoted saying the butterfly represents “the brightness of life. And the word pimp has so much aggression.” When he dove deeper into how this related to his life he said the title signified “using my celebrity for good” and “not being pimped by the industry through my celebrity.” This quote spoke to me and made me reflect on my own situation and current circumstances. I was the only man of color on staff and the youngest of two in my division. I knew coming into my new role I had to work harder and do more because I would be watched more closely. Before accepting the position, I had heard horror stories about how bad situations like these are for some people and how frequent staff members of color reach burn out and face racial battle fatigue. I was also told that I had to find my path and make my experience unique for me because otherwise my path could be chosen for me.

Kendrick the lifesaver

As I began to envision my career, I kept coming back to Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly album and its meaning. Take the symbolism of the album’s cover art for example. According to Kendrick the cover depicts, “Just taking a group of the homies who haven’t seen the world and putting them in these places that they haven’t necessarily seen, or only on TV and showing them something different other than the neighborhood and them being excited about it. That’s why they have them wild faces on there.” To me, this translates to college access and how not everyone has the opportunity to go to college. I started to make the correlation between the responsibility he has as an artist to his fans and the responsibility I had to my students. Making the correlation between the responsibility he had to his fans and my own responsibility to the students; I knew that if I wanted to improve the experience of my students and expose others to the idea to attend college, I’d have to do more than what was written in my job title and what was being asked of me. I knew I had to go above and beyond what was being asked of me create more opportunities for students of color to gain leadership experience and training. I felt that it was my duty to make sure that they were seen as more than athletes, or statistic booster that, sadly, some of them may have been recruited as

If the system pimped me

At that early stage in my career I was focused on learning my responsibilities, policies and procedures and at times it was overwhelming and felt like I was just trying to keep my head above water. There were areas of my job I enjoyed and there were areas I didn’t enjoy. When it came to my day to day duties I can’t say that I was truly passionate about them and questioned my purpose and direction. The thing that kept me going in those moments and made me push through were the students. I had to live what I was preaching and excel in my role. I had to do my job and do more than what was required of me for my students. I had to Pimp a Butterfly. If I wouldn’t have found a way to make the most out of my situation, I would have found myself unfulfilled and set on a career trajectory that wasn’t for me. 

So for all the new professionals reading this article and who are motivated to make a difference on your campus, find your passion and purpose and do it. You have to decide you are going to Pimp a Butterfly.

Thanks, Kendrick.



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Brian Richardson Jr. is a full-time Higher Education professional who was born and raised in Saginaw, MI. He is also a scholar, educator, public speaker, and mentor. Brian is passionate about creating opportunities to cultivate the minds of future leaders and provoking thought through meaningful conversations. Brain’s areas of focus are manhood and masculinity, social justice, leadership, and student development.