Midtown Raleigh News

The Mop Top Shop mixes up science education and fun

Mop Top the Hip-Hop Scientist – it’s really Christopher Hawkins, whose mother founded Mop Top Shop in 2007 – tries his hand at rolling Easter eggs at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.
Mop Top the Hip-Hop Scientist – it’s really Christopher Hawkins, whose mother founded Mop Top Shop in 2007 – tries his hand at rolling Easter eggs at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

They are California Academy of Science citizen scientists who research, investigate, document and share findings on home soil with scientists, entomologists, ornithologists and naturalists all over the world.

They’ve shown their stuff as entertainers three consecutive years at the White House Easter Egg Roll – pointedly, they are the only characters unrelated to movies, TV or gaming.

They’ve strutted in the Raleigh Christmas Parade since 2009; once cruising in a loan from Smithfield: A candy-apple red, icon-reviving 2010 Ford Taurus SHO, designed by Ford’s highest-ranking African-American designer, Earl Lucas.

And, had it not been snowed out, they were lined up for the 2017 N.C. Governor’s Inauguration Parade.

That’s just a smidgeon of how Mop Top Shop has spent the past decade keeping Mop Top the Hip-Hop Scientist and his friends, Lollipop and Flip Flop, busy teaching the science, technology, engineering and math of STEM.

In 2015, Mop Top Shop gave the popular acronym more momentum when it added an “A,” presenting STEAM – science, technology, engineering, art and math.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Mop Top invites us to choose from a selection of its one-day STEAM workshops for only $10 each in March and April.

The workshops will be at Mop Top’s home at 319 Chapanoke Road, Ste. 114-B in Raleigh 9 a.m.-noon March 10, 17, 24 and 31; and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. April 10-14.

A catch: Mop Top needs at least 25 workshop participants – children and adults – each. Registration is open Feb. 15-28 at www.moptopshop.com/cheers.

“We’re trying to reach all people who have not been exposed to, or who have not had the opportunity to experience the educational programming we have,” said Jackie Johnson, who founded Mop Top Shop in 2007.

Johnson, a graphic designer who raised three sons, knew firsthand how tough it is to find information about the African-Americans all children should learn about – folks her children could relate to, be proud of and whose success they could aspire to emulate.

“There’s always been so much more to black history than sports and entertainment,” she said.

She also recognized black boys lagging behind – they still do – in science, math and more. Those who excelled – like her oldest, academically gifted son – were ridiculed for being smart. Not cool.

“I wanted to design a main character that is African-American and loves learning,” said Johnson, as former graphic designer with IBM who holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in the field from N.C. State University. “That’s how Mop Top came alive.”

The initial website, “Mop Top the Hip Hop Scientist Celebrates African-Americans in the Sciences,” turned real with hands-on workshops and summer camps teaching children as young as kindergarten how to create, design, build and program everything from websites to robots, rockets, remote control cars and clay animation.

Johnson also created Mop Top the Hip Hop Scientist as the mascot. In person, Mop Top’s larger-than-life-sized shoes are filled by Johnson’s middle son and Mop Top instructor, Chris Hawkins, 33.

And long before adding the “A” for “art,” Johnson’s son, Dwight, was teaching music; specifically, how to play the wooden saw and cow bone, instruments he plays in his band.

“We had to reach out through the arts to address the visual learners,” Johnson said. “In music, there’s math.”

Counties served by the Mop Top Shop STEAM program are an alphabet soup of the Tar Heel state. Think of Anson, Bladen, Craven, Durham, Mecklenburg, Sampson, Vance and Wake – and cities in between.

It’s in Sampson that Mop Top Shop has logged most of its California Academy of Sciences Science Action Club work, with summer, track-out and afterschool programs to engage youth in STEM learning experiences.