How this Mama found her groove and hustled her way to the top
Last October, the Detroit Pistons unveiled a different type of brand campaign. To reflect the basketball team’s gritty, hard-working attitude, the Pistons produced a TV ad titled “We Hustle Different.” Instead of featuring prominent team alumni—like NBA Hall-of-Famer and former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing or Rick Mahorn of the team’s “Bad Boys” era—the Pistons went with a female voice. Melinda Wilson (BS96), a motivational speaker and spoken word artist who goes by the name Mama Sol (or simply “Sol”), wrote and narrated the minute-long spot. It uses the language of boxing to describe a team that won’t fold. Sol’s words also serve as a personal anthem for a woman who found her path in life despite the odds against her: We roll our sleeves, Fight our way up off the ropes, And we won’t let our dreams cave in. We just understand that pain is part of the process. But one thing for certain, Success will only find you workin’, And we’re just willing to put the work in for the win. “Everything I do, all my work, centers on self-help and motivation,” says Sol. “My profession is my life’s purpose—to help people heal through my poetry, music and words.”
A flair for words
Sol grew up in Flint and attended Eastern on a basketball scholarship. Her experiences in a single-parent household while her father was in and out of prison motivated her to earn a psychology degree with an emphasis in early childhood development. “Basketball was my way out of the inner city but I always wanted to help kids,” Sol says. “I asked myself how I could go back to the community and help kids understand that they have options in life.” After college, Sol worked in an adolescent psychiatric facility and for various Boys and Girls Clubs. During this time, she discovered she could parlay her talent for writing lyrics into a career. “For a few years, I made music as a hobby,” Sol says. “I used to hang out at a recording studio that one of my friends owned. I found that I had a flair for words and started selling verses to rappers. Another friend was doing work with the FUBU clothing line and I wrote a commercial for them. The company liked it and flew me to New York to do more writing. That’s when I realized I could make money by hustling my words.” Sol moved to New York but returned to Michigan in 1998 following a cancer diagnosis. After treatment and remission, she began a six-year stint as a teacher at the Timbuktu Academy of Science and Technology on Detroit’s east side. “I taught reading skills and developed my own curriculum,” Sol says. “It was just supposed to be a one-year position but then I became a lead teacher and director of special education. Over 90 percent of the students came from single-parent households. The kids are the ones who gave me the name ‘Mama Sol.’ “I was working until 7 p.m.—tutoring, cooking for kids that I knew wouldn’t be eating at home, dropping kids off. I loved every minute of it.”
Flying high, shining bright
When Sol learned she was pregnant, she decided to leave teaching and turn to writing and raising her child. Her son, Wasir Uhuru, was born in 2005. As a single parent, Sol returned to Flint and began writing songs and recording music videos on topics like Flint’s blight problem (“Abandoned”) and water crisis (“Hard to Swallow”). Her series of promo ads for the “Detroit VS Everybody” brand caught the attention of Pistons’ marketing executives, which led to the “We Hustle Different” campaign. As her son grew older, Sol also became a motivational speaker, spreading her message of self-love, self-respect and self-discipline to audiences from elementary schools and churches to prisons and detention centers. She also visited famine and drought-stricken refugee camps in Somalia and Nairobi for humanitarian work. “I’ve seen many people without purpose or passion who live just to get a paycheck,” Sol says. “They live as if they they’re in a birdcage with an open door—they don’t even know they have wings. My message is to find your wings and be an individual, because there isn’t another person like you in this world. Be the best version of yourself.” Just when Sol was hitting her stride, breast cancer returned in 2019. Like the fighter of her Pistons campaign, Sol found the determination to face the disease once again. Today, she is cancer-free. “When I was really sick, I made peace with the world and my contributions to it,” Sol says. “The only thing was—who would be there to help guide my son? That really made me fight.”
“My message is to find your wings and be an individual, because there isn’t another person like you in this world. Be the best version of yourself.”
When Sol's son, Wasir Uhuru, was born, she left teaching and turned to writing songs and recording music videos while raising her child as a single mom. Wasir, aka Kid Fresh, raps with mom in some of her videos.
Beyond building brand awareness, Sol’s words of hope and strength resonate with young audiences. The ripple effect has impacted multiple generations. “I was at a coffee shop recently and a man recognized me and said he’d heard me speak when I came to his high school years ago. He said my message had changed their lives forever. He and his school friends went home afterwards and said ‘Mama Sol’s right. We don’t have to live like this. We have a choice, we just never saw it before.’ Today, this man is married with kids and doing well. “I look at people as flames. Some people shine bright while others seek another flame to enhance their own. My flame doesn’t go out when I light another person’s. Let me inspire you, then go out and be an inspiration to someone else.” Learn more about Mama Sol and her career at mamasolmusic.com.
By Jeff Samoray