CNR Alumna & Bronx Cultural Beacon Celebrates Hip-Hop's 50th Anniversary

CNR alumna at graduation

College of New Rochelle alumna Stephanie Woods CNR SNR ’17 at graduation with commencement speaker BET's Mrs. Debra Lee.

The life and career of Bronx native and College of New Rochelle (CNR) alumna Stephanie Woods CNR SNR ’17, is a tapestry of significant cultural and social moments. She is a photojournalist, writer, health care supervisor, community volunteer, and an ardent enthusiast and supporter of hip-hop music and culture. Everything she does reflects her upbringing, in which she was motivated by the potential of music, art, and community to enrich circumstances for herself and those around her.

Woods' journey is marked by her resilience and adaptability. After dropping out of college upon learning she was pregnant with her daughter in 1993, Woods discovered photography. She became a member of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network Photo Club in the early 2000s. She took photos of a hip-hop summit organized by Sharpton, which ignited a passion for capturing hip-hop culture. At the summit, she was approached by Harlem World Magazine and eventually asked to be a contributor.

She later re-enrolled in CNR later in life, juggling college, career and motherhood. When it became too overwhelming, she told one of her CNR professors that she was thinking about quitting. “He said, ‘What do you want to get out of this experience?’ I told him I wanted to be a good example for my child and future grandchildren,” she said. “He told me to stick it out, and I did — for the next generation.” In 2017, the same year her daughter graduated from college, Woods proudly earned her bachelor’s degree from CNR with Magna Cum Laude honors.

Today, Woods’ full-time position with 1199 National Benefit and Pension Fund, the union of frontline health care workers, 1199SEIU is augmented by her service to her community. She has sustained her commitment by serving on Community Board No. 10 in the Bronx, where she co-chairs the Youth and Education Committee.

Woods’ love for the world of hip-hop was not merely professional but deeply personal, intertwined with the love she shared with her late husband, Todd Dale McKinney, a hip-hop fashionist and music connoisseur also known as “DJ ToddOne.” In honor of his memory, and to help celebrate 2023 as the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, Woods donated artifacts from her husband’s personal collection to a Bronx-based museum. The Universal Hip Hop Museum, slated to open in 2024, will house her husband’s shoes, hoodies, hats, jewelry, and more.

Still a working photojournalist, she has been covering 50th-anniversary events for Harlem Magazine. “This is more than a celebration, it’s recognition that hip-hop is a cultural movement,” said Woods. “It’s an opportunity to uplift and honor all those pioneers from the early days.”

Woods is also pleased more women in hip-hop are now being recognized, such as the trailblazing female rappers Sweet Tee, Jazzy Joyce, The Anointed MicCheck Gail Hall aka-DJ Flame, CoCoa Chanelle and McSha-Rock. These are just a few of the women of hip-hop who positively influenced Woods. Not to mention Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Salt & Pepa, Spinderella and Mone Love. “I’m appreciating the notoriety these wonderful hip-hop royals have received these past months as we celebrate the hip hops 50th anniversary.”

Woods was delighted to learn that Mercy offers classes in hip-hop music and culture. She once taught a class at Community School 55 in the South Bronx. Principal Luis E. Torres, M.S. ’00 invited her to be “Teacher for a Day.”  “I told the kids stories about some of the famous entertainers and rappers I’d photographed, like A Boogie Wit da Hoodie and Doug E. Fresh,” she recalled. I told them if they wanted careers in entertainment to think of all the possibilities — not just in rapping, but in fashion, photography, journalism, entertainment and digital media.”

She believes those who study the music and culture of hip-hop can benefit in many ways, including greater confidence in themselves and what they can give to the world. “Hip-hop made me feel good –it opened my eyes to a culture that I never thought I would view as a photographer,” she said. “I learned that if you want to do something about the things that affect your life you have to be authentic, stay true to what you want out of life, and use it as your aspiration.”

Photo of artist by Stephanie Woods
Photo of A Boogie Wit da Hoodie by Stephanie Woods. 
Big Daddy Kane
Photo of Big Daddy Kane by Stephanie Woods.