Multimodal Teaching Writing

Kids Helping Kids, A Hip Hop Experience

Curators notes:

Chad Harper, founder of Hip Hop Saves Lives, gives an inside look at how he "teaches humanity through Hip-hop." On May 18, 2013

We don’t just teach humanity through Hip Hop, we create humanitarians

“Kids Helping Kids; a Hip Hop Experience” is a youth program that teaches HUMANITY through HIP HOP. We educate youth on global, national and local issues and provide them the opportunity to have a voice through music. This is done through our organization Hip Hop Saves Lives (HHSL).

Our process goes as follows:

First, we select an issue that we think is important to focus on, maybe education, poverty, fair-trade conflicts, environmental- to name a few.

Next,  we identify a person or organization working to create change on the selected issue and honor them through the creation of a Hip Hop song. Young people write lyrics to express what they have learned and how they feel about the issue. We record a song and shoot a full length music video for them to share. From here, we send the song and video to the person or organization celebrated in the song as a gift, hoping to build a mentoring relationship for the youth.

Finally, at the end of the semester we create a cd of their music to sell at fundraising events. Proceeds from the cd go toward aid for schools in Africa and Haiti, where these institutions use the assistance for clean water, food and education needs.

A Week in the Life of HHSL

This is an example of our “Weekly Journal”, which provides an inside look at our process to create the songs and videos that our youth author. We thought that it was important to document the process behind our work, because we believe that the process is just as important as the product. We also, from a business standpoint, thought that it was important to showcase our day-to-day with hopes to attract more schools to bring us in as artists. For the Digital Is audience, we share this so that you might consider adapting a program like this at your own school.

We touch several different schools in our work week, which are located in Brooklyn and the Bronx. On Fridays, we work solely at Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (C.A.S.A.) Middle School. C.A.S.A. is where the program first started almost a year-and-a-half ago, and it has been exciting to be able to work with young people within a school setting on a consistent basis. At the end of this video, you will see their principle Mr. Bowman speaking on the academic gains the school made the previous year. He credits our program as one of the main influences for this growth.

One of the most unique aspects of the program is that each issue we speak to the youth about references an everyday hero working to make a change as it relates to that issue. We always celebrate that hero in the song and make an effort to get the song and video to them. This has allowed for the students we work with to connect with an authentic audience comprised of both local and global figures.

In the video above, you see our C.A.S.A kids who wrote a song to celebrate the CNN Hero of the year. We were wonderfully suprised to reach her with our song. She was so grateful that she sent 20 beautiful t-shirts all the way from her hometown of Indonesia as a thank you gift to our kids. It’s moments like this that remind us how powerful song can be, and how central relationship building is in our work.

Inside the Program

We create music video gifts for everyday heroes; this is the central task that we take on each time we step into a school or classroom. We do this for several reasons, some of which include educating youth on the world we live in while providing avenues of expression around these issues. We also wish to demonstrate the power of giving in a society that preaches individualism. Last, we want youth to develop an understanding that there is an alternative to entertainment stereotypes that are perpetuated in the media. While exploring these ideas and values in some contexts can feel burdensome and tedious, we find that young people are joyful and having fun while invested in these hip hop projects. This seems important, especially if we are asking students to invest more in school and learning.

I thought it would be useful to share our process in this endeavor on a day-to-day basis. We of course refine and edit this process as we learn from the students and navigate different settings and contexts, but the framework is generally consistent, looking something like this:

Day 1 of each week we start with a lesson on humanity. We usually have a short video to show the students because the video tends to grab their attention. From here, we introduce the issue that we are going to focus on for the remainder of our work week. This is the part of our process that involves a little bit of research, intentional listening, and dialogue. It is where students delve into the center of a problem and understand its complexities, while also becoming exposed to a figure who has worked to tackle the problem.

Once students view the video and receive some education on the issue at hand, we discuss what we have watched and expand on the lesson by noting important ideas, and then move on to gather additional information from websites or articles.

After the 5-10 min discussion we play a few beats and allow the students to vote on which beat to use that fits the emotion of the topic. The more they like the beat the easier it is for them to write lyrics and express what they have learned. We give them time to write and when they finish their verses, they often share in front of the class to help inspire others who need help writing. After this is done, the class makes decisions about what verses to use, who will write the “hook”, how the song will be ordered, etc. This is a shared decision making process that involves everyone’s input. Once all of these decisions are made and the written components are complete and arranged, we record their verses to create the song. This is often all done on the first day. If we don’t finish recording, then we do so on the following day.

The following days, Wednesday and Thursday, are video shoot days. This gives the students time to create cool scenes for their video and memorize their lyrics.

Again, the end result is a music video for the kids to share with their friends and family. To see themselves in action like their favorite music celebrities gives them great excitement. Youtube has become the new MTV and anyone can now be in the spot light. An example of the final music video that came out of the lesson documented here can be found at the top of the page.

Final Product: Extreme Poverty

This is a video that we made with students after taking them through discussions and activities that exposed them to the substance and impact of extreme poverty on global populations. The everyday hero highlighted in this particular case was Joseph Wresinski, a man who educated the world about what extreme poverty was by definition; in fact, he coined the term. We sent his organization, Fourth World ATD (All Together Dignity) a copy of the students’ production, and representatives from the organization fell in the love with the video. They in turn invited our students to perform the song at an annual event they host with the UN that commemorates the National Day of Eradicating Extreme Poverty (October 17th). This will be a phenomenal opportunity for the youth to share their work and to meet people from many different walks of life who are interested in combating poverty.

We talk to students about the ripple effect of random acts of kindness, sharing that sometimes when one spreads good deeds, there are positive consequences that emerge. This is a perfect example of this concept, and it is one that we return to constantly – because we want youth to invest in positive acts that make the world better. We also want them to understand that everyday people can be heroes, and that their voice is important in issues that are happening around them.

Research shows that if people are exposed to extreme acts of virtue on a consistent basis, they become better people. In addition to this, they need opportunities to express their voice and leadership potential. The media making and song composing in our program provide these avenues for them.

Why Hip Hop? Making the Case

This is the text of a speech I gave at the Jesse Jackson Wall Street Summit in New York, NY this year.  The purpose of the summit was to discuss the current state of Hip Hop and its economic power.  I include this because it expresses the bottom line values and principles of our organization.  While I am aware that there are many different definitions of what Hip Hop is, we believe that the principles of the founding fathers (such as Afrikka Bambaataa and Kool Herc) should be honored and maintained.

“It was the early 80’s and hip-hop had become a major influence in the lives of many youth. The beauty of it was that any and all could get involved. It had reduced the prerequisites of being a performing artist to just a pen and a pad. I was hooked on this medium that gave me the confidence that I needed to express myself. I had a lot to say but the people that I wanted to speak to did not want to hear about it through hip-hop. My parents, like most, pushed me towards a career that promised security. Being an entertainer is not typically accepted and certainly not encouraged. What they didn’t know was that hip hop was educating me. I learned about African American heroes and inventors. I learned details about slavery, the Civil Rights movement and my ancestors from Africa. Hip Hop, for the first time, made learning exciting and it pushed me to study and learn more so I could express myself like the artists KRS-1, Queen Latifa and Chuck D. Hip hop influenced me to attend Morehouse College because of its legacy in producing brilliant black men. I wanted to be like the heroes I learned about through Hip Hop. What I had learned made me feel intelligent, confident and ignited me to become even more.

My life at home was fueling my proclivity for artistic expression through hip-hop. I witnessed a lot of arguments and verbal aggression. From an early age, I endured countless painful confrontations between my parents. Years of anger accumulated inside of me with no healthy outlet. Hip-Hop changed that for me. I began pouring my hate, anger, and personal lack of love onto notebook pages. Hip-Hop became my best friend. It was everywhere. It understood me. There were no judgments. Hip-Hop kept my secrets and carried the burden of all that I had been through. But I was still unable to share it with those closest to me, the ones causing my pain.

Years later, in NYC, I found myself struggling to produce music that was meaningful to me and still commercial by record label standards. Eventually, I gave in. I began creating music solely for attention and acceptability. A record deal was in the works soon after, but I feared becoming the person that I rhymed about. Ultimately the deal fell through. The entire ordeal was bittersweet. At the time I was working as a bartender. One evening an organization called Charity Water came in to host one of many cocktail parties to raise money for clean water systems in Africa.  I was immediately moved by their approach and began volunteering for them. I decided to write and produce a song to celebrate their work. I knew that I could be myself and using the platform that Charity Water provided only fueled my excitement. The reception was overwhelming.

I traveled with Charity Water to Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. I helped with fundraising during their five-day exhibit by selling a few hundred copies of the song I had written about the organization. Those five days reminded me of why I wrote rhymes. People began requesting pictures with me and asking me to autograph the cds. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. I remember pausing for a moment and thinking to myself “Hip Hop is saving lives.” At that very moment I knew what the rest of my life had to be about. I did not want young emerging emcees to have to create new identities to sell their art to record labels whose real interest was not them. I did not want them to have to endure the pain of discovering the truth after many years invested. I wanted to intercede on their behalf, while they are still young and their efforts are still heartfelt and genuine. I wanted to preserve the essence of what Hip-Hop has been to me, a pillar of confidence. I wanted them to feel proud and intelligent and to fuel their desire to learn. I wanted them to experience education through music and make it cool like the artists I grew up on. It’s vital that the youth love to learn. It’s vital that their interests and hobbies are fused with education. It’s paramount that they are inspired to study and learn on their own time, which will only push them to higher education. I want to help them express themselves to the world but more importantly to their parents. When a parent stops and pays attention to the artist within their child, something magical happens.

In our program, we educate about the world we live in. We educate on issues most teenagers have never discussed and have no true interest in until they speak back about it through rhyme.  We see many of them touched by these subjects and witness their new education expand their minds and become part of who they are. They can’t wait to get to the next subject and begin to write—they are excited to learn. We also still honor everyday heroes like I did through the song for Charity Water. Having that built-in audience is very important. Having a community of people that thank others for introducing them to your work is essential. This also allows our children to feel what’s it’s like to make a difference and share their art with their parents and show them how powerful their voice can be. Our kids talk about their parents’ response to their music all of the time. It warms my heart to know we are helping kids and parents have conversations about their talent and their passions, as well as many of the important issues we face in today’s society.”

Student Reflections on the Impact of Our Program

Students at Brooklyn Theater Arts High School took the time to speak on how Hip Hop Saves Lives has impacted their lives and spoken to them. Enjoy!

This post is part of the Textual Power on Our Own Terms collection.