When people think health hip hop usually isn’t the first thing to come to mind. That is everyone except Ms. Tamekia Flowers, founder and president of Hip Hop 4 health, a non profit organization dedicated to use hip hop to promote health awareness. Hip Hop 4 health partners with health industry professionals to educate tweens (8-12) and teens (13-17) on health issues through interactive workshops, health fairs, concerts and empowerment seminars. We caught up with Ms. Flowers to find out more about this innovative organization and its plans for the future.
Halftime: Tell me a bit about your program and how it got started?
Ms. Flowers: Hip Hop 4 health is a non profit organization. We are dedicated to utilizing hip hop as a conduit to reach teens about health issues through the process of merging hip hop with health industry professionals. Our program started about three years ago. I was speaking to kids on a monthly basis at different high schools and I noticed from what they were saying that they were not getting appropriate information on health issues. So based on that, the fact that they connect to hip hop and me being a baby of hip hop culture I wanted to combine the two and use it as a means to educate the youth. The crazy thing is when people think bout hip hop they don’t think about health but there are artists out there like a Missy or a LL who are about health. There are also different artists out there with health ailments that are going through the same things some of these kids go through, whether it’s asthma, diabetes or what have you. Those are the things I want to bring into the forefront.
Halftime: What are the different types of workshops do you conduct?
Ms.Flowers: We execute several programs throughout the year affiliated with the Boys & Girls club as well as NY and New Jersey city schools. These programs all fall under our three core departments. We have Hip Hop 4 health workshops, which are basically smaller workshops that educate kids on different health issues. There is our Hip Hop 4 health ‘˜On the Move’ which targets a larger group of kids through health fairs and activity booths and then we have Hip Hop 4 health Empowered. The first one of those that we started was Shades of Beauty: Today’s Girl, Tomorrow’s Woman. It’s basically to help boost self esteem and address the ideas put forth by the media that say you have to look a certain way to be beautiful. We’ve done several of those in Houston, New York, Atlanta and have one planned for D.C and San Antonio. We also have a male counterpart to the program called Man Up and that’s going to do the same thing in terms of self-esteem for young boys.
Halftime: You mentioned a few hip hop artists that touch on health issues, but in general not many people think health when they think hip hop. What was it about hip hop that you felt it could be used for health awareness?
I wanted to promote the positive aspects of hip hop. There are a lot of artists within hip hop that do support health issues and deal with health ailments. I wanted to use hip hop as the tool because it highly influences the young market. I wanted to be one of the people who took it and used it in a positive way. So if hip hop can get you to wear a certain type of shoe or dress a certain way, why can’t it get them to exercise or eat right.
Halftime: What are ways in which you use hip hop specifically within the various programs and workshops to get across the message of health awareness?
One of the ways in which we were able to use hip hop to educate the teens is when we incorporated MC Lyte into our female empowerment program in Houston. A lot of the kids remembered her from different shows and others remembered her from her stuff in the past. So when we got the feedback from the girls, a lot of them commented about how much they liked the program and others really liked the fact that MC Lyte and Kenya Moore were there. It meant a lot to them that they were there to share their personal experiences. Another example is one of our desires and goals is to incorporate LL Cool J into our programming, through him being there or through him writing quotes targeted towards kids on why it is important to be healthy. LL is one of the ones in the forefront about health. You have Common, Doug E. Fresh, and a bunch of others that you don’t hear about because that’s not promoted. What’s promoted is the weed or alcohol. You don’t necessarily hear artists say I’m not going to drink that soda because it’s not healthy for me. 50 Cent was on The View the other day and he was saying he always makes sure he has healthy things for his child to eat. That way the child will want for those healthy snack choices. One thing we want kids to understand is that when their hungry they don’t have to eat a piece of cake, they can have a healthy snack instead that’s quick to make and good for them. That way they can start taking better care of themselves.
Halftime: What are the main topics Hip Hop 4 health covers?
Underneath our program we have six core topics that we focus on. We focus on Health 101, which is a general health discussion about why it’s important to go to the doctor or dentist. We also focus on proper hygiene, nutrition, and safe sex. Lastly, we have ‘˜Work It,’ which is our work out program, and ‘˜Triple Threat’ which discusses the dangers of alcohol, drugs and tobacco. Kwame’ is on our advisory board and when he goes in to speak to the kids about why he doesn’t smoke or drink they are captivated by him because it’s someone that they know in hip hop but also because he gives them realistic personal experiences.
Halftime: So far what has been the response from the communities in which you’ve done your workshops and projects?
It’s been wonderful. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback and requests from people who want to bring the program to their community or school. We have two really great events coming up now. We have a health fair that we’re doing at Roberto Clemente state park in the Bronx. It’s going to be a whole day with health activities, contests and performances. And in Atlanta we’re preparing our 5th installment of Shades of Beauty and plan on involving key people and celebrities out there.
Halftime: What has been your biggest accomplishment up to this point and long term what is the main goal of the organization?
The major accomplishment has been getting the 501 (c)(3) approved because that can be very challenging, so that’s been a blessing. Our ultimate goal is to create a platform and forum for kids to have access to any health information that they need. We also want to create a forum for hip hop artists to share their health beliefs with the kids. We want the kids to be able to go to our website and ask a doctor or a peer for advice. We also want to partner with other organizations to be that health resource for teens.
Halftime: There are definitely people who see hip hop as an opportunity to capitalize on whatever it is they are putting forth. However, you seem to be a real head trying to advance the culture. Tell me about your experiences with hip hop and how they have led you on this path?
For one I know back in the day hip hop was an outlet for the youth. It was something that was ours. Only a few knew about it but those who knew embraced it. It was a means to talk to the youth. Nowadays, it’s gotten bigger and more commercialized and that’s to be understood but I think that community appeal has been lost a little bit. I just know the potential that hip hop has to deliver positive messages and because of that I want to be one of the people that continue to promote the positive aspects of the culture. We’re the first generation of hip hop and we have seen it go from the playground to being worldwide. I just want to keep embracing it and help bring it back to the essence of what it really was about.
Halftime: On your site I saw you are also invested into several other ventures. Outside of Hip Hop 4 health what keeps you busy?
Well, I’ve been in the entertainment industry for over ten years working in marketing, talent relations and event planning and I’m planning to launch a firm, along with my partner Tanisha Tate, called Epiphany Blue LLP. We’ll be doing events for youths and adults across the country for different artists, firms and corporate organizations. That’s next up on the list.
Halftime: Are there any other projects that you have planned that you haven’t had a chance to mention?
Well, our two-year plan is to take our Shades of Beauty program overseas specifically to South Africa and London. We’re hooking up with a program in the United Nations that supports organizations such as ours that are active in the community. So now under their umbrella we will have access to a worldwide batch of resources that will allow us to expand overseas but still continue to support the youth in our country.
Halftime: Last question, what advice do you have for others who are looking to develop an organization such as yours?
It takes a lot of tenacity, hard work and dedication. Get yourself a good lawyer and accountant that are familiar with the non profit industry, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and surround yourself with people as dedicated as you to the goal and mission of the organization.