Hip-Hop Culture & HIV Awareness
Reaching Youth Where They Are
By Susan Cruzan
At the recent One SAMHSA meeting in Orlando, FL, SAMHSA’s high-spirited, high-energy Minority Education Institution (MEI) showcased substance abuse and
peer-led HIV prevention strategies.
The SAMHSA meeting convened a day after the United States Conference on AIDS (USCA), where SAMHSA offered several workshops. The MEI Institute highlighted specific student efforts to help prevent substance abuse, HIV, and hepatitis.
To “reach youth where they are,” these prevention programs are active on the campuses of minority-serving schools including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs).
One of the strategies used, Hip-Hop Development™ (a theory of change and practical application), was developed with funding from SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP). Accepted into SAMHSA’s 2010 National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP), “Hip-Hop 2 Prevent Substance Abuse and HIV” also received an enthusiastic reception at USCA. Hip-Hop 2 is now acknowledged as a prevention and new-media communications tool for MEI.
“Hip-hop culture is an important way to reach young people where they are,” explained P. Thandi Hicks Harper, Ph.D., of the Youth Popular Culture Institute,
developer of the curriculum. “Because it is ingrained in our youth culture across blacks, whites, American Indians, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we can use elements of hip-hop to motivate young people and students.” The program promotes healthy lifestyles among youth at all levels from middle school to high school and through college. “Understanding the dominant popular culture of youth is critical in prevention,” Dr. Harper added.
Several peer educators attended the One SAMHSA meeting. Nicholas Johnson (a.k.a. Kayo), a student peer educator at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, MO, said, “As students of color, we are trying to create a domino effect from our programs. We are using hip-hop to tell students to know their HIV status and to play it safe.”
Omari Williams, a student peer educator at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN, demonstrated his technique with a microphone. He and the audience chanted together, “We pledge to be a drug free community.”
Kayo found that the use of hip-hop enhances skills, especially critical thinking and writing. “Hip-hop helps in goal setting and decision-making, and it
gives us what we need to succeed in life and in the real world.”
William Ridley, a university liaison for Bowie State, said, “We pride ourselves on non-conventional programs.” He noted that “Spread the Word Not the Virus” is one of Bowie State’s leading projects, as well as “Dance for the Cure,” as a different way to look at HIV/AIDS.
Tonia Schaffer, M.P.H., Director of the MEI Program Coordinating Center, emphasized that the program focuses on evidence-based and peer-led services. “We are in our fifth year of the program, and we are 22 universities strong,” Ms. Schaffer said. The program has a strong focus on HIV testing in the schools and dissemination of information on substance abuse, HIV, and hepatitis. This work involves many community partners and organizations that provide testing and other services. In 2009, 5,986 students were tested, and more than 17,000 students participated in peer-led sessions.
For information and publications on HIV/AIDS, visit SAMHSA’s newly redesigned website.