Social Worker Uses Hip-Hop Therapy for Youth in Oakland

alvarez3Hip-Hop has notoriously been portrayed as a genre of music that glamorizes drugs, sex, and the objectification of women. Even so, some people do not acknowledge it as a true art form. If content is what makes this type of music as violent and vulgar, then the same should apply to other forms of music, seeing as some of the same themes play over and over in Rock n’ Roll, Country, or even Pop. What sets Hip-Hop apart is its unique delivery and the history behind it that so many people want to ignore and demonize almost immediately. Fortunately, there are always those who see the value of such an art form and strive to make something positive of it.

This is the case of a high school social worker, Tomas Alvarez, who sees it as the perfect method for helping at-risk youth in Oakland, California. alvarez2Alvarez, being a man of color himself, had become frustrated with the fact that youth men drop out of school and fall into a life of crime. He recognizes that these young men do not deviate from school because of lack of intelligence, but more so the environment that they interact with outside of school that makes it very hard for them to see a brighter future.

In 2009, he founded the nonprofit organization Beats Rhymes and Life, which has provided therapy sessions using hip-hop to over 1000 youth throughout the Bay Area- including programs at school, mental health facilities, youth centers, and public libraries. In this initiative, students are encouraged to write and rap about their feelings, thereby not only enhancing their compositional skills but also fostering a method of catharsis. Alvarez states, “a lot of people come for the hip-hop, but they stay for the healing.” This works because these youth have a connection with hip-hop and they feel at home with it rather than traditional methods that are much more generalized. In order to engender a change effectively in these youth, there needs to be familiarity and intimacy. This is a critical step in how he went about this initiative and unsurprisingly it works! Alvarez22

Alvarez is in the recent news because he is named as a CNN Hero, which will be revealed by Anderson Cooper in the 2015 Top 10 CNN Heroes on Thursday, October 8 at 8 AM ET. He sat down for an interview with CNN recently to speak about what his program is and the goals that it achieves by reaching out to at-risk youth. Ultimately, Alvarez hopes that people can recognize Hip-Hip was essentially created in response to ignored social conditions, such as poverty and violence, and by channeling that purpose to empower it will be the proper step to take to transform these youth.

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