Hiphop-Youth Voice and Social Change

The Good Life Organization (GLO) specializes in galvanizing adults towards supporting the positive development of youth and cultivation of youth voice, and mobilizing youth towards using their voices to create community change. Extensive research and experience indicate that there is a reciprocally transformative experience that occurs when youth development and community development are strategically linked. Often times youth led events and action plans are able to garner the support of adults and community organizations in ways that would be much more difficult if they were initiated by adults. Since most non-for-profits claim to be “about the youth”, when a youth led agenda emerges, it carries with it a sense of urgency and power to unify a community around the needs of youth.

Driven by the simple idea that “youth don’t grow up in programs or classrooms but in communities” necessitates that organizations, parents, and schools work together in making youth a priority. Community is created when people feel a sense of relationship and belongingness, not to mention a sense of a common purpose. To foster these connections takes organic dialogue, of which we find happens naturally when people are engaged with “edutainment” (combining education and entertainment). Films like “Inconvenient Truth” and “Waiting For Superman” are a couple examples on how films can spark critical dialogue, which in turn, can connect people through a common purpose and eventually even create changes in policy and culture. It is for this reason of building critical dialogue and common purpose, that Good Life creates high quality film, music, media and educational products to spark dialogue and initiate cultural change.

The Good Life Organization has created a variety of visual media including a film entitled: Bridge Da Gap. This documentary highlights critical issues such as the achievement gap and the racial disparity of incarceration gap and discusses (including interviews with scholars, rap pioneers, and youth) how these gaps can be bridged by using Hiphop based education. GLO also works with a variety of hiphop artists regionally and around the nation in the development of music linking youth development, hiphop culture, and social justice. On the education side of edutainment, GLO has developed an innovative social and emotional curriculum called Fulfill The Dream that takes research based principles of empowerment and teaches them in culturally relevant ways. Teaching leadership, relationship, and citizenship, the curriculum engages youth with these topics using media, music, and movement. The results have included increased G.P.A’s, better school attendance, and even one school reaching its first ever 100% graduation rate. The key to these results are linked to building capacity to community leaders to engage youth in relevant ways that allow youth opportunities to discover their voices and use these voices in addressing community issues creatively.

Youth being at the forefront of social change is not a new concept. In fact a re-visiting of history would indicate that every major social movement in the last 50 years had youth on the front lines. From Civili Rights and youth boarding buses to head down south and sitting at lunch counters, to youth involvement in South Africa challenging the Bantu System of education to end apartheid, to more recent activity in Egypt with the Arab spring indicate that youth having an empowered voice challenges the status quo of any society. Just like the Chinese symbol for crisis combines ideas of danger and opportunity, every social crisis contains within it the possibility of great opportunity to derive if youth are involved. Our current crisis in education indicates that it is time for a different way of thinking to be added to the discussion. Einstein once said: “ you can solve the current problems you are facing with the same thinking you used when you created these problems”. Part of the reason why the education debate is not moving forward more effectively is because youth voice has been strategically silenced. To counter this trend, GLO is now also publishing books, music, and media specifically designed by youth that shares their ideas and perspectives.

Seeing and hearing youth who have a voice and who have been empowered, is the single most effective way to engage youth with the understanding that they are an important asset to their communities and communicate that their voices count. It is therefore the focus of GLO to build capacity in organizations and communities where the effective and consistent input of youth is facilitated in ways that contribute to plans of action, policies, and program ideas. The results of this level of leadership which includes youth result in a few outcomes: First off, it ensures that the plans of action and programs being developed by an organization relevantly meet the needs of youth. Secondly, it ensures that organizations remain focused on the importance of actually servicing youth instead of using rhetoric and using youth as an excuse to raise money to fund the status quo. Lastly, youth voice helps youth develop the skills they need to thrive in a 21st century economy. Research indicate that youth who have a voice in their communities develop skills that help them become better citizens, helps them work in better collaboration with others, while also fostering greater creativity and problem solving skills applicable in a variety of settings.

Helping youth develop the skills to thrive with learning and life are not just important for the short term but also benefit a nation in the long term. Ensuring youth have a proper education grounded in citizenship, collaboration, and creativity ensures that they will have the skills of the 21st century and will be able to effectively contribute to the society they are apart of. If we as a nation want to keep up with the demands of our economy which is swiftly changing from an industrial one to one of innovation, we have to begin to create communities that value youth and cultivate their voices. It requires that youth serving organizations undergo a paradigm shift where youth are not the recipient of services and needing to be fixed but are participants given opportunity to contribute and act as part of the solution. This is what a proper 21st century education looks like, youth centered, strength based, incorporating their voices, and involving the whole community. “ The hope of a nation lies in the proper education of it’s youth”-Erasmus. Check out more at:


About goodlifealliance

This blog is dedicated to the engagement, empowerment, and equipping of young adults who are using the arts to create change in both themselves and the world. It is connected to a global network of cultural change agents that are using the arts, primarily hiphop, to name the world and in doing so also changing it. Key topics include Hiphop Culture, Liberation Education, Social and Emotional Learning, Social Justice, Hiphop as a movement, and Spirituality. It is authored by Roberto Rivera, Hiphop artist, educator, and author of educational curricula such as Good Life and Fulfill The Dream. Roberto speaks publicly around the nation on issues covered in this blog.
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