When Dr. Olajide Williams and Doug E. Fresh teamed up more than 15 years ago to bring the power of hip hop to health education, they knew that engaging young people was the key to tackling long-standing inequities. When young people have the opportunity to learn essential health knowledge and skills, they are not only better prepared to care for themselves and others throughout their lives, they also become powerful advocates for positive health behavior choices within their families and communities. Our new College Student Ambassador Program, now in the second year of its pilot in Nashville, Tennessee, amplifies the power of youth engagement by training college students to facilitate health literacy sessions at elementary schools and engage with younger students using Hip Hop Public Health resources.
“Young people are at the center of all that we do,” said Dr. Olajide Williams, founder of Hip Hop Public Health, tenured Professor of Neurology at Columbia University, and Chief of Staff of the Department of Neurology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Our Ambassador Program is based on our core beliefs that change happens at the speed of trust and that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. College students are in a unique position to connect with elementary students and to create memorable learning opportunities that can change lives – for everyone involved.”
As members of the Hip Hop Public Health Student Ambassador Program at Vanderbilt University – also known as Hip Hop Vandy – college students visit partner schools monthly to facilitate lessons about self-care, physical activity, nutrition, stroke awareness, and more, using Hip Hop Public Health resources. Ambassadors receive training and support to learn about using music, art, and activity to teach about health.
“Hip Hop Vandy enables college students to forge meaningful connections with local elementary schools, and experience first-hand the power of music, science, and art to improve health literacy,” said Rincon Jagarlamudi, Hip Hop Vandy founder and lead ambassador. “We offer our ambassadors the unique opportunity to encounter and directly address the social determinants of health within their community. This experience can be invaluable as our ambassadors progress to their future careers where they will engage with the same communities.”
This school year, Hip Hop Vandy will work with the Jones Paideia Elementary Magnet School, Hattie Cotton STEM Elementary Magnet School, Chadwell Elementary School, and Stratton Elementary School.
Thanks to support from Best Buy, Hip Hop Public Health will develop and pilot a Student Ambassador Toolkit that includes classroom activity plans, family materials, and ambassador recruitment and training resources. The Ambassador Toolkit will be used in other ambassador sites as the program grows, and it will also be available online for free so that schools, community groups, and other educational organizations can adapt and utilize the lesson materials.
“Our partners make this work possible, and we are deeply appreciative of Best Buy’s generosity,” said Dr. Williams. “The Nashville educational community, the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise & Public Policy at Vanderbilt, Students for Health Equity Program at Vanderbilt, and the Tennessee Public Health Association have all been instrumental in helping to launch, expand and sustain Hip Hop Vandy and we are grateful for their collaboration.”