All living beings have confronted the challenging task of survival. Humans, whether overcoming famine, enslavement, or the abyss of ill health, have strived and bonded together to ensure the endurance of themselves and their fellow man. However, the great contradiction of the survival of humans is that, in trying to achieve it, we have become the architect of some of its threats.
Increasingly, the man-made phenomenon of extreme weather events continues to threaten populations throughout the globe. For example, New York City, a pillar of the world’s diverse sources of power, was recently debilitated by Sandy: a perfect storm with a full moon as its beautiful yet menacing backdrop. Sandy is a disheartening reminder that the damage that has been inflicted on the environment by carbon emissions and other pollutants in the laying of the foundations of our society is coming back to destabilize it. While they threaten our very lives and the fabric of our civilizations, natural disasters also yield a number of threats to the public’s health.
Hurricanes are unique in the type of damage they inflict. For example, the floodwaters resulting from hurricanes and the storm surges that ensue often contain a number of substances that are threatening to human and animal health, including sewage, pesticides, and gasoline. Many have perished from drowning, the felling of trees and other debris, the loss of electricity and subsequent medical equipment function, and other hurricane-related dangers. However, it is the mental and economic health toll on the communities affected by hurricanes that is most widespread and enduring. The tremendous sense of loss experienced by hurricane victims who are robbed not only of safe and secure housing and material possessions but also of irreplaceable pictures, family heirlooms, and other keepsakes is extremely difficult for many to surmount. The large majority of individuals suffering from depression and other mental health problems stemming from Hurricane Sandy will not receive the services they need to help them move on. This is not only due to the shortage of such services and inadequate outreach: it also stems from the widely-held stigma of mental illness and treatment.
The Hip Hop community has responded to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in a variety of ways. For example, the rapper Sean Price provided some live urban journalism in the field before the storm hit to inform people in his community of Brooklyn about rising waters, local store and restaurant closings, and the like while providing some humor in an otherwise dire situation. Kanye West performed during the 12.12.12 benefit concert at Madison Square Garden to raise funds for Sandy disaster relief in New York City. Hot 97, the premiere Hip Hop radio station in New York City, utilized its Hip Hop Has Heart Foundation to provide relief supplies to Sandy victims. Raekwon, one of the most popular members of the Wu-Tang Clan, organized a Sandy relief benefit concert featuring his counterpart Hip Hop veteran Ghostface Killah and others to assist hurricane victims in his native borough of Staten Island. When asked about the motivation for his efforts, he cited doubts that the Red Cross and similar organizations would effectively reach the people that he saw on the ground who needed help. Also, the Hurricane Sandy Hip Hop Relief Jam, which was held at the popular venue Brooklyn Bowl, featured Pharoahe Monch, Immortal Technique, and Jean Grae, along with other Hip hop heavyweights. Philly-based Hip Hop phenom Meek Mill headlined a Hurricane Sandy relief concert in Atlantic City, NJ, whose historic boardwalk was almost completely destroyed by flood waters. Los Angeles-based rapper The Game responded in a very unique way to the Hurricane by assisting victims financially in their efforts to get to their nearest polling stations so that, in spite of the immediate difficulties they faced, they would still be able to exercise their right to vote in the 2012 presidential election.
Several artists have written songs in tribute to the victims of Hurricane Sandy. For example, an entity in New Jersey entitled the Hip Hop Speakeasy released an album featuring several up-and-coming Hip Hop artists entitled “ ’12 to Infinity” to raise funds for Hurricane Sandy victims. However, one Sandy song in particular stands out for its originality, and was written by none other than the world-renowned KRS-One. KRS-One is one of the best examples of a Hip Hop artist that has optimally harnessed the power of Hip Hop to raise awareness. Also known as “The Teacha”, KRS-One teamed up with Reggae artist Mad Lion shortly after the storm to record the song “Disaster Kit”, whose purpose is to inform the public and mentally prepare the Hip Hop community for “increased environmental instability”. In the wake of the storm, KRS-One stated: “This is an opportunity to show the world what Hip Hop is capable of…this project isn’t about raising money or making money. This is purely knowledge and survival; I truly hope the world benefits from these words. By memorizing the lyrics of this song, you at least prepare yourself with a mental checklist against natural and man-made disasters.” The song “Disaster Kit” can be downloaded here: http://www.sendspace.com/file/e39zp1 and the lyrics to the song can be found here: http://rapgenius.com/Krs-one-disaster-kit-lyrics.
As KRS-One has done with “Disaster Kit”, Hip Hop Public Health uses Hip Hop music to arm children and their families with the knowledge needed to thrive in environments that are inimical to their well-being. Our target audiences face a variety of threats, including low-income levels, inadequate access to health care, food deserts, insufficient education and employment opportunities, and the like. These threats not only compromise community health; they also leave communities more vulnerable to natural disasters and other environmental threats. The need for efforts that effectively communicate life-saving information is increasingly urgent, and Hip Hop has consistently proven to be a valuable tool in such efforts.
The Hip Hop Public Health team assisted in the recovery from Hurricane Sandy by participating in a clean-up of Astoria Park in Queens. Organized by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and NYC Service, our team members and representatives from other organizations removed tremendous amounts of debris from the park grounds in order to once again make the park accessible to individuals and families throughout the borough. The maintenance of safe and welcoming urban green spaces is absolutely essential to promoting and preserving the public’s health, as they provide a venue for physical activity as well as a refuge for city dwellers to escape the stressors of urban life. Volunteer efforts in the wake of Sandy have also served as a means by which the collective has been able to heal via the therapeutic observation and exchange of good will.
The failure of the 112th Congress to pass a bill to provide funding to the victims of Hurricane Sandy in the Tri-State area is the first time in the history of this country that national leadership has opted not to provide emergency disaster relief in a timely fashion. Such dysfunction in Washington cannot continue, as extreme weather events and the inevitable mayhem they bring are likely to be mainstays in the United States and beyond for years to come. It is also imperative that members of the scientific community, in tandem with the politicians whom they inform, aggressively emphasize the need for carbon emission control and other environmental protections in order to hinder this alarming trend. Ultimately, it is only the education of the people that can bring about the changes needed to better ensure our survival on this planet.