When people think of hip hop and sex, the genre’s sexually charged, sexist lyrics and endorsement of promiscuous behavior usually comes to mind. It’s true. Rap music does contain some less than empowering content but it’s important to remember that it originated as an avenue for social change and to bring awareness to pervasive issues like poverty, police brutality, and racism that shape the overall environment urban youth grow up in. Today it is a medium that speaks to all young people across many ethnic and socio economic lines. We decided to go back to the roots of hip hop and harness the social change and commentary aspect of the genre to influence behaviors around routine STD testing and relationship dynamics among urban youth as part of a fully integrated prevention and awareness outreach campaign in San Francisco.
It’s heartbreaking to hear that young people in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco experience higher instances of chlamydia and gonorrhea transmission than those of other ethnic and racial groups in the city. To combat this challenging statistic, we combined youth-led online and offline marketing efforts, weekly youth meetings, SMS/ texting, social networking outlets, community organizations and hip hop to inspire a change in youth perceptions and – hopefully – behaviors.
Before the campaign could be conceptualized, understanding Bayview residents’ perspective of the issue was imperative. ISIS met with key community-based organizations, attended their action meetings and held weekly youth groups to find that poverty, violence, unemployment and chronic illnesses outweighed sexual health as priorities in peoples’ lives. That perspective helped us frame – or reframe – the issue of sexual health; to make it all-inclusive – not something people do as a reaction to a questionable encounter or possible symptoms. With the help of neighborhood youth, we set out to help youth in the Bayview think of routine sexual screenings as a part of their regular physical maintenance, similar to visiting the salon or the barber shop, and to get them familiar with the clinics and services in their neighborhood. This seeded the idea to host a hip hop event to kick off the Get Live, Stay Live campaign with local talent that could bring together community residents and the organizations and service providers already hard at work making changes.
To begin getting youth familiar with the preexisting sexual health providers in the Bayview, we asked them to visit a community clinic and get a free sexual health screening prior to the event in order to get a Get Live, Stay Live Access Card for free admission to the concert (otherwise, admission was $5 or less). On July 25th, 2009 the Get Live, Stay Live kick-off concert went off without a hitch and featured Big Rich, San Quinn, Su, Roach Gigz, Bread Me Out Family, Beeda Weeda, Citi Boi, D-Lo and many more performing (if you’re not a youth, its okay if you’ve never heard of these guys, but check them out!). DJ Truth MC’ed and spoke about the importance of routine sexual health screenings and rallied the crowd around taking care of themselves and their peers in between performers sets. A dozen community organizations and their youth volunteers tabled at the concert and a mobile teen health van was present to provide on-site services for youth in need. Three-hundred youth and their families came out to the Get Live, Stay Live event. More than half turned in access cards indicating they had received a pre-event sexual health screening! After the event and throughout the campaign duration 14,000+ condoms were distributed, tons of Bayview youth attended in-person sexual health and relationship workshops, and nearly 400 were screened for gonorrhea and chlamydia at their neighborhood clinics.
At the time, it felt insane to jump into the unknown of hosting a rap concert for awareness and behavior change but we’re so glad we did, as it brought Bayview clinics and service providers together with the people they serve, and showed community residents how easy and fulfilling it is to pop into a clinic for a regular sexual health check up. Embracing rap music as the medium for social change doesn’t mean embracing all of the counter-productive and detrimental lyrics and resulting behaviors. In fact, one can capitalize on those problematic moments and use them to reframe an issue that impacts hip hop’s main fan base – especially if it’s a culturally relevant mode of communication for the population at risk!
View the full event gallery here!