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Cambridge Teens Use Hip-Hop Music For Social Change

John Teal gets ready to perform as part of the Hip Hop Transformation Program.
Hip Hop Transformation Program

In an often intense social climate, with a contentious presidential election season, the Black Lives Matter movement and other issues dominating the news, a program in Cambridge has allowed young people to express how they feel about what's going on in society—through music.

It’s called the Hip Hop Transformation Program and it aims to transform how teens communicate.

Seventeen-year-old John Teal of Cambridge uses rhymes to express himself. He says it helps him deal with whats going on—on the inside.

“I was in a sad place," Teal said. "Angry place, hurt place, all of that.”

But spending his summer making music at the Cambridge Community Center made a difference. Teal expressed his anger and sadness in the recording booth.

“It's funny, because out there I had no love," he said. "But in the booth I had all the love I need.”

Over the summer, Teal joined more than a dozen other teens in the program. Teens are paid through the city’s summer youth employment program to work on music.

The program was founded in 2013 by Darrin Korte, who is also the executive director of the community center.

“The Hip Hop Transformation Program is all about engaging teens in a meaningful way, using a forum that’s readily available, that they are interested in and engaged in,” Korte said.

Through music, Korte says students tackle heavy issues like police brutality. Teenager Kaesianna Cooper produced a song called "Black Lives Matter."

“I’m 17 and I write songs like this, and we all write songs likes this, and if kids our age feel the same way about the issues that are going on they should open to talk about it and write about it or feel the way they're supposed to feel,” she said.

Cooper performed the song with another teen, Kourtney Dottin.

“Music is not really a language, but it’s a way to convey message that’s easier, because its more fluid," Dottin said. "People can listen to it one at any time and if you’re having a conversation with someone they can easily forget it.”

Current events and history are key parts of the program, Korte says.

“One of the things we talked about this year was staying socially conscious, and creating things and stuff that we wanted to talk about that were relevant and relate to where hip-hop culture was founded in the beginning, as an offshoot of the civil rights movement.”  

Students worked on tracks for an entire album, which they’ll continue to work on throughout the school year. Most have a better understanding of how to express their feelings, and that’s something that will stay with them no matter where they go.

Some lyrics are intense and then some uplifting, but more importantly, it’s true expression.



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