Ask Tamekia Flowers, founder of not-for-profit organization Hip Hop 4 Life, to explain why she loves a genre that often gets a bad rap (no pun intended) and she'll tell you, “It is a way of life, the inspiration behind a lot of the good–and sometimes not so good–things that happen in our community. It is the voice for the many of us who at the time were voiceless.”

That, along with the vital health and life issues faced by adolescents living in lower-income communities and predominantly urban areas served as the inspiration behind her organization, which is dedicated to providing young people, regardless of race and class, with the skill sets required to become successful members of society.

“Through our programs, students learn the non-cognitive skills that will build their capacity to combat the challenges associated with student achievement, cultivate post-secondary aspirations, and provide them with life skills that will prepare them for their transition into adulthood,” Flowers says.

Hip Hop 4 Life launched back in 2002, following the death of Jam Master Jay, and has been going strong ever since while also gaining the support of several celebrities along the way, including MC Lyte, Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade, Nick Cannon and Michaela angela Davis. 

MC Lyte first became involved with the organization a few years ago when she was invited to speak at one of their events.

“Their commitment to the youth is what interests me the most,” she says. “There aren’t too many organizations that we at the Hip Hop Sisters Foundation partner with, and to have a like-minded group of women who are doing amazing work makes it a win-win situation.”

What makes Hip Hop 4 Life unique, according to Flowers, is their ability to provide a variety of programs that infuse the art, influence and community of hip-hop while also engaging and connecting with the youth they serve.

“Hip-hop [and] popular culture is used to engage the youth and provide them with real-world examples/situations [to help support] the content we are teaching,” she says. “We also involve hip-hop [and] the arts in our overall programming themes and projects/presentations.”

One of Hip Hop 4 Life’s core programs is the Empowerment Team Shades of Beauty Mentoring Program for Girls.

In this two-year program, tenth-and eleventh-grade students receive life skills training, college and career planning, health and nutrition workshops, as well as the opportunity to plan events and community service projects.

After graduating from the program, alumnae may continue their involvement by becoming youth leaders and peer educators. They also receive internship referrals and college/job recommendations by Hip Hop 4 Life senior executives.

Rosa Delgado, alumna of the Empowerment Team and freshman at Morrisville State College, says the program has greatly impacted her life.

“The experience has been enriching, empowering and motivating. It’s helped boost my self-esteem, and now I can pass it forward to upcoming students,” she says. “Now that I’m part of the [alumnae], I hope to continue to assist other youth in any possible way so they can experience similar opportunities that I have embarked.”

Hip Hop 4 Life’s other programs include The Rhythm, Follow the Leader and Man UP!, which promotes self-esteem, sexual health, goal-setting, conflict resolution and healthy living among young men.

In the long run, Flowers envisions expanding the organization to Philadelphia, PA, taking a group of women from the Empowerment Team on a service and cultural exchange to Ghana, as well as bringing a community center to her hometown of Brooklyn, NY.

“It will be a safe space for young people to come and participate in our programs, and attain the necessary skill sets required for their personal and professional success,” she says.

Although Flowers has received a lot of positive feedback over the past 11 years regarding Hip Hop 4 Life, she says it never gets old.  

“The most rewarding part is to have the young people we serve share with my staff and I how much the program has benefited them, and how much it has positively impacted their lives…[It] is truly priceless,” she says.

In the upcoming years, Hip Hop 4 Life’s mission is to continue providing youth with exciting and informative programs that help them grow and reach their full potential.

“We are passionate about helping young people realize how truly outstanding they are,” Flowers says.

For more information on how to get involved, visit the official Hip Hop 4 Life website.

Princess Gabbara is a senior at Eastern Michigan University, where she will soon earn her bachelor’s degree in journalism. You can read more of her work on her blog: Follow her on Twitter: @PrincessGabbara