Teenagers are forced to deal with a lot. Factoring in specific environments that divide the line between choosing the life of a scholar and a street dweller really highlight how fragile their lives truly are.
For the students at New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science II in the Bronx, life has thrown a great deal of them a curveball, yet a new program started by school counselor Ian P. Levy has given the kids a new avenue to release some tension.
The program, dubbed as “Hip Hop therapy,” has resonated with students since its 2014 inception in the after-school sector. Levy developed the model for the course as part of his doctoral research at Teachers College and eventually obtained $3,000 worth of studio and recording equipment through the school and crowdfunding with DonorsChoose.org.
A handful of students were interviewed by The New York Times and their individual situations speak more for the need of the program than their actual love for it.
There is 17-year-old Jason Alcequiez, a sophomore who uses his music to vent about his rift with his parents and a break-up with his girlfriend. (“I’m not one of those people who would get sentimental about my feelings and talk about my feelings. I’d rather write it out in music.”) Taliesha Thompson, 15, a young woman who raps to prevent bottling her emotions. And Ellis McBeth, a 14-year-old ninth grader who has seen a great deal in short time on earth. Four months ago, he was dealt a crushing blow after hearing the news that his 12-year-old cousin had died. With the help of his older sister, he eulogized his kin on a song recording right there in the school.
“When I leave my feelings inside, the only way you’re going to hear it is if I throw a punch,” he told The Times. “Now I make songs about them. I write verses that cool me down.”
Sway in the Morning and Chicago rap stalwart, Lil Bibby, also took notice to the program and had Levy and select group of students come in for a special education taping of the revered talk show.
Following the past year that saw police and unarmed black men such as Samuel Dubose, Freddie Gray and Walter Scott come to tragic ends, the New Vision students banded together and recorded a mixtape titled Hoodies Up under the collective moniker, C.Y.P.H.E.R. The project’s album cover is a direct nod to slain teen Trayvon Martin and the commonplace parental advisory sticker is swapped out with a logo that reads “Progressive #HipHopEd Education Content.”
An adjacent Bronx institution, Mott Haven Community High School, was also profiled within the article for its implication of Hip Hop therapy that has been prevalent since 2013.
The Times video, Levy’s Sway in the Morning freestyle (starting at the 48:00 mark) and Hoodies Up mixtape can be spotted below.