Chuck D, an American hip-hop artist, plays in Malmo, Sweden, 1991. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY: JOHN LEFFMAN

On Feb. 17, the U of C’s faculty of social work held an online event called The Cypher: Hip Hop as a Method a Process of Critical Healing through Art, Politics and Culture, which was led by heARTbase. 

heARTbase is a group of practitioners based in Toronto who are dedicated to the promotion of anti-colonial methods of therapy for those who experience personal and societal traumas. 

The workshop focused on the historical context of Black popular culture and how hip-hop music can be a source of critical healing and self-care for Black youth. 

The presenters, Precious Meyers, Ken Williams and Freda Bizimana shared some of the narratives they have heard through their youth work. 

These narratives are directly from Black youths struggling to find a sense of belonging. 

“I don’t think I’ll make it to 20-years-old,” said one youth. 

“I fear living more than I fear dying,” said another. 

Precious Meyers, a social worker and practitioner with heARTbase, said these narratives are alarmingly common.

“It shows what these youth deal with, and their assaulted sense of self which has built up throughout the years,” she said. 

Ken Williams, a social worker and practitioner with heARTbase, finds that music and art can elicit emotions, feelings and connection with youth that helps them engage in conversations. 

To better connect with these youths, he highlights the importance of culturally relevant therapy as, “a way to learn, unlearn, and ultimately heal.”

Project Heartbeat, is an educational program conducted by heARTbase that provides a safe space for Black youth to discuss social issues that impact their mental health. Participants in the program share the music they listen to, and dissect the lyrics to better articulate the sources of their stress. 

 Mental health healing through art expression. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY: PXHERE

“What stood out for me was how music allowed the youth to express themselves. It allowed us to discuss politics, and give them a better understanding of what’s happening to them and around them,” said Meyers about Project Heartbeat. 

Meyers said that many of the participants did not realize their connection to music was an act of healing until the end of the workshop. 

Freda Bizimana, a social work student and practitioner with heARTbase said healing is political and an act of resistance in the face of different forms of violence. 

“Forms of violence such as (systemic) racism, discrimination, police brutality, racial profiling, educational trauma, poverty and environmental factors. Not to mention the psychological violence endured. Also, unseen hope and the harm that goes unspoken from anti-Blackness,” said Bizimana. 

A recent article in the Ethnicity and Health journal finds that barriers to mental health, like housing, employment, immigration, income and access to services are influenced by anti-Black racism.

The article also says that dominant medical approaches often do not acknowledge that anti-Black racism and racial trauma directly impacts mental health. 

According to the article, addressing the criminalization of Black Canadians, and introducing rehumanizing measures at the institutional level are effective solutions to improve their access to culturally relevant mental health services.

“It’s very important that we do not allow African Indigenous knowledge and spirituality to be defined by Eurocentric standards,” said Meyers. “We should be the ones who define who we are, as we are naturally spiritual beings.”

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story incorrectly referred to a different event hosted by heARTbase.

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