From Hip-Hop to Hip-Hope: The Good Life Organization

Schooling basically looks at the students as if they are not bringing in knowledge…Education says that every young person has experience that is valuable, that needs to be accessed.”
— Roberto Rivera, President and “Lead Change Agent,” Good Life Organization

This week I got hooked up with a hot organization based out of my old hometown of Chicago. The Good Life Organization (GLO) is a capacity-building effort that blends hip-hop education, socio-emotional learning, youth voice, and social justice. Founded by Roberto Rivera, GLO offers training and support for local groups across the country that are working to empower young people as change agents in their communities.

The centerpiece of this capacity building is the Fulfill the Dream curriculum, written by Rivera and first piloted in 2008. This curriculum is designed to facilitate leadership development and learning with young people, supporting them as they strive for personal goals and address community issues. Drawing on hip-hop, youth culture, and media, the curriculum is meant to be flexible based on the local context, and to lead to young people creating original projects to share with others in their communities.

The impetus for GLO’s founding grew from Rivera’s own experiences as a youth. He struggled in high school, he told me, and was labeled special education, even while he was thriving and innovating in the world of hip-hop music and visual art. After starting a line of hip-hop clothing and writing a hip-hop play, he began to think, “What if I’m not learning disabled? What if I just learn differently?” Flipping his own image of himself, Rivera succeeded at school and went to UW Madison, where he began to conceive of using hip-hop as a tool for education and healing with youth labeled “at risk” as he was.

Today, GLO and its Fulfill the Dream curriculum have spawned projects across the country, including Hip-hop music celebrations with classic artists like Kurtis Blow, a Fulfill the Dream CD, an enhanced ebook featuring youth writing, and a phone App that offers a stream of independent hip-hop. By focusing on building networks, supporting local groups youth and adults across the country, and spreading their curriculum, GLO is building not just an organization but a movement. I expect we’ll be hearing much more from them — or from the youth that they have inspired — in the coming years.

Placebos: An Argument for Imagination

Emotional Healing by Beth Budesheim: http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/beth-budesheim.html

 “Ultimately we think the placebo is about the power of the imagination, trust, and hope, in the medical encounter.”

– Ted Kaptuchuk, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

It is not often that “imagination” comes up in discussions about medical research, but it may be at the heart of one of the longest-running mysteries in western medicine: the placebo effect.

Placebos have long intrigued me; the idea that pain or illness can be alleviated through “fake” medicines like sugar pills — presumably because the patient believes she has received a real treatment — has fascinating implications for the power of “mind over body.” But at the same time, “placebo” has become a bad word for many in medicine — a symbol of deception that raises images of snake-oil salesman, or an annoying variable in medical research.

But according to Professor Ted Kaptchuk, the placebo effect is much more complex and profound that we have assumed. Kaptchuk, Director of the recently founded Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, was featured this past week on NPR’s Science Friday. He shared the results of a study in which placebos were effective even when the patient knew he was receiving a placebo!

So if a placebo is not about tricking patients, how does it work? Kaptchuk and his colleagues have some answers, and they are surprisingly relevant for cultural organizers. “The placebo,” Kaptchuk argues, “is a way of measuring the effect of…the act of caring for a person.” The placebo effect is about everything besides the medication or formal “treatment” offered.

First of all, Kaptchuk explains, the effect is about the relational interaction between doctor and patient. It is about “the words, the gestures, eye contact, warmth, empathy, compassion.” Healers have long known that relationships are important, and this offers important support for that understanding.

More than that, Kaptchuk says that the placebo effect is about the healing power of symbols: “white coats, diplomas, prescription pads.” And it is about rituals as well, “the ritual procedures of medicine: waiting, talking, disrobing, being examined, then being treated.” I have written a lot about the power of symbol and ritual to unite people, to change the way we think about ourselves, and to reshape our society. This research suggests that they also have the power to directly affect our physical health and well being as well. In a way this is a rediscovery of very old knowledge — healing has long been tied up with ritual, symbol, and religion across many cultures. And it is in line with some new thought about the role of hope in healing and resilience.

There are limits to the placebo effect, and it works better for some kinds of illnesses than others. Sometimes there is no physical healing, but patients experience’s improve, which is often the goal. But if we look at the placebo effect not as a deception or as an annoyance, but as a window into the importance of symbol, ritual, and relationship, we may be surprised at the paths our inquiries take us down. Those of us who wield symbols and rituals as the tools of our trade should take note.


Lauging, Healing, and Resistance on 9/11

The jokes didn’t stay down long. Sure, there were a few days after 9/11 when comedians — on TV, in clubs across the country — were still so thrown off and scrambling after the towers fell, that they wouldn’t have known where to start writing a joke. But by the following week comedians were taking the mic and beginning to search for the humor — both in the tragedy itself, and in the aftermath, as the story of the tragedy began to be used and abused.

A new movie making the rounds, The Voice of Something, features comedian, and now podcast superstar, Marc Maron through his day on September 19th, 2001, including a stop in a comedy club. While talking heads (more…)