Hip-Hop CD Delivers Anti-Drug Message

    • August 4, 2008

Position: Youth Development Coordinator
CompDrug - Youth to Youth International
(now President, R.E.A.C.H. Communications)
Columbus, Ohio

Javier Sanchez credits Developing Leadership in Reducing Substance Abuse with helping him integrate his love of hip-hop with his commitment to helping adolescents stay off drugs—and with getting his college degree.

Sanchez has been rapping since he was in middle school. He loved hip-hop and felt that he could use it to promote the idea that teens don't have to use alcohol or other drugs to enhance their artistic development. It is a message that runs counter to what is promoted in popular culture, particularly rap.

Rapping About the Downside of Drugs

Developing Leadership staff "realized that hip-hop was a big part of my life," Sanchez said. "I hadn't brought it together with my work in substance abuse prevention. The Foundation [staff members] actually pushed me. They said that you're always talking about hip-hop and music, but your plan for the fellowship doesn't have anything to do with it. They said that I needed to figure out how to use the money to connect hip-hop to the work that I was doing."

Sanchez used part of his fellowship stipend to buy sound equipment and produce a hip-hop CD entitled "The Front Row" that he uses in presentations to teenagers. He says it gives him a new way to connect with teenagers.

"Hip-hop is so universal," he said. "It just has a connecting power. I'm able to express myself through hip-hop better than any other form. It's a connection to teens that I never had."

When he was fellow, he was youth development coordinator at Youth to Youth—a program based in Columbus, Ohio, that helps adolescents see the positive side of not taking drugs or drinking. He knows from personal experience the value of such an approach.

As a teenager in Columbus, Sanchez drank, took drugs and sold crack cocaine on the street. He got shot once. The director of a recreation center urged him to attend a Youth to Youth event. After much prodding, Sanchez went and was "blown away," he said.

"It was teens leading teens. It was really showing not the downside of using drugs but the upside of not doing drugs," Sanchez said.

Still, Sanchez wasn't ready to leave his old life. By senior year, he was exhausted and ready for a change. "Finally their message stuck," he said. "I had the opportunity to walk away from that life. I could relax and let my guard down. I didn't have to pretend that I'm this thug. I was around people who accepted me for who I am. I could walk away [from my old life] because I had somewhere else to go."

Sanchez graduated from high school and went to work at Youth to Youth. Later he spent five years in the Cayman Islands heading up the Youth to Youth program there. When Sanchez returned to Ohio, he started college. But working full-time and now with a wife and child, he was making slow progress.

Sanchez's supervisor asked him to apply for the Developing Leadership fellowship. Sanchez knew little about the fellowship and had never heard of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. But he applied and received a fellowship. Sanchez used some of the funds to attend college full time. He became the first member of his family to attend and graduate from college.

Broadening his Reach

Sanchez also wanted to broaden the reach of Youth to Youth. While it had expanded to 36 states and 16 countries, the organization had little contact with national substance abuse prevention and treatment groups. According to Sanchez, his fellowship became a calling card that opened doors for him to meet other people working in the field.

"When people found out that I was a fellow from RWJ, I was all of a sudden more important than I was two minutes ago," Sanchez said. "They listened to me more. It created more networking opportunities for me. I started meeting people who had been doing this work longer than we had and sometimes better. It opened my eyes and allowed me to see a big picture."

He began working with organizations like Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, Alexandria, Va., and Pride Youth, Fremont, Mich., both large, national organizations that have programs for adolescents. From those organizations, Sanchez learned about other important activities such as tobacco control programming and other social marketing campaigns.

Mentor Opens Doors Around the Country

When Sanchez began looking for a mentor, RWJF senior program officer Dwayne Proctor connected him with Ivan Juzang, who owns a firm called MEE (Motivational Educational Entertainment) Productions in Philadelphia.

MEE develops campaigns that target low-income urban youth who are often hard to reach through traditional media outlets. The company uses multimedia presentations, often with hip-hop music to make its point.

Working with Juzang, Sanchez helped MEE Productions with social marketing campaigns around the country, including an AIDS campaign in Washington, a stay-in-school campaign in Baltimore and a violence-prevention campaign in Philadelphia.

These experiences taught Sanchez how to put together and implement social marketing campaigns. They also taught him the importance of going beyond the drug-free message to address violence, sexual activity and school attendance. Sanchez incorporated these lessons into his ongoing work at Youth to Youth.

Since the fellowship ended, Sanchez has continued to work with Juzang and MEE Productions and is collaborating with other fellows to create programs to reach audiences such as inner-city youth.

Sanchez says that he and Juzang developed a "great relationship."

"He saw value in my work and I saw the benefit in his being an entrepreneur and doing social change," Sanchez said. "He was able to be passionate about social change, make money and not have to sacrifice his family to pursue his passion."

Starting His Own Company

Sanchez has started his own company, R.E.A.C.H. Communications, in Columbus, Ohio. R.E.A.C.H. offers speakers, trainers, performing artists, interactive presentations, workshops, music, books and film. "We equip youth and the adults working with them with the tools, skills and inspiration to "Reach Excellence in their Attitude, Character, and Health (R.E.A.C.H.)," Sanchez says.


(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Audio-Visuals and Computer Software

The Front Row, a hip-hop CD about the dangers of drugs and the positive reasons to live a drug-free lifestyle. Columbus, OH: Javier Sanchez, 2006. Available online.