Don’t ever let anyone take your voice.
At age 20, Brandi Williams said that is the most important life lesson she’s learned. That viewpoint – refusal to quell one’s voice and opinions – came from Williams’ mentor, Dr. Dia Winfrey. Recently, 25 youngsters at Knoxville Homes in Talladega, ages 5 to 13, have been on the receiving end of Winfrey’s message: “Share your voice and your thoughts.”
A clinical psychologist, published author and curriculum developer, Winfrey founded H.Y.P.E. – Healing Young People thru Empowerment – in 2008. The H.Y.P.E. Movement Mentoring program, of which Williams calls herself “a founding member,” has served more than 100 youths in Stone Mountain, Ga. The program, used by school districts in Kentucky and other areas, is finding success at Knoxville Homes through the Talladega Housing Authority.
“I have always been passionate about helping young people,” said Winfrey, who earned her doctorate from Wright State University School of Professional Psychology. It was Winfrey’s dissertation, ” Healing Young People thru Empowerment (H.Y.P.E.): A Hip-Hop Therapy Program for Black Adolescent Males,” that helped clinch her decision to work with young people.For example, she’s used the H.Y.P.E. curriculum in counseling troubled teens through the Wisconsin Department of Corrections – Juvenile Services and other organizations.
“I always felt the benefits of hip-hop and became an advocate of the culture. I always loved rap, and now I am bringing that to the table.”
Children must find their ‘genius’ to excel
In talking with youngsters at Knoxville Homes on a recent day after school, Winfrey shared the history of hip-hop and discussed why the children should share their feelings. She went one by one through the group, talking with each child about what they enjoy and how to find their place – and their future – in life. Even in elementary school, Winfrey said, children require conversation to help them find their “genius” – to uncover the things they love doing that will help carry them throughout life and possibly into a career.
As she talked with the children, most gave different answers about their perceptions of genius: One said he loved to count money, one enjoyed football while yet another child named soccer.
“My genius is cheerleading,” a 13-year-old girl called out.
Winfrey explained: “When we talk about things we love, it’s our genius. Genius is tapping into the things we’re good at, that can carry us for a long time.”
“It’s about finding your voice and expressing yourself,” she told the children. “Your gift – the thing that makes you different – the thing you can do a job at and how you can make a difference in your community. Even though you have a lot of learning and growing to do, you have opinions. Your opinion counts.”
“If you’ve written a story or a book, you’re an author,” Winfrey said. Her work with H.Y.P.E. has been featured in Essence and Jet magazines, and she’s discussed the program on national talk shows such as the “Tom Joyner Morning Show” and on National Public Radio. “My book started out as homework. I had to write a paper – it was four years spent writing a dissertation. You’re all going to write what you feel, too. You are going to be authors.”
Winfrey led the children in a beginner’s discussion about hip-hop.
“There are dual messages in hip-hop,” she said. “Hip-hop is showing up in spaces we wouldn’t believe – you see it all over the world. The elements began in Africa. We see it in patterns and bright colors, the swag of hip hop. Hip-hop is music, the beat and the drum, on the continent. We can see it in a lot of fashions. We continue to see the influence and how hip-hop makes something out of nothing.”
As part of the sessions, Winfrey’s students will write their thoughts and feelings, with those messages becoming a blog that is open to their parents and friends. The youngsters will write their own hip-hop music and poetry, which will be recorded.
“It’s another way for the children to express their emotions and empower them, despite their youth,” Winfrey said.
Enlightening children: ‘You have great possibilities’
Williams said, “The first time I heard Dr. Dia’s message, her energy reached out and grabbed me.”
At the time, Williams was a 15-year-old sophomore at Redan High School in Stone Mountain, Ga. She considered herself “the underdog,” and suffered from a lack of self-confidence and guidance. “I felt left out,” Williams said.
When Winfrey visited Williams’ high school and presented H.Y.P.E. to students in the auditorium, Williams said, “It was like a breath of fresh air.”
“She enlightened my mind,” said Williams, now a freshman at the Art Institute of Atlanta who enjoys acting, public and motivational speaking and poetry reading. “That feeling of my voice being muted had been there so long. Dr. Dia said, ‘You can’t let people silence your voice, because that’s all you have.’ As a child, I’d get in trouble with what I said. The very thing I hated myself for, I turned around. I thank God for Dr. Dia.”
Thirteen-year-old D’Marian Williams said the H.Y.P.E. sessions at Knoxville Homes show him there’s a “different way to go.”
“I used to act out a lot at school,” Williams said. “Now I see there’s a different way to be. I’m trying to listen and do better. It’s helped me coming here. I can do good.”