Using Hip-Hop to Make a Difference: A Talk With Tamekia Flowers-Holland

The death of Jam Master Jay in 2002 and the “bad rap” Hip-Hop was receiving at the time was the push Tamekia Flowers-Holland needed to found “Hip-Hop 4 Life,” a nonprofit out of New York City with a double mission to foster positive youth development while shining a better light on Hip-Hop culture.

A long history working with young people and a passion for youth culture afforded Tamekia an up-close look at what many urban youth were lacking in their mental, physical and social well-being. It’s through engaging programming in the areas of health and wellness, life skills training and college and career readiness that Tamekia, her committed team, and notable members of the community connect with and empower young people.

Black Enterprise talked with Tamekia to learn more about how “Hip-Hop 4 Life” is making a difference, what’s happening right now and what’s next. Why Hip Hop 4 Life?

Tamekia Flowers: I’ve been volunteering with young people for years, always going into schools to talk about what I do, but I noticed they weren’t receiving information on basic life skills training, sexual health or physical education. So I wanted to create an organization that addressed those topics, but also engaged and empowered young people while bringing a more positive light to a culture I love so much; a culture that is much more than the music.

What does it mean to be Hip-Hop 4 Life?

A young person who is Hip-Hop 4 Life is heavily involved in [youth] culture, but defying the stereotypes and statistics. A young person who is Hip-Hop 4 Life appreciates the music and entertainment aspect of the culture, and will be the same person in a business suit running the record company later.

What are some ways you connect with the youth?

Life skills and wellness go hand-in-hand so what we offer are workshops that emphasize both. These are the foundations for the success and development of anyone. We focus on self-esteem, healthy relationships, grooming, hygiene, sexual health, as well as vision building and goal setting. We’re teaching our youth how to transition from high school to post-secondary options. We also talk about nutrition and get them off the smartphones by encouraging them to be more physically active. We’re preparing them for college, the workplace, and life.

About how many youth would you say you’ve been able to reach?

I can safely say 12,000-12,500 youth since 2003, and that’s from collaborating with other youth organizations, to hosting our annual youth summits with Dwyane Wade and Alonzo Mourning.

What is your success rate?

Through one of our programs called “The Empowerment Team,” young people have been directly mentored by myself and members of the Hip-Hop 4 Life staff. We’ve had a few graduating classes where all but one have gone on to college or vocational school. So there is an almost 100 percent success rate of post-secondary endeavors there.

You just hosted your annual “Shades of Beauty Women of Inspiration Brunch & Awards Ceremony” this past June. Can you tell us some highlights from this event?

Absolutely! The Shades of Beauty event was an opportunity for us to celebrate women who continuously make an impact on young ladies in their communities. In the past, we’ve honored women like Shanti Das from Universal Records, Mona Scott Young from Monami Entertainment, MC Lyte and Fantasia. This year, we honored writer and image activist Michaela Angela Davis, radio personality Déjà Vu and Adrienne White from Disney VoluntEARS.

We wanted to honor everyday women whose names may not be recognizable, but are in the trenches giving all they have to young people; so we also honored one teacher and one principal from schools we’ve worked with, and Rosa Delgado who is actually one of our Shades of Beauty Empowerment Team members who started with us when she was 13. She’s now 17 and she’s made such a powerful transformation.

Does your organization offer special programs for young men?

Yes! “Man UP!” is our personal development club for young men heavily emphasizing educational achievement and college readiness, which started in 2007. Currently, we’re involved in a huge initiative with the New York City Department of Education entitled “Urban Ambassadors,” which is a part of their efforts in closing the achievement gap. And, we have 27 young men involved in that particular program. Next year, for our 10th anniversary gala, we plan to honor men of distinction.

Do you plan to expand your efforts nationally?

My goal is to do more in other cities. For the fourth year now we’re getting ready to do Dwayne Wade’s youth summit in Chicago; right now, we have our eyes on Newark, Jersey City and Atlanta. So we’re planting the seeds now to get into school systems in those markets. In addition to that, we’re looking to take our Empowerment Team to Africa in 2014 to serve. We want to encourage our young people to be global.

What are some challenges you’ve run into growing Hip Hop 4 Life?

I have another company called “Epiphany Blue” which is my event planning firm and I teach yoga, so one thing is balance. But another challenge was getting adequate funding. We didn’t always have celebrities behind us, and a lot of money was coming out of my pocket. Our first real grant was from the W.K Kellogg Foundation. Since, we’ve secured funding from Walt Disney, MTV, Bank of America, The Department of Education, and in the last two years we’ve raised $700,000-$800,000 dollars. It’s always about the funding when you’re a nonprofit. The smaller and less known you are, the harder it is to get funding.

But Hip-Hop 4 Life is steadily growing, and that growth has even included programming for parents, right?

Yes! Some parents may not always connect with what we try to instill in our youth, and our young people may not get the same support at home because parents have their own issues. So, in 2008, we had our first parent session at our annual youth fest. There were about 25 parents who attended initially. Today, we are working with 80 to 90 parents. Due to the success of our parent sessions, we’ve decided to offer parent workshops as part of our persistent programming. We’re not saying, hey, this is how you become a better parent. No one wants to be told that. Instead, we’re focusing on the parents themselves; their personal care and self-esteem. We also work with them on their resumes, job hunting and interviewing skills, and we educate them on youth culture and social media. So it’s really a let’s-take-care-of-you-first approach.

Tamekia’s 3 P’s for Starting a Nonprofit


Discover your passion and see how that can be linked to a need in your community.


Do your research!

Read books and materials on starting a nonprofit. Know the laws as it pertains to nonprofits in your state and also the Internal Revenue Service. Take workshops at the Foundation Center or another non-profit management support organization. Begin to plan what your sources of funding will be (fee for service, grants, individual donations, etc.) Also, it is never too early to start your business plan. You can find several templates online. Try


Go for it!

Connect with an attorney who can provide assistance with setting up your nonprofit. Don’t forget to network and make connections with community leaders, potential funders and others who can assist you in pursuing your endeavor.

Visit HipHop4Life