Beats Rhymes and Life (BRL) is a community-based organization that grew in response to a critical need for therapeutic programs designed specifically to serve boys and young men of color who as a group demonstrate some of the greatest health and social disparities.
2004 – 2009: The Beginning
In 2004, while working as school social worker Tomás Alvarez III, pioneered an innovative ‘Hip Hop Therapy’ model that used the process of creating rap music to engage troubled teens in mental health services. With support from BRL Co-founder and Teaching Artist, Rob Jackson, Tomás sought to create a therapeutic program that was grounded in the lives and worldview of the young men with whom he was working. The results were promising. Participants in the pilot Hip Hop Therapy group reported improved mood and self-esteem, as well as a reduction in many at-risk behaviors. The young men also noted Hip Hop Therapy changed their attitudes about mental health in general by reducing the stigma associated with receiving services. Over the next several years, Tomás and Rob evolved the “BRL Hip Hop Therapy Model” by operating programs at public schools and mental health facilities throughout the Bay Area. During this period Tomas also presented Hip Hop Therapy as an innovative mental health promotion strategy at conferences and symposiums throughout the country in an attempt to bring visibility to BRL’s model and program outcomes.
2010 – 2011: The Birth of an Organization
By 2010 the demand in the Bay Area for Hip Hop Therapy had grown tremendously and a new vision for BRL emerged. In 2011, BRL became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and welcomed South Bronx transplant John Gill as its Chief Operating Officer. Shortly after, BRL became the first group to operate Hip Hop Therapy programs in multiple cities including Oakland, San Francisco, and the South Bronx, New York. The three men worked together to develop a system for program replication in order to meet the overwhelming demand for BRL’s Hip Hop Therapy program. Soon after BRL partnered with the Seneca Family of Agencies to make Hip Hop Therapy available to youth involved in the foster care and juvenile justice systems throughout Oakland and San Francisco.
2012: The Nation Takes Notice
2012 would mark a breakout year for Beats Rhymes and Life, Inc. and shed a national spot light on the organization and it’s leadership. In October of 2012 NBC named Tomás Alvarez III among the top Latino 20 Innovators in the country for his pioneering work in the field of adolescent mental health. The top honor placed him in the great company of other innovators such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Actress Rosario Dawson, Recording Artist Pitbull and Civic Rights Activist Dolores Huerta. Also in 2012, A Lovely Day, the documentary film highlighting BRL’s work using Hip Hop Therapy in Oakland as a vechicle for widespread change premiered at the historic Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. The following year the film made a run on the independent film circuit winning numerous awards and recognitions. BRL’s work would also be the focus of an entire chapter in the book entitled, “Therapeutic Uses of Rap and Hip Hop“. In 2012, the California Institute for Behavioral Health Solutions (CiBHS) classified BRL’s Hip Hop Therapy model as a Community-Defined Practice (CDP) for Transitional Age Youth (TAY).
2013 – 2014: From Provider to Thought Leader
In 2013 BRL began the renovation of its first ever headquarters affectionally called BRLHQ. Fueled by the success of our Hip Hop Therapy programs, Beats Rhymes and Life, Inc. nearly doubled in size over a span of twelve months. By 2014, BRL secured training contracts with five of Northern California’s biggest mental health providers to children and families. The opportunities gave BRL a platform for systems change by spreading its unique philosophy and approach to mental health. In 2014, BRL’s founder was selected to become a lifetime fellow by Ashoka, an international organization that identifies and supports social entrepreneurs whose bold ideas have the power to transform patterns in society.
2015 and Beyond: Raising the Bar for Mental Health
Today, Beats Rhymes and Life is a leader in the emerging field of Hip Hop Therapy. BRL is committed to eliminating health disparities by partnering with youth and young adults to make mental health services more accessible and useful to diverse populations. BRL is the only non-profit in the country utilizing teams of trained clinicians, teaching artists and peer mentors to deliver Hip Hop Therapy in major urban settings. BRL also provides training and technical assistance to youth-serving individuals, organizations and systems that want to ensure that all youth has access to quality and culturally relevant therapeutic care.