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Excerpted From: André Douglas Pond Cummings and Caleb Gregory Conrad, From “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” to “Trauma”: Adverse Childhood Experiences and Hip Hop's Prescription, 59 Washburn Law Journal 267 (Spring, 2020) (205 Footnotes) (Full Document)


CummingsandConradOver the past two decades, research focused on the causes and the lasting impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, has been changing the way researchers, healthcare providers, and advocates approach areas like mental health, risky behaviors, and chronic disease. Numerous studies have produced and solidified results that present three undeniable truths: (1) the vast majority of Americans have experienced some form of trauma in their childhood, (2) people with low income or educational attainment and people of color experience increased instances of childhood trauma and adversity, and (3) the more childhood trauma an individual experiences, the higher the risk that he or she will be exposed to “multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults.” The causal link between childhood trauma and negative health outcomes has been shown to be so severe that Dr. Robert Block, former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, notably stated, “Adverse Childhood Experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today.”

Childhood trauma and adversity has shaped the music, careers, and lives of many of hip-hop's brightest stars. The lasting impact of traumatic childhood experiences has propelled some artists to international stardom, as listeners around the globe are able to connect with them through the honest and raw lyrics and musical styles born out of, and in spite of, such adversity. What can hip-hop, a proud and storied genre that is no stranger to taking on taboo topics, and its artists, many of whom are the products of communities teeming with adversity, tell us about Adverse Childhood Experiences? How can lawmakers, mental healthcare providers, and community activists work to address and curtail the prevalence and negative impact of childhood trauma through the framework provided to them by hip-hop artists and messages? Messages that dictate action by courageously challenging the complacent status quo, beginning with efforts that spread awareness and education, and building on the work of those in the field that have come before? What would laws and policies developed through a hip-hop framework look like? This article seeks to answer these questions and to encourage immediate action in combating the epidemic of childhood trauma.

Part I of this article will provide an introduction to Adverse Childhood Experiences and an overview of the first study on the subject that led to more in-depth research to provide a basis of understanding.

Part II will connect childhood trauma to hip-hop's origins and detail how traumatic childhoods have impacted the genre's overall popularity and, in more direct terms, some of hip-hop's most popular artists.

Part III will offer a hip-hop framework that should be adopted by lawmakers, mental health providers, and community advocates in addressing the difficulties and pain of childhood trauma.

Part IV will detail what the laws, policies, and initiatives developed through the hip-hop framework would look like and advocates that specific policy goals be at the forefront of the battle against Adverse Childhood Experiences.

[. . .]

Adverse Childhood Experiences are responsible for killing too many people too early in their lives. It is clear that the trauma that a person endures in childhood will impact them for the rest of her or his life, and may lead to the contraction of a chronic disease, increase the likelihood of risky behaviors, lead to struggles of addiction to alcohol or drugs, prompt more suicidal ideation and actual attempts, and mean a shorter life span of up to twenty years in some cases. ACEs impact a majority of Americans, but they have the greatest impact in low-income and underserved communities and communities of color. If left unchecked, ACEs will continue to wreak havoc on these communities, continuing to cut lives short and contributing to generational poverty and misery. However, ACEs can be addressed and effectively treated, and the best vehicle to shed light on this issue and propose the most effective changes is hip-hop. Hip-hop was created out of adversity and trauma, and many of its most successful and recognizable stars are products of high-crime, low-income communities where adversity and trauma loomed around every street corner. The trauma these artists faced as children is present in their music and in their charity work that seeks to give back to the trauma filled communities from which they came. Lawmakers, mental health professionals, and community activists should learn from hip-hop. First, lawmakers should not be afraid to shake up the status quo. Second, lawmakers must be open and honest about the issue of ACEs and spread education and awareness of the epidemic. Finally, lawmakers must build on the hard work already accomplished and defer to the ACEs experts when crafting policies and legislation. That means it is time to begin using hip-hop to prevent ACEs by crafting and instituting home visitation programs that train caregivers on ACEs, providing access to universal Pre-K and high-quality childcare and education, passing state-level EITCs, and instituting paid maternity leave both federally and at the state level. It is time to begin using hip-hop to treat the impact of childhood trauma by developing more ways to incorporate hip-hop education into inner cities programs and into individual therapy sessions. The time has come that hip-hop be used to help solve the ACEs epidemic in this country.

Associate Professor of Law, University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law; J.D., Howard University School of Law.

J.D. Candidate, University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, Class of 2020.

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