Beats Rhymes and Life

Tomás Alvarez III and Rob Jackson.
United States
An organisation that aims to improve mental health and social outcomes among at-risk youth by using hip-hop and other youth cultural forms as catalysts for positive change and development.
What solution does the innovation propose?

Beats Rhymes and Life (BRL) offers a system of mental stress and trauma prevention and early intervention for youth groups, families, schools and whole communities to build support networks around them. The model integrates music and art with evidence-based therapy practices, peer learning and a youth academy that trains former participants to become clinical social workers. BRL collaborates with institutions and public health systems to facilitate broader shifts within the existing mental health paradigm.


Tomás Alvarez is an Ashoka Fellow (2014). Sound Investments in Youth Honoree, Healing Thru the Musical Arts (2012). He was one of the Top 20 Innovators in United States, by (2012).

Impact evidence

  • Over 4,500 young people served.
  • BRL has trained more than 1,500 service providers and created over 45 career opportunities.
How does it work?

The intervention is based on Therapeutic Activity Groups that bring together teaching artists, trained clinicians and peer mentors to guide a process of creative expression, music and art development. This combination is effective at attracting youth and substitutes the pathology framework for a more empathetic youth-led perspective that is ultimately about providing participants with the tools for self-care and resilience. BRL’s methodology changes the traditional one-on-one medical relationship setting to a group of peers supported by an interdisciplinary team. The structure reverses the established power roles: there is no sole expert; youth are not patients but rather co-designers in a process that is as much about developing agency and resilience for the long-term as it is about treating an acute need.

Another important achievement is the fact of having turned the referral system upside down: rather than being directed to the programme, youth themselves are signing up and advocating for it among others. The drawing power of BRL does not lie in hip-hop itself, but in the capacity to provide meaningful learning, building upon people’s strengths and passions.

Geographical scope

Where was initially developed
Oakland, California.
Where has been implemented so far
Implemented throughout California.
Last updated: 
July 2020

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Estándares Upsocial

Innovation type

Innovación transformadora

Transforming innovation
Strength of the evidence

Teoría de cambio prometedora

Promising theory of change
Adaptation experience

Adaptación regional

Regional adaptation

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