MICHEL MARTIN, host:
MARTIN: And finally, while hip-hop is a source of controversy, it can also be a source of healing. That's the idea behind the latest installment of the award winning series, "This I Believe." The revival of Edward Murrow's 1950s radio program has been hosted by National Public Radio since 2005. Tell Me More starts airing new essays from the series today. Our first "This I Believe" commentary comes form 24-year-old Laura Hall, and here to tell you more is series curator, independent producer Jay Allison. Jay?
Mr. JAY ALLISON: Hi, Michel. Laura Hall had been listening to our series on the radio for a long time, and like many of our contributors she finally decided it was time to write an essay of her own. She works in a garment factory in Provo and she describes herself as "a dorky, white Mormon girl." But you would certainly not assume that judging from her belief. Here's Laura Hall with her essay for "This I Believe."
Ms. LAURA HALL: I believe in hip-hop. And being a white girl, born and raised in the whitest conditions, it surprises me that I've come to this belief, especially since I used to hate this music. My husband Adam would try to play it in his car while we were dating, and I hated it so much that I would give him the silent treatment.
But nine months after we married, Adam was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. To take care of him, I dropped out of college to work a factory job that provides mental health insurance coverage. My American dreams of an education, job, house and kids dissolved. My working-class life began.
One Saturday I sat alone on the floor in our tiny apartment piecing a quilt, when the CD changer switched to a Mos Def album that Adam had been listening to a few days before. What had once sounded like a muddle of words to me took form, and my belief in the message of hip-hop began. And this is what I heard:
All over the world hearts pound with the rhythm Fear not of men because men must die Mind over matter and soul before flesh, Angels hold the pen, keep a record in time
I listened carefully to the entire album and actually heard what Mos Def was saying. I heard his call for self-reliance and his cry for equality. But more than that, the music let me feel the struggle of another person's life experience.
Because I haven't achieved my own rise from struggle to success, I rely on other peoples' stories to revitalize my hope. And I find that some of the most compelling come through hip-hop. I believe in the rhymes of socially conscious MC's who rose from difficulty and used their success to address societal ills and their desire for change, artists like Blackalicious, Jurassic 5 and Bahamadia.
I believe in the story of the genre itself. Hip-hop was created in the housing projects of the Bronx by people whose struggle was more severe than anything I could have imagined before. But they were brilliant and innovative enough to rise above it.
Hip-hop is my gateway to their lives and learning about African-American history. References to people and events in songs have sent me searching at the library through books and documentaries where I've discovered inspiring people that were never mentioned in my all-white schools.
Now I like hip-hop more than Adam does. It's what gets me through my day. Working with the beats helps me move faster, increasing my piece-rate pay by a dollar an hour. My dream is to help those who suffer with mental illness. I want to fight the problems of inaccessible treatment, incarceration, stigma and homelessness all resulting from mental illness. The only problem is that I work in a factory all day, everyday, just to pay for the medications Adam needs to get by.
But no matter how tired or hopeless I am feeling, hip-hop helps me look beyond my own circumstances to find the determination I need to move forward.
Mr. ALLISON: That's Laura Hall with her essay for "This I Believe." She told us she's started attending classes at Brigham Young University in the graphic design program, and she volunteers now for the National Alliance on Mental Illness teaching other family members of people who suffer with mental illness.
Michel, we're hoping that Tell Me More listeners will contribute their statements and beliefs to our series at npr.org/thisibelieve. People can find out more and see all the essays we've aired over the past three years. For "This I Believe," I'm Jay Allison. Back to you, Michel.
MARTIN: Thanks, Jay. Jay Allison is co-editor with Dan Gediman, John Gregory and Viki Merrick of the book, "This I Believe," the personal philosophies of remarkable men and women. And as Jay told you, to find out about submitting your own "This I Believe" essay, you can visit npr.org/thisibelieve.
And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.