Music Feature

Let's Move It Philly!!: DJ Rich Medina Talks Healthy Kids

by Joshua Pelta-Heller
On Tour With Black Thought, DJ Rich Medina Promotes Getting In Shape For Philly's Kids. Photos by Joshua Pelta-Heller
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Rich Medina is a DJ.  He’s a producer, and a poet, and an educator.  He’s a father.  And now, he's an activist too.

He's also spinning in thirteen cities, and starring in an upcoming tour with Black Thought’s GrassROOTS Organization. Let’s Move It!!, a campaign designed to address the epidemic of childhood obesity, focuses specifically on an at-risk population: young underprivileged women.

Medina met with me at Sigma Sound Studio to talk about the cause, and the shows, and bit too about his own evolution as an artist and a parent.  As we discussed his role in the tour, his son Kamaal raced across the wide, empty space facing the Sigma Sound Stage, his sneakers clapping against the hardwood floor and boasting his enviable four-year-old energy, and at once capturing and illustrating all the motivations behind this campaign: the image of childhood, of health, of everything I could never articulate or phrase any interview question well enough to define.

“My Largest Step” 

“For me,” Medina summed up, “it’s an opportunity to get out of lip-service mode.  It’s an opportunity to really get involved in something that’s really vital to everyone.”  Medina relates his concern for his son’s health, and for the information he’ll need to process as he grows up.  “We all want healthy children, forward-thinking children, and for me this is an opportunity to put my money where my mouth is, quite frankly, and get involved.”

While the Roots have established a longstanding legacy of activism and social consciousness in their art, Medina describes his own evolution, pledging to continue to help raise awareness and cultivate the momentum for change.  “This is my largest step in the advocacy direction.  I do speaking engagements at high schools and colleges, I teach at Dubspot Music School, I’m doing other things that I feel are paying it forward to the next generation.  But this is my first legitimate step into that realm.  I’m just really appreciative that at this point in my career I’m considered someone who can add a voice to the situation.”

Reaching Out 

As popular entertainers, Medina contends that he and the other artists on this tour are uniquely poised to reach the audience at a number of levels.  “We’re all independently reaching out to our individual resource pools, we are all sending our respective followings to the GrassROOTS site so that they can get an understanding of exactly what it is that we’re trying to do, and we’re expecting a really good turnout.”  Inspired by the turnout of the very first event they played for the cause, at the Blockley, Medina expressed genuine gratitude for the people willing to support it, and contribute to it the price of admission, something that shows, he says, that as artists, they can make a profound impact on people's lives.

Medina sees limitations too, with their initiatives, and reflects on the best ways to overcome them.  “The very people that we’re doing this for don’t go out” he notes.  “They’re children!  So we have to go into their world, we have to go into the schools, we have to go into the community centers, we have to go into homes, we have to go into a variety of places and get our message driven home and find champions of our message as well.”  He continues, “we can’t depend on the founders of the organization . . . to be physically present to drive their message home every time, we have to find champions and people who are willing to pioneer the idea in their respective schools, or clinics, or whatever field that they’re in.”

Making a Difference

Thinking bigger than a short tour with a stop in thirteen cities, thinking as big as using the reach and influence of art as the impetus for social change, Medina considers the legacy of the campaign and the organization to be an obligation.  “The [actual] events are important because the people who are involved in the organization are entertainers.  Our powers are entertainment.  But further, beyond the events and the information sessions, I think it’s an obligation of an organization like this to have legacy events and to begin to reach out to the community and to do things outside of nightlife in order to drive the point home.” 

Medina’s passion for this cause is obvious, as he considers the legacy and rewards of their tour.   “I think that there will be a significant sign that we’re making a difference.  I think that there are a great deal of parents and a great deal of kids out there who are looking for an advocate to speak out on their behalf.  The kid who is a great kid . . . but who has a high level of affection for food . . . to show those kids a way out of what they’re used to is really where it’s at.”

His experience as an educator becomes obvious, too.  “If you speak to a thousand [kids] and you reach one, you did the job, that’s the beauty of being a teacher.  You wanna reach them all, but if you reach one you’re doing your job.”  He continues, “if you take care of that one, then they’re gonna pass it on to the people who are around them, and it’s gonna grow in that way.”

Old Habits

Despite all his optimism, Medina concedes that their battle will be hard-fought, and uphill.  He notes childrens’ propensity for junkfood.  And “for parents who have children who are already obese,” he says, “the effort has to double.”  Medina observes, “breaking old habits that don’t do you well but make you feel comfortable is one of the most difficult obstacles for most adults.”  And ultimately, he sees this initiative as being about education, about educating parents, and demanding that they, in turn, relay the information to their children as a matter of duty.

Medina becomes introspective too.  “You know, quite honestly,” he admits, “being involved in the organization is forcing me to look at my [own] habits in a different way!”  A long-time smoker, Medina reflects on his cigarettes in the context of his supporting role in this health-conscious campaign.  And he considers President Obama as a role model as well.  “As long as he’s been smoking, for him to turn around and stop, and to do that at the behest of his family and at the growth of the first lady’s organization is a sign that there are alert parents out there who want to walk the talk.  I personally would like to be the same thing.” 

A Broader Platform

Ultimately, Medina would like for this campaign to "drive an agenda home that’s gonna create a healthier generation" than the one he came from, to "create more awareness about things that were taken for granted when our parents were kids or when we were kids."  He envisions the initiative reaching out to urban agriculture programs, to local food coops and local farmers, to bridge connections to civic organizations and public and private schools who want to continue to champion their cause locally.

 And at the show on Saturday, he wants to see a "who’s who . . . of our fans, and people who we’re fans of, artists who have bigger names and more mass appeal than all of us." And he continues, "hopefully the mayor and his people or some representatives will come through and really take a look at us and take us seriously, and get on board to help us out and give us a broader platform, at least here in the city of Philadelphia."  

 Conceding Philly's recent status, rising in health surveys as one of America's fattest cities, in recent years, he says, "we're starting in the right place!"

Admission to the event on 2/18 is $30 ($40 at the door), and can be purchased via the Grassroots website.

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