DJ BHB: Activism through the arts

Erica Thompson

Initiatives based in education and criminal justice reform can have a major impact on inner-city communities, but they certainly aren't the only ways to effect change. For DJ BHB, helping youth from the East Side and beyond boost their personal self-worth is just as powerful, especially given the troubling outlook many have on their futures.

"I meet young people who … speak like they're ready to go," said DJ BHB, whose stage name stands for Brothers Helping Bruthas.

It's an attitude that is often cultivated in their households.

"The homes are broken," he said. "I've dropped young people off and I see things that I have never seen in my life. When you have such an unstable home, it makes it very complicated to stay on the right path."

So BHB provides a positive, creative outlet for young people through Transit Arts, a program of the Central Community House (CCH) and the Columbus Federation of Settlements. Children are provided a variety of free offerings, including arts workshops and performance and exhibition opportunities.

The program was originally conceived to be a partnership with the COTA bus service, through which kids would perform at bus stations, hence the name "transit." Funding fell through, but the name stuck. "We're still mobile, as in performing throughout the community and … out of town," said BHB, who also teaches hip-hop dance lessons at CCH.

Additionally, for over 20 years, the DJ has hosted the Hip Hop Expo at the Columbus Convention Center. The annual event features dances contests such as "crunk battles," "b-boy battles" and "Whip/Nae Nae battles." There are also live bands, MC and DJ showcases and graffiti competitions. The expo has grown to draw over 1,000 participants from all over Ohio and even as far as the East Coast.

DJ BHB has seen dance have a profound impact on young peoples' lives. "They build their self-esteem through the dance," he said. "The dance is valuable for them … because they know that if they're doing something negative and they get caught up, then they can't dance."

BHB developed his own passion for dance and hip-hop growing up on the North Side. "My babysitter had a big box radio … and he had a DJ mixer and some turntables and the first thing I was doing was scratching," he said. BHB helped older kids on their paper routes and worked as a caddy to earn money for his own turntables and vinyl. "I started DJing backyard parties and then got into doing birthday parties," he said.

Now he is helping other young people achieve their own success in the entertainment industry. One student from his program, Vince, has a role in the movie "Fences," which stars Denzel Washington.

Transit Arts is a much-needed program in a community that has other resources, but little awareness, according to BHB. He said that some agencies avoid promotion in order to minimize their tasks. "You have people walking around in some of these agencies who are irritated by the thought that they would have to do more work," he said. "I've seen it more than once."

For DJ BHB, his duties also include being a positive "living example."

"When you are presented with an alternative and are embraced at the same time, I think that's what really changes a lot of young people's concepts about life," he said.