‘Transform Alabama’ Uses Hip-Hop Music to Encourage Voters | Southern Poverty Law Center


As the first black woman to run for a major party candidate in the Alabama General Election 3e District Congress, Adia “Dr. Dia” Winfrey learned a lot about community outreach over the course of two consecutive campaigns – even though she didn’t win either.

The use of hip-hop music to energize a younger black electoral base during his last political campaign showed him that there was a desire among young voters to get involved, to have a voice in the community. the way government operated.

As the tallies arrived on the night of November 3, 2020, the seeds of Transform Alabama, a nonprofit focused on voter education and empowerment, were sown. Even in defeat, Winfrey and his campaign team saw they had made an impact.

“My campaign has become more about voter education than me as a candidate, and I agree with that,” Winfrey said. “This is not election day. It’s about helping the public see the importance of the electoral process, how it fits into it, and how your vote counts and your voice is very, very important. So we used the campaign for that.

The new 501 (c) (3) nonprofit, dedicated to voter registration, voter education and political engagement, grew out of the non-traditional outreach Winfrey used in his campaign . This included not only hip-hop music, but also music videos and a call to action aimed directly at young black voters in his constituency.

“In the space of organizing and voting rights, you often hear that young people are not engaged in the political process or are apathetic to issues of democracy, but I don’t think that’s true,” said Rachel Knowles, Southern Outreach Paralegal. Poverty Law Center Voting Rights Practice Group. “Young people like me care deeply about the future of their communities, but sometimes legacy civic engagement organizations just don’t know how to connect with us. Dr. Dia and Transform Alabama do not have this problem as they are an organization by and for young Alabamians.

“New ideas, tactics and energy”

Oscar Austin is a perfect example. He wasn’t actively political, but that changed the day he met Winfrey in 2018 while he was spinning tunes as a DJ for an event at Chisholm Park in Tuskegee.

“They were putting up signs,” Austin said. “She was running for Congress the first time. She walked over and said, ‘You are really falling out. Do you mind if I introduce myself? “

Adia Winfrey addresses a crowd gathered in Montevallo, Alabama, for Shelby v Holder Day of Action on June 25, 2021. (Courtesy of the Alabama NAACP)

After Austin gave Winfrey the mic so she could do her stump pitch, she said something that would prove crucial to both of them.

“Do you know what would be a great idea?” She asked Austin. “What if I had my own DJ for the countryside?” “

He joined Winfrey’s staff, initially providing a soundtrack for his election hopes. He then becomes the media director of the campaign. He also brought research skills to the team, using his experience as a history graduate from Tuskegee University.

“They bring new ideas, tactics and energy into the Alabama voting rights space and focus on smaller, more rural counties that often receive less investment than the big subways,” Knowles said. “It’s really exciting to watch them grow up.

Combining hip-hop and mainstream politics may sound unorthodox, but this isn’t the first time Winfrey has fused the two like a DJ mixing songs on turntables.

She called herself the “mother of hip-hop psychology” after her doctoral thesis led to a book, Healing young people through empowerment (ADVERTISING THRESHOLDS): A Hip-Hop Therapy Program For Black Teens, which integrated hip-hop culture with psychological theories. The transition of his efforts and messages from political campaigning to nonprofit outreach was organic.

“Our goal from the start has been to provide practical information on political education to as many Alabamians as possible,” she said. “We decided that operating as a non-profit organization was the best way to do this. ”

“I bet our time is now”

She made hip-hop music videos while working with Austin during his political campaign. Using this same medium for Transform Alabama was obvious. The first clip, “Bet”, features Winfrey on location at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham.

In the video, she raps to a trance beat:

They thought they beat us / Kill in the streets

Hip-hop is the strength / Movement is the source

Go to the poll / Your vote has power

Bet our time is now / Sign up I’ll show you how.

The closing verse, “They thought they beat us / I bet we prove them wrong,” repeats footage of the Bloody Sunday March for the franchise on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, along with recent footage of Transform Alabama supporters crossing the bridge.

The video for “Bet” was shot on location at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and at Kelly Ingram Historic Park in Birmingham, Alabama. (Youtube)

“By infusing hip-hop culture into the delivery, the words and all aspects of my campaign – because that’s kind of how it all happened – we found people to be more open,” said Winfrey.

The first rap was born from a discussion between Winfrey and his team about a radio spot.

“I told them if we were going to do radio, I wanted to do a song, something catchy,” she said. “I didn’t want to just talk.

She wanted to call the 13 counties of the 3rd Congressional District of Alabama. Although the district is the largest geographically, its counties are largely rural, stretching along more than half of the Alabama-Georgia line. The district has yet to endorse a Democrat for president or U.S. representative in this century.

What came out of the brainstorming session was a 40 second spot that featured the “3rd District Roll Call,” a song in which Winfrey says the names of the counties in the district along with the date of the election, a warning and some dance movements. of Winfrey and her four children.

“I really wanted to call all the counties in the 3rd arrondissement,” she said. “When I found the statistic that we had the lowest voter turnout as a district, county for county, it was almost as if our voice as a district hadn’t moved the state of l ‘Alabama. If we could do a song and call the counties by name, maybe we could turn them on and get them to vote. “

‘A new song’

Building that momentum and carrying it to next year, when the midterm elections take place, is a primary focus for Winfrey.

“In 2022, we’re hoping to have events and get more out of the public now that things are opening up a bit,” Winfrey said. “In 2021, we had really just established ourselves, put in place our vision, our mission and a good foundation.”

Already, Transform Alabama is scheduled to partner with the 21st Annual Stop the Violence Gathering in Selma on Jan. 17 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) and the Selma Jubilee 2022 Intergenerational Hip Hop Political Summit scheduled for March 5. And, of course, Winfrey is on the hunt for the band’s next hip-hop track.

“Every movement has a hymn, so I’m going to start meditating on the next song,” she said with a laugh. “We’re working on a new song and we’re planning something for 2022. We still have music involved and are working on a cool campaign.”

Top photo: Adia Winfrey poses at Hip-Hop Independence Day on Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Atlanta. (Courtesy of Ameerah Winfrey)


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