The hashtag #PrayForPhilly has been circling social media for some time, but now, with the #PrayForPhillyChallenge, it has a new meaning. A Philadelphia rapper is using social media and a music competition to connect young people to resources.
Vinte Clemons, who uses the stage name ARSIN, has lost over 50 people to gun violence or addiction, and he also has a master’s degree in counseling. All of it influences his music and volunteer work, both of which connect to Philly’s teens.
In September, ARSIN launched “Pray For Philly Challenge – Youth”, a competition for singers, rappers, poets, and more to share their skills and compete for cash. The lyrics have to be “clean and positive,” and all set over a beat that ARSIN created. Clemons asked himself “If I was the musical mentor, or if I could do this for other youth throughout the city, how would it go?”
It all started by helping a family friend who recently lost their uncle to an accident. He told ARSIN that he wanted help, to “get off the street, do something different.” Clemons took the teen to a studio and helped him create a beat. “I heard it and I was inspired by my experience with the studio; just seeing how excited he was, seeing how liberating it was,” he said.
The rapper explains that the teens he works with through programs like YearUp and his own projects often feel invisible, and that music is seen as a gateway to a better life and/or environment:
“They feel like, ‘what’s the point? I don’t have a life. I’m not valuable. No one cares. No one understands me.’ They feel hopeless. So when they feel hopeless, they don’t value life – theirs or anybody else’s… they’re at high risk of hurting themselves and others. I know this from working in crisis.”
The contest is open for submissions until October 18th, with the winners being announced in early November. When the Pray For Philly Challenge ends, said ARSIN, the participants will be connected to their peers, but most importantly, whatever fits their needs best.
“They’re going to be plugged into these mentorship programs, these poetry workshops, these educational programs that exist and that get funding to do this but don’t have the ability to reach those youth,” said Clemons. “Now that I have their attention, I’m saying, ‘hey, come to this workshop, okay?’ When we all come together, everybody wins.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources online.
Sam Searles is a Report for America corps member covering gun violence and prevention for WHYY News.