Seeing as the hip hop department at Harvard’s WHRB radio station is called “The Darker Side,” it might seem that Christopher C. Hope’s decision to name his show “Hip Hope” was nothing more than a defiantly optimistic pun. The title is much more meaningful than simple wordplay, however, since Hope constantly strives to live up to the optimistic name.
Hope, a third year student at the Harvard Divinity School, uses his Saturday evening program on WHRB to showcase Christian hip hop, a genre he sees as a vital antidote to the messages delivered by mainstream hip-hop culture. “Music is one of the only phenomena that I’m aware of that not only stimulates your mental, but stimulates your spiritual and also your physical at the same time,” Hope says. “That’s a beautiful thing if it’s a music that’s empowering, that’s life-affirming. That’s a terrible thing when you’re talking about killing somebody.”
“Hip Hope” is just one of a series of endeavors that Hope uses to try to positively influence the Cambridge community. In addition to his studies and his radio show, Hope works with the Pentecostal Tabernacle Church in Central Square to help homeless people and the community at large. As part of his work at the church, Hope organizes a series of performances called the Kingdom Concerts. This summer, the concerts, which welcome local gospel acts, began offering medical treatment for attendees, many of whom would otherwise not have access to healthcare.
Dr. Mark C. Poznansky, an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and the Director of the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, has worked with Hope for seven years, most recently helping to organize the medical aspects of the Kingdom Concerts. Poznansky praises Hope for his dedication to those he serves and for his charisma. “He’s such a wonderful speaker, and so heartfelt, it just emanates from him,” he says. Of the Kingdom Concerts, he says, “What I was most impressed by was the number of people who tuned up in Central Square to get healthcare, and that’s provided free plus music and spirituality and the rest of it. I was very impressed by the depth of what happened there.”
In fact, deep experiences seem to follow Hope. Since “Hip Hope” first appeared on the air in January 2009, it has evolved to include more time for discussion, during which Hope debates issues of faith and politics with his co-host, Michael J. DaSilva. Hope also encourages listeners to call in with their own testimonies and views—an invitation which many accept. DaSilva sees the show as a significant addition to the intellectual spectrum of the Harvard campus. “I think there’s a great interaction of ideas that takes place on college campuses, particularly at Harvard where you have some of the most brilliant minds in the world,” he says. “So I think our show is definitely well placed on the campus, and I think wherever someone may stand, it definitely challenges them to listen to a show like that, and maybe expands their mind and makes them think about something in a way they might not expect.”
As well as challenging the college community, Hope says he has learned from the diversity of people and opinions around him at Harvard. As he starts the final year of his degree, Hope says he would love to continue “Hip Hope” after graduate school, possibly expanding it to include hip hop from other faiths like Islam and Buddhism. Living in a pluralist community has already affected the show. Though Hope says the vast majority of callers offer only positive feedback, he has received some harsh words. “I’ve had some people say, ‘We don’t want to hear that garbage, that proselytizing.’ At the end of the day, people are going to have their opinions, and as long as the criticism is respectable, then I can listen and take note,” he says. Furthemore, Hope denies any interest in proselytizing. “The show is not about converting people,” he says. “What I do is I put the secular and I put the Christian hip hop [on air], and I let people decide.”
—Staff writer Chris R. Kingston can be reached at email@example.com.