Our Healthcare: What Prodigy’s Death Should Mean to Us

“1974 — I was born with pain, my mom and pops passed it down to me.” — Prodigy

The above lyrics are from the song, “You Can Never Feel My Pain” by the Hip-Hop icon Prodigy, a member of the legendary group, Mobb Deep. The lyrics refer to the rapper’s long-time battle with sickle-cell anemia.

On June 20, 2017, Prodigy passed away at the age of 42. The Hip-Hop community is shook by his death…

His death is not only a terrible blow to the community, but also a lesson about the suffering of people with sickle-cell, and other chronic conditions. Prodigy often recalled being in constant pain, the stigmas associated with the disease, and the nihilistic ontology that develops because of having sickle-cell anemia.

His experience shed light on the need for more attention and funding for sickle-cell research and healthcare options for individuals and families with the disease. An estimated 70,000 to 100,000 Americans are battling sickle-cell anemia. People with the disease are part of the 52 million Americans with a pre-existing condition.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare) dramatically improves the health care options for people battling sickle-cell by requiring that health insurers cover individuals with pre-existing conditions. This has led to a historic low of uninsured Americans. However, this could change given President Trump’s threat to let the ACA “implode” and the persistence of some Congressional Members to repeal it all together.

The proposed legislation that recently failed to get through Congress was dangerous for several reasons. Of note were the severe slashes to the funding for Medicaid. Many individuals who suffer from chronic illness, depend on Medicaid for health care coverage. Oftentimes they have lower incomes, due to their inability to work and cannot afford to pay for healthcare coverage. New proposals would get rid of the Medicaid expansion options for states and reduce federal support for the overall program. Although some of the politicians in support stated that the bill will maintain the current standard for coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, they were leaving out language that makes it easier for insurers to offer less comprehensive policies for individuals who have pre-existing conditions, like sickle-cell.

The vast majority of the 70,000 to 100,000 Americans battling sick-cell anemia are African-Americans. Their quality of life must be considered when threatening to let the ACA “implode” or drafting legislation that essentially determines their life course. It is incumbent upon all of us to make sure that our fellow Americans have access to quality healthcare.

Rest in peace, Prodigy. Thank you for reminding us that we must fight for those still suffering from the disease that took your life too soon.

On behalf of Prodigy and so many others in our communities, let’s make sure we are paying attention and staying engaged in the ongoing fight to protect our healthcare.

About the Author: Akiv Dawson is a fellow at the Hip Hop Caucus in Washington, DC. She is also a doctoral student at Howard University in the Department of Sociology & Criminology. She is currently researching the evolution of Southern Hip Hop from 1991–2016, as well as the construction of police violence in news media.

Hailing from Thomaston, Georgia, Akiv is the youngest of three children. She grew up in Triune Village, a low-income housing complex in East Thomaston. As a child, her mother emphasized the importance of education, hard work, and kindness. Her mother always stressed the fact that a person is not defined by their financial situation. These lessons are still important to her now. Her family is a major driving force in her life. As a scholar, her goal is to bridge the gap between scholarship, activism, and “the hood”.

In 2007, Akiv was selected to be a part of TRIO’s Mock Congress at American University in Washington, DC. While there she helped design a model bill on addressing poverty in the United States. She volunteered with the Center for Creative Non-Violence in Washington, DC to gain perspective on the bill. This experience sparked her interest in addressing and correcting social inequality. This interest later became an important passion of hers.

Throughout the years, Akiv has worked or volunteered in several areas involving youth. Her ability to meet people where they are socially and academically has proven to be a major asset when working with youth. Undecided about college, in 2008 she began her working as an After-School teacher at Small World Childcare, LLC., in Thomaston, Georgia. It became evident early on that she had a gift for working with children. At the behest of her mother and grandmother, Akiv registered for courses at Gordon College in Barnesville, Georgia in 2009. While there she majored in Criminal Justice. Because of her own personal experience with law enforcement, she developed a personal interest in understanding the justice system. This experience was her first exposure to social science, specifically to Sociology.

In 2010, she began working for Hamilton and Harris Educational Consulting Group, LLC. As a tutor for Hamilton and Harris Educational Consulting Group LLC., Akiv worked with developmentally and academically challenged students on preparation for the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT). She earned her Associates of Science in Criminal Justice in May of 2011. In 2012, Akiv relocated to Statesboro, Georgia to attend Georgia Southern University where she majored in Sociology. During her second year there, she secured a position as a Community Liaison for the Cone Homes After School program through Georgia Southern University. While in this position, Akivdeveloped a volunteer rotation schedule and a curriculum for the program. She also increased enrollment for the program.

While attending Georgia Southern University, Akiv was active in the Center for Africana Studies. As a student leader, she headed the University’s Model African Union team. As the head delegate, Akiv led the team through three consecutive award-winning appearances at the National Model African Union in Washington, DC. She also coordinated the Center’s 2nd Annual Human Rights Conference. In 2014, Akiv led a campaign to petition the Provost of Georgia Southern University to provide a larger space for the Center for Africana Studies. Along with her fellow student representatives from the Center, they collected over 2,000 signatures in support of providing the space.

In 2015, Akiv began teaching Adult Basic Education at Smith State Prison, a maximum-security male facility in Glennville, Georgia. This was a life defining moment for her. Her experience working with the guys taught her not to theorize abstractly about vulnerable populations. Within months of her employment, Akivwas bestowed the General Education Development (GED) program, which was comprised of 75 students. She was expected to have at least 17 graduates. Understanding the limited resources that are available to inmates, Akiv was very creative in creating a rigorous, but fun space for her students to learn. During her tenure as the GED instructor, Akiv helped 31 students to achieve their GED.

In 2016, Akiv defended her Master’s thesis entitled, “Black Lives Matter? Public Accounts of Police Officers’ Use of Lethal Force”, at Georgia Southern University. She began the Ph.D. in Sociology program at Howard University in the Fall of 2016. Since then she has continued to conduct research on interactions between the police and communities of color, as well as Southern Hip Hop.

The Hip Hop Caucus is very grateful to have Akiv on the team!