CLEVELAND — Hip-hop music has changed Doc Harrill’s life. He’s a self-made Cleveland hip-hop artist and producer and goes by Dee Jay Doc. As a kid, he said he was shy and had little confidence. 

What You Need To Know

  • Music has a large influence on society

  • It has the power to alter one's mood, change perceptions, inspire change and give people a purpose

  • Refresh Collective is a hip-hop music makerspace in Cleveland with a mission to refresh the heart of the city

  • The nonprofit helps students harness the power of music to help them build confidence and find their voice

“When I was a teenager, I was a very shy kid, super scared to raise my hand in class. But when I first heard hip-hop, like the depth, and the power of the lyrical expression was just so dynamic,” said Doc. “I had to dig deep, and pull out the deepest things about myself, my life, my story, my perspectives, and put that into music. It enabled me to say, like, I'm going to push past this fear because I prepared, I crafted this message, and I want to share this to the world and make a difference."

Music helped him come out of his shell and he wants others to feel those same benefits, especially young people.  

“I just knew that I wanted to give the same thing that I got out of hip-hop. I wanted to give that to the students on my street,” said Doc.  

Dee Jay Doc. (Spectrum News 1/Taylor Bruck)

He started introducing kids and teenagers in his neighborhood to hip-hop and then turned the idea into a nonprofit. He’s the founder of Refresh Collective. For 12 years, he and his team have been helping students and young adults write and record original hip-hop music. 

“Our main goal is to nurture tender hearts and amplify amazing voices,” said Doc. “The students that I work with, they've changed my life, and my life continues to change as I work with amazing Cleveland youth.”

Students at nearly 10 different schools each year learn the art of beat-making, lyric writing, producing and recording. Mc2 STEM High School in Cleveland is one of their largest partnerships. 

“Through the lyric writing process, we help students name their pain and claim their tomorrow. And what happens is they’re sharing their message and connecting with others who have gone through similar things knowing that, look at us, as a community, we can grow. We can heal as we work together,” said Doc. “When you listen to music, it's like looking at art; you're interpreting it from your own angle, from your own life. So when they hear the music with no words, they're able to put their own kind of projection of their life and their emotion into that music.” 

Malia Mills and Dennis Ducsay. (Spectrum News 1/Taylor Bruck)

Malia Mills is an 11th grader at MC2 STEM High School. She once described herself as an “antisocial mess of doubt.” In 9th grade, she met Doc and credits his nonprofit with helping her find her voice. 

“I feel like if I didn't take the class, I wouldn't express myself like I do now,” said Mills. “I wouldn't have the confidence to do things like even cut my hair, wear crazy clothes, you know, or express myself through, you know, my writing. I would still be that girl that sits in the corner of the class with her headphones on not doing anything.”

She has a newfound love of lyrics and an outlet to express herself in a healthy way. She said she might use her love of lyrics to become a songwriter someday, or an author. 

“Without music the world would literally be nothing. Music is everywhere. Sounds are everywhere. I wouldn't know what to do if I couldn't listen to music,” said Mills. “Lyrics and words are very powerful because they express not only how a person is feeling, but they express what a person is going through, they express what a person has gone through, they express how someone views life, they can tell so many different stories.”

These students don’t just learn to rap — they learn to communicate, build rapport and make an impact on people around them. 

“When you get that first job interview, you got to be able to move the crowd,” said Doc. “Every skill you learn here in music, writing, recording, making hip-hop music and fashion creates translatable, transferable employment skills.”

At the end of the course, the students record their songs in a recording booth at the school. They also have a massive performance at the end of the course in the auditorium at the school where students can show off their newfound confidence and continue to break out of their shells. 

Students at MC2 STEM High School. (Spectrum News 1/Taylor Bruck)

At Refresh Collective, Doc furthers the education in after-school and summer programs. Students can produce and record music and learn about the business side of the music industry. They learn about design, advertisements, promotion, social media and software like PicsArt, Photoshop and Adobe Premier. They can also design their own apparel, which is sold at the storefront and online. All revenue goes back into the nonprofit to keep the services free for the students. 

“There's the artistic side, but then you also have the engineer side, you have the marketing side, you have the writing side. So there's so many different experiences students can dibble dabble in and see which one is the one that's for them,” said Doc. 

Doc said he teaches the five fingers of “Fresh," which is how students grow skills in creativity, confidence, collaboration, communication and making a meaningful contribution to their city and community.

He and his team described the process as a transformational journey of self-discovery for these students. Through harnessing the power of hip-hop, they’re trying to refresh the heart of Cleveland and the world. 

“Hip-hop can change the world, because we believe that each one of our students can change the world,” said Doc. “So we just operate inside of hip-hop culture to build into and build up the next generation."

For more information, you can visit here.