Olajide Williams is a neurologist from the United States and the founder of Hip-Hop Public Health. He is the Chief of Staff at Columbia University and a Neurology Professor. In 1969, Williams was born prematurely in his mother’s car in Lagos, Nigeria. Williams spent his first year of life in the hospital, his lungs unable to function without the assistance of a breathing machine. For years, he struggled with breathing problems and was frequently admitted to the hospital.
Williams was sent to an English boarding school in 1978. Due to his poor health and race, he struggled to fit in with his peers. During one of his many visits to the school’s clinic, Williams discovered that he felt most at ease when surrounded by doctors and nurses.
Williams returned to Nigeria to study medicine at the University of Lagos. During his time as a medical student, he saw children and infants die from tetanus, a disease that has been eradicated in much of the world, as well as other illnesses caused by contaminated drinking water. Williams became interested in public health and disease prevention as a result of the situation in Nigeria. In 1994, he graduated from the University of Lagos’ College of Medicine. Williams moved to the United States after graduation and began his specialized neurology studies at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
Williams witnessed the same public health disconnect that he had witnessed in Lagos while working at Harlem Hospital Center. Preventable diseases disproportionately impacted patients from lower socioeconomic and minority backgrounds. This piqued his interest in public health even more. In 2004, he received a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health after finishing his neurology residency.
In 2014, Williams and rapper Doug E. Fresh co-founded Hip-Hop Public Health, a non-profit dedicated to educating people about public health issues through the lens of hip-hop. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded the initiative, which produced a school-based education program to teach students about stroke. The educational program enrolled a total of 12,000 students. Hip-Hop Public Health was made available to New York schools and hospitals. As part of this project, Williams created movies, comics, and a video game to educate young people from minority backgrounds about the risks of stroke.