Olajide Williams is an American neurologist and the creator of Hip-Hop Public Health. He is the Chief of Staff at Columbia University and a Professor of Neurology. Williams was born prematurely in his mother’s car in Lagos, Nigeria in 1969. Williams spent the first year of his life in the hospital, his lungs unable to work without a breathing machine. Breathing issues plagued him for years, and he was frequently admitted to the hospital. In 1978, Williams was sent to a boarding school in England. He struggled to fit in with his peers due to his bad health and his race. Williams learned he felt most at ease when surrounded by doctors and nurses during one of his many visits to the school’s clinic.
Williams returned to Nigeria and attended medical school at the University of Lagos. During his time as a medical student, he witnessed children and infants dying of tetanus, a disease that has been eradicated in much of the world, and various illnesses brought on by unsafe drinking water. The situation in Nigeria made Williams interested in public health and preventable disease. He graduated from the College of Medicine, University of Lagos in 1994. Upon graduating, Williams moved to the United States, and began his specialized neurology studies at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. While working at Harlem Hospital Center, Williams saw the same public health disconnect that he had witnessed in Lagos. Patients from lower socioeconomic and minority backgrounds were disproportionately impacted by preventable diseases. This furthered his interest in public health. After completing his neurology training, he received a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in 2004.
Williams and rapper Doug E. Fresh founded Hip-Hop Public Health in 2014, a non-profit dedicated to educating people about public health challenges through the perspective of hip-hop. The initiative was financed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and produced a school-based education program to teach students about stroke. A total of 12,000 students were enrolled in the educational program. Hip-Hop Public Health was made available to schools and hospitals across New York. Williams created movies, comics, and a video game as part of this project to inform young people from minority backgrounds about the risks of stroke.