“Let’s Flip It” is a communication system developed by and for young people most affected by social violence in Boston. It is a way for them to say “it’s time to stop” without saying it directly. Addressing the current block-vs-block structure of violence in Boston, youth interns at the Design Studio decided to intervene in the symbol of the fitted baseball hat, which is frequently used to denote someone’s block or gang affiliation, often causing friction that escalates to violence. Team caps with an “H” logo come to represent Heath St, “A” caps rep Academy Homes, etc. With help from over 75 youth interviewed on the street or in youth-led focus groups, youth identified that a blank, all-white cap could represent a decision to step away from block-vs-block violence, without its wearer having to step away from his (or her) block. We also designed pins, posters, t-shirts and stickers to go along with the campaign to spread the word. Pins were particularly important to the strategy because memorial pins can frequently up-the-ante for retaliation, and because many young women told us they do not wear hats.
So far youth have given out over 10,000 flyers, 3,500 pins, 4,000 stickers and 500 hats. Design Studio interns are now tracking where they are giving out supplies, where they are seeing youth wearing LFI gear or stickers up, where they are getting call-backs from asking for more supplies and all of the social network likes/follows/etc.. In this way they are trying to measure where and to what degree the intervention has gained its own legs.
Critical elements to this strategy:
A youth-to-youth campaign: Let’s Flip It is not a glossy public health campaign with posters on buses. When a youth first sees the logo, it is most likely coming from a peer or something stuck up guerrilla-style, rather than looking sanctified by the powers-that-be.
Using the symbolic: Since the hat is an important way for youth to rep their blocks, it becomes a powerful symbol that we can literally work to change the meaning of. Using the symbolic within a horizontal strategy can address cultural norms in ways that legislation and policing can not.
We are still learning as we go in terms of designing effective horizontal strategies. As youth get more and more fired up about the Let’s Flip It campaign, we are seeing some key challenges, as well as elements of success.
Our biggest challenge is in the spreading and scaling up of the strategy. Conveying authority to a population that is usually told it has none is complicated. It is critical to have a core group of youth (or whatever the marginalized group is) believing they have the authority to take on the strategy, but it must also grow its own legs. Youth who come into contact with it must have an easy way to step in and spread it and/or tweak it to make it their own. In the Sea of Pink, youth could decorate their own shirts or pick up one at school if they hadn’t brought one. In Let’s Flip It, youth can text a hotline to pick up supplies and take them to their community, event or school. However, we’re still looking for youth to take the next step in imagining a new tool for the campaign to truly expand it beyond the Studio.