03/24/2015 08:10 EDT | Updated 05/24/2015 05:59 EDT

Kia Kadiri, Vancouver rapper, helps students through hip hop workshops

Vancouver-based rapper Kia Kadiri spends her time helping educators and youth understand the history of hip hop, but she didn't listen to a note of it while growing up.

"Growing up in Victoria, it was very white, to be blunt. I was one of two black people in my whole school so I wasn't really connected to a lot of black culture surrounding me," Kadiri told North By Northwesthost Sheryl MacKay.

Today Kadiri runs a number of workshops using hip hop to help young people build self-confidence and connect to their cultural identities.

Kadiri is vice-president of Streetrich Hip Hop Society, a local community group that provides free drop-in lessons to youth who don't have the means to pay for structured classes, such as breakdancing, art, music production and creative writing.

Throughout February — Black History Month — Streetrich also offered workshops to help community leaders who work with youth gain a better understanding of racism and other oppression they may face  through hip hop.

Kadiri's own transition to hip hop came when she was 19 years old and met her first black friends, including a young man from Oakland who escaped his former gang lifestyle by becoming an artist. 

He explained the roots of hip hop in a way that Kadiri said made her realize that it wasn't just about music.

"He was the one saying 'this is what people are experiencing, in these neighbourhoods. When they're talking about guns, when they're talking about drugs, when they're talking about violence, they're talking about it because that's what they're experiencing.'"  

Kadiri realized that rap was a great way to talk about deeper issues.

"I had written a lot of journals as a teenager when I was going through some harder times and I realized that was great content," said Kadiri. 

"You can go back, at any time, once you learn how to write and transform those into poems and those into rap. And as long as you're expressing what you really feel, then you can own it."

To hear the full interview with Kia Kadiri, click the audio labelled: Rapper Kia Kadiri helps local students find their voice. 

On mobile? Click to watch Kia Kadiri and Mark McGregor in Fight of the Bumblebee.