Profiles / Voices

Dr. Olajide Williams

For more than a decade, Dr. Olajide Williams has been medically treating members of the Harlem community and educating them on ways to stay healthy. As the Chief of Staff of Neurology at Columbia University Medical Center, Dr. Williams will admit that he’s received offers to work in other places that would probably prove more financially lucrative for him. Still, he is convinced that he’s doing the most good by staying put in Harlem.
Dr. Williams moved to New York in 1997 after graduating from the University of Lagos Medical School in Lagos, Nigeria. Having moved from Nigeria, where he was born, to attend a boarding school in London during his formative years, Dr. Williams knows first-hand the disparity that exists between the privilege he experienced as the son of a doctor and the impoverished reality other Africans experienced.
It was during his residency at the Neurological Institute of New York that Dr. Williams became aware of the common healthcare issues that are so widespread in urban communities. Harlem is considered a high-risk area – the community is plagued with premature morbidity and mortality rates for diseases like diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. While Dr. Williams will not remove the importance of personal responsibility is managing one’s health, he recognizes that one of the primary issues making the problem difficult to overcome in Harlem and communities like Harlem is the rising cost of healthcare that actually makes access to medical treatment cost-prohibitive.
“I’ve seen patients die because they cannot afford prescription drugs. I’ve seen patients die because they are afraid to call 911 because the ambulance service is going to send them a bill that they can’t afford,” he says. “My day-to-day existence involves trying to… put Band-aids on a situation that needs a more comprehensive solution. Personally, I believe that health care should be a right and should not be a commodity that is bought and sold.” (from The A-List on
And that’s why he stays in Harlem. As a national leader in stroke education research, Dr. Williams divides his time between treating patients, lecturing, writing books, and working to bring attention to the neurological attacks that disproportionately claim lives and livelihoods in urban communities. With Columbia University as his home base, Dr. Williams is determined to see what he can do to use his influence and knowledge to educate the community and move people to action to address issues like health insurance and the quality and delivery of health care in underserved communities.
Dr. Williams believes that one of the obstacles faced by members of the medical community is relevance. It is difficult to prescribe medical remedies to people when healthcare providers have no real understanding of the daily challenges faced by their patients. Part of maintaining relevance is gaining that understanding and communicating important information in a way that is culturally relevant.
According to the American Heart Association, one-third of all American children and teens are overweight, making childhood obesity the number one concern for parents. Concomitant with childhood obesity are high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, elevated blood cholesterol levels and a host of problems that previously weren’t seen until adulthood. It is for that reason that Dr. Williams founded the Hip Hop Public Health Center, a culturally tailored public health initiative whose mission is to reduce healthcare disparities through context-relevant, cost-effective, intergenerational educational interventions focused on disease prevention and health promotion.
Through HHPHC, Dr. Williams uses the persona of the Hip Hop Doc to deliver health information through Hip Hop. Knowing the challenges that Harlem children face, the HHPHC helps kids to improve their dietary decision-making as members of communities with limited access to health food items. He also encourages them to listen, learn and let someone know in the hopes that educating the children will trickle up and affect both their parents and grandparents.
The Hip Hop Doc works with Emmy-winning television producers and Grammy-nominated musicians such as Chuck D from Public Enemy, Doug E. Fresh, Artie Green, and Grand Master Cash, creating music and animated shorts that serves to reach kids on their level with information that’s easy to understand set to catchy, danceable music. The Hip Hop Doc travels to schools in the Harlem area putting on educational shows and teaching children to importance of exercise and healthier eating habits. It’s a movement he hopes will spread across New York and across the country.


Edited by Sorilbran Buckner

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Dr. Williams’ achievements include Network Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 award, the American Legacy magazine healthcare professional award, the NAACP Community Service Award, a National Humanism in Medicine Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation Urban Health Award for mitigating health care disparities, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University Distinguished Teacher Award, and a College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University Mentor of the Year award. In 2009, Dr. Williams was inducted into Columbia University’s prestigious Glenda Garvey Teaching academy. He is also Founder and Director of the Stroke Center at Harlem Hospital, spokesperson for both the National Stroke Association and the American Heart Association, Co-Chair of Stroke of Hope Foundation, and a recognized scholar who gives invited lectures across the United States. Source: