James McBride has written numerous rap songs, but it was his lyrics on hitting the fruit and vegetable stand that won him a cash prize from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
By eating healthy wraps like the one described in his winning song, McBride had lost 18 pounds heading into the competition.
“I wrote the song in about a half hour because I just told the truth of what I actually did,” says McBride, whose winning video received more than 20,000 views on YouTube.
He used the cash prize from the My Plate challenge to record an album’s worth of material devoted to healthy life lessons modeled after FIrst Lady Michelle Obama’s campaigns to encourage healthy eating and physical activity.
McBride began writing and performing positive songs in 2002 when he became a Big Brother volunteer. Since then, he has written more than 700 songs and recorded a string of CDs with songs that tackle everything from nonviolence to safety lessons.
Winning the USDA challenge brought tremendous exposure to McBride, and his Mr. Deep Positivity alter ego began to catch on at schools and in community performances throughout New England. Former Miss Rhode Island, Deborah Saint-Vil, began traveling to McBride’s events and even performed on some of his tracks.
The mayor of Providence, R.I., where McBride was born, soon heard about him and named him the city’s first Healthy Ambassador, a title he retains to this day. The designation meant a lot to McBride, who grew up in one of the city’s roughest neighborhoods where he faced guns, drugs and the violent deaths of two cousins.
He even knows the exact number of days he spent in a notorious housing project — 7,665.
“It was in that horrible environment where I birthed the faith in myself that I could make a better world using my gifts and talents,” McBride says. “Becoming the Healthy Ambassador of Providence and working with the mayor’s Healthy Communities Office was a dream come true.”
But McBride still has higher goals.
Two years ago, more than 1,000 students sent letters to President Obama asking him to make McBride AKA Mr. Deep Positivity, the first Healthy Ambassador of the United States.
“I’m in the process of trying to raise $1.1 million so I can reach and inspire over 1 million youth in the country to be healthy and positive,” he says.
McBride envisions a national contest where kids create poems, songs, stories and skits. Hundreds of winners would receive free downloads of his healthy songs, as well as in-person performances by Mr. Deep Positivity at their schools.
He hopes the money he raises will help him tour the country in an RV-turned music mobile with a soundstage, studio and movie screen.
“My goal will be to create 1 million youth leaders who will become an army of Healthy Ambassadors promoting health and positive choices to their peers and families all across the country,” McBride says.
Until then, he will continue performing as many as 150 shows a year and recording new music to inspire kids to better living, a calling buoyed by the USDA My Plate challenge in 2011.
“I hope the federal government will host more of these types of contests where the average Joe can win money and have a chance to become a positive role model in the process,” McBride says. “What I loved about the contest was that everyone could enter, even my 8-year-old son, and we all contributed to making great tips for eating healthy at home, at restaurants and on the go.”