Prejudice and sexism will live on for as long as we allow it. This past week Emcee/Actor Common was invited by Kean University to give their Spring 2015 graduation commencement speech. After all of his success at the academy awards for is John Legend collaboration “Glory” from the ‘Selma’ movie you would think having Common as your speaker would bring great inspiration to the graduating students. Students were looking forward to hearing what would be told to them about going into the ‘real world’ but alas these isms take precedent over a powerful moment those students were to share with each other. Less than a day later the university deletes their tweet announcing Common as their commencement speaker and announce that no speaker has been officially confirmed. So who has the issue? The NJ State Police. Fifteen years ago Common released “A Song for Assata” off his 2000 album ‘Like Water for Chocolate’. The song is something Common wrote after reading her autobiography, several times, and became inspired by her story. If you don’t know who JoAnne Chesimard is you may know her as Assata Shakur, Tupac’s aunt, and her fight for our rights and our lives.
Now, the song is not negative. It just talks about her experiences with law enforcement during the time of her arrest. Even with Ceelo on the hook it works. Let’s go back to the early seventies for a minute. Black Power, NOI, and the Panthers were on top of their game in trying to bring Black-Americans back into loving themselves and each other. Trying to bring us back to our culture and arm us with the knowledge needed to get where we need to go, by any means necessary. Black intelligence is and has always been a threat to the white-Americans also known as the government. Which is why our people were initially enslaved. So take yourself back to that time when Black-Americans were on the brink of overcoming and white folks were clamoring to stop us by any means necessary. It is fact that the government setup the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and also had a hand in Malcolm’s murder. It didn’t stop there. They wanted to take down Assata so bad and the fact that she was a woman probably took them over the edge. Listen to Common’s lyrics, is it hard to believe that she was severely by authorities once she was in police custody? Are we surprised that they tortured her to see if she would snitch? Let’s not forget that soon as the embargo was lifted from Cuba the Governor of NJ, Chris Christie, immediately asked to have her extradited back to the US.
Now come back to 2015. You mean to tell me a song Common wrote fifteen years ago today is hindering opportunities for him to elevate Hip Hop? Common as a Rapper speaking at a commencement ceremony is a big deal for Hip Hop. Even when Puffy spoke at Howard University that was a big deal for Hip Hop especially when he was awarded an honorary degree. This will make other schools think twice about doing the same when you have excellent emcees that are more than capable to do the job. What better way to inspire your new graduates then with someone they ‘know’ and can relate too. Some of us have been to graduations on the college level and it is a bit boring if you don’t have a polarizing speaker. I don’t have proof but I know that out of the thousands of colleges and universities in the US that there are plenty of others who have spoken at commencements that have done more than write a song that you don’t agree with. This is the same as the NYPD turning their back on the mayor at the funerals of the two officers who were killed in December. The law enforcement agencies are the ones with the issue. They probably threatened Kean University with a lack of a police presence around the university which is ridiculous.
This is the same repetitive story of ignorance prevailing over what is right. People are so afraid of consequences from others they are willing to compromise themselves. Assata wouldn’t have cancelled Common. Huey Newton, MLK Jr., Malcolm, and Harriett would have held a press conference on why they’re keeping him as the speaker! They look out for their own and we are quick to dime each other out to the same folks who couldn’t care less about us or what we go through. You keep thinking that lighter skin or an education is going to get you approval from those same people. This is where I go on to say that the relationship between Hip Hop and HBCUs has to get better. Chris Christie, the state of NJ, the NJPD, and Kean University need to rethink their priorities and their loyalties while we use common sense.