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Beyond Kaepernick and Kneeling: Why JAY Z’s NFL Deal Could be Good for the Black Community

I was moved by the powerful article written by The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill entitled “Jay-Z Helped the NFL Banish Colin Kaepernick.” I felt that she captured multiple sides of the debate while firmly stating why she believes this deal with the NFL will be a bad look for JAY Z and many within the black community overall. While she made several points with which I agree, there are two main points that I would like to add to the conversation. The first is that Colin Kaepernick was banished from the league the first day he took that knee three years ago and not with JAY Z’s assistance. We just did not realize it yet. Secondly, JAY Z is right to ask the question about what the next actionable steps are beyond the kneeling and this could be a good way to get that conversation started.

Let me be clear about two points before I write any further. The first point is that I stopped watching the NFL years ago and I doubt it will ever gain me back as a fan. As a Boston native, I will never forget the night the New England Patriots won their first championship and I was driving through the streets of Kenmore Square with my brother Simba (pre-Lion King, thank you) hanging out of the moonroof high-fiving everyone in sight. I will never forget it because it was the most unified I ever saw Boston from a racial perspective. Despite my love for the game, I stopped watching before the kneeling occurred because before I realized how racist the league is, I realized how misogynistic it was after Ray Rice and so many others who received little to no penalties for domestic violence. Going home to my children every night, I could no longer justify how I could support a league that penalizes players more for abuse of drugs than abuse of their girlfriends, fiancées, and wives. The NFL could end its racism today and hire Kaepernick now and I would still not watch. It is also shameful how conversations about the NFL and its misogyny have disappeared from the headlines, but many victims are too used to that storyline.

The second point I must state is that I still support Colin Kaepernick’s activism 100%. What he did was bigger than the game and we can never forget the real issues he was fighting for, specifically the end of police misconduct. He was and still is fighting for my children and I will always hold a special place for him in my heart for that. Radio Hall of Fame personality Joe Madison often says that the difference between a moment and a movement is sacrifice. Kaepernick knew what he could be sacrificing by igniting this movement and that is why he will continue to have my respect. I have been critical of the fact that none of us who followed him know the content of his settlement with the NFL, but that is a personal decision that he made with his family and I respect that as well. The question that I would like to pose is: how long should Colin Kaepernick be the litmus test for determining progress between the NFL and the black community, particularly after he agreed to a settlement? Enter JAY Z.

Let us be clear about something. JAY Z is a businessman with an extremely keen sense of where the next trends are. He knows how to take advantage of opportunities. Former business partner and Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder said recently that JAY Z is the most opportunistic person he knows. Is that wrong, especially for a businessman? In his book Decoded, which I assign every semester for my American University class on JAY Z, he also made it clear that he left the drug world and entered the rap world because he wanted to make money. It was not about the art or the movement at the time. As he said in his song The Prelude:

I’m just a hustler described as a rapper

In fact, you can’t fit this hustle inside of a wrapper

While many were critical of JAY Z for rhymes like these and his original intentions with rap music, many of us have realized that we need to be more money and business focused if we want to really make strides in serious areas like closing the wealth gap, where it has been predicted that it would take 228 years for black people to close the wealth gap with white people. One of my favorite rappers is Talib Kweli, who is considered by some to be a “conscious” or “backpack” rapper. In an interview on the Karen Hunter Show, he stated that when he first started rapping, he just cared about the art but now that he has children going to college, he wished he paid more attention to the business side of things. This is what JAY Z has been encouraging us to do for years and this move with the NFL is a logical step in that direction…if it works out.

Similar to JAY Z ceasing his free promotion of the beverage Cristal, which he and the late Notorious B.I.G. made popular in their songs, I believe that JAY Z will sever ties with the NFL if he does not feel it is helping the black community. In an ideal world, I wish he did indeed have the blessing of Colin Kaepernick but Kaepernick has already received his money from the NFL with his settlement. Had he not received a settlement and was still fighting the NFL on that level; I would be more inclined to not support this deal between JAY Z and the NFL. As JAY Z said though, what are the actionable steps beyond the kneeling? The movement is supposed to be about social justice initiatives, right? My fear is that many of us who support Kaepernick would drop our issues with the NFL if he were allowed to lace up and play and ignore so many bigger issues. I am not speaking about serious activists like Jemele Hill or the three incredible women who founded Black Lives Matter (an organization that JAY Z has supported financially). I am referring to people who are social media act-as-ifs rather than activists.

At the end of the day, we in the black community have often supported institutions that once banished us. Once they made some effort towards equality, even in the smallest ways, we began to give them a chance, often at the expense of our own businesses and institutions . We still support some companies that still do not give a damn about us. Many of us received degrees from prestigious universities that were literally built by enslaved Africans and shunned Historically Black Colleges and Universities. We work and even become CEOs of companies that would never hire us before or sold us second-hand products. And many of us actively still listen to music and watch television and movies that depict us in the most negative ways (and yes, JAY Z admitted he has been part of that problem). When will the NFL get its chance at redemption? I may not be the best person to answer that question for reasons I have already stated but I do not believe that the answer to the question should be “When Kaepernick plays again.”

As someone who wrote a doctoral dissertation on JAY Z and who is writing a current book on him, I see JAY Z today as a Robinhood of sorts for the black community. He regrets his role in the deterioration of the black community through his drug dealing and some of the music and has been actively looking for ways to give back. He bails out fathers so they can be engaged in the lives of their children. He helpsbuild wells in African countries. He funds film projects to bring the stories of great leaders like Angela Davisand musicians like Fela Kutito a new generation of people. He funds scholarships for students from impoverished communities with “C” grade averages who otherwise would never have a chance to sit in classrooms like mine at American University, fights for prison reform, and so much more. And based off his lyrics from Izzo, “I’m overcharging n****s for what they did to the Cold Crush”, I believe he sees his partnerships with white run businesses like the NFL as a form of restitution. The aforementioned lyric in short is speaking about how black musicians have been underpaid and manipulated for centuries. He has worked to change that and has no problem getting rich in the process. Is he wrong for that? As he stated in Moment of Clarity:

I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them

So I got rich and gave back, to me that’s the win-win

Am I sharing these thoughts to absolve JAY Z? Of course not. I have been critical of some of his moves in my writings. What I am saying is that JAY Z deserves the benefit of the doubt for giving the opportunity for the NFL to put up or shut up with the world watching. Kaepernick did sacrifice his career to raise awareness about social justice. He, unfortunately, is not the first leader to not benefit from the movement he or she started, although he probably has benefitted more financially than other activists, given his contract with Nike and his settlement from the NFL. It is time to move forward and demand real action for those, unlike me, who have a desire to one day support the NFL again.

 

JAY Z Is A Billionaire. What Will Black Boys In YOUR School TODAY Be Tomorrow?

I felt so inspired by what my teacher said,

Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer head

Not sure if that’s how adults should speak ta kids

Especially when the only thing I did was speak in class

JAY Z, So Ambitious (Blueprint 3, 2009)

There are many reasons why I decided to write my doctoral dissertation and forthcoming book on JAY Z (born Shawn Corey Carter). I could speak about him becoming hip-hop’s first billionaire or his marriage to megastar Beyoncé. I could speak about his rags-to-riches story or his incredible, yet silent activism such as bailing out fathers and financially supporting organizations like Black Lives Matter. All of these facts are relevant and worthy of their own chapters and articles but the aforementioned quotation from the song So Ambitious speaks to me as an educator who works with schools on elevating their black males like no other JAY Z line. The lines resonate because I realize that we spend so much time celebrating JAY Z while ignoring or outright ostracizing the JAY Zs in our classrooms today.

At eleven years old, JAY Z was a poor, self-described “half orphan” living in the crime and crack-infested Marcy Projects in Brooklyn. When I interviewed his sixth-grade teacher Renee Rosenblum-Lowden about his three biggest influences at that time, she stated without hesitation: “drugs, drugs, and drugs.” She talked about the pressures hard-working students faced from other children making money as drug dealers. She spoke about having to let some of her students sleep in class because they could not sleep at home with all the gun shots and violence. She spoke about her students walking out of school and seeing dead bodies. Though her classroom was a haven for JAY Z and other students, it is also worth noting that the school itself was so underfunded (like many inner-city schools across the country then and now) that it could only hire a male gym teacher who “supervised” both male and female locker rooms.

What were JAY Z’s life chances? In all reality, this was a boy who should have never reached adulthood but as this article is being written, there are still JAY Zs in classrooms across America who are just as bright and determined but are not being given a chance to reach their fullest potential. It should be noted here that despite JAY Z’s challenges in and outside of the home, he was a child prodigy, demonstrated by the fact that on citywide school exams, he received senior level scores though he was only in the 6thgrade. In other neighborhoods he would have been called a genius, but in 1980s Brooklyn JAY Z dropped out of high school to sell drugs. Did he fail school or did school fail him?

Judging by what is happening with our black boys in schools today across America, school failed JAY Z then just as schools are failing black boys now. Using JAY Z’s lyrics, I will highlight three immediate steps that schools can take to genuinely reach their black male students, and by default, all of their students.

I’m a hustler, accept that

No correctional facility can correct that

NYMP (1999)

These lines remind me of a quotation from Dr. Cornel West, who said that black male rage cannot be destroyed or caged. He said it can only be redirected. Unfortunately, in too many of our schools, the rage that many of our black male students enter schools with or develop while in schools (and of course many black girls too) is redirected towards detention, suspension, and expulsion. It is this redirection that is greatly responsible for what has been called the preschool to prison pipeline. Within schools, however, this is best manifested by black male students being separated from the “general population” by being placed unnecessarily in special education or in-school suspension though what many of them need is the critical thinking skills developed in honors and advanced placement classes. Unfortunately, in many schools, according to Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, about 20% of teachers make 80% of referrals as it relates to discipline and serve as the gatekeepers to who gets to experience advanced courses. Give black male students the same opportunities to excel as all students instead of setting low expectations and not being surprised when they meet them!

Teacher said I was a lost cause ’cause I used to roam the halls

Still I spit knowledge, dropped out of high school, skipped college

Who’d a thought I’d make it BIG like Ms. Wallace?

This Life Forever (1999)

A carryover from the last point, teachers and administrators must set high and honest expectations for black males and verbalize them. I say “honest” because students can always detect fake intentions. I once spoke at a high school where the principal saw a student and smiled in his face and encouraged him to not be late to class. As soon as he turned the corner, the principal said: “You know he is going to make a great prisoner one day.” I believe that student, like so many others, saw through her façade and knew exactly what that principal thought of him. As study after study and educators like Jane Elliott have shown with her brown and blue eye test, students of all backgrounds will rise or sink to the expectations set for them. If you enter your school with low expectations of any student, it may be time to either find the passion for every student that led you to become a teacher or leave the profession.

I went to school, got grades, could behave when I wanted

But I had demons inside that emerged when confronted

Now all my teachers couldn’t reach me and my momma couldn’t beat me

Hard enough to match the pain of my pops not seeing me so

With that disdain in my membrane

Got on my pimp game

F*** the world, my defense came

December 4th (2003)

Whenever I see a mass shooting conducted by a white boy or man, conversations quickly emerge about mental illness oftentimes before the name of the shooter is even known. If the shooter is Muslim, they are automatically labeled a terrorist. If they are black, they are usually labeled a thug. I do not, for example, hear discussions about mental illness in conversations about violence on the streets of Chicago. Do you? Non-white people deserve the same mental health prescription that is assigned to most white male offenders. In order to make sure black male students can reach their apex, schools should survey the services that these students need that could range from mental health services to basic dental care. As Jonathan Kozol talks about in his book Savage Inequalities, a student cannot excel during an exam if he is suffering from a simple toothache. In fact, some children have indeed died in America from a “simple” toothache due to a lack of access to health services. Many of our black male students have those “demons” inside that could be exorcised with the assistance of community and school health services.

There are so many lyrics by JAY Z and other rap artists that provide clues about why our schools are failing black males. Rather than ignoring those signs and praising these rappers as the ones that “made it out the ’hood”, we need to do a deeper dive to better understand their stories because theirs are the stories of our students in our classrooms today. The next JAY Z is in your classroom right now or at the very least in your school. He may have aspirations to be a rapper, teacher, sanitation worker, lawyer, or president. Whatever it is, we need to do the work needed to help him reach his greatness. Our black male students should not feel the need to leave school in order to reach their greatness. If we listen to JAY Z beyond the surface level, we will indeed see that he has provided us the Blueprint (pun intended) to do just that.

Educators Weaponizing Authority: Jabari Talbot Arrest and the School to Prison Pipeline

Across the country, people have been engaging in intense debates about the 11 year old student Jabari Talbot in Florida who was arrested for not saluting the standing up during the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, there are lots of debates going on about what actually led to the arrest. People are saying he wasn’t actually arrested for not saluting the flag but arrested for refusing to leave the room and disobeying orders of the resource officer, At the end of the day, the semantics are irrelevant. The challenge we have today, particularly for those who are in the education field, is seeing how educators are weaponizing their position, whether they are regular assigned teachers or substitute teachers. We saw other similar cases like this in terms of substitute teachers challenging students. For example, the teacher in North Carolina who told children that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. killed himself, that they would be going to jail because they’re dressed like gangsters, and that they’re not real Christians if they don’t really support President Donald Trump. The list goes on.

What we see here with the Talbot situation is that it’s the latest example of what people call the preschool to prison pipeline or the cradle to prison pipeline, championed by the Children’s Defense Fund and Marian Wright Edelman. The idea is that situations happening in our schools are preparing our students for a life of incarceration, particularly our African American students and particularly our African American male students. Numerous studies have shown that in many of our schools there’s a correlation between special education and incarceration or at least involvement with the judicial system. They have also shown that some of the conditions in which we put our students in school are actually doing nothing but preparing them for doing a prison bid where they’re sitting around all day, not really being challenged intellectually and being punished for basically trying to engage themselves in in classrooms.

It was JAY Z who said:

I felt so inspired about what my teacher said
Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer head
I don’t know if that’s how you’re supposed to talk to kids
When all I tried to do was speak in class.

JAY Z, who has a sixth grader, was scoring as a senior in high school on citywide exams, dropped out of high school to sell drugs because the school system failed him. He left the supposedly safe environment of school and went down a trajectory that would put him in confrontation with law enforcement. For example, Laquan McDonald was a 17-year old male who was slain in Chicago by the Chicago Police Department. The killer put himself in between himself and Laquan and then said his life was in danger ad then shot him 16 times, including while he was still on the ground and the smoke form the bullets coming out of his body (other officers called for a taser). Laquan McDonald was such a troubled child that a former teacher of his said she feared what would happen in a world that abandoned him.

Going back to Talbot, there is again a correlation, particularly as it relates to zero tolerance policies. We have a student who says he refuses to salute the flag because he calls it racist. The teacher tells him if he doesn’t like America, he can go back to Africa and then he’s asked to leave the room, even though it’s not illegal to not stand for the flag. If it’s not illegal to not stand for the pledge of allegiance, then he should have never been asked to leave the room in the first place. So from that point on, the teacher weaponized her authority, leading to the boy’s arrest and a potential criminal record, whereas the teacher who instigated this gets no penalty other than not being able to teach in that school system.

Some argue that the teacher should have been arrested for trying to force the student to do something that he legally didn’t have to do. But this teacher gets to go on with her life while the student now has the potential of a police record at the age of 11 for defending his rights for standing up for himself. Luckily JAY Z and TEAM ROC intervened and got the charges dropped. This is a problem and we see this in many situations and even if you look at some of your schools, you will see sometimes that some of the language that is used to most described African Americans who don’t do what they’re told is they’re being insubordinate, they don’t follow the rules, they are not listening, and they don’t comply. These types of behaviors and this terminology corresponds with language that is also used in our criminal justice system.

So whether you feel Talbot should have stood for the Pledge of Allegiance or not is really irrelevant. What you should be frustrated with is that through this incident, through the arrogance of this teacher and through her ignorance of the law, she almost added another child to the preschool to prison pipeline and that should disturb us all. There are many teachable moments from this. Maybe in your schools you’re not having kids arrested, but I have seen students taken out of class and disciplined maybe just from writing on a desk and some are getting expelled. We’ve seen people like Glenn Singleton who wrote Courageous Conversations About Race, who talks about over at one point over 5,000 black boys getting expelled every year from preschool.

Under President Obama’s administration, efforts were made to challenge discipline issues in schools but the Trump administration ended it. The main issue relates to disparities and discipline. This is real. We’re sacrificing our children, we’re making them feel like they don’t really belong. I talked about JAY Z and Talbot is the same age as JAY Z was when he was testing as a senior in high school. We are wasting talent in America. We are not valuing children as they should be valued and this is just the latest example. We need to support the work of so many working actively to keep our students in the classroom as well as engaged in the classroom through culturally relevant instruction. We can, and we must do better for the sake of our children.

New Album Intro (lyrics)

This is my 8thalbum 7 years since the last

Had a lot on my mind let a lot of stuff pass

Chose to focus on my kids, enjoy being a father

Watched too many brothers & sisters on tv get slaughtered

Hot and bothered, why they use us as fodder

Mothers, fathers, aunts & uncles, cousins, sons and daughters

Silenced by the pain, by cops my people get slain

So many stories I can make a song just sayin’ they names

Sandra bland, Stephon Clark, Philando, Eric garner

Robert white, mike brown, Danny Thomas, John Crawford

Willard & Walter Scott, Tamir rice, and Yarber

Tarika Wilson, Oscar Grant, James Brisette, Shem Walker

I ain’t got enough bars I know they up in the stars

But back on my earth we in a state of constant shock & awe

With the weight of the world on our shoulders Jehovah

In my daughters’ eyes I see the hope that saved this soldier

In my son I see the pride that keeps wakin’ me up

To fight harder every day and stop givin’ a…

What the deal I really feel like I live in a reel

Waitin’ to wake from a nightmare Freddy Kruger for real

Nightmare on my street everyday Friday the 13th

A president who don’t give a damn about my peeps

I see what the hell I got to lose I ain’t confused

And as long as I breathe I’m a challenge these fools

I got my ancestors watching’ I refuse to lose

For the future I be plottin’ on these blasé dudes

Cause everything is love and that’s how it should be

In those 7 years got a PhD in JAY Z

So y’all ain’t heard from me but yo boy ain’t stop

I never let go of the bars never stopped hip-hop

We been through hell but oh well got more stories to tell

Cause we ain’t goin’ nowhere this land’s our for real

4:44 – The Album JAY-Z Always Wanted To Make…But We Wouldn’t Let Him

This article appears in The Huffington Post, where I am a contributor: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/444-the-album-jay-z-always-wanted-to-makebut_us_595e6066e4b08f5c97d067b3

I’m Black, I rap, I’m Under 40, And I Don’t Use The Word “Nigga”

              I haven’t felt as embarrassed as an African American as I did when I heard comedian Larry Wilmore call President Barack Obama “my nigga” at The White House Correspondence Dinner. Don’t get me wrong. There have been many moments that I have considered low points for our culture but this was the lowest. The only thing that is more offensive to Wilmore’s ignorance is the response by people who have no problem with the use of the word because it’s just “Keepin’ it 100” or “Keepin’ it real.” Yes, Wilmore kept it real—real stupid. For anyone who says that this is just a natural term for us to use and that we’re used to it,” let me explain the three reasons why they’re wrong.

Nigga is not a term of endearment

Let’s really “keep it 100.” I am a rapper. I also have been “hip-hop” since birth so I am no newcomer to hip-hop culture. It’s the soundtrack of my life and so I will always love hip-hop. Anyone who listens to hip-hop knows full well that in our music, the term “nigga” is used more negatively than positively. Even Tupac who stated that “NIGGA” meant “Never Ignorant Getting’ Goals Accomplished” rarely used the term “nigga” in an endearing way. Sure there are verses where rappers talk about rollin’ with “my niggas” or bringing their “niggas” through the door once they became successful. In reality however, the overwhelming use of the term “nigga” is negative as in “niggas hatin’” on each other or “killin’ niggas” as well as their kids and other family members. Whenever I hear a term like “brother” being used in rap, it is indeed use positively as it should be. We cannot believe the terms “brother” and “nigga” to be synonymous and anyone who says “nigga” is used as a term of endearment particularly in our mainstream hip-hop music is just wrong. Don’t believe the hype.

Acceptance of the term nigga is not generational

A few years ago, rapper and mogul Jay Z appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and they had an honest debate about the word “nigga.” Jay Z made the argument that many users of the word use. He said that it’s generational and that the overuse of the word has taken the power out of the word. He also said that the intent behind the word is important, a point to which I agree. The fact of the matter however is that many black people younger than Jay Z do not use the term “nigga” and find it deplorable. I am younger than Jay Z and Nas and many rappers who rose to prominence in the 1990s and the 2000s. I work with youth across the country and run into students from kindergarten to college who deplore use of the word. It is also clear by Wilmore’s use of “nigga” that there are people of Oprah’s generation and older who are quite comfortable with the word. To accept, however, that people of my generation and younger have just accepted the term is flat out wrong. I am a Jay Z fan and even wrote my doctoral dissertation on Jay Z but on this point, I couldn’t disagree more with him.

White people still own the word “nigga”

There is always a debate about whether white people can use the word but we cannot reclaim a word we never owned. The argument is a waste of time. Not only can white people use the word, they still own the word. Some believe that Kendrick Lamar’s explanation of “nigga” coming from “negus” in ancient Africa. Please. I doubt Master John was thinking about ancient Africa while whipping his slaves. White people still use the word on a regular basis. I am a professor of cross cultural communication at American University. When I discussed hip-hop and the term “nigga” to my 70 plus majority white students (many wealthy) I asked them if they repeat the word “nigga” when singing their favorite rap songs. They all honestly raised their hands. I was not mad because they were just being honest but it revealed to me that an endless debate over use of the word is pointless because we live in a society where historical context doesn’t matter and all students on college campuses hear the word every day in music or from their black classmates.

At the end of the day, we as black people have lost the ability to make a case for the termination of “nigga.” I’ve heard some gay people refer to each other as “faggot.” I believe that there are Jewish people who may refer to each other as “kikes”, Latinos who refer to each other as “spics” and maybe even some Chinese people who use term “chink.” The difference with these groups is that they have not mainstreamed the most derogatory terms into global lexicon. Rapper Drake is half Jewish but you would never hear him utter the word “kike” in his music. Michael Jackson, probably the most not-racist person in history had his album pulled and was roundly condemned by his “friends” like Steven Spielberg because he used the word “kike” in his anti-racist song “They don’t care about us.” That should have made the message very clear to black people: degrade yourselves all day but as soon as you go beyond the plantation, expect to be whipped back into form.

As KRS-ONE so eloquently put it, “That mic you speak through/goes from here to Mogadishu/and how you represent us is the issue.” Across the globe, from Japan to Israel, we have made it acceptable to use the term “nigga” without providing any context because too many of us don’t know the context. I’ve been called “nigga” in Senegal and South Africa by people who thought they were being cool. I’ve watched Japanese sitcoms where they call each other “nigga.” At the same time the word becomes globalized, the #blacklivesmatter movement and the overall fight for black dignity has not. People want to dress in “our” clothes and play “our” music but take it all off when they go home. They want everything but the burden. All Larry Wilmore did was make the word acceptable for an entire new generation of black and non-black people to get comfortable with the word by referring the first black President in that way. There is nothing funny about that and as Joe Madison said, he tainted the legacy of the first black president and, as Reverend Al Sharpton said, it was at best tasteless. We can and need to do better.

I am LIVING, not marching for Trayvon Martin

 

             I have a great deal of respect for everyone across the country who is marching to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. Like many, I do believe that Zimmerman should have been found guilty of something. Deep in my heart, however, I knew that a “Not guilty” verdict was going to most likely be the decision. For days, I spent time thinking about my own mortality. I was reminded once again that, should something as tragic as this befall me, half the country will be in support of getting “justice” for me and half the country will seek to paint me as a criminal based on my past writings, emails, films, and songs. After a few days, however, I decided that I am not going to worry about this. I have decided that the best way to honor Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Emmett Till, Danroy Henry, Amadou Diallo, Jordan Davis, and countless others is to live and live to the best of my ability and be an example for others.

            At the end of the day, marching is not going to do much to challenge our justice system. Those who do not want to watch will just change the channel or stay in their air-conditioned homes on a hot summer day. How do I know this? I know this by the fact that there are no rallies for George Zimmerman taking place across the country. Those who support the verdict and even proclaim Zimmerman to be a hero will focus on legislative efforts to make sure that Stand Your Grand laws stay on the books. They will focus on midterm elections and the 2016 elections to make sure they are putting the politicians in place who will support them. At the end of the day, the rallies will end and America will go back to business as usual, but there is a way that this time can be different.

            Rather than march for Trayvon, let’s live for him. What does that mean? It means increasing our efforts to save our youth across the country who are victims and perpetrators of violence. As someone who has been a community activist all of my life, I know that there are Americans of all races and faiths working in inner city neighborhoods to halt the violence that persists in our communities. Unfortunately, our efforts will never make it to the mainstream media because mass black-on-black crime is expected. With all due respect, we have to step it up. We have to do more to show our youth that we care about them but will we?

            While many who will march for Trayvon are people dedicated to their families and communities, I know for a fact that there are some protesters who will go home and beat their own children like they don’t know them just for looking at them the wrong way. Some protesters will go home and call their own children the most vile names imaginable. Many more will go home and let their children continue to listen to music and watch movies that degrade people who look just like them. This is not living for Trayvon.

            If we want to live for Trayvon, we have to increase our efforts in showing the world, starting with our own community, that we care for our youth. In addition to boycotts, we need to organize BUYcotts to buy and fund artists, music and movies that showcase us in a more positive spotlight. Juror B37 was able to refer to Zimmerman as “George” and Trayvon and Rachel Jeantel as “they” because she has only been informed about black people by the images that have placed before her by mass media. If you did not live in a black community, what would your view of the black community be based on watching TV?

            Living for Trayvon means demanding more of us. While not perfect, I see the Jewish, Latino, and Asian communities demanding respect in this nation by building their own institutions and participating more in the political and business process of America. Many of us in the black community are still letting our votes be taken for granted by democrats, pimping ourselves out on YouTube for record deals and “exposure”, and showing by the way we let our young black boys walk outside of their homes half naked that we don’t care about them. I reiterate: living for Trayvon means demanding more from us. It means rappers realizing that their lyrics celebrating violence may be entertainment for some, but it’s the only form of education on black people for others. If we demand more from us, the country will be forced to change its impression of who we are.

And please notice that I am saying “We” and not “You” because I am as much a part of the problem as anyone else. Whenever I see young brothers and sisters repping themselves incorrectly on the streets or in the schools where I speak as a youth speaker, I am guilty as charged. My pledge to Trayvon and so many others we have lost is to do my best to not let them down. I will continue to promote peace in my lyrics, and be a role model wherever I go. I’ll work to smile more at the young brothers I see in the streets. When I slip up in this mission (as we all do at some point), hopefully my community will not let me fall but rather help pick me back up. Justice for Trayvon starts with me, not fighting to have the justice system pick the verdict I would I have preferred. Let’s join together and build ourselves up after the rallies on the shoulders of all who have died unjustly. That’s the least we can do.

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Jay-Z is more of an activist than you think

 

In Jay-Z’s 2001 song “Renegade,” He shares the following lyrics:

[People] say that I’m foolish I only talk about jewels

Do you [people] listen to music or do you just skim through it?

            I find these comments very poignant in light of Ms. Jenée Desmond-Harris’ article on the Root.com entitled What Young Activists Could Teach Jay Z. While Ms. Desmond-Harris bases her argument off of Jay-Z’s statement in response to Mr. Harry Belafonte calling on him to be more socially responsible, too many rap critics and fans alike base their opinion of rappers based on listening to one or two lyrics and use those lyrics to pass judgment on the entire life of a rapper. For his entire career, Jay-Z has been vilified as being only concerned about sex, guns, violence, and the glorification of his past days as a drug dealer. In reality, Jay-Z is more of a socially responsible activist than many of us know.

For my doctoral dissertation, I am writing an intellectual biography of Jay-Z from 1969-2012. In short, an intellectual biography situates an individual life in the context of ideas and perspectives as expressed and revealed in the life of an individual.  The goal of this type of biography is not just to chronicle Jay-Z’s life, but also to contextualize his life within a broader historical framework. As I am growing in my expertise on the life of Jay-Z, I have found at least three examples of how Jay-Z has demonstrated service beyond just using his presence as a form of charity.

The first is Jay-Z’s trip to several African countries as part of the United Nations & MTV’s “Water for Life” project. In the summer of 2006, as president of Def Jam Records, Jay-Z partnered with these two groups to use his global influence to get young people especially involved in the fight against the global water crisis. In his efforts to be more of a humanitarian and less of a hustler, Jay-Z partnered with the United Nations to build 1,000 “play pumps” across the African continent. These pumps use a simple merry-go-round that pumps water as children play with it. While Jay-Z, did not build every pump, he did participate in the building of some of these pumps and used his influence to get kids in America thinking about this crisis.

Second is Jay-Z’s charitable project with The Shawn Carter Foundation. This foundation has raised millions of dollars for prospective college students, and created a toy & meal drive for Hurricane Sandy victims. My mentor, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, once told me that he personally attended one of these fundraisers with Jay-Z and his mother where over $2,000,000 was raised in one night. This is not Jay-Z just showing up. He uses his foundation to call other people of influence to action.

Lastly, one can look at Jay-Z’s efforts over two elections to elect then re-elect President Barack Obama as can be seen in this video of Jay-Z with Beyoncé praising, Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and Obama. Jay-Z did not just contribute financially to Obama’s campaign and raise millions of dollars for him through fundraisers at his restaurant, he also campaigned vigorously across the country encouraging others to vote.  This is coming from someone who proudly claimed to never vote in his life.

By these three examples alone, one can clearly see that Jay-Z has gone way beyond using his presence as a present. While people criticized he and Kanye West for writing “luxury rap” during a recession with the video “Otis”, the Maybach that was smashed up was actually auctioned off to benefit victims of drought in East Africa. Jay-Z is using his platform to draw attention to issues that neither me nor our esteemed members of the Dream Defenders can do at an international level. It is not accurate for us to consider Jay-Z as someone who is not committed to creating change through his actions.  He has clearly demonstrated the opposite.

At the end of the day, we should accept individuals for where they are in the level of service they choose to provide. We need groups like the Dream Defenders that Desmond-Harris references in her article to create change on the local level and international superstars like Jay-Z to draw attention to national issues such as the Trayvon Martin case and international issues such as the earthquake in Haiti. While I did object to Jay-Z referring to Harry Belafonte as a “boy” in his song “Nickels and Dimes”, I have learned through my studies to go beyond Jay-Z’s individual lyrics or songs to look at the entire life of an individual who is actively learning how to be a better humanitarian through mentorship of individuals such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

We should, as Jay-Z suggests, go beyond the music and look at an artist in his or her totality, which is the same thing we would want in our own lives.  Love him or hate him, we cannot deny that Jay-Z is socially responsible and doing his own brand of activism. We need all hands on deck in our movement for social justice and I am glad that Jay-Z is on board.

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