Academy Award-winning actor and three-time Grammy recipient Common visited Bakersfield in October for a youth town hall. His goal was to inspire Kern County youth to be socially active by using their voices to advocate for healthy and inclusive communities.
The students attending the youth town hall were from all of Kern County, including Delano, Arvin and Bakersfield and ranged in age, from seven years old to students in college.
During the town hall, Common took questions from the audience. Here’s what they asked the advocate, rapper and actor:
Q: What are you passionate about? What inspires you to do the work you do as an advocate?
A: Well I’m passionate about people, and I’m passionate about equality for people. I’m passionate about black and brown people receiving opportunities that other people in this country have received for so many years. I’m passionate about spirituality and God. I’m passionate about education. Overall, I’m passionate about people, and people being in the most inspired and loving place they can be in. I like seeing people happy. That is one of my favorite things.
Q: How to we solve racism?
A: If I can answer this question, we can solve one of the world’s craziest problems. But how do we solve it? We solve it with love. And love is the greatest thing that we all can give and have. Love means that even if somebody is different from you, you embrace it. Love means even if somebody is not doing what you expect and want them to do, you still embrace them. Love means that even if somebody is getting on your nerves, you can still be patient with them. You can still say I care about you. Love also is something that allows you to stand up for who you are and stand up for others. Love is the thing that when you see other people going through something, you make an effort to help them be okay. If we acted from a place of love, the world would get better, and we would start looking past racism.
Q: Why is it so important to you to reach out to youth?
A: I have learned so much from talking to younger people. I think, “how did ya’ll get this smart?” The younger generation is a generation leading in the right way on how to deal with other nationalities or other people who are different form us. The younger generation is more open, more open-minded and more progressive. The young people are the leaders. I feel like there will be a better future for our young people. We’re here to connect with each other, and I think young people are our biggest source of connecting with each other.
Q: When we are trying to change the system from inside out, we are faced with barriers and are hit with “nos” or “You’re too young.” What words of inspiration do you have for folks who are advocating for a better community?
A: Eyes on the prize — you got a goal in mind, you are going to get tired. You’re going to get discouraged. You’re going to get knocked down, but that higher cause and purpose and goal should be the presiding thought that is going to make you move and keep going. They can tell you, “You’re all too young,” but you show up with enough people to communicate to the communities the injustices going on, and make people really aware of it. Get them to get behind you. Politicians are in charge of the law. If you come with enough people, then they’re going to have to react and if not, they get voted out. You’re doing the work not only for you, but for all the generations coming after. So you have to keep your eyes on the prize.
Q: What would you tell young people who feel like their vote doesn’t matter?
A: Voting is one of the greatest things a young person can do to create a better future for them and for their homies and everybody that is in your generation. I used to think like that for a while, but then I saw things in front of me that tangibly got changed because of voting. Part of voting is not just going out a voting. Part of voting is educating yourself, too. I believe voting is the action item beyond the tweet. The tweet is almost like “I’m going to say something about it.” And voting is, “I’m going to do something about it.” Voting takes work, and you got to show up. It’s time for you to show up.
Q: The younger generation is very politically aware, but at the same time the older generation says the youth doesn’t know what their talking about. At the same time, the younger generation says the older generation doesn’t know what we’re talking about. How do we fix this political divide between generations? How do we get them to listen to each other.
A: I think it takes older people to say, “Our way is not always the best way.” And I think it takes some young people to say, “Some of these things the old people are saying really works.” But you have to decipher those things and listen to the conversation. If you present in a humble way and listen in a humble way, I think you can break some of those barriers.
Q: This generation of young people is the most politically aware, but the least politically engaged. Why do you think that is and how can we address that?
A: I think when we say politically aware, I think this generation is aware there are a lot of troubles. And we see the ignorance that is being perpetuated out there by political leaders. Awareness is having a knowledge of a lot of things, too. If we want to be aware, then it takes the effort to be engaged, meaning I can’t say I’m aware of hip hop culture, if I don’t know the artists and haven’t studied it. I think we have to be engaged. I think this generation needs to dig deep — seek further.
Q: You talk about creative writing. How do you connect all that to your music?
A: That’s one of the ways I started, by reading poets like Dr. Maya Angelou and James Baldwin and Richard Wright. These are poets that were great black poets that my teachers made sure I knew. It was important for us to learn about those writers, and those writers are what sparked me. I didn’t know at the time those writers were building my foundation to be a writer. It crystallized when I found hip hop culture because hip hop was of my generation, and it related to me in such a strong way. This writing that I’ve always adored, now I get to say it in my language and and in a way that I know. That’s how creative writing has served as a foundation for me, but it also continues to be my inspiration. There’s something about writing. The words have to be powerful for someone to read it. I’m somebody who loves words.
Q: What advice do you have for activists trying to find a balance between self care and remaining civically engaged?
A: We feel like we have to be active for our communities. If we look at the silver lining at what’s happening politically and what’s happening in the world right now, it’s really bringing out some of the best in us. We all feel like everybody here cares about one another because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t have showed up today. The fact that we care is important, and we are here to do the work, and we have to do work for things that’s not just for us. But you can only really be as compassionate and loving at the best level if you give yourself back that compassion and love. You have to find those joys that bring a balance to your life. Then you can go out and do the work. The beauty of doing the work for others is you start to feel better about yourself anyway.