Michael Brown, the 18-year-old Missouri boy who was murdered by a police officer earlier this month, was laid to rest in St. Louis on Monday morning. As the country continues to grapple with the teenager’s death and subsequent outcry in Ferguson, one person the tragedy hits close to home for is Janelle Monáe. While on tour in Europe, the singer spoke to VIBE about how the violence just hours away from her hometown is weighing on her heart.
“I’m from Kansas City, so I’m four hours away from St. Louis,” explains Janelle. “It’s a time where I’m trying to be still and at the same time, doing all that I can to bring awareness to certain issues that I would love for us to all figure out, and get together and create music that can nurture and heal our communities as we move forward.”
Amid the media attention on Michael Brown and Ferguson, the “Electric Lady” singer reminds us that this isn’t the first time tragedy has struck a young black man.
“What’s going on in Ferguson is not the first time this has happened,” she says. “You have Trayvon Martin and other cases that don’t get the publicity. As a black woman, I’m more in tuned with those tragedies that happen because it affects people who look like my cousins and my brothers and sisters. There are certain prejudices and a certain lens that people look at us through. Not all people but this isn’t the beginning of it.”
Artists like J. Cole and B.o.B. have released music dedicated to Brown and Janelle is trying to figure out how to respond in her own way, without giving into her emotions.
“I’m trying to figure out a better solution than getting really upset and having hate in my heart,” says Janelle, who is working on her next project, Eephus. “The thing is, you can’t bring somebody’s life back. When you take somebody’s life, you rob them of being able to be a better person. That really frustrates me. I’m just trying to be strategic. I know I can’t do things alone but I don’t underestimate the power of one woman or one man. I am in the process of doing what I can to not let my emotions guide me but letting my heart guide me. At the same time, allowing peace and love to be my guide.” —Sowmya Krishnamurthy