This is the year of Common. From winning an Oscar to being cast in blockbuster films Selma and Suicide Squad; he has proven to the world that he is more than just a rapper. More than that, he is an extraordinary actor, activist and musician. As we celebrate Common’s many accolades, from Grammys to Golden Globes, we must honor his social impact as well as awards. Though he has been in the music industry for two decades, the Oscars showed more of the world his lyrical prowess and brilliance. As a hip hop artist, he has never stopped using music as method of justice through consciousness.
I remember discovering his music as a sick child recovering from a heart and kidney transplant at Children’s Hospital. I heard his duet with Erykah Badu entitled “Love of My Life” in the Brown Sugar film. His smooth and thought provoking lyrics described my burgeoning love for hip hop music and its ability to give a voice to the underserved ghettos of America.
Little did I know, 12 years later I would be celebrating my transplant anniversary at a Common concert in Washington, DC. In the transplant community, these celebrations are known as second birthdays to commemorate the day we received our organs and beat the odds. During the show, Common saw me sitting in my wheelchair. He hopped off of the stage to take a selfie with me and then asked me my name. Then, he used my name and did a freestyle for me. Common said, “Ola, girl so beautiful… I came to face it, she looking so fly and she rockin’ them braces. I’m telling you girl, Ola you gone be the black man’s wife because you are the light.”
That night, he helped me celebrate years of survival and triumph in the face of vast obstacles. Common’s random act of kindness shows that he’s more than a rapper but an amazing human being. He does more than simply touch people with his music. Whether it’s through his work in founding the Common Ground Foundation or penning activist anthems, he is a true pioneer in music and social justice.
This is why Common’s recent honors are not simply additional achievements. They’re representative of Common’s years of service and devotion to social good through spoken word, philanthropy and music. He is a freedom fighter of the modern day that has given a voice to activists of the past through Selma.
He has made history. –Ola Ojewumi
Ola Ojewumi is a writer and activist based in Washington, DC. She is the founder and director of a nonprofit organization and college scholarship program Project ASCEND.