Common encourages students to find and fight for a cause they believe in | The American Word

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Common encourages students to find and fight for a cause they believe in

Adena Maier | 4/12/17 12:45pm
| Updated 4/12/17 12:45pm

Anna Moneymaker /
AU Photo Collective

While waiting in Bender Arena for the event to begin, Common’s music played over the speakers, and students and faculty sang and swayed along. As the lights dimmed, Common stepped on stage dressed in all black and began the night by freestyling about American University, giving a special shoutout to the Dav and the Massachusetts Avenue Walk Sign.

“Yo yo yo yo you know the sound, a shoutout to my people out in Tenleytown,” rapped Common. “American University, we got it going on.”

Best known for his albums “Be” and “Like Water for Chocolate,” the socially-conscious rapper has also dabbled in acting, modeling, writing poetry and activism. Common has been nominated for 19 Grammys and won three, but he admitted he has struggled with acknowledging his own talent and greatness. His address to AU students came across as a motivational speech, encouraging everyone in the audience to believe in themselves and not be too humble.

“When I first started my path, I didn’t know where it was starting, but you have to find your path, believe in your path, and live your path,” said Common. “You can’t dim your light for anyone, you can’t be afraid to wear your greatness.”

But by greatness, Common doesn’t just mean natural-born talent. Muhammad Ali was one of Common’s greatest role models, and when Common was invited to a memorial service for Ali, it got him thinking about what it means to be the greatest and why Ali deserved that title.

“He wasn’t the best boxer, but if you ask athletes or human beings across the world, we all say ‘Muhammad Ali, oh he’s the greatest!’” said Common, who spoke about Ali for at least ten minutes. “But he spoke up against injustices and sacrificed his career at the height of it for something he believed in – that’s why we call him the greatest.”

For Common, being the greatest no longer means just winning awards for his music. The king of conscious hip-hop has also dedicated himself to numerous social causes, including combating police brutality, assisting at-risk youth, and addressing America’s incarceration problem.

“I can talk about it all I want, but if I don’t go out and put myself in situations and start making changes, then I’m only talking,” said Common. “I want to encourage us as artists, as students, and as athletes to find and identify things we can really change.”

Common has been working on doing his own part in enacting meaningful change. In 2007, Common created the Common Ground Foundation to empower and provide resources for America’s urban youth. He also spends some of his free time visiting prisons to speak with incarcerated people and their families, and he has actively supported #BlackLivesMatter.

“I just want to encourage you all to find your purpose, live your purpose, and believe in your purpose,” said Common, to conclude his address.