It’s never fun when a national tragedy forces the country to grind to a halt. It’s even less fun when you take just a brief moment to reflect on the frequency in which the country grinds to a halt, before inevitability beginning to chug along again despite its impossible flaws. One silver lining to come out of the Alton Sterling/Philando Castile/Dallas PD/Baton Rouge PD madness is the call for peace from a united group of young black socially conscious leaders. The leaders in this case are NBA players Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, as well as rappers like The Game, Joe Budden and Jay Z.
On the surface, it may seem odd, premature or even hypocritical to label this group as “socially conscious leaders”. Carmelo has gotten into fistfights on the court, and once found himself in hot water after briefly appearing in a “Stop Snitchin'” DVD. The Game has openly devoted himself to the Bloods in his music. Jay Z’s history of slanging cane makes it mildly surprising he never appeared on America’s Most Wanted. But after Melo bravely stated “the system is broken” (I say “bravely” because if you read the comments on sites like this, you’d be surprised how unpopular a call for reform of a system that allows the brutality and murder of [often unarmed] black people really is) and essentially requested a ceasefire on all fronts, he backed up his words with the first significant action.
We watched last Wednesday as Anthony, Paul, Wade and James donned black tuxedos and publicly joined forces to state that athletes (specifically themselves) can and will have an influence over curtailing these atrocities. Of note, the foursome also stated their diligence to this cause cannot fade away as the daily duties of an NBA season once again consumes them, an obligation we can only hope they take seriously. While tensions are high during this week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, for some, this moment evoked imagery of “The Summit“, which once took place in the same city nearly 50 years ago.
We have every reason to take these men in particular seriously. While Anthony has spearheaded this charge, we’ve seen Wade and James put the work in for years. Last week, Chris Paul was named Sports Humanitarian of the Year by ESPN for his work with the Boys & Girls Club through the Chris Paul Family Foundation, and for establishing two full scholarships at his Alma mater Wake Forest University. CP3 also has taken home three NBA Cares Community Assist Awards, most recently in 2015.
Meanwhile in the world of rap, Joe Budden and Jay Z were among two emcees to voice their opinions on the tragedies on the mic. Hov’s rendition known as “Spiritual” is a spoken word-ish poem that takes a defensive position— Jay rejects the idea that society views him (a black male) as “poison”, yet he seems to be trying to convince himself of that fact above anyone else. It probably doesn’t seem noteworthy to reference Jay Z (whose philanthropic endeavors have been undersold for years) voicing his displeasure about society’s current state, until you realize he hasn’t released a song independent from an album in three years. Clearly Hov was moved to a place that inspired him to pick up the pen.
Joe Budden’s song and visual accompaniment was much more stirring. The Jersey native was at his best as he exposed the hypocrisy of the treatment of black citizens by police and our judicial system.
“Philando Castile told ’em he had a weapons permit/Was murdered moments after without a complexion permit.”
Joe was focused and angry on this record, and demonstrated his capacity for properly capturing the collective consciousness of Black America at this time of racial and political strife. The rhyme he ended the freestyle with proved to be his most powerful:
“They sayin’ ‘let’s make America great again’/I’m curious, what time would you like to place us in?/Were we degraded then? Did they enslave us then?/Or is it ignorant of me to even say again?/If it’s civil war, then what are we civil for?/It’s this is freedom to y’all, you better get us some more.”
On the west coast, The Game has taken activism and community service to new heights. Over the last several weeks, The Game has turned into the LeBron of philanthropy and his Instagram page has become a window into grassroots social change in the Los Angeles area. His charitable work includes, but is not limited to: uniting Crips & Bloods at an event promoting non-violence, taking struggling mothers in the community on $1000 grocery shopping sprees as part of “Operation #YoMamaMyMama” through his community service non-profit The Robin Hood Project, leading the H.U.N.T. (Hate Us Not Today) Project’s peaceful protests against police brutality (along with Snoop Dogg), creating a GoFundMe page to support the now famed Officer Tommy Norman of Little Rock, Arkansas, joining forces with the LAPD’s chief of police to broker a non-violence campaign and even corralling the mayor of Los Angeles to discuss the issues plaguing their city.
Rappers and athletes give back to the community all the time (the Killer Mike’s and Etan Thomas’ of the world are appreciated)— it’s why we have “Giving Back” pages at HHSR. But there may not have ever been a time where we’ve seen more high profile members of each arena come together around a single issue simultaneously. By presenting a unified front in the name of justice and peace, these rappers and athletes — along with many others not mentioned by name here — are breaking stereotypes and announcing to the world that our best and brightest opinion leaders are engaged on this issue and they are dedicated to making an improvement in this area of society using their power, resources and influence.
As James stated, we’ve all honored the Muhammad Ali this summer— the man who’s probably had a greater impact on sports, society and hip-hop culture than any other single person in the history of this planet. His legacy is depending on the likes of these aforementioned entertainers and athletes to flex their collective muscle and rise up in the face of injustice and prejudice. So far, they have succeeded.