Nobody’s Smiling…Common Un-invited From Kean University Graduation Speech
Common is the recipient of some difficult news today (April 1). Union, New Jersey’s Kean University has uninvited the Chicago, Illinois veteran MC and actor from giving its commencement speech, after reported pressure from local police, who protested Common’s attendance, fresh off of an award-winning season surrounding the movie Selma and its theme song “Glory.” Ironically, it was Common’s music that caused the protests, and eventual rescinded invitation.
Citing the university’s public ties, law enforcement took umbrage with Common’s lyrics and message in 2000 track, “Song For Assata.”
The Like Water For Chocolate album cut addresses the life of Assata Shakur, the accused murderer of a New Jersey police officer. In 1973, as a member of the Black Liberation Army and Black Panthers, Assata allegedly murdered Werner Foerster. Assata, who escaped her subsequent prison sentence, and as a fugitive, fled to Cuba for more than 30 years, maintains her innocence. Struck with gunfire during the shooting raid, Shakur has maintained that even through being struck, her hands were up in cooperation.
Common’s lyrics likely refer to crimes Shakur was charged with, but never convicted—all prior to the New Jersey murder conviction. These charges (ranging from robbery to murder) were dismissed, dropped, or simply acquitted.
“Her emptiness was filled with beatings and court dates / They fabricated cases, hoping one would stick / And said she robbed places that didn’t exist / In the midst of threats on her life and being caged with Aryan whites / Through dark halls of hate she carried the light / I wonder what would happen if that woulda been me? / All of this shit so we could be free.”
“What is troubling here is that a state university that is subsidized with state taxpayer funds, is once again being questioned on their decision-making at the highest levels,” Chris Burgos, the president of State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey, said in a statement to the Associated Press.
Common notably received strong criticism in 2011 leading up to a performance at The White House for the same song lyrics.
Last year, Common released Nobody’s Smiling, an acclaimed album themed around the street violence of Chicago and a call to action to cease fire.
Common has yet to speak publicly about the rescinded speech invitation.
Do you think bringing Assata Shakur’s life and struggles into conversation for young people means that Common’s song is reaching its full potential?