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Common: A Poetic Night at Hancher Auditorium

By Nichole Shaw

Common is a hip-hop recording artist, actor, film producer, poet, and activist. He is the playfully humble winner of three Grammys, a Golden Globe and Academy Award for his song “Glory” featured in the movie Selma, a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor, and six BET awards. He finds his happiness in writing and loving and serving other people.

Common hosted a media session before speaking at Hancher, inviting various student media organizations on campus. / Photo by Gabby Estlund

Common hosted a media session before speaking at Hancher, inviting various student media organizations on campus. / Photo by Gabby Estlund

He spoke as a lecture guest for the UI Lecture Committee. The event conjured by Venise Berry, associate professor of journalism and African American studies and novelist.

The quotes in this story were words that spilled from the mouth of Common, like a spiritual scripture of movement.


I’m broke but my heart is full. I earn my keep in my love and support of others. I earn my keep in the ink I splatter between the blue lines that box in my thoughts.

“You have to be that divine vessel that lets the art flow through.”

Flow down the cheeks of my black sisters who are beaten by sexism, sexual assault, diminished health care, domestic abuse.
A wasteland of a body.

Flow down the cheeks of my black brothers who are stolen from--their future gone, their incarceration imminent--my black brothers who are pulverized by the system and whose bodies are used as targets for white police officers who walk into their homes and then accuse them of a crime.
The body of a slave.

Flow down the cheeks of my black LGBTQIA+ community who are boxed up and thrown out the window of acceptance and onto the streets of fearful hatred.

A body riddled black and blue.

“I wish the hating will stop (war!) and the battle with us
I know that Black Lives Matter, and they matter to us
These are the things we gotta discuss
The new plantation, mass incarceration”

In physics, matter is physical substance in general,
as distinct from mind and spirit.
In black bodies, matter is fighting a battle everyday,
As distinct from white Americans.
They hate us but we love them,
Because love is the only thing that can overcome hatred,
The only thing that matters.

“As we write our new story, we have to write it in love...despite the battles we face every day...Our battles start within ourselves.”

Battle of the new Jim Crow,
When they enslave my black brothers in prisons,
When they dismiss the pain of black women in health care.
Health care--more like health despair.
They’re unaware of our prayer,
But we have a cross to bear, and it’s

“The color of my skin, they comparing it to sin
The darker it gets, the less fairer it has been
The hate the hate made, I inherited from them
But I ain't gon' point the finger”

Colorful energy. Turn the white hate into black love.
Hair burned from an electric chair, skin bruised from the violence that fear brings the non-black.
Our eyes though, our eyes are rich with love.
We throw away the precedent of contemptuous division.
Supreme freedom resides from within us.

“I don't believe the news
Or radio, stereotypes we refuse
Brainwashed in the cycle to spin
We write our own story, black America again”

The days of pretend are gone.
No more dysmorphia into a gangster, a player, an angry black woman.
Blackness will be seen; the story written.
No more white blanket, but rather a
Grey one.

“I felt a jolt and a tear jerk as I realized I have to love myself...I have wounds, just like the rest of us. Wounds that I’ve got to dig down deep to heal...We’ll always be at work on this planet, but it’s a beautiful thing to be able to take care of yourself.”

Deep within the confines of my blackness,
I find my maimed heart, burned
White hot from their
Black fear.
I fear no more,
For I am a black warrior,
And my soul is strong enough to
Heal my wounded heart.

“Serve those who are underserved, who are overlooked.”

My heart is full,
Heavy with compassion for
The black souls trapped in a white world.
I will help them build their spine,
For as long as they have one,
They can stand tall against the wickedness of the world.
Pecunious pride.

“When you speak something into existence, you start attracting it.”

I love them even though they
Hurt me, even though they
Stole my body and rained pain upon me.
But they will never steal my soul,
They will never
Hide my blackness away from me again.
I’m writing the story now, and
Blackness is greatness.

“Are you ready for greatness?”

Are they?
Black glory will reign down
Our stories will be heard--They can’t whitewash us anymore.

Photo by Gabby Estlund

Photo by Gabby Estlund

Photo by Gabby Estlund

Photo by Gabby Estlund

Photo by Gabby Estlund

Photo by Gabby Estlund