The power of love
Photos by Kevin Quinlan March 10, 2020
Artist and activist Common speaks at UD on love and its restorative power
To celebrate black history — in all of its pain, power, resilience and beauty — is to love.
For artist and activist Common, love is strong enough to embrace humanity, community, society and self, the Black History Month Extravaganza headliner told a full house at the University of Delaware’s Trabant University Center on Feb. 27, as he reflected on his 2019 memoir, Let Love Have the Last Word.
The book reveals a vulnerable, unflinchingly honest account of his life and the lessons he learned.
Love, he said, is both an action and intention. It is work. To him, love means listening to his daughter’s anguish over his many absences, just as it means forgiving the boy who molested him as a child.
In a candid sit-down conversation with Kasandra Moye, director of UD’s Center for Black Culture, the Academy, Emmy and Grammy Award-winning performer said that such selfless gestures of love are actually the ultimate acts of self-care.
“You never see anybody operating in greatness who is angry all the time,” Common said. “To go through a situation where someone has hurt you, made you angry, betrayed you, and to still say, ‘I forgive you,’ is an act of love—not only for that person, but really for yourself.”
Therapy helps. It promotes self-healing and breaks down generational traumas and taboo, he added. “We can’t heal if we can’t speak on it.” And speaking is one of the many tools, including religion, spirituality, mindfulness and meditation, that Common has utilized in his quest for holistic wellness.
“We’ve got to put it out there,” he said of talking to a therapist and confronting his past. “I wanted to show people that you can be in a successful place and still need to work on yourself; that life is beautiful, but it’s still work.”
His honest reflection and promotion of self-love—embodied in his lyric, “taking care of self is the new black”—resonated with Moye as an apt prescription for black wellness and empowerment. And it was that very line and verse from his 2019 song, “Good Morning Love,” that the rapper performed for the hundreds in attendance:
My community, they be fueling me
In the struggle of us, there's a unity
The moral universe stay schooling me
Will the king of kings really rule in me?…
Escape rooms with glasses of wine
Just another crutch for my brokenness
A term that I got from my therapist
As a black man, I feel I should be sharin’ this…
Though some folks say we don't do that
But taking care of self is the new black
Love at UD
It is that bond between self and society — in the struggle of us, there’s a unity — that fuels a higher social consciousness.
That was a lesson Common learned from his mother, a teacher who would bring students to her home, “look out for them, be around, just do the extra things.”
“She was love in action, and she showed me love in action,” he said.
For many students and alumni in the audience, the same could be said of Moye, or Ms. K, as they call her.
Their collective love speaks to the thousands of lives that have been transformed because of the CBC director. (Even the rapper flirted on stage about his “love for educators.”)
“My life is better because of Kasandra, because of her sacrifice, compassion and unwavering commitment,” said 2004 graduate Rashaun Davis.
“She is the University of Delaware,” added Tywanda Cuffy, alumnus and director of external relations for the UD Library, Museums and Press. “Ms. Kasandra carries the weight of the black student experience on her back—along with a very limited yet talented staff—and has willed thousands of black and brown students through the academic, cultural, social and emotional journey with humility, grace and poise.”
A current doctoral student in the Biden School of Public Policy, Jennifer Daniels can’t imagine her college experience without Ms. K. “She is a true gem and the glue that holds so many students together,” said Daniels. “Her compassion for others knows no boundaries.” And fellow alumnus and former transfer student Jey Bryant credits Moye for making him “feel like I had a home at the CBC. She made me and so many others feel instantly welcome.”
It is her gift of love for UD’s black student community that continues day in and day out in the Center for Black Culture. And it is that love for UD’s black population that she hopes extends beyond the Center.
Speaking with Common, Moye asked how university professors and administrators in predominantly white institutions can better meet the needs of black students.
He replied, “The same way I think about political leaders and people in America, I think it’s important to have real interaction and proximity with the people you are leading. Understanding other people takes time. All black people are not the same. We are diverse — within our culture, within our block. We are diverse in our thoughts. So it requires a due diligence of instructors to really dig into other cultures, to go into uncomfortable places, and to listen. The wisest teachers know they still have much to learn.”
Love for community
And simple acts can teach so much.
On March 7, 1965, “ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women, who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone, would stay true to their North Star” and march towards justice, as President Obama said on the 50-year anniversary of the Selma, Alabama, march for voting rights.
While filming the 2014 movie Selma, Common had the opportunity to meet one of the march’s leaders and organizers, Andrew Young.
“What are you willing to die for?” Young asked the actor. “Live for that.”
It was an exchange that reinforced in Common the importance of activism. He has created the Common Ground Foundation to empower high school students, and he has established a nonprofit organization called Imagine Justice, to instill hope, love and humanity to incarcerated Americans.
His love for the forgotten and the shunned, for the sinners in the struggle, has taken the artist to prisons across the country, “to some of the darkest places,” including the Death Row unit of San Quentin State Prison, where a sign there reads, “Building of the Condemned.”
“One gentleman hollered at me, ‘Common, is that you? I like what you’re doing, but make sure you give back.’ ”
Months later, the activist still marvels at that conversation. “This is coming from an unexpected soul, from someone who will never, never ever see the light of day,” Common said. “And he’s reminding me to give back.”
It was a reminder of love in action, of love as Common defines it: A declaration of purpose, a daily practice, a promise and an intention.
About the Black History Month Extravaganza
UD’s annual Black History Month Extravaganza aims to show the history, complexity, resilience, aesthetic, culture, brilliance and creativity of black people while addressing areas of challenge and growth. Past speakers have included Maya Angelou, Harry Belafonte, Spike Lee, Melissa Harris-Perry, Kimberle Crenshaw and Danny Glover.
The event, now in its 18th year, was developed by Moye and the Center for Black Culture. Additional sponsors for the 2020 Extravaganza include the Cultural Programming Advisory Board, Black Student Union, Student Wellness and Health Promotion, University Student Centers, Counseling Center and Student Development, and the Office of the Provost, Diversity and Inclusion.