A Dream – Common Featuring Will.I.Am
By: Emily Phan
Many people express themselves through forms of art. Whether it’s painting, music, poetry, or fashion, it provides a way to make public of one’s thoughts, emotions, and passion. For this blog, I decided to choose a song from one of my favorite movies. “A Dream” by Common featuring Will.I.Am was on the soundtrack of the movie Freedom Writers directed by Richard La Gravenese. This song samples pieces from Martin Luther King Jr.’s (MLK) “I Have a Dream Speech”. This song demonstrates both the changes and what remained the same in the amount of time that has passed since the speech was delivered. Back when Freedom Writers came out, I remember watching it and being captured by the amount of history that was portrayed as well as the life experiences the students in the film has gone through. A lot of it relates to what African American Studies has taught me and it made me view the film with a new and different perspective. The song “A Dream” played during the movie and what caught my attention was hearing pieces of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech throughout the song. I decided that this song would be a great piece to look into and analyze closely since the lyrics are very touching and relatable. Hip-Hop artist and poet, Common, did a great job delivering the lines of the song with emotion and compassion.
The song is produced by Black Eyed Peas member Will.I.Am for the movie Freedom Writers and the verses are delivered by Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. or better known as his stage name, Common. Common and Will.I.Am sampled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech and the song reflected on what has changed and what has sadly stayed the same in the close to 50 years since it was delivered in 1963. The song fits perfect for the movie Freedom Writers because it is based off a true story about a teacher named Erin Gruwell and her students, who are from distinct backgrounds of color. For the duration of the movie, it can be seen that there is gang violence, racism, and segregation. It makes sense for Will.I.Am to produce a song like this because it includes the daily obstacles African Americans go through and how they are treated. MLK’s speech inspired Will.I.Am to create a song that deals with the treatment of African American lives now and comparing and contrasting it with back then. From the looks of society now, it is crazy to see that not a lot has changed even though segregation ended 60 years ago.
The main event that happened during this century would be the election of Barack Obama as the President of the United States. This is very significant because his win in the election made him become the first African American elected into office. This caused uproar throughout the nation. Rumors were spread, groups to impeach him formed, and racist remarks were made. When MLK made his speech, his intention was to have equality among all people. For citizens of the United States to react such a way because the President is of color, shows that racism still exists. In the song, Common recited, “Hate has no color or age”, I interpret this, as no matter someone’s age or color, someone or a group can hate him or her for those reasons alone. For when Obama became president during the 20th century, the reactions towards his win were mixed, good and bad, and the bad had a lot of it had to do with his race and skin color. “Hate has no color or age” is a new twist on the old saying “Love knows no bounds.” In this case, neither does hate.
This song emerged from the 20th century. It reflects back on what hasn’t changed since MLK’s speech. From 2007 when the song came out until now, I find that this song is still relevant and significant because African Americans still deal with racism and segregation. There’s a part in the song that goes,
“No apology, I walk with a boulder on my shoulder,
It’s a Cold War – I’m a colder soldier,
Hold the same fight that made Martin Luther the King,
I ain’t usin’ it for the right thing, “
I believe that he’s saying he’s colder and he’s fighting the same fight as MLK did for the freedom of African Americans, but he isn’t using it for the right thing meaning non-unity, compared to MLK and his stand for unity. Common is an activist and is a big supporter for the African Americans and its youth. Having to fight the same fight that MLK did now, shows that nothing has changed. Thinking back to Brown v. Board of Education, when the Supreme Court passed the “separate but equal” in schooling, it was clearly major victory in the civil rights movement! The news meant that cities and states could no longer continue keeping separate systems for black and white students. Yet, while the social transformation that Brown v. Board set in motion did have its impact, for a time, it didn’t endure. Today, segregation is resurgent all across the country. Therefore, Common is fighting the same fight MLK did because the changes were not long lasting. Another significance that this song has, deals with Will.I.Am’s chorus. In his verse he says, “My dream is to be free.” This verse really hits me and leads me to pick this as my artifact because he is acting as the voice for African Americans. When he says the dream is to be free, it is indicating that even though the Emancipation Proclamation passed, African Americans are still treated as if they weren’t free. Free from slavery but not racism.
An additional verse that I believe is relatable to what was taught in African American studies is when Common said,
“In search of brighter days, I ride through the maze of the madness
Struggle is my address, where pain and crack lives
Gunshots coming from sounds of blackness
Given this game with no time to practice
Born on the black list, told I’m below average”
Due to the segregated school system, African American children were not offered the same education as Whites. This would be known as de jure segregation. During the Great Migration when families migrated from the south to North (Pittman, 2015), parents took on jobs to support their family and with the absence of the mother; truancy rates were high (Pittman, 2015). With no parental figure around, kids would hang around in the streets. When African Americans migrated to the North, they were kept in segregated neighborhoods, which are often viewed as the ghetto. Thus, Common says his address, or home address, is the struggle where the pain and crack lives. African Americans had problems with housing when they migrated to the North mostly due to agents steering them to low value, lower class neighborhoods (2015).
The rest of the verse is the telling of the story of how a lot of African American youth are growing up during this time without “practice”, they are not taught about how to live in segregated areas or given any explanation why they have to bus across the city to go to school. This is where I see a flaw because the children were socialized and conscious. They were taught to survive in the environment they are in (Pittman, 2015). They are told they are below average and therefore not given the same education as whites. Although the mistreatment that African Americans face, they endured it. To overcome this new era of racism, families relied on religion and spirituality, extended kin, and develop a strong African American identity.
“Flip the page, now my race became freedom
Write dreams in the dark, they far but I can see ’em
I believe in heaven more than hell, lessons more than jail
In the ghetto, let love prevail with a story to tell”
This verse showed positivity and hopefulness. Believing in heaven shows faith and letting love triumph overall shoes the strength in family relationships. By overcoming these obstacles in the ghetto, they have story to tell.
The dream is to be free. MLK dreamt it long ago and it is sad that racism and segregation is submerging once again. This is a forever battle that people of color have to face. Society cannot understand that people are the same and should be treated equal, no matter race or skin color. Freedom of speech is a great outlet to express feelings and many protests are happening today to voice Black Lives Matter as well as other movements. History shouldn’t repeat itself. This song provides a mantra that there is a brighter future ahead. “I have a dream, that one day we gonna work it out.”
Common. A Dream. Common. Rec. 9 Jan. 2007. Will.I.Am, 2007. MP3.
Pittman, Dr. LaShawnDa (2015). The Great Migration [PowerPoint slides].
Pittman, Dr. LaShawnDa (2015). The Great Migration 2 [PowerPoint slides].
Pittman, Dr. LaShawnDa (2015). Lipsitz- Housing & Education [PowerPoint slides].
Pittman, Dr. LaShawnDa (2015). How They Got Over Lecture [PowerPoint slides].
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