Now, more than ever, it’s important that our culture’s icons stand up and take the mantle of leadership to give back the motivation, inspiration and self-reflection to the same community from which they have drawn from the most. It’s even more impressive when the person taking a stand is someone we’ve watched grow and mature.
Clifford “T.I.” Harris Jr. is one such individual. He has grown from the loud-mouthed, fist-fighting troublemaker to the stately cultural representative seemingly out of the blue, and, best of all, it seems to have been a truly genuine change.
At the top of the year, following our country’s traditional and orderly exchange of power, T.I. took the opportunity to address the hip hop nation and the world at large about our and its future in a series of letters.
So, in case you weren’t listening…
To Former President Obama
Originally published by the New York Times, Jan. 6, 2017.
You entered humbly into our worlds from the streets of the South Side of Chicago and galvanized a generation. You resonated from the barbershops to the airwaves to the streets of every hood across America. Many of US did not know your name, nor did we truly understand the impact you would have on the world in the years, months and days that followed.
As I reflect, I am filled with gratitude, outrage, grief, anger, humility and appreciation, both for the things you helped bring to light and the many things we still have yet to realize.
For years you fought to keep this nation from the very thing we have now become.
For years, many of US failed you because, as I’ve said before, we were not all ready for the change you wanted to bring about.
But rest assured that we heard you. Rest assured that we felt you and rest assured that your legacy will live on long after your presidency.
Not only did you impact a nation, but you defined a culture and you shook up and woke up a generation.
A generation that unfortunately fears more than ever being further wounded, overlooked, abused, neglected and having to fight for what we now understand is not such a basic right and that is the plight for equality and basic human dignity.
While many of US act like this is something new, those of US who have been fighting, marching and writing about it know that inequality, hatred and bigotry has crippled and silenced US for a very long time. Although we are wounded, don’t count US out of the fight.
We thank you for helping US face and focus on the very issues that plague our communities and diminishes US all. While I, too, responsibly admit to engaging in the behaviors that further perpetuates the negative stigma in our communities, I wanted to thank you for looking beyond our shortcomings.
As I reflect back on my teenage years when I heard my favorite rapper and person, Tupac Shakur, tell me we weren’t ready for a black president, leaving me in nodding in agreement until you brought US the audacity of hope and reminded US that yes we can.
As you transition out of office, we continue to watch you carry out your final agenda with precision, integrity and purpose. That is what we will remember as signature Obama.
For every one of US who has been touched by you and tasked with a choice between finding a way or walking away, I say we can and must do more.
We cannot afford to live in a prolonged state of grief, but must remember that we have no choice but to dust ourselves off, wipe off our wounds and move beyond this barren state of shock.
We will forever be grateful to you and your family, the graceful intelligent compassionate first lady, Mrs. Obama, as well as your beautiful daughters Sasha and Malia for their collective sacrifices for US. WE will continue to stand with you and alongside those who make a personal investment in US. We will continue to remain committed to causes that are bigger than ourselves. We will continue to remind ourselves that, Yes, We still can!
To President Trump
Originally published in Rolling Stone, Jan. 13, 2017.
As I share my thoughts, I want to first say that it’s easy to allow one’s frustration and angst to lead to reckless and harmful rhetoric that can cause irreparable damage. With that said, I want to be responsible, honest and respectful, but in no way apologetic about the rage and resentment that many of US have been suppressing for far too long. In turn, I hope that we can be equally as honest about the prejudice, bias and narrow-mindedness that many of US have felt our nation has been disguising and denying for far too long.
As you transition into your role as the President of the United States, you will undoubtedly be one of the most watched people in the history of the world. So, I can’t help but ask in the midst of our nation’s calamity and discord: What do you want US to see?
“I’m now past bitter and on my way to better.”
Maybe I should take the time to share what many of US would like you to see. Should it ever at times seem as though WE are against YOU, I assure you it’s a result of YOU defining yourself as the representative for those who are and who always have been against US. The deck has always been stacked against US in this country. With every generation there has been strategic steps taken to oppress, imprison and control US. All we’ve ever wanted was equality and empathy as the historically disenfranchised citizens that we are, in a nation that we’ve contributed to just as much as anyone else who calls America their home.
We’ve helped to mold the arts and culture of this country, as well as help build, create and contribute to its greatness, in spite of it all. From an economic perspective, our community’s buying power is THE strongest of all consumers. Yet we’re shown repeatedly that our lives don’t matter as much as our dollars, let alone as that of a person of a different race or skin color. These basic human rights of freedom and equality are ones that EVERY RELIGIOUS BOOK of reference says is a GOD-GIVEN right that should be fought for and defended with one’s life.
We do so much as take a knee during the national anthem and it’s looked upon as Un-American. Yet and still, as many of US continue to live in life-threatening, unspeakable conditions with poisonous water systems, failing schools, broken criminal justice systems, lack of decent healthcare and affordable housing, all while scraping for a basic living wage many of US are still fighting to find our way.
I’m sharing with you some of the things that separate US in hopes of creating healthy dialogue that may hopefully unite US and mend a gaping wound that has gone unattended for generations.
Now, I will be the first to admit and cannot deny that many of US have issues we have not dealt with or addressed. Many of US have been perpetrators of darkness and sometimes destruction. There is no excuse for such actions, but there may be an explanation. When one has been conditioned to have no sense of self and everything has been given to him by his oppressor, from religion to lineage to his name, that leaves a person in imminent darkness leaving them to only be able to offer imminent darkness. So when we speak of such darkness, we cannot and must not forget the source of that darkness.
One of the most prolific figures of all time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. eloquently paraphrased Victor Hugo when asked about the turmoil and state of the Black community. He shared, “Where there is darkness, crimes will be committed. The guilty one is not merely he who commits the crime but he who caused the darkness.”
I can’t help but ask on behalf of all of US … how do we address and hold accountable those who create, allow and prolong the darkness?
“How do we address and hold accountable those who create, allow and prolong the darkness?”
See, I don’t want to disengage from a democracy that I understand many of US would die for. Nor do I want to engage in a democracy where all of US who are a part of it, are not allowed to live with the same basic promise, protections and principles of freedom, equality and justice for all.
I’m now past bitter and on my way to better. Trying to become a better me so that I can better understand how to see a better you and be better for US. If we all just start there, then I believe we can truly make collective progress.
As we continue to go on together as a nation, I apologize in advance for the friction and hostility that inevitably comes with US feeling years of pain, neglect, resentment and not being heard. I am hopeful that we will not go and repeat the mistakes of the past. I am hopeful that we will all work to right our wrongs and become better men and women and a better nation.
In closing, I can’t help but ask one final question man to man. A simple yet profound question recently asked of me. “When the stage is dark and the lights and cameras are off … Who are you? And more importantly, who do you want to be?”
Just a thought to ponder as your passage to the White House begins.
Originally published in Ebony, Jan. 21, 2017.
As I write this letter, I can’t help but express my frustration and concern for US. I also can’t help but question my contribution to the status of where we are. I understand that I too have been guilty of doing the very things that put us here. Even still, right now the state of our community is more alarming than ever. And while I know this letter may be misunderstood by many, unduly dissected and misconstrued by most others, I still need to write and speak about these things that deeply concern me.
You see, all of US sometimes feel that one of the most difficult things in the world is to talk to US about US in an effort to help US. However, we cannot dismiss the fact that we can’t fix what we do not address. You see we’ve somehow allowed ourselves to think it’s okay to neglect and abandon our responsibility to ourselves and to our community. Everything cannot be blamed on THE SYSTEM.
We can no longer afford to be entertained beyond the point of accountability. We can’t keep selling each other out and be willing to do anything to be seen, to be famous or to be rich.
Our obsession with material things and lack of self-worth is evident in our need for an abundance of momentary luxuries and must-have amenities that have no true value for real, man. And I mean, we do it just to impress people that could care less if your children or your children’s children have anything left to show for your life after you gone. You see somewhere along the way, we’ve allowed the pursuit of fame and things to blind us to the issues that prevent us from moving upward. So, we cannot continue to get caught up in having material abundance and yet be fundamentally and spiritually broke.
Every one of us must do something to contribute to transforming our community for the better. We have been underserved, underprivileged and unfortunate for far too long. There are no more excuses. It’s not enough to have limited progress and allow our expectations and sense of purpose to evaporate. So, if that means we must sacrifice some nights at the club and give up buying the latest designer handbags and sneakers…well then damn, so be it. I can only hope that one day soon we’ll understand our true economic buying power by investing in our own communities and putting our money into businesses that keep our dollars in our community.
It is imperative for US to parent our children and educate them outside of the school systems, as our education system was not designed to lift US out of oppression. If we know that the pipelines to prisons are multiplying, well we must ask ourselves what can we do to end it? We must keep ourselves busy with finding ways to generate wealth for generations to come and work to pass down things to our children for them to pass down to their children. You see man, who wants to fight who on Instagram should not be as important as fighting for equality…and who’s f**king who should never be as important as creating a strategy to help break the cycle [of]
You see, if we don’t acknowledge and accept where we are failing, then we’ll never do the work that it takes to make it right for US. See, we are the benefactors of too much sacrifice and blood, sweat and tears to allow petty differences and trivial discrepancies to continue to separate and divide US, while we are being used, exploited and conquered. We should not live one more day ignoring the sh** that suffocates and strangles US keeping US imprisoned in our own communities. We cannot afford to not stick and work together for the betterment of our community.
As we look to the future for US, there could not be a better time to assess where we go from here. And while there’s currently great turmoil, there is even greater opportunity for US to work together to transform our community. Far too many of our children are fatherless, far too many of our mothers are standing in the prison waiting rooms and far too many of our young people feel hopeless.
We must work to reshape the need for our children to want to live so fast even if it means dying too young. Now, I am not here to demonize or vilify, but to pledge my commitment to help US do what needs to be done. You see if we continue to devalue ourselves we cannot realistically expect respect from others.
Now, how can I sit here in a place of privilege and say such things and make such suggestions you ask? Well, I answer simply because I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like to not know where you’re going or how to get there. I know what it’s like to have no one around you who can teach you how to be what you hope to become.
I know what it’s like to be so distracted by your surroundings and in the moment that it’s seemingly impossible to not get caught up in ‘em. I know what it’s like to feel so much smaller than the activities of your environment that you can’t see how not to succumb to ‘em. I know what it’s like to not be able to focus in class due to real life hunger pangs. I know what it’s like to be disruptive just to pass the time and take your mind off what’s lacking at home. I know what it’s like to be laughed at by your teacher when you tell them what you hope to be in life.
I also know what it’s like to be told by your teacher that you’ll never amount to anything.
I know what it’s like to feel hopeless and to feel like you’re not good enough just because of where you’re from. I know what it’s like to be profiled and to be abused by the police. I know what it’s like to be racially profiled, treated unjustly and abused by the police just because of how you look.
But even more importantly than knowing all these things, I know what it’s like to overcome ‘em. Now, I know it’s not easy…but all of US can do something.