Last June, my band the Alphabet Rockers set out to produce a series of videos for our kids and families to entertain them through the summer. My songwriting partner Tommy Shepherd and I had been writing from a place of racial justice for over a year, and just wrapped a six-month tour that made talking about skin color fun and permissive for whole families. During that time, parents kept asking us how to talk to their kids about the harder topics, such as:
How do I teach my daughter to have self-confidence?
How do I talk to my 6-year-old about police brutality without scaring him?
One week later, Philando Castile was shot in front of his girlfriend and her 4-year old daughter. Tommy and I stopped our video project. We had to write new songs that made racial justice a part of how children framed the world. It would not be comfortable and it would not be easy -- we might puncture the bubble that protects some children’s innocence.
But hip-hop is truth and it’s our time for us to tell these truths. We would find a way to keep our work positive while making the conversation around social justice for our children both honest and joyous. It was our responsibility as children’s artists to give us all a shared language about these complex topics, so we can activate and countering them with our children.
To find the words for these new songs, we turned to poets, leaders, and visionaries who had shifted our thinking for inspiration. James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barack and Michelle Obama, Mahatma Gandhi, Alicia Garza & Opal Tometi, Tupac Shakur, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Harriet Tubman, and especially Maya Angelou, whom I can honestly say changed my life for the better.