Common Name, Uncommon Path

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Common speaking at the Black Caucus meeting

By Jovane Marie

With a career spanning almost three decades, Common’s journey in the spotlight has been anything but.

Along the way, he’s gained an ever-expanding list of titles and credits that run the gamut: rapper, artist, father, actor, activist, model, author, designer, philanthropist, Microsoft ambassador, and Academy Award winner, to name a few.

But if you’re thinking that’s enough to satisfy this modern-day Renaissance Man, you’re wrong. “I revel in the fact that in being all of these things, I don’t have to choose,” said the multi-hyphenate talent. “I want to do and be more…what I’ve accomplished so far is great, but there is always more to achieve.”

Voice of the Future
Common might’ve had his start in the music industry, but he’s no stranger to the world of STEM. In fact, he’s had a long-standing relationship with tech behemoth Microsoft dating all the way back to 2008, when the two partnered to launch Softwear (a play on “software”), a retro clothing line of T-shirts featuring MS-DOS (an operating system) font. Six years later, that partnership was re-birthed as the tech giant searched for a spokesperson to helm its first Super Bowl commercial. Common sent in a tape explaining why he wanted to lend his voice, and the rest—they say—is history. Since the inaugural commercial in 2014, the artist has lent his voice to a multitude of commercials, shorts, and presentations touting the importance of advancing technology and the infinite possibilities created by Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.

“Technology is possibility, adaptability, and capability,” he muses in one spot. “It’s not about changing what came before—it’s about creating what comes next. Right now, we have more power at our fingertips than entire generations that came before us…the question is, what will we do with it?”

Actor to Activist
Common’s firm footing in the entertainment industry might sound like a full-time endeavor, but he has consciously created the time and space to enrich and advocate for the causes he believes in. “The truth is, you don’t have to be an actor, or an athlete, or an influencer to make a difference,” he said in a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ernie Suggs. “All you have to do is have a desire the make the world a better place. Every human being can do it, and I have a desire to do my part.”

L to R-Lamar Johnson, Sabrina Carpenter, Russell Hornsby, Amandla Stenberg, Algee Smith and Common attend The Hate U Give New York Screening at Paris Theatre
L to R-Lamar Johnson, Sabrina Carpenter, Russell Hornsby, Amandla Stenberg, Algee Smith and Common attend “The Hate U Give” New York Screening at Paris Theatre.

This desire has manifested into fervent action focused on increasing and championing diversity and mentoring youth in the inner-cities of his home state, among other things.

In January, he delivered the closing keynote at the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion conference, a gathering of more than 250 Chief Human Resource Officers (CHRO) and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officers (CDO) from an array of Fortune 500 companies on a mission to provide tangible, ready-to-implement strategies to encourage and increase diversity and inclusion both internally and within their local communities.

“My interest in promoting diversity was rooted in my looking in these communities and seeing certain people not having access to the same opportunities,” said the ardent advocator. “The undeniable fact is that we need to see more women and POC [people of color] in positions of power—same for different beliefs and those in the LGBTQ+ community.” “We have to figure out ways to increase the diversity, and that starts with a conversation. For me, I love being in a position where I can be a part of the paradigm shift and contribute to that conversation.”

Common performs onstage during OZY Fest
Common performs onstage during OZY Fest 2018 at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park in New York City.

Speaking to C-suite leaders about diversity isn’t the only way Common is lending his voice to the diversity conversation. In 2018, after African-American business partners Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were racially profiled in a Starbucks—causing national outrage—the chain subsequently closed 8,000 stores for a day to conduct anti-bias training. The voice they heard in those videos, stressing the importance of anti-discrimination and inclusivity? Take a guess. The art of the give-back has further manifested into the creation of the Common Ground Foundation, an organization dedicated to reach and impact inner-city youth in Chicago through mentorship and college-preparation programs. For more than a decade, the foundation has intimately focused on nutrition, healthy living, financial living, character development, and creative expression—even holding youth leadership conferences and summer camps. With more than $230,000 in scholarships awarded, a 100 percent graduation rate among participants, a 99 percent college attendance rate, and more than 2,500 collective hours of community service provided to the community, the organization has earned the distinction of an impactful labor of love.

Common with classroom full of school children.
Common visits NYC elementary school for Back-To-School fundraising with Burlington Stores and AdoptAClassroom. JAMIE MCCARTHY/GETTY IMAGES

“I started the Common Ground Foundation because I wanted to help,” said the philanthropist. “I think making a difference in the lives of others is life’s greatest purpose, and I always believed that of we started with the youth, we’d be planting the seeds for our future to blossom.”

A Tale of Common Sense
Common, born Lonnie Rashid Lynn to an educator mother and youth counselor father, was raised in the Calumet Heights neighborhood of Chicago, where his foray into the world of music developed and thrived. Talented and precocious, he was writing lyrics by age 12, and at 15, formed a rap trio—C.D.R.—with two high school friends. Far from just an after-school hobby, the group served as an industry incubator, not only building his proficiency in writing, producing and performing, but also aiding in his personal branding as an artist.

“C.D.R. represented so much in my life, and it was the birthplace of a lot of artistic firsts,” remembered Common. “That acronym was a revolving door of different meanings—it mainly stood for Corey, Deon, Rashid [our names], but on other days, it was Compact Disc Recorder, or Recording Def Rhymes. We were learning how to record, making demos, writing songs, performing—just trying to figure ourselves out and do our thing.” Influenced by hip-hop’s titans of the time, including LL Cool J, Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, NWA, and Rakim, C.D.R. went on to gain a footing in the industry, having their songs played on the University of Chicago’s local radio station and opening concerts for Big Daddy Kane, Eazy-E, and Too Short.

Upon graduation, Common enrolled at Florida A&M University under a scholarship, where he majored in business administration. His artistic streak remained uninterrupted, however, and in 1991, after being featured in The Source magazine’s Unsigned Hype column, he left A&M to sign with Relativity Records. It was under this label that he released his first album, “Can I Borrow a Dollar?”, using the moniker Common Sense. The album was an underground success, and laid the groundwork (as well as a growing fanbase) for his subsequent albums and collaborations. To date, Common has won more than 20 awards from various distinguished award bodies for his lyrics, albums and performances, including a 2015 Academy Award for his and singer John Legend’s original song “Glory” (from the Selma soundtrack), three Grammys, four BET Awards, a Golden Globe, and an Emmy. He has also garnered over 40 nominations in the music industry.

More than Music
Had Common been content to produce records, pull awards, and perform his hits for dedicated fans around the world, that might’ve been the end of the story. But, true to his character, he always had his sights set for more—much more. He began making his mark in the film and television industry in the early 2000s, often making cameos as himself and later evolving into more complex roles in well-known films, such as American Gangster (starring Denzel Washington), Wanted, Just Wright, Suicide Squad, Selma (as activist James Bevel), and installments of the John Wick franchise, to name a few. His constantly growing acting portfolio, which currently includes more than 40 films, supports a long-term goal to eventually become one of the great actors of our time.

Common standing posing with his childrens book
Common with his children’s book, “I Like You but I Love Me”.

“I’m still working to get to where I want to be, and I’m always working to get to the next level,” he said. “The majority of roles I want, they’re looking at other actors for. But I’m always going to fight to prove myself.” As he works tirelessly to widen his range and nab multifaceted roles, Common is also focused on another goal: helping amplify the creative voices of others through his nearly five-year-old production company, Freedom Road Productions. To date, he has executive produced Showtime’s popular drama The Chi (created by screenwriter Lena Waithe, the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series), and last year, signed a deal to develop and produce new television series with Lionsgate TV.

On the Horizon
Common’s career in the spotlight has diverged into many paths during its three-decade journey, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Add to that his impactful work in mentorship, advocacy, and diversity, and a bevy of new projects within all of these fields, and it’s safe to say that he may never stop. Next up is his second book, Let Love Have the Last Word, a personal anthology exploring the core tenets of love to help others give and receive love to live better lives and build stronger communities. Following on the heels of his New York Times best-selling memoir, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, the book is sure to be a page-turner.

On the film front, the actor will feature or star in three upcoming films: The Informer, The Kitchen, and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Several TV series in collaboration with Lionsgate are also in the works. Simply put, Common wants to expand his experience, provide opportunities for others, and inspire.

“I want to live my passions, help others do the same, and make the world a better place, as much as I can,” he said. “This—all of this—inspires me to work harder and do more.”

Watchmen: An HBO Limited Series

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Watchmen movie poster

Set in an alternate history where masked vigilantes are treated as outlaws, WATCHMEN, from executive producer Damon Lindelof embraces nostalgia of the original groundbreaking graphic novel, while attempting to break new ground of its own.  Regina King leads a cast that includes Jeremy Irons, Don Johnson, Jean Smart and more.

ownhbo.com/watchmen

#WatchmenHBO

Magic Johnson will provide $100 million to fund loans to minority-owned businesses

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Magic Johnson in a business suit

Magic Johnson may no longer be playing in the NBA, but the Hall of Fame member is still making valuable assists. Johnson announced that EquiTrust Life Insurance Co., of which he owns a majority, is providing $100 million in capital to fund federal loans for minority and women business owners who have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

EquiTrust will work with MBE Capital Partners, a lender that specializes in asset-based loans for minority-owned small businesses, to distribute the loans through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program.

The loans are aimed at supporting people of color and women who operate businesses in underserved communities, according to a news release.

The news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

“These are incredible businesses, small businesses, that have been the pillar of our community that also employ a lot of black and brown people in our community,” Johnson said Sunday on MSNBC. “… We wanted to make sure that minority-owned businesses got small business loans through the PPP program.”

Concerns about people of color accessing loans

The partnership was borne out of a concern that women and people of color were having difficulty accessing the loans offered by the Small Business Administration’s emergency coronavirus relief program — part of the federal government’s massive stimulus package.

“Johnson’s EquiTrust is providing critical financial support to underserved communities and businesses that have been traditionally neglected,” EquiTrust and MBE Capital Partners said in a joint news release. “These small and diverse businesses often have difficulty developing strong lending relationships with big banks.”

The goal is to help 100,000 businesses secure resources that will sustain them through the pandemic, MBE Capital CEO Rafael Martinez said on MSNBC.

Continue on to CNN to read the complete article.

Meet Brittney Nicole: Navy Veteran Turned Fashion Entrepreneur

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A clothes rack filled with women's coats

Transitioning from military life back into civilian life is a challenge for any veteran. While there are many different approaches in choosing a career, one U.S. Navy Veteran decided that she would approach her career choice by following her passions.

Always having a love for fashion, Brittney Nicole decided to open her own clothing business, Coco’s Wardrobe, upon her retirement from the U.S. Navy.  The New Orleans based boutique designs, manufactures, and sells women’s clothing that is meant to look as good as they feel, blending comfort with style. All of the clothing in Nicole’s shop has a women’s desire to feel confident and comfortable at the forefront of everything that is produced.

In addition, Nicole has also began selling uniquely designed face masks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meet UCLA’s First African American Athletic Director

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Martin Jarmond in a suit speaking at a conference

Martin Jarmond, the first and most recent athletic director at Boston College and the youngest director to ever be in the Power Five Conferences, will be breaking another record with his newest position.

On May 17, it was announced that Martin Jarmond will become the new athletic director of UCLA. This will make Jarmond the first African American man to hold the position in the school’s 101-year history.

Having an extensive background in sports both on the court and in his studies, Jarmond has quickly been able to move up the ladder of sports administration and is speculated to be the perfect fit to help UCLA fix the financial debt of the previous year’s $18.9 million deficit.

Continue on to the L.A. Times’ Website to read the complete article.

Photo Credit: Stephen Senne/Associated Press

United Airlines appoints First African American President

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Brett J. Hart headshot

Chicago based United Airlines announced Brett J. Hart as the company’s President. The number two leadership role being filled by Mr. Hart is part of the company’s leadership succession plan that was announced in early December.

“I am honored and energized as I take on these new responsibilities to lead this incredible team that I am convinced will build United into a thriving industry leader,” Hart said. “The path forward will not be easy, but I am confident that Scott and I will continue our partnership to lead United through the extraordinary challenge posed by COVID-19. United’s bright future is only possible because of the commitment of the most talented airline professionals in the world who serve United and our customers every single day – and I could not be prouder of them.

Hailing from the southside of Chicago Brett J. Hart was educated at the University of Michigan and received a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Chicago Law School. Hart is the first African American to become President of United Airlines in the airline’s 94-year history.

Hart was a partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal in Chicago. Before that, he served as a special assistant to the general counsel at the U.S. Department of Treasury in Washington, D.C. Later he would go on to work for the Sara Lee Corporation as the executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary, where he directed global legal operations. Hart joined United Airlines in 2010. Over his 10-year career with United Hart has taken on significant responsibilities within the company. Hart has previously worked as Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer for the company. In 2015 he stepped in and served as interim CEO for six months while the then CEO Munoz recovered from a heart transplant.

As President of United, Hart will continue to lead the company’s public advocacy strategy, including the Government Affairs, Corporate Communications, Legal and Community Engagement teams. He will also continue to oversee business-critical functions like the Corporate Real Estate team and manage United’s industry-leading environmental sustainability efforts. His responsibilities will expand to include managing the Human Resources and Labor Relations teams.

Hart taking this position comes as he, along with other executives, are waiving their salaries for a time as the company struggles financially. Like others in the airline industry, United is trying to deal with the losses from Covid-19.

Continue on to Chicago Defender to read the complete article.

The Original Broadway Showing of Hamilton is Coming to a TV Near You

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Lin Manuel Miranda on stage as Alexander Hamilton

By Natalie Rodgers

A fully taped production of the Broadway hit, Hamilton, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is being released to Disney+ in its entirety on July 3, 2020, just in time for Independence Day.

Originally due to premiere as a theatrical release on October 21, 2021, the movie has been moved up to provide a sense of hope and comfort due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of the cultural and historical impact that Hamilton has had since its Broadway debut in 2015, Disney plans to make the experience more captivating and to include as Disney quoted, “the best elements of live theater, film, and streaming.”

Creating this kind of atmosphere will not be a difficult task, due to how the filmmakers have already produced it. The production was filmed from various camera angles from the show’s original Richard Rodgers Theatre home and filmed across three different performances in in 2016.

The production will include all of the original Broadway cast members, including Leslie Odom Jr., Renee Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, Jonathan Groff, Daveed Diggs, upcoming In the Heights star Anthony Ramos, and of course, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton.

 

Photo: Getty Images 

LA Pride Festival Cancels In-Person Celebration, Will Go Digital

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LA-pride-2019

On its 50th anniversary, the iconic Los Angeles Pride Festival and Parade, which normally draw hundreds of thousands of people to West Hollywood in June, will be going digital because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Organizers recently announced that the festival will instead be held virtually on several digital platforms over a period of months and spanning into 2021.

Back in mid-March, Christopher Street West – the nonprofit group in charge of putting on the festival, announced that it would be postponed. However, it was confirmed that the festival has been canceled the in-person celebrations, and will instead return in 2021.

“Due to the evolving effects surrounding COVID-19, CSW has made the responsible decision to forgo in-person LA Pride celebrations for the remainder of the year,” the group said in a statement. “The organization will instead re-imagine how it will celebrate its 50th anniversary through new and exciting initiatives hosted on its digital platforms, with the hope of returning to a physical celebration in 2021. More details will be announced soon on how Los Angeles will celebrate its 50th Anniversary through exciting digital initiatives.”

The three-day festival is one of the largest LGBTQ celebrations in the nation.

CSW said it would roll out its digital initiatives in the coming months.

Continue on to CBS Los Angeles to read the complete article.

Unique Ways to Thank your Essential Workers

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Thank You to Essential Workers in Fight Against Covid-19

From doctors and nurses to grocery store clerks and pharmacists, our essential workers are showing up every day to keep us safe and healthy during this time.

We are so thankful for each and every one of these workers, but how can we better show our gratitude and encourage them along the way? Here are four unique ways you can thank our essential workers.

1) Make a Sign

This is a relatively easy one that can be done by the whole family. Create a sign to hang from your window, car, or front yard that can be easily seen by essential workers driving or walking by your home. This little sign of encouragement shows they are being appreciated, even when we cannot personally thank every single one of them.

2) Support Their Families

During this time, essential workers are often working longer hours, and many are unable to be fully present for their families during this time. Check up on the families of essential workers in your life, and see what you can do to help. Delivering groceries, making a meal, or simply being a good listener can help ease the stress of the families who are struggling with the new lifestyle of their essential loved one.

3) Feed the Frontlines

Especially for medical professionals working long hours, getting a proper meal may be the last thing on their mind while trying to help others. Ordering food to be delivered to local hospitals, firehouses, grocery stores, and other essential businesses will not only show them your appreciation but could also ease their especially stressful work day. Ordering food will also help restaurants stay in business!

4) Stay at Home

The best way to show respect for those who are working so hard to keep us safe is to adhere to their wishes and stay inside. Washing our hands, keeping ourselves healthy, and social distancing are just a few of the ways that we can all slow the spread of the virus and speed up the process of bringing our essential workers home sooner.

How Sean Combs is Supporting and Protecting Small Businesses

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Sean Combs "Diddy" headshot

On April 23, Sean Combs, previously known as “Diddy” in the music industry, released his newest project, Our Fair Share, which aims to help minority-owned businesses obtain the materials needed to participate in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

A benefit that primarily goes to businesses that have the proper “connections,” Combs wants to ensure the small businesses that we love and depend on have the same opportunities as the bigger corporations.
“COVID-19 is devastating our communities, and without access to stimulus funding, we risk losing critical businesses that create jobs and help build opportunities and wealth in our communities,” said Combs. “I created Our Fair Share to help entrepreneurs play on an even playing field and give them a chance to survive with the hope to thrive.”

To do this, Combs’ new program has teamed up with National Bankers Association, a group that represents minority-owned financial institutions. Through Our Fair Share, the National Bank Association can connect their clients to financial technology companies that will be able to provide the PPP materials and loans needed.

To learn more about Our Fair Share, its origin, and its purposes, click here for the full press release.

LeBron James, Bad Bunny, Jonas Brothers to throw class of 2020 a virtual graduation

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LebRon James speaking in front of large audience

The LeBron James Family Foundation recently announced that it will celebrate seniors in a special event called “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020″ at 5 p.m. Pacific on May 16 with help from superstar guests.

The Los Angeles Lakers star has drafted Bad Bunny, Pharrell Williams, the Jonas Brothers, Chika, YBN Cordae, H.E.R., Ben Platt, Megan Rapinoe, Yara Shahidi, Lena Waithe and Malala Yousafzai for the hourlong special. It will air simultaneously on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and the streaming platforms Complex Networks, Facebook app, Instagram, People TV, Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube.

We learned early on in our work with students and families in Akron that education is so much more than academics. It’s about a shared experience, a journey we’re all on together — students, parents, educators, community members and everyone around them. With that not being possible right now, we’ve been working to find ways to help families get through this really difficult time,” James said in a release.

“These students have worked incredibly hard for this and there’s no way we can let that go unrecognized. While this won’t be the graduation experience they were supposed to get, we hope we can still give them something special because they deserve it,” the basketball great added.

The commercial-free, multimedia event — which will be curated by high school students and educators across the country with support from the American Federation of Teachers — will feature a collection of vignettes, commencement speeches and celebrity performances.

Students, families and teachers will be encouraged to submit photos and videos using #GraduateTogether for a chance to have them included in the telecast. Don’t know what to do with your senior portrait? Artist JR is inviting seniors to share them for the virtual yearbook celebrating the nation’s 2020 high school graduates. Local TV stations also will feature shout-outs to high school students in their communities.

Continue on to the LA Times to read the complete article.

BECOMING – OFFICIAL TRAILER

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MIchelle Obama book jacket cover

BECOMING is an intimate look into the life of former First Lady Michelle Obama during a moment of profound change, not only for her personally but also for the country she and her husband served over eight impactful years in the White House.

The film offers a rare and up-close look at her life, taking viewers behind the scenes as she embarks on a 34-city tour that highlights the power of community to bridge our divides and the spirit of connection that comes when we openly and honestly share our stories.

Film Release Date: May 6, 2020
Format: Original Documentary Feature

Directed by: Nadia Hallgren
Produced by: Katy Chevigny,
Marilyn Ness, & Lauren Cioffi
Co-Producer: Maureen A. Ryan
Executive Producers:
Priya Swaminathan & Tonia Davis

A NOTE FROM MICHELLE
I’m excited to let you know that on May 6, Netflix will release BECOMING, a documentary film directed by Nadia Hallgren that looks at my life and the experiences I had while touring following the release of my memoir. Those months I spent traveling—meeting and connecting with people in cities across the globe—drove home the idea that what we share in common is deep and real and can’t be messed with.

In groups large and small, young and old, unique and united, we came together and shared stories, filling those spaces with our joys, worries, and dreams.

*BECOMING is the third release from Higher Ground Productions and Netflix*

To view the documentary now available on Netflix visit, netflix.com/Becoming.

#IAmBecoming

Proof that Diversity and Inclusion Must Continue Now more than Ever

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Diverse Equality Gender Innovation Management Concept

Publishers Note: These last few weeks have been anything but normal. Many, including DiversityComm, have taken to working from home, and it’s difficult to not worry about the future. As the days go on, I’ve been facing the reality that life in COVID-19 has become a new normal of sorts and the possibility of a recession isn’t completely off the table.

Having been in the business for over thirty years and the complications that came with the 2008 and 2011 recessions as well as the events of September 11, 2001, I have learned that diversity and inclusion are and continue to be the keys to keeping business moving. Studies show that racially diverse companies are 35% more likely to see an increase in financial returns in comparison with their competitors while companies that have a more cultural and ethical variation in their boards are 43% more likely to experience a higher income. Groups of diverse thinkers of three or more members have also tested to be more successful than an individual 87% of the time.

All of this being said, how does this work? And how do these diverse connections keep business working?

  • Have Empathy
    1. COVID-19 is hard on everyone, but other groups of people will be experiencing this in a different way than others. Check in on your clients and employees on how they are doing during this time. Listen to what they say and educate yourself on how this situation is affecting their lives. People want to work with people who truly care about who they are and understand them on a real, human level. When they feel like they are genuinely being heard and cared for, they will remember your willingness to help and want to strengthen their connection with you. The same goes for employees. When employees feel they are being cared for, they are encouraged to increase work efficiency and less likely to contribute to the turnover rate.
  • Re-Focus Your Goals
    1. As the world seems to be on “pause” lately, this is the perfect opportunity to plan for the future. What projects and aspects can you invest in now to setup your business for a higher success rate in the future? Once you refocus your goals and have a plan for what projects you want to carry out, then you can start building a team of qualified individuals. You will want a team of people that have expertise in a variety of areas so that every aspect of the project will go above and beyond the call of duty. If your team consists of a group that all have the same background, culture and life experience, the chances that something will be left out will increase. Will your project be accessible? Does it meet the standards in every area? A diverse group can ensure that all these questions are handled.
  • Learn and Grow
    1. It’s easy to look at your past experience, available data and old traditions as a template for how to run your business. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it is critical that we continue to learn and grow with the times. We are in a digital age and there are so many opportunities that can be seized through it. Though a digital form of business was almost nonexistent several decades ago, the willingness to keep up with the times is key for a business in today’s age to succeed.  Listening to a variety of opinions from varying backgrounds and experiences will not only show you how to more effectively work your business, but will increase creativity and innovation in the workplace. The more educated we become, the more expanded our ideas and strategies will become.

The times are changing and uncertain, but when we focus on our team, employees, clients, partners, and connections while keeping an open mind to the changing times, we will succeed and we will get through this. We find strength in diversity and inclusion.

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