Common Sense went to Towson University recently to speak to students.
Common Sense, more commonly known as Common, whose real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., made an appearance on Feb. 27 as part of the university’s Diversity Speaker Series. The goal of the series is to provide information and inspiration for the students.
And that, Common did.
After a short news conference, it was time for the big event. Inside a crowded ballroom at the West Village Commons on campus, he was welcomed by thunderous applause as he made his way to the stage, high-fiving students and faculty as he walked.
He took the microphone and greeted the crowd with a wide, toothy smile.
“I’m really glad to be here at Towson,” he said. The audience cheered.
Then, it was time for a freestyle.
“I’m going to get into a little something for y’all,” he said, before getting into a performance that demonstrated why he is considered one of the best lyricists in hip-hop. He rapped about Susquehanna Terrace at the University Union, Johnny Unitas, the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback for whom the university’s football stadium is named, etcetera.
“Just rollin’ up that street they call York,
“Looking for the place and yo, I kept coming
“They said Common you need to come to the Commons!”
The next line could not be heard because of loud cheering.
“I must be cold they named the building after me!”
Common has released 11 studio albums, nine of his own and two collaborations on which he was featured. He’s won two Grammy awards: Best R&B song in 2003 for “Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip-Hop),” which featured ex-girlfriend Erykah Badu; and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 2008 for “Southside,” with Kanye West, his label mate. Common has also authored several books and has acted in more than 15 films, including cameo appearances. He is considered one of hip-hop’s most influential and creative lyricists.
But Common wasn’t at Towson University to put on a show. He was there as a motivational speaker and life coach. He called the topic of his presentation “Greatness.”
“Greatness is using your gifts to perform at the highest level and inspiring others to reach their highest potential,” he told the audience.
Common’s presentation was about his life and how he was inspired to achieve greatness. He discussed people and events in his life that inspired him. He mentioned being selected a ball boy for the Chicago Bulls and getting his first acting role in the 2006 action thriller “Smokin’ Aces,” as high points; being beaten at basketball by the older kids and getting being scolded by his coaches were childhood learning experiences. He said the story of the 1955 killing of Black teenager Emmett Till by racists “resonated” with him. He credited God, a middle school English teacher, his mother and a favorite cousin who lives in Cincinnati for inspiring him.
He also credited West with helping him to better himself.
“Y’all know Kanye’s got no problem believing in himself,” he said, laughing. “But because of that, he’s helpful to be around.”
The speech was filled with inspirational quotes, both from Common and people he admires. He recited Marianne Williamson’s “Our Deepest Fear” and quoted Mahatma Gandhi, Frederick Douglass and Maya Angelou.
“Work is love made visible,” he told the audience. “If you love what you do and work hard at it, it doesn’t feel like work.”
Other speakers in the Diversity Speaker Series include award-winning poet Nikki Giovanni; peace activist Arun Gandhi, son of Mahatma Gandhi; and Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú Tum.
After the presentation, students had high praise for Common. Several said they had been motivated to improve their lives by listening to his words.
The high point, said Quinzel Mathis, a junior from Greenbelt, was the freestyle.
“The way he was able to put the words together without messing up or losing a thought was baffling,” he said.