In 1995, I owned a blue Dodge Colt. For some reason, I decided to put two ten inch speakers in the back and buy a top of the line Alpine tape deck (yes, I said tape deck). Hailing from Georgia, there were two groups that spoke my language in the rap game around that time, Outkast and Goodie Mobb. At the time, hip hop was in its adolescent years. DJ Kool Herc, Grand Master Flash, Sugar Hill Gang, Run DMC, and Public Enemy were all pioneers of a movement that began to captivate millions nationwide. Alas, in its early stages hip hop was seen as a predominantly East Coast/West Coast thing. But in a small pocket in Southwest Atlanta (the SWATS) in the early 1990’s a group would emerge that would put the South on the map. The Dungeon Family began in the basement (i.e. the Dungeon) of one Rico Wade. The second project from membes of this outfit was aptly entitled Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. This release would serve to legitimize the South in the hip hop world and welcome them to the family.[featured-image]
As I rode down Altama Avenue in Brunswick, Georgia one hot June afternoon, I came across the track Git Up, Get Out on the album. The lyrical depth was so striking that I had to keep pressing rewind on my tape deck just to take in what was being said. Particularly hard hitting was this:
Y’all tellin me that I need to get out and vote, huh. Why?
Ain’t nobody black runnin…so, why I got to register?
I’m thinkin of better [stuff] to do with my time…”-Outkast’s Andre (pre-Andre 3000) on Git Up, Get Out
How could you blame him? He was just speaking his mind. As a young black male growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, the drug game ruled supreme. The crack epidemic was reaching its zenith, taking down more and more people in the black community every day. Vote? For what? Forget vote, why do I even need to register? Is that going to help my mom put food on our table? Is that going to keep the heat and the lights on? Reaganomics aint helping me and a televised Just Say No campaign that doesn’t descend into my community certainly aint gonna help me overcome the peer pressure I get daily to escape the cares of this world.
I grew up in a middle class, rural family, so my experience pales in comparison to what urban kids were experiencing at the time. But for that moment, I felt his pain. There was a connection there, even though we were 450 miles apart. The futility of voting was a shared experience. “Aint nobody black running, so why I got to register?” I held my elbow out the window, attempting to take in what little breeze was blowing on this June afternoon, as I let the lyrics set in. I feel you bro. I feel you.
In August of 1997, I walked up a red clay hill toward Martin Luther King International Chapel on the campus of Morehouse College. As I approached, I recognized a statue of Dr. King pointing. What was he pointing at? t appeared he was pointing toward Spelman College (the girl’s school across the street). Was this a sign for me to take as many classes as I could at Spelman? Was he pointing to a young, harmonal male’s promised land? While at Morehouse, over time I realized he was pointing to a promise. A promise of future progress. At Morehouse, I learned that it wasn’t just learning that was fundamental. Voting was just as fundamental. Having taken Constitutional Law and Race and Law, I began to realize the responsibility I owed to my ancestors to exercise my suffrage rights.
This is what prompted my “procrastinating, non-absentee ballot requesting” self to get on the road on Tuesday, November 7, 2000 and drive four hours to vote in my precinct in my hometown. Although I had class the next morning and would turn right back around and head to Atlanta, there was no way I would not vote in an election this important. And that was despite the fact that Georgia was (and still is) overwhelmingly Republican. As I traveled back to Atlanta, something ironic happened. I was pulled over in a small Georgia town by a local police officer. Unfortunately, small Georgia town and police officer are not two words you want to see in the same sentence. I had a white Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight at the time. It and the Cadillac had similar body styles. I was asked to exit the vehicle, the officer called two more units (including a canine unit) to back him up, and asked me to pop my trunk so they can search for drugs. Here I am, just exercised my right to vote and I’m being harrassed by some small town cop. Little did he know that my Constitutional Law knowledge was top notch. Not only did I embarrass him and his colleagues with search and seizure jargon, they apologized for pulling me over and left the scene before I could get back in my car.
What a long way I have come. What a long way WE have come. And what a long way WE have to go. And I’m not just talking about black people. This nation made significant strides last night. People wept. White, black, brown, orange, yellow. Color didn’t matter. Change mattered. I can’t help but think that the statue of King that sits on Morehouse’s campus prophetically points to a brighter future. I wonder how Outkast feels now. I don’t think we need to look any further than one of its member’s recent collaboration with Mary J. Blige for the answer:
Out on parole with the promise that he’ll do right, but a felon has no chance for a new start, so its back to doing hand to hand on his own life, and blacknights were all the same, and I know you feel my pain, and the only hope I have that help me deal with the drama, is that maybe in November I’ll be cheering for Obama.-Outkast’s Big Boy on Somethin’s Gotta Give
What a difference thirteen years makes. I’ve seen these brothers move from, “Why I got to register” to “in November I’ll be cheering for Obama.” Again, my sentiments exactly. We both took different routes to arrive at our conclusion, but the commonality of the young black male’s experience in voting (or deciding not to vote) cannot be overlooked. Certainly, that is change I can believe in.