Ray Charles’ ‘America the Beautiful’ is our best hope for bringing us together If a patriotic song can divide us, this song can heal that divide

It would take a genius to ease the antagonisms surrounding the national anthem controversy. I know just the man for the job. His name is Ray Charles.

Often called “the Genius” during a long career, Ray Charles performed unique combinations of rock, country, rhythm and blues, soul, blues, jazz and gospel with such energy and style that he invited fans of one culture to cross over and taste the flavor of another. The fact that he was blind from childhood only added to the mystery of his mastery. He attracted appreciation from white folks and black folks, listeners from the country and the city, rich people and poor people, the up-and-coming and the down-and-out.

“This may sound like sacrilege,” said another piano man, Billy Joel, “but I think Ray Charles was more important than Elvis Presley.”

I remember well the day he died: June 10, 2004. I was in New Orleans, scheduled to deliver a professional workshop on writing and music. A day earlier, a young woman slammed a car door on my left hand. When it was time for the workshop and I sat down at the piano, I learned the meaning of playing with pain. Using just one finger to play the bass notes, I offered my best tribute to Charles, brief versions of “What I Say” and “Georgia on My Mind.”

This tribute wasn’t planned, but I was inspired by what I had seen that morning on the news. It turns out that former President Ronald Reagan had died just five days before Charles. The two had a fine moment together during the final minutes of the 1984 Republican National Convention. Ray delivered his gospel version of “America the Beautiful.”

The effect was mesmerizing. While the crowd was overwhelmingly white, you could not help but notice a change in its demeanor. Some cried. Some swayed. Some nodded and looked up as if it were their first visit to a black church. The Reagans and the Bushes looked on with a curiosity that turned to warmth and then delight. When it was over, Reagan and Vice President George Bush climbed down to where Charles had been at the piano and lifted him up to the top of the stage, where the love of the crowd could wash over him.

Move forward now to Oct. 28, 2001. It is the second game of the World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees, a series delayed by the attacks of 9/11. The debris of the Twin Towers had fallen on a cross-section of Americans, and for a brief interval we were together in our misery, and resolved toward our recovery. Who better to express this emotion than the Genius. At a piano on home plate he once again performed “America the Beautiful.” As he sang and played with an easy soulful pace, people on the field, soldiers and first-responders unrolled a flag that covered the entire outfield. Cheers went up. When they created the illusion of the flag waving, cheers reached a crescendo. Charles rose from the piano bench. I am not sure I have ever seen a performer so moved by the response of an audience. It was almost a dance of delight, holding his face, hugging his body in recognition.

“The Star-Spangled Banner,” “God Bless America,” “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful” have all made a claim to be America’s song. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Our national anthem (like the Pledge of Allegiance) too often carries with it a formalized test of patriotism: “Please rise and remove your caps …” (Hey, this is America. Don’t tell me what to do.)

Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” is easier to sing, but it can be rendered and received in a way that seems cloyingly sentimental. Woody Guthrie wrote “This Land is Your Land” in response to Berlin’s anthem, with choruses that focus on the poor and dispossessed who do not feel so blessed. To my ear, “America the Beautiful — at least the version rendered by Charles — exceeds all of them in its ability to raise our collective spirits.

It was not just this song that allowed Charles to use his powers for healing and reconciliation. In 1966, the Georgia State Assembly refused to seat an elected African-American, Julian Bond, because of his supposedly unpatriotic opposition to the Vietnam War. It took a unanimous Supreme Court decision to seat him.

Turn the calendar forward 13 years to March 7, 1979, to that same body. In what was considered a symbol of reconciliation and racial progress, Charles performed his version of the Hoagy Carmichael ballad “Georgia on My Mind.” At the end the assembly rose as one in tribute. The speaker honored him with having performed a miracle, bringing political antagonists in the legislature together. One month later, they voted to adopt Charles’ version as Georgia’s official state song.

The song “America the Beautiful has its own rich and complex history, giving Charles the artistic freedom to make it his own. That history begins in 1893 when a young English professor from Wellesley College, Katharine Lee Bates, makes a trip across the country to Colorado. From the top of Pikes Peak, she is inspired by natural beauty she has seen. To honor that vision, she composes a poem, America, published in a church magazine for the Fourth of July. After some reworking, the stanzas of the poem become the lyrics of a song. A New Jersey composer, Samuel A. Ward, wrote the music. Over the first half of the 20th century, the popularity of “America the Beautiful” grew and grew, sung in churches, classrooms and patriotic festivals.

Charles recorded the song in 1972. In live performances he followed a consistent pattern, flavored by the improvisations we associate with gospel and soul music. He adds “I’m talkin’ about America” and “I love America, and you should too,” and “Sweet America,” fervent ornaments that offended the few but inspired the many — including my dad.

He begins his version, curiously, with the third of four verses, perhaps the least well-known.

O beautiful for heroes proved

In liberating strife,

Who more than self their country loved

And mercy more than life!

America!

America!

May God thy gold refine,

Till all success be nobleness,

And every gain divine!

Written just three decades after the end of the Civil War, those lines evoke the most traditional tropes of America’s civic religion. They include the heroes who give their lives to protect the country and keep it free. They remind us that we are an exceptional country, blessed by God but imperfect in his eyes. Its gold must be refined. The second stanza prays that “God mend” America’s “every flaw.”

What happens next in the Ray Charles version is especially interesting. He speaks directly to the audience over the music, “When I was in school we used to say it something like this. …” Only then does he sing the original first verse, familiar to generations.

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America!

America!

God shed His grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

It invites the audience to sing along, and we often do, a call-and-response pattern familiar in many churches and a powerful expression of unity, community, love of country — with all its flaws. Sisterhood and brotherhood — from the man who liked to be called not a genius, but “Brother Ray.”

It should be obvious by now that I love Ray’s version. When I sit down at my 100-year-old upright piano and try to play it the way he did, I always wind up crying. But I love “The Star-Spangled Banner” too, even with all those bombs bursting and its two challenging high notes.

There are hundreds of interesting versions, many available on YouTube, including ones in which African-Americans have offered their special take. We know what Jimi Hendrix did with his magical guitar in 1969 at Woodstock. In 1983, Marvin Gaye shocked the world with his slow-jam version before the NBA All-Star Game, the only version of the anthem I have ever seen in which the audience was moved to rhythmically clap along. Whitney Houston gave us the most elegant version before the 1991 Super Bowl. Maybe my favorite anthem moment was provided in 2003 by NBA coach Maurice Cheeks, who rushed to the rescue of a 13-year-old girl who forgot the lyrics. Mike Lupica once referred to this move, by the former point guard, as Cheeks’ “greatest assist.”

I am not advocating replacing the national anthem. I am proposing, instead, that some group (the NFL, MLB, Congress, the Georgia state legislature, ESPN) offer the Ray Charles version of “America the Beautiful” as our hymn of national unity and racial reconciliation. My dream is to one day attend an NFL football game when, at halftime, an image appears on the screen. It is Ray Charles at the piano. As he sings and swings, and hums and prays, we see a montage of images: Americans, including professional athletes, working to help each other through storm and strife. Working across difference to find unity and build community. From sea to shining sea.

This Southern University grad is turning Houston’s crack houses into homes For nearly 30 years, Leslie Smith has been a force for change in the Third Ward

Leslie Smith — 6-foot-3, bald, with a debonair look — may have GQ magazine appearance on the outside, but he certainly has a heart of gold on the inside.

In fact, some say the Southern University College of Business graduate has that Midas touch. With an abundance of dignity.

A minister without a traditional congregation, Smith buys and refurbishes dilapidated crack houses in Houston’s Third Ward and rents the refurbished homes at affordable rates. He has become a force for positive change in a depressed, 90 percent black area in dire need of transformation.

He bought his first crack house in 1989, the year Smith founded and became CEO of a community-help organization that he named Change Happens! (with a swoosh for the exclamation point). By 2017, Smith had purchased a total of 10 crack houses.

One of the dilapidated former crack houses to be renovated in Houston’s Third Ward by Change Happens!

Combine that with the 18 other neglected housing structures he’s purchased, and Smith has renovated 28 homes in Houston.

The 63-year-old Smith explained his mission to The Undefeated: “My work is my ministry. I love to give to those that are living and existing in very poor areas.”

During the Fourth of July holiday weekend, while many of us stuffed ourselves at barbecues, Smith was canvassing New Orleans’ Seventh, Eighth and Ninth wards, areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and still in search of hope.

Smith’s goal: to one day bring to the “Big Easy” his Houston model of transforming ramshackle structures into livable residences.

No holiday for a man on the move

As Smith says, “Time is money.” And access to capital and credit are necessary requirements to accomplish great deeds for the masses.

“Back when we were growing up, your word was your bond. Now, your word is your credit score.”

Theodore Taylor, a 42-year-old tow truck driver, knows about that. He is a tenant in one of Smith’s reconstructed houses. Taylor pays $650 a month for a two-bedroom, single-family home with central heat and air conditioning. These houses, cream-colored with burgundy trim, are surrounded by black iron fences and a feeling of safety, unlike before. Taylor had many kind words for Smith.

“We need more people like him,” Taylor said. “Nobody wants to invest in neighborhoods like this.”

Smith is currently leading a 12-person contingent from Houston to Haiti for a two-week humanitarian mission.

Leslie Smith

The group plans to deliver powdered milk, peanut butter, children’s backpacks and blankets to three orphanages.

“I’ve been doing this for 13 years,” Smith said. He visits Haiti three or four times a year.

Smith got an early start over most in the spirit of entrepreneurship and business acumen. How about at 9 years old?

“One day, my dad told me to come go with him,” Smith recalled. “He took me to a car dealership. He bought a Chevrolet Impala for $2,800. Back in those days, that was a lot of money. He pulled out that $2,800, all in $100 bills. The people at the dealership were shocked; a black man came in and did that. And my dad had only a high school education.”

The lesson: the power of paid in full. No lingering debt. “Cash on the barrel head,” as the folk of wisdom used to say back in the day.

“My dad had a Gulf Oil franchise (service/gas station) back in the late ’50s, early ’60s, in Shreveport, Louisiana,” Smith said. “His mom and dad helped put up the collateral for the franchise, so I consider myself a born entrepreneur.”

Now, with specks of gray in his goatee and an affinity for suits from Dillard’s, the bespectacled Smith lives in a loft in downtown Houston, participates in long-distance bicycle charity events (try pedaling from Houston to New Orleans), vacations in Mexico and retreats to saunas at the area YMCA to de-stress from a wildly busy schedule.

Asked whether he’s a millionaire, Smith responded, “No, I just control the millions. Remember, the bank owns the loans.”

Smith uses the business principles that he learned from Southern and his own entrepreneurial instincts to make a difference.

Donald R. Andrews, the 68-year-old dean of Southern’s College of Business, said we need more black folk like Smith who understand the tenets of small-business management.

“They must understand human resources, product management, sales, payroll management and economics,” said Andrews. “All of that is needed, even if it’s a nonprofit enterprise.”

Recognition for dedicated work

During Southern’s homecoming against Arkansas Pine-Bluff the weekend of Oct. 21, Smith was inducted into Beta Gamma Sigma, an international honor society serving business programs accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Membership in BGS is the highest global recognition a business student can receive in a business program accredited by AACSB International.

Said Smith: “Business administration, marketing, management and entrepreneurship are the educational backgrounds that would help one become a successful entrepreneur. Southern University’s business school taught me the theory and the methodology of the practice of managing and growing a business.”

And Smith has experienced the delight of business growth.

His office is in a three-story brick building that houses Smith’s Change Happens!, formerly known as Families Under Urban & Social Attack. It’s 2,700 square feet, $3 million built from the ground up. The doors opened in 2005, and it’s within walking distance of Smith’s redeveloped houses. The colors of the office building: cream base with burgundy trim, again. “That’s my branding colors,” Smith explained.

“When I first came to the neighborhood and started buying property, a lot of black people thought white folks owned this,” Smith recollected. “They were surprised when they found out it was black people like me who owned these properties. It blew them away. We have to change that mindset.”

The Change Happens! building is the epicenter for Smith’s 70 full-time employees and his 18 community-help programs, which include after-school facilities for adolescents, health care enrollment assistance, youth drug prevention, computer training centers, adult education projects, libraries and more. Smith has gotten federal contracts with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Centers for Disease Control. He’s also been aided by contributions from fundraising events, sponsors and affluent donors.

“Leslie Smith is doing more than just remodeling houses,” Taylor the tenant said. “He’s also making changes. Unlike other contractors in the Third Ward, he’s saying you can stay here but with stipulations: no drugs, break-ins, stealing, none of that stuff.”

When Smith first started buying rickety structures in “Crack House Alley” with a $25,000 bank loan, he had to run off the drug dealers with their pit bull guard dogs and clean up the stashes of dirty needles, drugs and other paraphernalia left behind.

That process didn’t come about without confrontations with dealers and users.

“I told them that’s playing dirty,” Smith remembered. “I told them if they didn’t stop breaking into my houses, I would call the police.”

Then, Smith posted signs scattered about his properties with a rather eye-catching inscription: “God’s Property, Drug Free Zone.”

The criminals got the message. And so have others, in a more positive manner, as Smith has come a long way since 1989.

A heart of gold in a time of need.

Mayweather and McGregor are touring the world and other news of the week The Week That Was July 10-14

Monday 07.10.17

Bertha, the oldest hippopotamus living in captivity in the world, died from multiple organ failures; a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals spokesperson said the hippo lived a life of “boredom, misery and deprivation” while in captivity. Rob Kardashian is being represented in his legal battle with ex-fiancée Blac Chyna by attorney Robert Shapiro, who infamously teamed up with Kardashian’s father, Robert, during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Possibly the result of its franchise being valued at $900 million while subsequently asking for a government handout, the company that owns the Detroit Pistons has been added to a federal lawsuit seeking a referendum vote on $34.5 million in public funds being used to move the team to downtown Detroit. Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd is expecting another … kid. Fox broadcaster Joe Buck once ate a “pot brownie” while in Cabo, Mexico, and after some time, the letters on his phone started “flying off my phone into my face” and he could not feel his legs. An abandoned tourist resort once created by Adolf Hitler to house German factory workers is being transformed into a luxury real estate complex. In what feels like the 10th Ice Age sequel, the fossilized skull of a mammoth was found at the future site of a New York City subway station. Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), filling in for WFAN radio host Mike Francesa, was called a bully and “fat ass” by a caller; Christie shot back that the caller was a “communist” and a “bum.” Donald Trump Jr., like his father, his brother-in-law, the vice president and the attorney general, has hired a lawyer. A Nevada man shot himself in the groin while driving down a highway. Hip-hop artist Tyler, The Creator may or may not have come out in one of the songs on his latest album, and Odd Future group mate Mike G. attempted to clear up the confusion by tweeting, “The homie not gay, he just likes dudes.” Notorious Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, whose new stadium will cost Miami-Dade County over $1 billion while the team currently holds a 41-46 record, is suing a season-ticket holder for refusing to subject himself to future Marlins games.

Tuesday 07.11.17

In a tag team match that could have only been dreamed up by the WWE, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan and former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter are bidding against “Mr. Worldwide” Pitbull and former presidential candidate Jeb Bush to purchase the Marlins. Rob Goldstone, the British music publicist allegedly responsible for Trump Jr.’s legal woes, wears clothing labeled “C–TY,” “SEX” and, not too on the nose, “RUSSIA”; Goldstone also allegedly checked in at Trump Tower on Facebook the day he met with the president’s son regarding potentially incriminating information about Clinton. Trump Jr., still conceivably ignoring his counsel’s advice by “tweeting through it,” effectively snitched on himself by (ironically) releasing emails that prove the information he sought from a Russian lawyer was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), defending Trump Jr., told reporters that one of the things that endears him to the president is how much his kids love him: “He divorced their mothers and they loved him.” Vice President Mike Pence, whose name is Bennett, thus not in it, released a statement through his press secretary denying he was “aware of the meeting. He is also not focused on stories from the campaign — especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign.” President Trump, who has tweeted passionate defenses of his former national security adviser and daughter in the past, released a statement about Trump Jr., calling him a “a high quality person.” Speaking of Trump, former American Idol runner-up and Celebrity Apprentice contestant Clay Aiken claims that the former host didn’t choose who he would famously “fire” on the show: “He didn’t make those decisions, he didn’t fire those people. It was very much, ‘I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.’ ” Ronald G. Wayne, the third co-founder of Apple, said he has never owned an Apple product and does not regret cashing in his 10 percent stake in the company for $800 back in 1976. A New York woman is suing former first daughter Chelsea Clinton for copyright infringement after Clinton published children’s book “She Persisted”; the woman said the book “looks like a ninth-grade homework assignment.” The first promotional tour stop for August’s Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor fight included McGregor wearing a pinstripe suit that read “F— You,” Mayweather saying McGregor had a chance because “a teacher beat Manny Pacquiao,” and McGregor calling Mayweather a “boy” and telling him to “dance for me.” Florida football coach Jim McElwain is still upset that he was confused for a man who was pictured naked humping a dead shark. A Chicago man seen distributing drugs from his car may have given out free samples of tainted heroin that has hospitalized at least eight people. For those who like to get high in the morning, marijuana-infused coffee, cocoa and tea, for use in Keurig machines, are now available for sale in Nevada dispensaries.

Wednesday 07.12.17

University of Utah doctors found that breast implants can slow down bullets. As readers of this article throw up their hands when they notice a fire hydrant in the way, a transportation analytics company found that motorists spend an average of 17 hours a year searching for parking. As lawmakers give up their summer vacation to push through a new health care bill, some Americans are turning to exorcisms instead of doctor’s offices. A Fox & Friends ticker referred to White House adviser Jared Kushner as “Jared Kosher”; Kushner is Jewish. The View host Whoopi Goldberg, in mixed company, told activist Deray Mckesson to “get over yourself” in response to Mckesson accusing producers of War for the Planet of the Apes of making one of the movie’s apes look like him. A New Hampshire McDonald’s is in a messy situation after a woman said her 5-year-old son was covered in poop after coming down a slide at the restaurant. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) introduced articles of impeachment against President Trump, claiming that he “acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States”; the resolution was co-sponsored by a whopping one other member of the House, the aptly named Rep. Al Green (D-Texas). The White House, while attacking the Congressional Budget Office, inaccurately spelled “inaccurately” twice in a video it released. Miko Grimes, the wife of Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Brent Grimes, once beat up the girlfriend of one of Brent’s teammates who was living with them, smokes weed to mellow herself out from fighting, hates Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s wife and was asked by former Dolphins coach Joe Philbin to not post photos of birthday cakes depicting herself performing fellatio on her husband. Supposed musical artist Kid Rock, best known for a riveting speech where he said, “Bawitdaba, da bang, da dang diggy diggy diggy, said the boogie, said up jump the boogie,” is considering running for U.S. Senate in his home state of Michigan. Tennis star Serena “New Money” Williams tried to deposit her first $1 million check at her bank’s drive-thru ATM. A (white male) movie critic started his review of the black-female-helmed Girls Trip by telling Tyler Perry, who is not affiliated in any way with the movie, to “move over” and let “director Malcolm D. Lee show you how it’s done.”

Thursday 07.13.17

Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, once accused of sexually harassing female co-workers and paying out millions of dollars in settlements for the women’s silence, demands that the “press practice the Missouri model: show me. Or shut up.” Former Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa can no longer be used as someone’s “black friend.” A day late, the Department of Justice finally released Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ security clearance forms, showing that Sessions misstated that he never had “any contact with a foreign government.” Conor McGregor’s “F— you” pinstripe suit took months to create and will be available for commercial sale. Trump, speaking for himself, told the audience at a joint news conference in Paris that “France is America’s first and oldest ally. A lot of people don’t know that.” In related news, actor Alec Baldwin was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of Trump during the latest season of Saturday Night Live. The personal attorney for Trump, in response to a man telling him to resign from his job, called the anonymous man a “b—-” and a “piece of s—” and promised that “you will see me.” For a story about undergarments at Wimbledon, The Wall Street Journal posted a tweet that read “Something’s not white” over a photo of Venus Williams; the tweet was deleted. A Texas contractor working at a local bank was trapped in the building’s ATM and had to slip messages through the machine’s receipt slot to be released. Cubs fans, possibly still drunk from last season’s drought-ending World Series title, have not cashed in over 30 percent of bets made in Las Vegas on the 2016 championship game. In more Chicago news, the news of White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana being traded to the Cubs was broken by Reddit users KatyPerrysBootyHole and Wetbutt23. Former UFC champion Jon “Bones” Jones, in response to admitting that he once snorted cocaine before a championship fight, said: “If you can afford to smoke a little weed, and do a little coke, and still win world titles, who’s to tell you you can’t?” Recently unemployed right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos calls his benefactors, billionaire couple Robert and Rebekah Mercer, “mom and dad.”

Friday 07.14.17

50 Cent responded to McGregor calling him a “b—-” on Thursday by posting a photo of the UFC champion being choked out by fellow mixed martial artist Nate Diaz; in other news, the Mayweather-McGregor fight is still somehow over a month away. Kermit the Frog, more than likely not sipping some tea, was fired on his day off. Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio), auditioning for his next presidential run, called the GOP health care bill “still unacceptable” while also finding time to support repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Another person was at the meeting between Trump Jr. and a Russian attorney. Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, still recovering from the Fourth of July, debuted “Mac & Cheese”-inspired children’s shoes, which also resemble the primary colors of the Golden State Warriors. New York City morning radio show The Breakfast Club, which once claimed R&B singer Miguel was gay, ran a Twitter poll that asked, “Who had the gayest hip hop lines?” The Washington D.C. Police Department reminded residents of the district’s marijuana laws by tweeting a gif of late actor Rodney Dangerfield and the movie Super Troopers, and using the words “reggie” and “loud.” O’Reilly, a powerful man accused of hurting folks, tweeted that “there is a growing anger in America that powerful people are hurting the folks.” An Olympic gold medalist was cleared of a drug test violation after an arbitrator concluded that the American man ingested a prohibited substance by kissing his girlfriend. Trump tweeted that he will attend the U.S. Women’s Open, an event he once threatened to sue, which is coincidentally taking place at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), who once criticized a local company for outsourcing jobs to Mexico, will sell his stock in a family business after a report came out that the company uses Mexican labor. Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant, who enjoys using a substance that is legal in nine states and D.C., feels like he needs to have a “man-to-man” talk with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was twice accused of sexual assault (both cases were dismissed).

What do independence and freedom mean to black college students? It’s about music, fireworks and discussion of America and our so-called independence

The Fourth of July has come and gone, but conversations about freedom and independence don’t get old … especially among black college students.

Webster’s Dictionary says freedom is the power to act without restraint, while it defines independence as not requiring or relying on others. How do students feel about the two?

America’s birthday seems to be inextricably tied with fireworks, barbecues and feuds over its significance. Some students simply describe the federal holiday as a day off work. Others joined Chance the Rapper in calling it Malia Obama Day.

When asked about music that inspired or made them think of independence, students spoke highly of songs that encourage economic independence, social justice and hope for black folks:

  • “The Story of O.J.” by Jay-Z
  • “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke
  • “Someday We’ll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway
  • “Revolution” by Arrested Development
  • “The Conquering Lion” by Lauryn Hill
  • “Change” by J. Cole
  • “Glory” by John Legend and Common
  • “16 Shots” by Vic Mensa
  • “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar
  • “F.U.B.U.” by Solange Knowles
  • “Where Do We Go” by Solange Knowles
  • “Candles in the Sun” by Miguel
  • “They Don’t Really Care About Us” by Michael Jackson
  • “Wake Up Everybody” by Teddy Pendergrass

These songs come out of different generations and genres, but the common chord they share is one of unity, equality and perseverance. The beats are so good and the messages are so timeless, this playlist could stay on repeat any day of the week.

Besides music, some college students can point to individuals who are advancing the black community and America at large.

“I think everyone in opposition to the president is actually making America great; Auntie Maxine and Auntie Kamala, I see you!” said Arielle Wallace, 21, a senior at Hampton University.

“Ethnic and social diversity makes America great,” said Demetrius Smith, 36, an alumnus of Morehouse College. “Those outside of the dominant culture hold America accountable to its ideals, which results in slow yet continuous advancement of American society.”

“The charitable donations that Russell Westbrook’s Why Not? Foundation have made to the OKC and L.A. communities has taken another approach other than usual athletes by focusing on education and family service programs while encouraging youth to believe in themselves and ultimately ask, ‘Why not?’ of any situation,” said Jordan Frank, 21, a senior at Clark Atlanta University.

Jenise Williams, 20, a senior at the University of Michigan, sees Independence Day as a time to be with family.

“The Fourth of July is just about me coming together with my friends and family despite all of the craziness of America and the world in general.”

Michigan State sophomore Andrei Nichols questions whether the celebration is premature for people of color.

“For some Americans, it is a time to celebrate freedom that was said to have been granted,” said Nichols, 19. “However, as a black man in America, [I don’t think] freedom was ever granted to people of color. But, hey, what do I know?”

Celebrating America’s independence from British rule may happen once a year, but the fight for individual and collective freedom never stops.

Rapper 2 Chainz transforms his Pink Trap House into an HIV testing center The Independence Day opening of the Atlanta location was more than a tourist attraction

Social media has been the home of photos from tourists and locals posting up on the porch or around Rapper 2 Chainz’s Pink Trap House.

The Atlanta-based home he rented to promote his new album Pretty Girlz Like Trap Music has been temporarily transformed into a free HIV testing center, opened on the Fourth of July, called Trap Clinic. 2 Chainz has been doing some pretty dope things in his community that have not only sparked attention for the album but also opened the rap world’s eyes to his philanthropic efforts.

According to The Atlanta Journal Constitution, his trap house was opened for free HIV testing from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Independence Day. It’s a temporary site that allowed 2 Chainz to partner with the Fulton County Board of Health, Atlanta AIDS and Test Atlanta.

Besides the Pink Trap House being turned into a temporary site for HIV testing, on Sunday the doors of the church were open as it was turned into “trap church.”

“I appreciate 2 Chainz and the whole team for putting this house up, because in a lot of respects it’s reminding people that this is a real thing in our city,” Pastor Michael Wortham told local station Fox 5 Atlanta on Sunday. “So people come and take pictures, put it up on Instagram and walk away, but there are a lot of people who aren’t able to walk away from this daily reality.”

A trap house traditionally refers to a home where drugs are made or where a drug operation takes place. The traditional trap house is something that has been viewed as a negative symbol. Using symbolism to turn the image into a positive source is 2 Chainz’s way of giving back and combating an issue that plagues society: people not knowing their HIV status.

Al Hollie Jr., youth pastor at Greenforest Community Baptist Church, told Fox 5 what the Pink Trap House represents.

“Much love to 2 Chainz, his movement and the culture, but if you’re taking photos in front of a trap house, you haven’t seen the damage it can do to a community,” Hollie said. “The damage I’m talking about is broken homes, taking family members from each other, kids being taken away, fathers going to prison, children being born addicted to drugs.”

Meanwhile, as the Pink Trap House theme grows, many believe it’s a way to take back some of the negative components in the community and turn the trap house theme and culture into a positive image.

Instagram Photo

Instagram Photo

Instagram Photo

Pots & pans: My parents, both born on July Fourth, didn’t live to see their American dream For my father, our nation was fundamentally immoral. My mother saw a work in progress.

Tomorrow, I’ll pause and think of my parents, both born on the Fourth of July. My father grew up in the rural South, part of a sharecropping family. My mother, the daughter of a laborer and a conjure woman, was born in Philly, just as our nation was.

Sometimes, after summer Sunday dinners with Monday’s toil hours away, they’d cruise into a familiar conversation. It would begin with scenic meanderings about what they’d do after they retired. It would end at a fork in the road, if not an impasse: a discussion of how black people should seek to live their lives in America.

My mother, a child of the Depression, gloried in every example of black people doing unprecedented things, from Jackie Robinson playing major league baseball to Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price in opera.

Although my mother didn’t live to see it, the election of Barack H. Obama as president of the United States exemplified her fondest dream: a black person climbing to unprecedented heights, buoyed by hard work, intelligence and faith.

My father, born before the beginning of World War I, saw America as a nation whose fundamental immorality was revealed in its inability to recognize black people as decent and hardworking. If he’d lived, he’d see post-Obama America and the rise of white nationalism here and throughout Europe as ample evidence that nothing had changed and nothing ever would.

My mother felt that things changed all the time. She helped change things in small ways. When she was a young woman, she stood up for herself on her government jobs. “Jeffery,” she’d say, “I was a pistol.”

Had she lived, my mother would have smiled while the black president of the United States spoke at her grandson’s 2016 Howard University graduation. She would have smiled when she learned that her grandson had the audacity to hope he could earn a living as a film critic.

Had he lived, my father would have shaken his head when the black president said in that graduation speech that to make progress folks had to be willing to compromise, even with those they knew were wrong. My father didn’t believe anything could be gained from compromising with people he knew were wrong.

Although my father would not have discouraged my son’s ambitions, Daddy would have shaken his head at a grandson who, like me, didn’t hope to work for himself.

Although my father worked on an assembly line in the 1960s, he’d owned a garage in the 1950s and a store before serving in the Navy during World War II. He’d also tried to start an import-export business. On occasion, he played and hit the street number. He was always looking for ways to free himself and his family from the dictates of workaday life in black America.

His childhood in a sharecropping family had taught him that the people who owned the land and kept the books also made sure that the workers remained in poverty.

My mother believed fervently in the richness of the American promise. While striving for success, she sought to stand on the shoulders of her ambition and commitment to excellence. She thought that setbacks dictated that she or the larger black community had to work harder or employ different strategies, set new goals.

My father believed that anyone who committed himself to competing in a game where he didn’t make the rules was bound to lose again and again.

Neither of my parents lived to retire. Their Sunday conversations from more than 50 years ago live only in my fond memories. But the explosive question of how black people should best pursue the American dream, or endure when that dream gets deferred, gets answered by each new generation in different ways, by individuals and through national movements, Crispus Attucks to JAY-Z, abolition to Black Lives Matter.

As always, the African-American journey continues in our country. We are not alone: We lock arms with everyone who knows that the nation’s greatness is rooted in its people rather than clever phrases. With each step forward, we carry the nation and its most cherished ideals to higher ground.

And the rockets’ red glare.