Credit: Latoya Wright, Wright Now Photography
Georgia Alliance for Progress honors rapper Common at annual democracy dinner
Audiences know Common as an actor, rapper and author with a smooth delivery on the screen, stage and page.
His name is Lonnie Lynn, Jr., and he started his career in Chicago with the nickname Common Sense in the early 1990s. Today, the 51-year-old has received three Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and a Golden Globe Award.
He considers Georgia almost like a second home, given the amount of time he's spent here working on movies such as the 2014 Atlanta-filmed Selma (for which he shares a Best Song Oscar for "Glory"), launching his 2019 novel Let Love Have the Last Word at a book signing in Decatur or performing that year with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at Chastain Park.
Last night at the Atlanta History Center, Common was honored by the Georgia Alliance at its annual Democracy Dinner for his work to encourage voter participation. Other honorees included the Ben & Jerry’s company, Melanie Campbell, Bobby Fuse, Hillary Holley, Krista Brewer, Bertis Downs, Scott Satterwhite, Billy Hall and Leslie Palomina. The event's host committee included Arndrea Waters King and Martin Luther King III.
The Alliance is a coalition of more than 100 organizations across the state focused on equity, justice, voting and progressive policies.
Its executive director, Christine White, served as a co-host on the former GPB-TV show A Seat at the Table, which brought together women with different perspectives to discuss family, careers, health and finance. Before she presented the evening's awards, White spoke of her grandmother and compared progress to the patience of growing a garden and tending to both its weeds and flowers.
She presented Common with the Culture of Democracy Award for his work in 2020 and 2022 to engage with voters as he spent time in Georgia on the campaign trail with Stacey Abrams, Raphael Warnock and Joe Biden.
During his speech, Common, who helms the nonprofit Common Ground Foundation in Chicago and the Imagine Justice concerts there, said Georgians could count on him to be a good neighbor in furthering issues of racial equality and progressive policies in the state.
"I'm gonna be here, and not just during election years, I'll be here," he said. "And let's do more. I believe we've got great things ahead of us here in Georgia."
In an interview with GPB before the ceremony, Common said his political visits to Savannah, Augusta and Columbus included knocking on voters’ doors on behalf of Democratic candidates. But his primary focus was encouraging voters to cast a ballot and participate in the process.
"I remember one woman who really talked to me about why she didn't believe she was she sure that Stacey Abrams was the right person [for governor]," he said. "And I was really doing my best to convince her and let her know the things that she stood for and what Stacey Abrams could bring. And just us actually getting out and voting for this would be life changing for generations."
He then said Abrams' campaign manager handed the prospective voter a phone with Abrams on the line: "And I thought it was like, 'Hey, man' ... It was just the energy and how she communicated with her."
Common said he doesn't know how the woman voted, but it did not matter. "We're here because we care about each other," he said. "And it just it just showed me ... the potential Georgia has."
Common also talked about the importance of his faith and music.
NPR and PBS fans may remember his historic Tiny Desk from the White House Library in 2016 during the Obama administration, when he sang "The Day The Women Took Over" and a reprise in 2018, when he, Robert Glasper, Karriem Riggins and Brandy returned to the Tiny Desk in DC to perform gospel group Sounds of Blackness' "Optimistic." That 1991 song resurfaced in 2017 as an anthem of perseverance — and one that Common said reminded him that faith can be reassuring in times of global instability, like this month with the conflicts in Israel and Gaza.
"Looking at the things that we are witnessing and experiencing in this world, you have to put your faith and your hope in better days and greater times, and that the potential of what God can bring out of us," he said. “I think it's very important that the optimism is there and seeing it is there. Because when it is in sight, you can get there. That's been the way that I've been able to do anything I'm doing in life, is I had to see it at some point before it was there and feel that in my soul to do the work to get there. And when things didn't go perfect, I still had the sight already. You know, you heard the term 'eyes on the prize'? I kept my eyes on the prize."