By Rev. Dr. Cornell Edmonds
Rev. Edmonds is pastor of The Church of the Covenant, E. 42nd Street NYC across from the United Nations.
As clergy, I think on the perils of worshipping two masters. That lesson seems lost on segments of today’s music industry. Especially around music offerings peddled to our young people. Our community’s values are under assault by the very music it hears and watches. Times existed when we had much more control over what reached the airwaves and came out in print. Today, few Black-owned media companies remain. Thus, the master of profit is winning out over the master of values at the expense of our community’s soul.
Kudos to Adrian Council for his powerful May/June 2021, editorial, “Saving Our Community: What’s Going On.” His message, a call to action by one witnessing their community defiled. A demand for positive change in an industry that co-opts the talents and values of young people of color, in the interests of profit. Jesus said, “It’s not what enters into the mouth that defiles the person, but what proceeds out of the mouth,” His words aptly describe some of the lyrics and videos hitting the airwaves in the name of “artistic expression.”
Noted scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson, wrote in The Mis-Education of the Negro:
If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.
Has the mind of the Black community been so negatively impacted by valueless corporate greed that the music being offered, in and by our community, reflect, little more than a mental race to the ‘back door’ by folk enmeshed in inferior status?
Something has to change. We must become intentionally aspirational in the most positive of ways. Re-educate our communities about its positive history, ‘cultural narrative,’ and positive future. When our aspirations are positive, it is reflected in our music. That’s why Motown endures as a positive force long after many artists ceased recording. The soundtracks of earlier times—whether Sam Cooke’s, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” James Brown’s “Say It Loud,” Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” or Marvin Gaye’s “Save the Children” from the What’s Going On album—reflected our community’s aspirations. Today we are bombarded with music containing vulgar language, sexual innuendo, or threats of violence (and are) absent (of) any positive aspiration. Is that what we’ve become?
Consider Kashe’ Quest, the two-year-old of African American and Indian descent, youngest member of MENSA, whose father, Devon, was born in Harlem. Or think on Zaila Avant-garde, the fourteen-year-old, first African American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee in its 93-year history, a talented basketball prospect and a Guinness World Record holder. Even in their youth, they tell a very different story of who we are and how far we’ve come. They embody the infinite promise that springs forth from positive aspiration. They should not have to live out their dreams in the midst of soundtracks that debase and denigrate young Black girls and boys, for obscene profit and self-centered “artistic expression.” If a change is gonna come, we must hold both the corporations and artists accountable. Then shout from the high heavens, “I’m Black and I’m proud,” because Kashe’ and Zaila are the rule rather than the exception of a proud people. Then, demand the R-E-S-P-E-C-T worthy of a people who have come this far by faith. Finally, unapologetically pursue positive aspirations in our music, businesses, communities, and culture because we must right the ship in order to save the children and their future.