The Grammys may be a few days away, but one of its award-winning artists served as the keynote speaker Tuesday night as North Central College celebrated Martin Luther King week.
The “King of Conscious Hip-Hop” artist Common appeared at Pfeiffer Hall at 7 p.m. Tuesday night to deliver a keynote address entitled “Greatness!” during which the Grammy artist, actor and author spoke about finding one’s own sense of greatness and how to achieve it.
“Greatness is about using your gifts to perform at the highest level and inspiring others to reach their potential,” Common told an audience of more than 800. “We use our gifts to inspire others, and some do it without even knowing it.”
Common referenced Michael Jordan, who he said lifted his teammates up to higher levels and “had greatness flow around him.” He also noted others including Dr. King and Jesus, who he called, the “greatest of all.”
Common seemed well suited as the keynote speaker as many in the audience spoke of the performer’s word skills and being inspired by them. Others spoke of his Common Ground Foundation, an organization founded in 2007, dedicated to the empowerment and development of America’s urban youth.
“I am deeply affected by his lyrics and his poetry,” said Montgomery resident Toussaint Egan, an English and communications graduate of Aurora University. “I feel that having Common speak is appropriate for Martin Luther King Week. Dr. King had formidable skills in rhetoric and I feel we need others today to continue the cause and further relationships and human decency. People still need to step up and say what needs to be said.”
Mariana Cury, who is attending North Central from her home all the way in Brazil, said she came to the address Tuesday after being encouraged by her roommate to attend. She believes “the United States has come a long way in terms of equality but that it still has room to grow.”
“I feel as someone who grew up in a foreign country that the U.S. has come far, but still has to continue,” Cury said. “I’ve heard that Common is a great speaker and I wanted to check him out.”
Cury’s roommate Destinee Ganious of Lansing said she believes those who are older than she and with more experience should be listened to.
“I feel we’re all connected and when someone like Common or anyone else speaks, it can inspire us and put some wisdom in us,” Ganious said.
Nick De Falco, who serves as an admissions counselor for the college as well as the men’s tennis coach, said he hoped Common’s “role model” status would inspire students.
“Having someone who has been in the limelight, whether through TV, media, or music makes this tangible for students and the social projects and advocacy we support here,” he said. “I think having someone like Common here makes the movement more real.”
While the majority of audience was composed of college students, Naperville resident April O’Brien said she brought her two daughters as a sort of an “enrichment experience.”
“I don’t feel the schools here in Naperville do enough of a Martin Luther King unit and I wanted to have my children experience something outside of the school,” O’Brien said. “I’m from Chicago and I know Common is too, and he’s eloquent and well-spoken. He offers a message with his raps and unlike so many others I don’t feel he’s over-commercialized but that he stays true to his message.” That message, Common told the audience, is to follow your own formula for greatness.
“You have to find your path, believe in your path, and live it,” he said.