For the third year in a row, Roosevelt University hosted the American Dream Reconsidered Conference, bringing in speakers of various expertise to talk about “Activism in an Age of Polarization.” The conversation started with moderator, Tom Philion, dean and professor at Roosevelt’s College of Education, and Common, founder of the Common Ground Foundation. The beginning of the conversation focused on The Common Ground Foundation, which works on helping inner city youth by teaching character development, social impact, healthy living, technology, financial literacy, creative arts and global leadership.
Philion asked Common what motivated him to start the program. Common explained it was the empowerment through his education and hip-hop that gave him his own voice and ultimately opened his eyes to developing such a program.
“I realized that’s what I want for all my children. I want my children to find something that their passionate about,” Common said. “Something that they really love and discover that voice and develop that voice. And apply it that to whatever they can in their career.”
Common continued to say if more people had love for their career the world would be a better place. Common brought up the example of teachers who love their career and how the world is better with those passionate teachers because they demonstrate that passion in their work.
Philion and Common continued to discuss the Common Ground Foundation and what they do for the community. Common talked about the importance of mentorship for their students, the higher graduation rate and how they go beyond education and focus on the mental health and social aspect of their students.
Common brings it back to the origin of the foundation by saying how it started, the failure of the “Green Lantern” movie. Common was very excited to star in the movie but once it fell through he became depressed.
Common said it was his mother who encouraged him to help others while being down about the news. He said he realized he enjoyed helping others, especially children in the community.
“That day, I went out to go help the kids at school. Not even showed up, I listened and talked. Man, it just brightened me up and made me feel like a better–I felt better about myself. I realized that it’s not all about you know I got this role but this is like what am I contributing to the planet, really?” Common said.
Philion asked what schools were helped by the foundation and Common responded with that there isn’t a specific school but that its focused in Chicago. More specifically, in the south and west sides of Chicago.
“We understand that our communities, the black and brown communities. We embrace the black and brown communities that are being underserved. We know that we have to serve them. That is our mission,” said Common.
It is through the program that he sees them blossom, and although the focus is on the children, Common said he has learned from them. “I learned to listen. I learned to listen a lot more,” said Common.
Dr. Mary Ellen Caron, Ph.D, the chief executive of After School Matters, and Dr. Janice K. Jackson, Ph.D, the chief executive office for Chicago Public Schools, joined the second half of the conversation.
The conversation between the four focused on what CPS and After School Matters is doing for the children and young adults in Chicago. That conversation was followed by leadership and what inspired them as individuals to reach such high positions. They attributed it to positive influences, mentors, their personal goals and passions.
Towards the end there was a Q&A asked by RU students and teachers. Some of the questions that got the most reaction from the audience were the ones that asked about Black Lives Matter and the NFL protest, and wanting to find a common ground or “bridging the gap” through the use of activism with those who believe it’s disrespectful to the police or veterans.
“I think that’s a really good question, bridging the gap. Because I’m one of those people that’s saying look black lives matter, but when I say that I’m not saying that any other human being is less than. I’m acknowledging the injustice, I’m acknowledging the inequalities that exist for black and brown people,” said Common.
Common said when he’s speaking on social issues, he tries to with love and does not answer to those who speak out hate.
Dr. Caron said teachers can teach students more than just facts and figures. “Teachers are activist. And showing students the other side of most every problem, solution and who is the other person and how to collaborate with those that don’t look like you or may look like you but may not think like you is a real back of solving these issues,” Caron said.
Another question that brought out a reaction from the crowd, which was met with controversy, was, “Do you think enough African Americans are giving back to their communities?”
Jackson spoke about celebrities giving back to their communities, how the public school system and their partnerships help reach out to the community. However, Jackson said that doesn’t mean they have the same economic opportunities as everyone else.
The event ended with loud applause.
Yessenia Mercado, psychology major, attended the event in hopes of learning how to further make a change. “I got a lot of hopeful answers that really need some action behind it, honestly. Basically what I heard is that making that change and believing in yourself and taking that step forward,” Mercado said. “What I did like was there was a lot of focus on love and how that looks within yourself and how it looks with other people.”