QA With Common
Hip-hop artist, television and film actor, author, businessman, philanthropist, father — Lonnie Rashid Lynn, better known as Common, has taken on a wide range of roles since he first burst into the public eye with his first album, Can I Borrow a Dollar?, in 1992. The two-time Grammy winner has since released eight more albums, most recently 2011’s The Dreamer/The Believer, with a new album — featuring Kanye West — due out in the fall. He’s had roles in nearly 20 movies, including Smokin’ Aces, Street Kings, and Date Night, appeared in Gap and Microsoft ads, and read poetry at the White House.
Your Common Ground Foundation, originally launched in 2001, provides summer youth camp and mentoring for kids in the Chicago public schools. It’s been recognized by CNN Heroes and BET Hip Hop Awards. What was your inspiration for creating it?
“Growing up, I was always looking around and seeing that my friends had more difficult situations than I did. Nobody’s perfect, but I had a mother who was there and provided and cared, and a stepfather who was there for me, and a lot of my friends didn’t have that. I always wished I could give them that support. Once I was able to afford it and was blessed with the platform to do art and music and business, I wanted to utilize it to help others.”
Do you have any standout memories from your work with the foundation?
“It’s funny, at first the kids don’t want to be out in a place where there’s no cell phones, no tech. A lot of them are closed off to being out in nature and developing in that environment. Watching them start opening up and communicating, and how the camp affects them, is great. I remember specifically one time when we were doing programs at the Chicago Lighthouse in Englewood, and this young lady’s grandmother asked if I could get on the phone. She just said thank you — her granddaughter had lost her mom, and didn’t have a lot of direction, and the program finally gave her something that she was enthused about. That really touched me.”
Your 2011 memoir, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, was co-written with your mother, and your mom plays a key role in your foundation. How do the two of you work together?
“My mother is a really important part of my life. She’s provided a lot for me, and she’s always encouraged me to do more and help out more. As a teacher and a principal, she has always wanted to be present in the lives of young people, so working with the foundation is like one of her callings. Working with her on the book was really great. It was natural — just her talking about her love, and her ideas, and the surprises and different things about dealing with me. It was really enlightening for me — I didn’t know it would be so much fun!”