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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

'A voice for the voiceless'
Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Fighting for the “Dream” through music

America is still fighting racial injustice

Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963. Among the many issues King addressed in his speech were segregation and racial discrimination in America. Sadly, King did not live to see his dream come to fruition.

Since then, King’s struggle for civil rights has been taken up by many other activists, including artists and musicians.

Take Kendrick Lamar, whose music is raw, authentic and speaks to issues and systems within society that oppress people of color. Many of Lamar’s songs have a deep meaning that extends King’s fight for the dream. Lamar specifically extends King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, when King says, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” In “Alright,” Lamar’s lyrics draw inspiration from King’s philosophy of struggle and non-violence, as well as state violence:

“Alls my life I has to fight, nigga

Alls my life I…

Nigga, when our pride was low

Lookin’ at the world like, “Where do we go?”

Nigga, and we hate po-po

Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho

Nigga, we gon’ be alright

Nigga, we gon’ be alright

We gon’ be alright”

Throughout his “I Have a Dream” speech, King speaks about the disadvantages people of color encounter in the U.S. Lamar’s lyrics have the same effect as King’s words because 54 years later, people of color in America still experience racism and discrimination, including police brutality. This injustice is important given the timeliness and unjust killings of black men and women like Sandra Bland, Mike Brown, Natasha McKenna, Eric Garner, Kayla Moore, Trayvon Martin and more. The list of unjustifiable killings goes on and on in the name of “he looks dangerous,” “she was aggressive,” and “but he was a criminal.”

Despite the devastations, Lamar gives people a sense of hope when he said, “We gon’ be alright.” King also inspired hope in his speeches, even though he spoke about the difficulties people of color encounter. No matter the despair, it is their hope that will continue to fuel their fight for justice. As King said:

“This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”

It is with such hope that artists like Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, otherwise known as Queen B, is using her music to fight for King’s dream. She is talented, beautiful and has a massive fanbase. Her music resonates with millions of people around the world. In her song “Freedom” featuring Kendrick Lamar, Queen B expresses a strong desire for freedom:

“Freedom! Freedom! Where are you?

Cause I need freedom too!

I break chains all by myself

Won’t let my freedom rot in hell

Hey! I’ma keep running

Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves”

Beyoncé’s lyrics correlate with the  desire of freedom and equality that King spoke passionately about in his speeches. In the closing lines of his “I Have a Dream” speech, King proclaimed:

“From every mountainside, let freedom ring. We will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men, and white men, Jews, and Gentiles, Protestants, and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

Even 54 years after King’s now famous speech, people of color are not “free at last.” They, like Queen B, are demanding their freedom, from physical chains and barriers, such as mass incarceration, to invisible chains and systemic issues that keep people stuck in cycles of poverty and violence. In response to the lack of freedom,  John Legend and Common use their music as platforms to encourage people of color to speak and rise up to the injustices in society. In their song “Glory,” they sing:

“Freedom is like religion to us

Justice is juxtapositionin’ us

Justice for all just ain’t specific enough

One son died, his spirit is revisitin’ us

True and livin’ livin’ in us, resistance is us

That’s why Rosa sat on the bus

That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up

When it go down we woman and man up

They say, ‘Stay down,’ and we stand up

Shots, we on the ground, the camera panned up

King pointed to the mountain top and we ran up”

Legend and Common’s lyrics resemble King’s theme of resiliency in his speeches. They encourage people of color to continue to stand up against injustice, despite its difficulty. This fight for justice is not easy.

More than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Abraham Lincoln, “the negro is still not free.” Black men and women in America still die and are imprisoned at higher rates than white people. This, in part gave rise to the Black Lives Matter, Say Her Name and other movements. America, it seems, still shows that “the negro” does not matter.

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