Common talks greatness, perseverance to packed house at Macky

Common speaks at Macky Auditorium. Feb. 20, 2018. (Georgia Knoles/CU Independent)

Applause filled Macky Auditorium on Tuesday night as the hip-hop artist and actor Common announced that he’d come to CU “to talk about greatness.”

Common is an award-winning hip-hop artist, actor and writer, starring in movies including “Selma” and “Just Wright.” As an activist, he created the Common Ground Foundation, which works with inner-city youth to help them prepare for college and live a positive lifestyle.

Common defines greatness as reaching one’s highest potential and inspiring others to do the same. In his talk, he listed three phases that lead to greatness: finding one’s path, believing in that path and living that path.

Common, birth name Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., was inspired to live his path by the horrific story of Emmett Till. Till was a 14-year-old African-American boy who was lynched in 1955 after being accused of whistling at a white woman.

“I felt there was the spirit of Emmet Till telling me there was something great I had to do on this planet,” Common said.

After finding his path, he had to work for it. When he played youth basketball he would make excuses for doing poorly, yet didn’t seem to improve. One day the assistant coach, his uncle, got frustrated and told him that he had to work at basketball if he wanted to be great. His experience on the court instilled in him a strong worth ethic.

“The beautiful thing about finding your path is that it’s the first step in greatness,” he said.

Common emphasized that belief in your goal is important for success. He told the story of being nominated for five Grammys in one year, yet not winning a single one. He believed in his path, but accepted that it wasn’t yet the time to win. He found that believing means recognizing timing, and understanding that things will come when they’re ready.

“Believing in the path is only the second step,” he said. “Living the path is the completion.”

Fiona Bartell, a junior at CU, attended the event because she wanted to learn more about Common’s life.

“I think social justice work is really important right now, and I wanted to know what Common had to say,” Bartell said.

At the end of the night, Common responded to questions posted on social media.One asked what inspired him to create the Common Ground Foundation.

Common wanted to give youth more opportunity, knowing he had the resources to help.

“Wherever there’s a need, I want to be there,” he said.

CU student Oumou Soumah found it interesting how Common got involved working with young people.

“Hearing him talk today, I felt like he understands what the youth is going through,” Soumah said. “It’s just refreshing to see that somebody’s helping.”

Common finished the evening with the advice that for young people, it’s okay to not know everything, but it’s still important to lead by example.

Contact CU Independent News Staff Writer Makenna Sturgeon at

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