Common gets candid about the education system, the current administration and his secret for staying so admirably positive all the time


The excitement of a new school year is often accompanied by the sometimes burdening financial stress of needing to purchase new school supplies and materials in order to be adequately prepared for the year ahead.

But the financial stresses of back-to-school season extend far beyond students and their families needing to shell out money.

New research on behalf of revealed that a whopping 96 percent of teachers nationwide use their own money to help equip their classrooms with materials — an average total of nearly $740 per teacher each year.

This is an issue that Oscar and Grammy-winning rapper, author and actor Common is helping tackle hands-on by serving as an ambassador with in partnership with Burlington Stores.

This is the second year that Common has returned to his role as an ambassador for the program, which encourages customers at Burlington Stores to donate $1 or more upon checkout to directly impact — something that the rapper knows is not only vital, but potentially life-changing for the students and teachers alike:

“I really never realized how much teachers use their own money to help students. My whole plot in life, one of the biggest things I want to do, is be able to give kids the opportunity to reach their potential.

I think we can pay our teachers more, to be honest. I think our teachers deserve more. I think it’s one of the most selfless jobs you can do —[teachers] hold so much value by educating and spending time with our youth.”

The campaign, which has rolled out in all 640 Burlington Stores nationwide, will direct all funds raised at each Burlington store to a classroom nearby.

Education and proper support of educators is something that’s always been a part of Common’s life — his mother, Dr. Mahalia Hines, is a 35-year educator and Chicago Board of Education member.

It was through her constant influence and astute insistence on the importance of education and work ethic that allowed Common to thrive and make the most of his schooling growing up:

“I’m very grateful because I lived with a teacher who made sure that I was reading and I had to practice my writing which — I didn’t know at the time — ended up paying off in great ways. I even had teachers who really took care of me in areas where I wasn’t excelling and they developed me and they paid attention … I know all kids don’t always get that. That’s why our teachers have to be fed the right thing, fed the resources to be able to help.

I want other kids to have that chance, because some of my friends didn’t growing up. They didn’t have the support when it came to education that I had.”

Check out Common and Dr. Hines surprising students at P.S. 111 in NYC with a $10,000 donation on behalf of and Burlington Stores:

Though Common may not have followed in his mother’s footsteps by technical standards, many — if not all — can argue that his entire career portfolio has put him in the position of a teacher himself, albeit in a non-traditional sense.

Through his music and lyrics, initiatives of activism and acting roles, Common has touched on and openly dove into hard-hitting and important social and cultural issues, just as he had watched hip-hop legends and artists he admired growing up do for him.

And though he might not be standing in front of a classroom with a lesson plan day in and day out, it’s an irrefutable truth that Common is indirectly teaching the youth and beyond through his art:

“Art can truly inspire and touch the soul and motivate and teach. And it teaches in a way that’s pleasurable — when the art is done beautifully, you are just adoring the art but you are also leaning in the same process. And hip-hop has been a great example of that for me. Growing up, I listened to hip-hop, and while singing the songs and I was learning about foods not to eat, I was learning about what was going on in the political sphere as far as war and different areas … I learned so much through art itself and hip-hop, so I definitley believe that teaching is not only just inside the classroom but that teaching is something that takes place through art and culture.”

It’s this ability to view art itself as an educational vessel that has propelled Common into creative endeavors and honors that most only dream of — one of these being winning the Oscar for Best Original Song in 2015 for the powerful hit ‘Glory’ alongside musician John Legend:

“Once I became an actor, I always was like ‘Man, I want an Oscar award!’ I didn’t know it would come through me creating music for a film, but I felt more grateful than ever because … the thing that was most rewarding was that we were honored for a song that was based on the movie ‘Selma.’ It was based on the people of the civil rights system — all of this was tied into something that had substance, something that was bigger than us … it felt like we were up there representing a lot of different things. Representing black men, representing God, representing the people, the women and the men of the civil rights movement — whichever color they were. All colors that went out there and stood up. And I felt like we were trying to represent a positive energy and vibration out there and to be up and win an Oscar for that is the best [feeling.]”

Common’s positivity and innate sense of gratitude and quest for the deepest meaning in all things is evident, his own finely-tuned self-awareness serving as a leading factor in seeing the good in everyone and the role that they play in society:

“I believe that the people are even more powerful than the administration … our spirits, our mentality, our energy, the way we treat each other, what we give to each other as far as resources — all of this can impact society.”

For Common, perspective is the key to a positive mindset, especially in times of harrowing political divide and tension:

“If we look at the world and say ‘The world is messed up’ then how are we really going to change it? We’ve got to see the good in what’s going on and where the good is and say, ‘I’m going to work from that place.’ I’m going to work from the place where there are already human beings that are like, ‘We’re not subscribing to that divisiveness, we’re not subscribing to the ignorance.’

There’s great people out there and I feel like focusing on that, focusing on what we can do — we’re powerful people. As individuals and together, we’re greater than any government. Kind of bucking down and getting to the work of things is what I feel like helps me stay positive. And also my belief in God and my belief in the people and love for people lets me stay in a positive space.”

As a man of action and positive resolve, Common’s focus is on the future and what lies ahead.

And though it doesn’t mean he doesn’t still feel deep concern and emotion for whatever may be going on in the present world around him, a space of resentment, hate and negativity isn’t — and never will be — where Common chooses to live:

“I’m not focusing on that, I can’t put my energy towards that, because I’ve got too much to do.”