Over the last year, the world has been no stranger to chaos. The Covid-19 pandemic has taken lives, taught us lessons about our society, disrupted the economy and schools — and much more. Some say that pressure weighs a ton.
As I get older, I have found it my mission to calculate the meaning behind the actions I take or things I create. I cannot help the fact that I am an annoyingly deep thinker. Learning is an eternal cycling wheel, and I love to ride it. I began my mornings with a prayer, giving thanks for life, health and strength. But recently I was interrupted by the thought of the word “kneel.” One morning, as I knelt at my bedside, finishing my prayer, I wondered about the origins of kneeling and how this practice has translated to and evolved in our lives today.
Today we’re experiencing a social and societal reckoning. I believe the pressure from this gravity can bring a person to their knees. Now, what people do when their knees are on the floor (figuratively and sometimes literally) depends on the circumstance, maybe for a display of respect, but hopefully never to surrender. Whatever the reason, I believe all humans will one day find themselves in a situation where they will find themselves on their knees.
A few years ago, I was sent a song by a fellow artist named Natalie Jean. She called me on the phone sharing her passions about the problems that impact inner-city minorities, especially police brutality — among other things. I could relate to her passions, and I told her I would listen to the song and add my spoken words to her socially conscious song. When I gathered my inspiration from having that conversation with Natalie, I began to write before I even heard the track. When I downloaded the song to my computer in my studio and listened, I found that her lyrics matched the way I felt. Ironically, she titled it “We Kneel.”
I thought about the Milwaukee, WI, Northside rough neighborhoods that I have survived and the ways I could articulate the need for change. Every time I turned on the news, it was another killing, another injustice — and these issues brought me to my knees. As a kid, I always found myself kneeling by my bedside with a notebook and pen. This was my sanctuary, and in this spot, I found a haven and I always felt comfortable voicing my opinions in my notebook.
I’d like to stress the importance of examining those things we do as humans. Especially as leaders in creative industries, we have to make sense of the world around us to understand our place.
As an artist, being compelled to speak about the problems that radiate throughout the world was always my nucleus. In more detail, I feel it is my responsibility to be a voice and presence that holds up a mirror to society — while also providing a way to escape. I want to “holler” at the world and ask creatives and leaders to think about why they do the things they do, especially as it relates to their creative work and our society. Think hard about your role, your voice — I believe we as leaders should at least be able to have some explanation for why we choose to do certain things.
Understanding the larger reasoning for why leaders and creatives do the things they do is necessary. This is because as leaders, someone is always following us and our direction. So, it is important that the follower is being led in the right direction and with an explanation if needed. Most creatives are inherently leaders because they innovate the tides that humankind tends to follow, like fashion trends, music and much more.
So, to my fellow leaders and creatives — what I wish for you to take away from this piece of art is responsibility. We as leaders and creatives have gifts that allow us to shape and mold society. Natalie Jean and I decided to use our voices in music to speak for the others who did not have this platform to speak. What will you use your influence and creativity for? To understand is your empowerment.
I have found myself doing things in life that were truly a waste of my time. As a Black man, I do not follow every trend but prefer to assess, make sense of what I’m seeing in the social sphere — and if I don’t want to do it, then I won’t. Growing up in a tough neighborhood, kneeling for myself was always viewed as a sign of weakness — unless it was for prayer. I looked at it as giving up or surrendering. But now I have a new perspective that I would like to share with the world.
I believe that your feet don’t have to touch the ground or your knees touch the floor to kneel to take a stand. There are times when it is necessary to choose your battle. You can choose to step back, analyze and then proceed with a decision with the understanding that you are in control and you have the power to influence outside forces in a positive or illuminating way.
You are a leader — I want you to walk away from this article knowing that it’s vital to look inward and understand your responsibility to your own creative voice and contributions. What’s important is that you understand your potential to influence society to take a stand or kneel for others.