Art is powerful. As an artist, I think, feel, and relate through art. Songs come to mind as I ponder and pray. Scenes from movies play in my head when I am seeking encouragement or meaning. Last year, I actively sought art that shared a common theme, a consistent message that I needed and still need to hear and follow: do not give up.
Personally and professionally, losses and letdowns have led to doubts and discouragements. Current events have strained some relationships, but strengthened others. So despite the trials, triumphs are still evident, yet I struggle with staying focused on the good. God knows this. I’m always amazed at and thankful for the very particular way that God communicates with us. He speaks to me through art: books, movies, and mainly songs. There were many songs that kept popping into my head last year and kept me going. I have chosen four to share with you. If you need some encouragement of the same brand, I hope these songs can do for you what they do for me.
“The world is so insane, I got to maintain, nothing is easy here. Stand tall through the rain, my heart will never change, I got to persevere.”
That’s the hook from a song called “Persevere” by Robert Glasper Experiment. Snoop and Lupe go on to expand on that idea, but the simple hook and rich groove resonate with me. Despite the difficulties of this life, I must persevere and continue in the vision. If you have a goal or a vision, you have to persevere through all the opposition you will face. From the internal to the external, from the seen to the unseen, there will be opposition, especially if you’re doing something positive. Just look to my friend Nehemiah. You’ve got to maintain. You’ve got to persevere.
“Raise the Banner”
“For your children, for your neighbors, for your communities, follow the banner. Everybody, unashamed, lock your arms, plant your feet. Look around, they need you. Follow the banner.”
The end of the hook of “Raise the Banner” by Propaganda has imagery that could not be more timely. The image of raising the banner or carrying the flag is powerful and vivid. The final scenes from Glory and The Patriot come to mind. Soldiers would carry the banner or the flag through a battle to rally the troops and keep everyone pushing forward. Sometimes that flag would fall, so someone had to pick it back up and keep moving!
That someone has had to be me.
I look around, but it’s me that has to pick it back up. I’ve finally accepted that.
And I want to do it. I want to live that life to glorify God and serve the people.
I do it for my wife, my brothers, my sisters, my friends, my community, the staff and scholars of Freedom Arts, for my future children, and simply because God has called me to. It’s my role. It isn’t easy to take the hits and keep on moving, but it’s necessary. I’m thankful for the people I have that will lock arms with me and follow the banner towards victory.
“We Shall Overcome”
“Oh deep in my heart I do believe, we shall overcome someday.”
This old protest song may have vague roots, but the message is anything but vague. This song has been ringing through the streets of St. Louis over the last six months, and perhaps the most touching moment for me came following a march on January 18. It was a unity march down Grand in honor of Martin Luther King and in remembrance of the lost lives of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the other tragedies of our recent past. Three of the Freedom Arts scholars urged us to take them along, so we did. Tysean, Lanora, and Stanley came with us. All three of them marched, chanted, prayed, and sang with hundreds of other people. The march ended on the steps of a church where we sang this song. On the drive home, Lanora requested that we keep singing “We Shall Overcome.” Her little voice carried on from the backseat, declaring this hopeful message. All I have to do is think of her small voice, sincere heart, and the words of this song, and I know it’s true.
“Eyes on the Prize”
“Hold on, hold on. Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on.”
I probably tell myself this every day and listen to the song about every three days. This song is the namesake of the most recent Freedom Arts newsletter and is another relevant song of today. Mavis Staples growls out this proclamation over a dirty groove and a defiant guitar line. Referencing ancient stories of visionary people with great faith who stayed focused on the task at hand amidst challenges I will never face, this song reminds me that tunnel vision is not always an impairment. We’ve got to deal with problems, but we cannot let them be in charge.
2014 was revealing. The movement altered many relationships in my life but also secured my focus. The grind broke some backs. Voices broke some ears. I was broken by the truth and subsequently put back together by it. True stripes were shown and loyalties were made known. The users and abusers revealed their motives, broken by the grind. The soldiers and supporters stood taller, forged by troubled times. So hold on. Persevere. Raise the banner and get through the troubled times. Have defiance against evil and all that seeks to turn you around. Have reliance on God and all that keeps you pressing forward. What happens when you refuse to give up? You develop a backbone as strong as an oak tree. You get an infusion of steel in your spine. It gets harder and harder for evil to back you down. You get to where you don’t have to dodge bullets. You get to where you can take a lot more than you used to be able to take. You develop endurance and strength. So have faith. Stand together. Push through. Do not give up. Let your back be strengthened and your heart remain open. Persevere. Raise the banner. Overcome. And keep your eyes on the prize. Do not give up.
(Executive Director, Music Coordinator, Music/Academic/Visual Arts Mentor)