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'I'm in the Right Place,' Common Tells Eagle Academy Boys

Monday, December 19, 2011 - 04:02 PM

Last year, David Banks, who founded The Eagle Academy for Young Men, an all-boys public high school in the South Bronx, moderated a panel on education reform at Lincoln Center. The panelists included the singer-songwriter John Legend, the retired professional basketball player Eric Snow, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and the Grammy Award-winning rapper Common.

Mr. Banks talked to Common that day about Eagle Academy's mission: getting young men to graduate from high school, go to college and then give back to their communities. Common was so moved that he asked to visit the school.

He made that visit on the day before the release of his ninth album, "The Dreamer/The Believer." On Monday, the rapper, 39, performed two songs for the school's 500-plus students in their gymnasium. He said he wrote the first one when he was in seventh grade. But the second, he told the students, he wrote specifically for Eagle Academy.

"I came to Eagle Academy to talk about greatness and let y'all know you can do more in life," he rhymed, "and this is the thing, yo, you gotta shine your light to the people everywhere, yo, you know the text. I'm just giving love to my people in the BX."

Between raps, Common told the student body they could achieve their dreams by believing in themselves and working hard every day. The school received a B in its latest progress report.

"As I feel the energy in this room and I look around this room, I see greatness, I feel greatness," he said. "I feel the future of a world that's going to be better."

"When you believe in yourself," he added, "others start to believe in you. But it starts with you believing in yourself and believing in your dream."

Najee Seneor, 18, a senior, said the visit was "awesome."

"It was actually a great surprise to me 'cause I actually didn't know he was actually coming until I got here earlier this morning," Najee said. "It was like, 'Wow, Eagle's really like been doing it big as far as getting some high, superstar celebrities here.' And he spoke the truth."

Mr. Banks agreed that the event was a success. Though he said he spoke to his students every day about achieving their dreams, he said the message can mean more coming from a rap star.

"We can talk to our young people each and every day as educators and administrators," he said. "But when they hear it from a different voice, particularly the people who they see on TV, and they hear their music and in many ways these gentlemen are larger than life to them, to have somebody kind of appear from the back door, is a magical moment in and of itself."

Common said he wanted to visit the school because he was moved by Mr. Banks's sincerity when they met last year. "And now just to get here and come and see it face-to-face, it's like, I'm in the right place," he said. "This is exactly where I should be."

Before he left the school, Common also responded to the controversy that erupted on the weekend between him and the poet Maya Angelou.

Ms. Angelou, who is heard reading a poem during the track "The Dreamer" on Common's new album, told The New York Post on Sunday that she did not know her verses would be used in a song that had a racial expletive in it.

Common said he had talked to Ms. Angelou since that article had been published and that she was in full support of him.

"Of course, we don't agree on everything," Common said. "She has never been an advocate of the 'N'-word, which is something that I have used in my music. But we agree to disagree."

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