This past Saturday [March 23, 2013] hip-hop star Common held his third annual Common Ground Foundation Gala & Fundraiser at the Four Season, Chicago. The black-tie optional affair honored key people who have made a concerted effort to give back to the community, including Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Gabriel “Gabby” Douglas, Quintin and Diane Primo, as well as Tim and Everett Rand.
The mission of Common Ground is to help Chicago teens ages 13-15 to steer clear of violent paths by teaching vital life skills in the areas of character development, creative expression, and healthy living. JETMAG.com caught up with the organization’s founder to hear his thoughts on hometown pride and building a better future for our youth.
As a national star with major pull, you could have held your gala anywhere in the world. Why is it so important for you and the people of Chicago for it to take place in your hometown?
This is the city that I come from and I feel it’s very important for me to give back to the city. The purpose of the gala is to raise money to help our young people that we do care about and I care about them—this is just a reflection of that. We plan to do even more but what we’ve been doing we want to support that and this is a way of giving back.
Common Ground focuses specifically on kids ages 13-15. What’s did you choose that age range?
I think that age range is very important because they’re about to go to high school and there are a lot of changes going on in life around that time. That’s when you start identifying with who you are. And just me having a daughter and seeing what she went through from 13 to 15, is like me understanding that that’s a real critical point in a young person’s life and when they are going through that transition and change you need to start planting seeds—if seeds haven’t been planted already—about reaching out and fulfilling their dreams. From a social perspective to just thinking about how to handle money and things that they will eventually encounter.
What happens when the kids age out of the program? Is there a continued mentoring that happens?
Usually what happens is we’ll team up with other programs that work with kids to get them in colleges like Chicago Scholars where once our kids go through our program they can go through Chicago Scholars, which would support their college efforts. Obviously we have programs set up but we’re human beings so if we develop relationships with young people and they call us and they’re out of the program it’s still going to be love. They’re part of the family forever at that point.
What impact do you see Common Ground having in regards to stemming the gun violence that’s been plaguing Chicago as of late?
One of the ways we can give our young people an option to not be involved in that violence and not lingering around and getting innocently subjected to that is to have programs and productive things for them to do. Things that they feel passionate about and empowers them to say this is what I want to do, I want to be an artist and I have this program I could go to afterschool. It’d give me a chance to not get into trouble and not be hanging out.
What’s your ultimate goal for the program?
I think by providing programs we’re giving children hope and a prize to look at. When they start feeling like this is what I want to do I think you’re able to make choices and say, “You know what, I ain’t going to hang out and get in this type of trouble.” At least I think the scale weighs over on the side of making better choices when you have a goal in mind and a vision. We really hope that what we do with Common Ground Foundation will be an alternative to just being in the streets.