Last week I lost a hero. The man who helped me fall in love with power of the spoken word passed away leaving behind timeless pieces of greatness that will continue to empower the most marginalized and disaffected. Gil Scott-Heron used his pen and voice to challenge racism and classism. His mere existence made it abundantly clear that art and activism were not mutually exclusive, but rather when combined had the power to influence society. His work pushed literary and political boundaries. He kept government officials in check with his acerbic pen. He motivated people to stand up for progressive reform when they felt disillusioned. He provided unadulterated social commentary on the daily struggles of urban life before hip-hop became a staple of American pop culture.
When my Dad played his vinyl “125th and Lennox” my world was turned upside down. Although the content was pretty heavy for a youngster, I listened to the cadence and rhythm of his voice against the drums to pick up the message. As I got older his words spoke to me in unimaginable ways. My grandmother always told me to give people flowers before they are dead; unfortunately I waited too long. But I wanted to use today’s blog post as an opportunity to thank Gil Scott-Heron for inspiring me at age 9 to write and present a poem on the inadequacies of public school education, to write a letter to the editor of my local newspaper at age 12 challenging the racist comments made by a school board official, to join the speech and debate club in high school, and become a social/culture critic in college. He is even the inspiration behind the title of my undergraduate thesis: The Revolution Will Be Digitzed: Black Youth, Social Networking, and Political Discourse. Thank You for inspiring me to not accept the status quo and fight for what I believe in. You will truly be missed!