Jay-Z Pushes for Projects That Demand Social Justice: "This Is Our Power" (Guest Column)
Trophies are nice, but some projects — like two Spike docs on the lost black lives of Kalief Browder and Trayvon Martin — can lead to far greater rewards, writes the rapper/executive producer.
The power of one voice is strong, but when it comes to social justice, the power of our collective voices is unstoppable. Now is the time to recognize that through our voices we really can effect change. Some of us will do the important work locally at the micro level to awaken our neighbors. Some of us will work for progress regionally. And a few of us will be like Kalief Browder, a modern-day prophet whose death two years ago started a discussion that continues today about how poor, black juveniles are treated in the criminal justice system.
Kalief grew up in the Bronx and started out like so many kids I grew up with in Brooklyn, kids who have to choose the right fork in the road every day. He wasn't an angel, but he was a good kid on the right path who held up under the social pressures common in the Bronx. This young man at 16 was arrested — for something any suburban kid could have gotten away with — and held at Rikers Island for three years, mostly in inhumane solitary confinement. The post-traumatic stress disorder he came out with led him to suicide two years ago, but not before he had the chance to talk about what happened to him.
It is up to us to continue to amplify his story so that we can save a generation of kids from the same fate. His is the kind of story that you can't ignore, and people are starting to see that what happened to him is not an isolated case. He's just one example in a system that is broken. We need to be the ones who fix it.
When I started talking with Harvey Weinstein about Kalief's short life, it made me realize that a documentary series like Time: The Kalief Browder Story could raise our voices and create that collective we need. We can work together to demand change from our elected government officials. We put them in office, we make the laws, and we show them the path to progress. That is our power, and it's the only way that healing will come for Kalief and his family.
We've seen some of that change slowly start to happen. President Obama outlawed solitary confinement for juveniles. New York has started the long process of closing Rikers Island, the prison where Kalief was tortured, starved and held without a trial.
My hope is for my next documentary, Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story, to create a similar conversation that leads to change and helps keep our children safe. And it's an honor to have the support of Trayvon's family in telling the story.
But social justice isn't a political issue. It's a human issue. It's a story of empathy. When we are able to identify that we are all not perfect and have compassion for someone else, we can move forward as a society.
Look around at what's happening in your town and your city right now. Think small, and you can do much bigger things.
This story first appeared in the June 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.