Transitioning from a career in the National Football League (NFL) to a full time artist, Aaron Maybin made shifts not only in his lifestyle, but in his community. Maybin chose to leave Penn State as a sophomore and was a first round 11th pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2009. He would later join the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals. After being drafted by the Toronto Argonauts (Canadian Football League) Maybin retired in 2014. Today at 27, he’s an artist, public speaker, and philanthropist.
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In the fall of 1995, The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan along with Local chapters of the NAACP, The Nation of Islam, and The National African American Leadership Summit, called for the first organizing of the Million Man March, gathering masses of African American Men from all over the country in Washington DC, unified in their demand for Black Liberation in America, and determined to convey to the world, a vastly different picture of the Black male than it had become accustomed to. And to unite in self help and self defense against economic and social injustices plaguing the African American community. Hundreds of thousands of men from across the country flooded the streets of the Nation’s capitol as one of the largest organized and unified assemblies in American history of Black men from all ages, backgrounds, and demographics took place on and around the National Mall. The impact of the first march was felt across the world
“The day of atonement,” is widely considered to be the second name of the first Million Man March, as the speakers of the event set their speeches up around three central themes: atonement, reconciliation, and responsibility. For many of the people in attendance, that “day of atonement” name represented much of the motivation behind the movement. Many attendees spoke of taking themes back of: having a oneness with ourselves as individuals, the most high, and our people from speeches given by the likes of Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King III, Rosa Parks, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and Rev. Jessie Jackson.
The atonement was not referring to that of the power structure towards us as a people, but towards ourselves and our dealings and relationships with one another. The reconciliation we sought was not with this country, but more for a reconcilement and a state of harmony within the black community between one another and with our God. The responsibility was not on America to fix our circumstances for us but rather a call for us to take up the responsibilities of building for ourselves enough to be able to fix our own circumstances.
The media often portrays us as a divided or fractioned people. Even while united by race, circumstance, vulnerability and lack of opportunity, we still divide ourselves according to class, religion, economic status etc. The Million-man march was a slap in the face to every one of those stereotypes set forth by the predominately white media structure of the time. Hundreds of thousands of Black men, women, and children from different religions, backgrounds, social statuses, classes, political orders and professional affiliations united under the same cause, to expand our commitment to a responsibility in our own personal conduct, and in our obligations to our communities.
The only thing that continues to baffle me even till this very night of which I sit and type the words to this essay nearly 20 years after the first Million man march and a mere 6 days before the second, How the hell did we get here again so quickly?
Much like the theme of the first million man march centered around atonement, reconciliation and responsibility by the black community to the black community; the theme of this year’s Million Man March is: Justice or Else. The Honorable minister has been on an underground media and public speaking expedition, blanketing the nation’s unconventional media outlets, churches & Mosques…. Seems like any platform he can find, he has been using it to implore as many men as he can to once again answer the call to action. There is no cowardice in his representation of our plight and struggle as a people. And unlike the previous themes like that of accountability and atonement, this call is a Demand for Justice or Else! This year’s message has two chambers fully loaded, and while one is still pointed at ourselves as a people in an attempt of elevating our consciousness and accountability, the other one is pointed directly at the tyranny of government and the institutional racism & colonialism of this capitalist power structure against the Black and Brown citizens of this country.
Justice for whom, you may continue to ask? We want Justice for Trayvon Martin, Justice for Eric Garner, Justice for Tamir Rice, Justice for Sandra Bland, Justice for Freddie Gray, Justice for the more than 700 American men, women, and children of color that have been unjustly, unfairly, and inconsequentially whipped off of the face of the earth this year by those who claim some sense of moral autonomy in their implicit bias against anyone dark enough to pose a threat. We want justice for the 28 black and unarmed victims of law enforcement’s thirst for blood this year. The call for justice also reaches to the heights of the billionaire corporations that we as a people continue to make rich with our dollars that have no interest, common cause, or responsibility to the communities of black and brown people across the world of which they are dependent on to remain profitable. What most people still want to know though is the significance of the “Or Else” portion of this year’s title. That’s all anyone seems to focus on. What does it mean? Who is he talking to? Is he trying to start a race war? Is this a threat of violence?
Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to one of Minister Farrakhan’s speeches in Miami, Florida. In front of a packed house, he spoke in Great detail about the meaning of the “Or Else” in his call to order. He began by referencing the last speech made by The rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, which would go on to be the thesis statement of the minister’s message that he would reference constantly over the course of his speech to over-emphasize its importance. In his last speech, Dr. king spoke with a much different tone and position than people had become accustomed to hearing him speak over the years. He spoke of the redistribution of pain through the use of our finances. According to the minister, it was King’s nightmare, not his dream that ultimately was responsible for his assassination. He began to talk about mass economic withdrawal among the Black community of our spending, saying that we needed to invest our money into land.
This year's Million Man March will be followed by the “holiday season”: Black Friday, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Historically known as the days when Black People across the nation show up in overwhelming numbers to spend money that we don’t have on things that we can’t afford. We spend more money during this time than any other point in the fiscal year. It’s time for the Corporations that suck all the economic resources out of the Black community and give nothing in return to feel the pain of our struggle. In this capitalist system, the only thing people respect is money, so let’s take that from them and redistribute it among the businesses in our own community and infrastructure. Dr. King said, “Black people in this country wield 1.3 trillion dollars of spending power, more than any other country on the earth.” Imagine what we could accomplish if we could redistribute that money and power amongst our own communities to build up our own economic opportunities instead of continuing to feed it to the machine of capitalism that persecuted us.
The fact is we don’t know justice; we never have. We couldn’t tell you what it looks like or what it feels like if our lives depended on it because we’ve never possessed it. We’ve heard stories of its glory and beauty, told second hand, by those fortunate enough to know it for themselves. But we couldn’t pick Justice out of a lineup if we tried because we’ve never seen it for ourselves. America never made that introduction for us. Justice is like that kid that moved out of the neighborhood before you moved in, but not before becoming a hood legend and leaving a thousand stories about his greatness and accomplishments to be told to you by your peers a thousand times in awe and envy without you ever meeting him face to face. As a People, we have been playing this game of hide and seek with justice ever since the passing of the civil rights act of 1964, but she has had the cheat code figured out to stay just far enough out of our grasp for us to start to deny her actual existence. How do you spend generations chasing and fighting for an ideal that you have received no confirmation even exists for you in the first place?
Justice or Else is not just a “Black Issue,” I would argue that none of the circumstances that had a part in us once again reaching this point of atonement are at all exclusively “Black issues.” Blacks are just a part of what has become the growing underclass of Capitalism in America. We have reached a point where a disappearing middle class and growing complex of income inequality in this country have made second-class citizens out of anyone not wealthy enough to afford Liberty and Justice for all. Justice or Else is a call for our Latino Community. Justice or Else is a call for our Native American Community. Justice or Else Is a call for our Mexican Community, Justice or Else is a call for our Feminist Community, Justice or Else is even a call for the poor White Communities that find themselves subjected to the many injustices we have been all too familiar with for years in our colonized and impoverished neighborhoods. Justice is for any of those that still find themselves continuously on the wrong side of Liberty.
Over the past few months, I have met many Men that were in attendance for the first Million Man March, who also plan on traveling from far and wide to be there again this year for the anniversary. Many of them came for different reasons. Some came to be a part of history; some came to let their voices be heard. Some travelled with their sons and daughters and wives and children just to observe such a powerful sight together as a family. Some were children at the time, who came with their fathers or grandfathers to learn about what it really means to be a strong black man and to stand for something. Some were college students who were sent to attend as part of a school project. But the stories that interested me were the ones of the people who did not attend, the ones that felt left out, or like they missed out on a piece of history. Some decided not to attend because of their feelings towards Minister Farrakhan, or their disagreements with some of his more contraversial messages. Some decided to sit it out because of religious divisions between Christianity and the Nation of Islam, even though the whole purpose of the march was to bring us all together in unity. In spite of all of this, I have found that Many of them were determined to not make the same mistake this year, and have already made arrangements to attend, realizing that at times where we as Blacks across the country are facing the same oppression, there is no time and no place for division between the oppressed people. What we need is unity.
This is an Election year coming up, and that year will find us all at war on two fronts: Where we live, and State & US Government. We cannot allow the voices and the issues of the forgotten and the unheard to continue to go unnoticed and unacknowledged by those campaigning for our votes. We must all unite and raise our voices in unison against this oppressive system of governing that continues to profit from the immorality of a growing gap of income inequality, mass incarceration of Black and Latino Men for mostly nonviolent drug offenses, and a military industrial complex that acts as the world police when we are ourselves corrupt, and unjust. “Justice or Else,” a 20th anniversary observance of the Million Man March, is open to people of all races, religious backgrounds, cultural differences, ethnic backgrounds, and sexual preferences is scheduled for Saturday, October 10th, 2015 from 5am-7pm ad the DC National Mall. Where will you be when we once again make history?
I can remember being a teenager listening to people talk about the decline of, “real hip-hop,” and about, “ Hip-Hop being dead,” thinking that they were corny as hell. I had no space in my head for that kind of talk. Hip-Hop was my life at that point. I grew up in a Christian household with parents that are both ordained ministers and a father who’s only guilty pleasure was classic old school jazz and R&B; the kind that was probably the background music for me and my three siblings conception. As a child, my ears became accustomed to the classics of Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, Al Jerreau, Earth Wind And Fire, Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker and many others. So naturally I fell in love with Trap music. In all honesty, till this day I have the same love for the classics as my pops, but as a young black teenage athlete who was still finding my identity, Hip-Hop became the background music to my adolescence.
I can remember being in high school, a mostly white high school of students from affluent families, gathering my sport’s teams in the locker room before a big game, and blasting Gangsta Rap at the highest level possible. I will never forget those moments. I never used to think of the irony back then, thirty - three teenaged rich and middle class white kids, and about five other black kids and myself, all crammed in a small room, jumping up and down reciting the lyrics of the most hardcore Rap artists of the times. I would bump 3/6 Mafia, Notorious Big, Tupac, The Hot Boys, whatever was going to get me in the mood to go on the field and knock somebody’s head off. I never thought much of the power of Hip-Hop back then, how it was strong enough to connect so many different people from different backgrounds through the power of artistry. What I realized back then was that every artist has a story to tell, and the mystery behind the storyline and lifestyle that they never knew and would never be exposed to in life had these white boys curious enough to memorize every line.
It wasn’t until I got older that I started to realize the true power of Hip-Hop, during my time in college I started to research the origins of Hip-Hop before the Run-DMC, The Beastie Boys, and Grand master flash. I started to learn about the early cultural African Influence of the “griots” people in Africa. I learned about the influence of Gill Scott Heron, The influence of Rudy Ray Moore, The influence of The Last Poets, the influence of Marvin Gaye and the influence of the rest of the forefathers of this Hip-Hop Culture that I had accepted as my own.
The funny thing is…. We as black people are the only ones that don’t ever really believe in the true power of Hip-Hop. We often say amongst ourselves that it is not Hip-Hop’s responsibility to raise our children. “If you are there for your kids, then rap and TV wont have to raise them.” But I am living, breathing proof that even if you have two loving and attentive parents present, Hip-Hop can still help raise your kids. I took many of the scriptures and lessons in the chapters of my book of life out of Tupac and Nas lyrics. Hip-Hop raised me just as much as it raised the rich and middle class white kids that I spent my middle and high school days with that would sit in that room and zone out with me under the spell of someone else’s artistry. That’s part of the true power of art itself, the power to organically connect with the source of another person’s truth through his or her own form of self-expression.
Imagine the amount of voices and the movement that we could raise up against the Tyranny of Government and systematic oppression if we had Hip-Hop as the true revolutionary mouthpiece and voice of the younger generations. Imagine if we could use Hip-Hop as a tool to educate, enlighten, and inspire our young people across the world, instead of to preach the gospel of self-genocide and destruction. We have gotten to a point through technology that we have transcended the control of the media by government forces, in order to do what media was meant to do across the world in the first place, to educate, inform, and enlighten.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said it best when he said, “ All of us with influence have a responsibility to measure it wisely and to use it wisely. Hip-Hop is one of the most valuable commodities in the world, with a message that can change the world. Rap artists have followings all over the world, with the ability to put out messages that reach across the world.
The enemy saw the knowledge kids were getting from rap music from artists like Nas, Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def, Talib kweli and others, and realized the real power of the Hip-Hop artists and the underground followings that they were creating. Because of the Internet and technology, artists no longer needed large record labels or mainstream media to get their music out directly to their fans. There is nothing more dangerous than a strong black man with a platform and a message. Malcolm X was a strong black man with a platform and a message. Martin Luther King was a strong black man with a platform and a message. Huey Newton was a strong black man with a platform and a message. All were targets because of their skin color, platform, and vision. But they also all helped change the world and the state of the Black community for the better. The last thing the power structure wants is the gospel of a black revolutionary over a dope beat blasting through speakers across the world, but that might be the exact thing that the world needs right now.
Even the original Gangster Rappers Like NWA had a revolutionary aspect to their message to counteract the violence, drug culture and police brutality that they were exposed to every day. Their music expressed resentment to the establishment of colonization taking place in their neighborhood. Soon their music was at the forefront of urban culture because of the authenticity of their storytelling and their audacity to challenge the power structure through their lives and art. If nothing else, they proved that Hip-Hop as an art form was a powerful tool of inspiration as any marketing campaign or advertisement in a newspaper. Rappers were the new preachers, and their church pews are full of listeners all day every day reciting that gospel. But where was that gospel leading their congregations?
In 2011, the Correction Corporations of America (CCA) which is the biggest name in the private prison industry contacted 48 states to buy their prisons on the outrageous condition of the agency has sufficient inmate population to maintain 90% occupancy rate over the 20-year duration of their contract. But if the purpose of state prisons were really to rehabilitate the prison population, then wouldn’t it be a complete conflict of interests to enter into a contract that guarantees that the jails would maintain 90% occupancy during the terms of that contract? The answer without question is yes. But it gets deeper. A few months later, an anonymous email was sent to several members of the music and publishing industries inviting them to a meeting where it was determined that Hip-Hop music would be manipulated to drive up prison profits according to raprehab.com.
Only 6 media companies’ control 90% of all media that US citizens watch read and listen to. GE owns (Comcast, NBC, & Universal Pictures), News-Corp owns (Fox, Wall Street Journal, & New york Post), Disney owns (Pixar, Abc, ESPN, Miramax, & Marvel Studios), Viacom owns (MTV, Nick jr, BET, CMT, & Paramount Pictures), Time Warner Owns (CNN, HBO, TIME, & Warner Bros) CBS owns (Showtime, Smithsonian Channel, NFL.com, Jeopardy, & 60 mins). These companies have control over all avenues necessary to manufacture any overnight celebrity or start any trend.
According to Bloomberg, The largest holder in CCA stock is Vanguard Group Inc. who also holds considerable stock in in corporate giants such as Viacom and Time Warner. Vanguard is also the third highest holder in the GEO Group, which is second nationally only to CCA, only GEO Group also has jails in the UK, Australia, and South Africa. The second largest holder in CCA is a company called Blackrock, which is the number one holder in both Viacom and Time Warner. So to be clear, it is no problem for a company that is invested in both the entertainment and prison to make any artist professing ideologies that align with their interests a star overnight. They can make sure that anyone gets the necessary promo, product placement, and national attention necessary to guarantee that they are a commercial success as long as they continue to profess messages of self destruction and hate that make their investors rich.
The people that own media are the exact same ones that are invested in private prisons, and using one to promote the other is both insanely lucrative and immoral as hell. The largest rise in incarceration rates in the history of this country correlates directly with early 1980’s prison privatization. And our Artists are now a huge part of that vicious cycle. People are often times quick to defend Gangsta Rap, saying that the artists have the creative freedom to share their art that they want to make. But what is creative or artistic about the justification of homicide, Drug Abuse, Misogynistic rhetoric that glorifies a destructive lifestyle? How much creative freedom do you have if you can only rap about the worst aspects of our culture?
Contrary to popular belief, there is still a market for conscious music. Artists like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar are at the forefront of conscious Hip-Hop culture with lyrics that artistically paint the scenery of America and the inner cities within their metaphoric paintbrushes in their own unique ways. J. Cole has the first album in the last 20 years to go platinum with no features, proving that there is an audience out there desperate for a message that they can stand behind and believe in. Talib Kwali, and Lupe Fiasco have been touring internationally for years making money successfully off of that same market. This is the age of the Internet, there is nothing stopping artists from putting out the music that inspires to the fan bases that support them. Record Labels aren’t even needed for artists with a certain platform. What we need now are real artists that are courageous and bold enough to challenge the power structure again.
Black and brown people are the original people and the majority of the world’s population. And across the world of Europe, white America, and Asia, blacks are oppressed and persecuted because of an inherent fear by the power structure of our collective strength. We are all, as people of color, a global family and, as an artist; you have a responsibility to your heritage and your people. The time for being cool and staying silent on issues facing our people is long past. The new uncle Tom is the one who ignores his position and influence while continuing to perpetuate the agenda of genocide and self hate while an extermination of our people is already under way right in front of our faces.
Where were you when all this madness first began?
On the front lines? The sidelines? Or were you cheering in the stands?
The first time you heard someone you knew was gunned down in the streets, were you screaming Black Lives Matter then.... Or Thank God it wasn't me?
When did it become about "me" more than "we" in a world where were all being hung from the exact same tree?
When did we become judge and jury on who and what others could be? Shooting shots in the dark, just hoping to hit anyone doing better than me.
Where were you when our city first erupted in anger and rage?
Where were you before all the cameras came and provided you a stage?
Were you on the front lines then trying to enlighten and save, or were you too busy, on IG chasing likes off the popular page?
Where were you when our kids became disengaged to the resentment of death before coming of age? Did you care to take time to change their young minds, or show them a better path than that of violence and crime?
Were you out educating them then? Were you out motivating them then? Sacrificing and investing your heart and soul into them then?
Where were you when our small businesses began to fail?
Or when they started starving our schools and putting our babies in jail, parents spending college tuition and savings on bail.
Entire generation's future being impaled and derailed as we war with each other while evil prevails.
From where does this jealousy and resentment come? If we continue hating one another can this war ever be won? Can we learn to disagree without pulling the trigger of a gun, or will we continue down this self-destructive path as we kill ourselves one by one?
So I ask u again from the depths of my soul, Where are you?
What are you doing to make sure we turn this tide?
What are you doing to help end this cycle of self-hate and Genocide?
What are you doing to feed the hungry and educate the deprived?
What are you doing to give our youth a chance to live their lives free of the weight of the chains still holding our people behind?
Are you willing to Fight for it? Are you willing to die for it? When it all goes down, will you lay your life on the line for it?
Years from now, will you still be down to speak up for it? Or will you have moved to the next popular cause when it gets cool to stand up for it?