4/5/18: En Vogue “Free Your Mind” 

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the dark day when Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis.

Dr. King was a powerful force for good. He believed in the world-changing power of non-violent protest and civil disobedience, and helped to change our nation for the better. He was charismatic, eloquent and thoughtful. His expertly-crafted speeches are still studied by academics and aspiring leaders across the globe, though his physical voice was silenced on April 4, 1968. Half a century later, the struggle still continues — and his ideals still remain in play. We’ve made progress, but there’s still a long way to go. Personally, I think that progress has been set back dramatically in this country over the last couple years. While Dr. King would be devastated to know how divided we are, it’s up to us to carry on his legacy of pulling together to overcome.

I was thinking about all that yesterday, and even went back to play “A Change Is Gonna Come,” by Sam Cooke. That’s a go-to when I’m feeling the weight of racial injustice and economic inequality — both of which we have right here at home in “The Southern Part of Heaven.” There’s some places that aren’t exactly for everyone, and there’s more we could be doing about that.

I watch a show called “Black-Ish” on television. It starts Anthony Anderson, and it’s all about race and the difference between white and black people, the differences in their respective cultures. Anderson plays “Dre,” a man with a great job and a great family that lives in a big, beautiful house. He seems to have all the money he would need to live just about any lifestyle he wants, but he still faces prejudice every day, big and small, simply because he’s black. He worries that his kids are growing up too immersed in a “white world,” and he wants to make sure they recognize their African-American heritage and appreciate their history and identity. He’s a great father who wants his children to succeed in every possible way, who wants to help them avoid as many pitfalls as possible, and the show talks about a lot of “hot-button” issues while covering them all in a very comedic way. It’s a great show, the kind that makes you laugh and think in equal measure.

Thinking about MLK, what our country has been through and where it’s going, and what it means to be black in the modern world planted seeds for me to be thinking about “Free Your Mind” when I woke up this morning. It’s a catchy song from a talented all-woman group that had a collection of big hit records in the late ’80s and early ’90s — En Vogue! In 1992, they released an album called “Funky Divas,” which they definitely were, and that album included “Free Your Mind.” I’ve always absolutely loved that song, and it just might be their biggest hit. Which is saying a lot, since they sold millions of records and won a whole bunch of MTV awards, three Soul Train Awards, a couple AMAs, and had a few Grammy nomination nods.

“Free your mind… and the rest will follow.” I can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to be black in today’s America, or any other America in history. It isn’t something I’ve ever had to experience. I can’t empathize, but I can sympathize. Facing prejudice every day, dealing with injustices and inequities large and small, that’s the kind of thing that weighs on a person. The song in my head is about going shopping and having a store clerk keep and eye on you while you’re there, about people assuming your credit is bad if you’re paying with cash, about the assumptions people make based on everything from your physical appearance to the music you listen to.

“Why, oh why, must it be this way? Before you can read me, you gotta learn how to see me.” There’s so many lyrics in this song that say things I’m mulling over better than I ever could. “I can’t change your mind, you can’t change my color.” It’s a strong message, and it’s just a great song. So crank it up loud, and try to free your mind so the rest can follow.