ABOVE: Deric Muhammad, Trae Tha Truth, and Mayor Sylvester Turner (photo by Charles Andrews)
It all started with a phone call from the Mayor.
Mayor Sylvester and I talked for over an hour about the skyrocketing homicide rates in the city of Houston and what needs to be done to get our youth to put the guns down.
It was the Fourth of July, and while others were enjoying their families and celebrating the holiday, we were on the phone trying to figure it out.
I went to bed that night and woke up to the heart-shattering news that 5 Black males had been shot the night before in Houston’s Fourth Ward. That night, while hundreds of people, including families and children, were waiting on the Fourth of July fireworks display, a gunman opened fire killing 3 people and injuring 2 others.
A ten-year-old was shot. I was less than a mile away from where the shooting happened, when I had that conversation with the mayor. Who knew that, only hours later, such a tragedy would try to choke the hope out of our city?
Then I logged on to Instagram and saw Rapper Paul Wall posting RIP photos of the young men who had died. I called him to get some intelligence about what went wrong. Paul Wall told me that one of the young men was shot less than 10 feet away from him. He and his partner, C-Stone, had just finished performing at an event. Instead of running for cover, like everyone else, Paul Wall took off his shirt and tried to render aid to the young man. Others helped. The young man virtually died in his arms and was officially pronounced dead later on at the hospital.
As I listened to Paul Wall go into descriptive detail about that experience, I knew he would never be the same. The mayor had spoken previously about his desire to meet with Houston’s rap artists to get their insight on the problems facing our youth and to appeal to them to use their influence to help stop the violence. NOW was the time!
It took a couple of days for Paul Wall to get his bearings. If you’ve ever had someone die in your arms, you know exactly what I mean. I ran the idea of meeting with the mayor by him and he immediately went to work. Meanwhile, I reached out to my brothers Trae Tha Truth, K-Rino, Bun B and others. We had motion.
What I did not realize was how some of these artists have had year’s long personal differences with one another. The challenge was for everyone in the room to see past themselves as individuals and look at the bigger picture – the advancement of our community.
I only bring this up, because I am so proud of the fact that THEY DID IT!
These artists subordinated past differences, to unite and speak with ONE VOICE against senseless violence and injustice. It was a beautiful sign of what we, as community, can accomplish if we would unite. I PURPOSELY kept the meeting a secret, because I didn’t want it to turn into a political selfie-fest where everyone showed up to borrow the fame of these artists for selfish reasons. This is the untold story.
On July 19th, some of Houston’s most influential artists trickled into City Hall; one-by-one…crew by crew. The names included Paul Wall, Slim Thug, Trae Tha Truth, Just Brittany, Z-Ro, Killa Kyleon, Lil’ Keke, Willie D, K-Rino, filmmaker Michael Artis, jeweler to the stars TV Johnny and more. Another reason I kept it a secret is because I did not want people in the room trying to talk over the artists and the mayor. The meeting was very serious. No punches were pulled. Stakes were high. There were tens of millions of fans, social media followers and records sold sitting at that table. Everyone was honest and I believe we all learned from one another.
These artists are some of the most highly intelligent men and women you’ll ever meet and they came with creative ideas. Most importantly, it was a solutions-based conversation. I saw Mayor Turner listening intently. To his credit, I started receiving calls about follow-up from his department heads the same day. It had been a good day.
In my heart, I felt like meeting with the mayor was not enough. While we had all these powerful artists in the same room, I wanted to make a substantive statement beyond a conversation with the mayor. Most of them had no clue that we were going to ask them to meet us at a Black-owned bank, Unity Bank, to open up accounts. They found out five minutes before the mayor’s meeting, but ALL UNANIMOUSLY AGREED. The collective power of their voices was used to send a message of empowerment that’s still reverberating throughout the country.
Much love to all the artists who participated in this power move. This is how you use the collective influence of the cultural community to advance the cause. And we ain’t done yet.
We challenge all artists, athletes and others in every city nationwide to set aside your differences and ban together as a collective to influence our community to Buy Black, Bank Black and Build Black. Our liberation is wrapped up on our unity. Minister Farrakhan says, “The cultural community is the community that can speak the loudest to change the human condition.”
On July 19th, some of Houston’s most revered artists came together to do just that. People ask me, “how in the hell did you get all those artists in the same room?” My answer is “I didn’t. God did.” Make no mistake about it. For that reason alone, there is #Hope4Houston.