As First Amendment Week draws to a close, the final keynote speaker of the week Zoom’d in last night
Roc Nation artist and Chicago native Vic Mensa took the hour-long spotlight to discuss the social justice issues closest to him that he has dedicated much of his career to.
The evening was moderated by the outgoing Editor-In-Chief of the Loyolan Molly Box and Marketing Chair for the Loyolan Amaya Lorick. Each took turns asking the Roc Nation Rapper questions about his career, social justice issues and what challenges remain in American society in terms of being truly “free."
The evening opened with Box and Lorick asking Mensa how he recognizes the impact the messages in his songs have on people.
“Two moments that come to mind...” replied Mensa. “First, of a song I made called ‘16 Shots' in honor of Laquan McDonald." The title is in reference to the 16 bullets fired by police officer Jason Van Dyke that murdered McDonald in Mensa’s hometown of Chicago.
Mensa recalled that his song was played in the courtroom of Van Dyke’s trial to try and convince the judge presiding over the case to try him in a different, mostly white, neighborhood as the song brought “safety” concerns for the officer according to Van Dyke’s lawyers. The song was used in the courtroom to try and persuade the judge to move Van Dykes trial to a whiter neighborhood according to Mensa last night.
Another moment that hit close for Mensa was when his close friend was convicted of a crime. Mensa got on the case to try and get him back home and won. This inspired the rapper to begin advocating for release of prisoners and getting them out of the prison cycle.
For Mensa, it was around this time that he came to the realization that “the highest calling is to be a servant.”
In light of the discussion on the toxic prison cycle in America, Box and Lorick asked him what he felt the most pressing issue in America is.
Mensa laughed and said that the list could go on forever but that his Ghanaian background and the time he spent in the country gave him a “perspective on how stressful and chaotic American life is.”
After some deliberation, Mensa argued that the most pressing issue in America is something innate to the country’s culture.
“America’s most fundamental values are violence and oppression. That's the most pressing issue. The ‘for all’ clause of the Constitution is the most challenging aspect because it originally wasn’t meant truly for everyone.”
Mensa also brings up gun violence in America and the dire need for gun control in the country. As a kid, Mensa recalled the firearm-related violence that he experienced as a child, which he argued is what made him jaded toward the topic for a very long time before realizing with age how important it remains as a topic in society.
On the topic of the First Amendment, Mensa recalls writing an article on gun control and facing backlash from many conservative news outlets, such as Breitbart News, for speaking on the issue. One organization even labeled him a “criminal” for it. Mensa says this is a testament to how free speech is often scrutinized in a culture that supposedly values it so strongly.
Box and Lorick then delved into more of Mensa’s activism. Mensa shared that the idea for starting his Save Money, Save Life charity organization came after his visit to the Gaza Strip and conversing with a local who complained about the inadequate healthcare infrastructure in the city. This was very relatable to Mensa, who grew up in a similar situation in Chicago, and the universality of the issue inspired Mensa to lend a helping hand through his platform
Mensa then goes on to list Jay-Z and Shaun King as two of his biggest inspirations for social justice –– Jay-Z, in particular, for collaborating with him to shorten prison sentences for multiple incarcerated individuals.
He also delved into the creation of the music video for his most recent song “Shelter”, which has now gained 370,000 views on YouTube. He spoke about the process of honoring COVID-19 victims in the video by laying flowers with people on the ground. It was a tribute not only to the over 500,000 dead in the U.S. due to COVID-19, but also to the director of the video who lost a loved one to the virus.
The video juxtaposes what Mensa saw as very hypocritical in U.S. society. Heavily militarized police during the Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020, but poor access to Personal Protective Equipment in many areas of the country.
Mensa briefly discussed some plans he was working on over the past year and a half. On top of music, Mensa is currently writing a book on life in America from both Black American and African American perspectives, as well as looking over some potential film scripts.
The evening with Vic Mensa, and the end of First Amendment week, can best be summarized by Mensa’s own words:
“Once you’ve been empowered with knowledge, it's up to you with what you do with it.”