Amid outcry from the state police union, a New Jersey university has decided to cancel a commencement speech from rapper Common over a song he wrote a fifteen years ago in honor of Black activist Assata Shakur.
Kean University students expressed interest in hearing Common speak at graduation in large part due to his powerful and emotional single “Glory,” written for the 2014 civil rights film Selma. But a union representative told NJ.com that Kean’s decision to go with Common would be a “slap in the face” given his 2000 track — “A Song for Assata” — is an ode to Black Panther Joanne Chesimard (aka Assata Shakur), who was convicted of the 1973 killing of a New Jersey trooper.
Shakur, who is currently living in political asylum in Cuba after escaping prison in 1979, has long been upheld as a symbol of Black resistance and liberation.
On the song, which details the mistreatment she endured while in police custody, Common declares:
In the Spirit of Assata Shakur
We make this movement towards freedom
For all those who have been oppressed, and all those in the struggle
In an email statement, Chris Burgos, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey, said:
“What is troubling here is that a state university that is subsidized with state taxpayer funds, is once again being questioned on their decision-making at the highest levels.”
A university spokeswoman said the announcement of Common’s commencement speech, made Monday night, was premature. The school is currently pursuing other options for a speaker.
Common has yet to comment on Kean’s decision to cut him from the program. Watch the video below to listen to “A Song For Assata.”