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Anyone familiar with me or my history would consider me the least likely to use my platform and influence to promote the film, Straight Outta Compton. N-ggas With Attitudes, more popularly known as NWA, is the rap group from Compton, California that introduced the world to a new genre of music. Their songs experienced meteoric success with hit titles like “F-ck the police,” an anti-police song that exposed and protested police brutality. Reports of misconduct by law enforcement within inner-city communities was a widespread cry. In addition to the anti-police themes, NWA’s music was laden with provocative lyrics that appeared to glamorize gang life, violence, and murder. Incidentally, their music skyrocketed simultaneously with an unprecedented epidemic of gang violence and murder in inner cities throughout the country. It’s hard to tell if the music influenced the epidemic or vice-versa, but what I can remember is the culture wreaking havoc in communities like the one I grew up in. Eventually it would nearly cost me my life.

This was during the mid 80’s to early 90’s. There was a notable surge of crime and murder amongst blacks in the neighborhood during this time. It seemed like everyday we received news of someone dying at the hands of another within the community. The feeling of death permeated our streets. Strangers and friends alike were being shot and killed at every turn. These senseless murders were becoming so common that the authorities came up with the phrase “drive-by shooting”. In December of 1988 this culture of violence came to my very doorstep. At 16 years old I laid on a cold poorly paved concrete sidewalk, bleeding from the mouth and gasping for air. A victim of violence – the perpetrator – not brutal police, but men the same color as me. Somehow they found the brazenness to attempt to end the life of someone they’d never even met. Obviously, I survived, and by the grace of God I thrived, but that wasn’t the tale of most young men I grew up with in my neighborhood. What is ironic about the night my life nearly came to an end, is that an unexpected subject, came to my aid and saved my life. The melody of the song “F-uck The Police” was without question in my library of cassette tapes. Perhaps it even played in my subconscious because of popularity, but when an officer from the LAPD arrived to my side before the medics there were two ironies that did not escape me. One, the words of a cop would undoubtedly save my life. This officer passionately coached me to not die and to hang on to what little life I had left. The other irony is that what happened to me that night could have easily been a verse in any number of songs written by NWA, with one exception: the part where the police saved my life. The music I played so often had nearly foretold my future, and for me it was no longer just artistic expression.

When I learned that a movie was being made about NWA last year I was deeply concerned. Questions arose in my mind: What will be the emphasis? Will there be a resurgence of the gang violence and murder that we saw in the 80’s and 90’s? According to The New York Times, violent crime in our nation dropped 40% between 1994 – 2013. After making so much progress could we afford to go backwards? My angst grew even more as the film release date drew near and began to run parallel with a constant, terrifying stream of headlines necessitating the hashtag #BLACKLIVESMATTER to flood social media. I didn’t know the storyline of the film, but worried that bringing attention to the group who wrote arguably the most popular anti-police song in history could further strain relations between law enforcement and the inner-city. I was afraid this was a cost America could not afford in the wake of the officer involved killings of unarmed black men like Christian Taylor, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and countless others. Would Straight Outta Compton widen the gap of division in our nation and lead us to a point of no return? These thoughts and questions played out in my mind, but were short-lived when replaced by a prevailing, more positive thought: this film could be an opportunity to tell a version of history not often heard. Could it serve as the missing element required to create a brighter more compassionate future for our nation?

After seeing the film, I believe that answer is yes, and that the film can do that very thing.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to a variety of environments and cultures throughout my life. The first 9 years of my life I lived in the multi-cultural climate of Oakland California. From there my mother and I moved to Watts, an inner-city community that borders Compton which at the time was predominantly black. Much like Ice Cube’s storyline in the film, my mother bussed me out of Watts to attend a suburban school in the affluent Hancock Park area of Los Angeles. When the opportunity presented itself I began to attend private school in the Long Beach area. My life’s journey has continued to lead me to experience a variety of socioeconomic and cultural variety, both domestically and internationally. My experiences have afforded me to learn many lessons. One of the greatest lessons that these experiences have taught me, is that judgment is always based upon vantage point. This means the broader the perspective, the fairer the judgment.

I believe that prejudice is the greatest enforcer of conflict to unity and progress, and creates a barrier in the human experience. The prejudice that I’m speaking of is not synonymous with racism, although a racist has already pre-judged. I submit for your consideration that any person becomes a pre-judger when they draw a conclusion to a matter before seeing it from every possible angle. The only way to accurately, fairly and productively judge something is to strive to see it from every side. Everyone desires justice in his or her own context, but true and lasting justice can only be achieved when all has been respectfully and intelligently considered from every vantage point. Each time that we pre-judge something in haste, laziness or ignorance, we add a brick to the concrete wall of separation that keeps conflict alive and growing. To the contrary, when we value others enough to take time to listen, understand and see from their vantage point, the power of empathy begins to dissolve the walls of separation. Amidst conflict, a playing field can be created that allows for concessions that once seemed unthinkable or unreasonable.

‘Straight Outta Compton’ tells the story of the rise and fall of NWA from a vantage point that most Americans would never be able to see. The plight of a group of young black men with a unique set of circumstances is humanized by the common context that brought them together. That context was that they were NWA, n-ggas with attitudes. I wonder if the society that “pre-judged” them ever stopped to try and understand them. Did they ever ask the question how they got their attitudes? Were they born with an attitude or did the circumstances of their environment produce it? It was much easier to label them thugs and worthless hooligans than to try to understand where they were coming from. Who is willing to search for the cry woven into the profanity? And maybe the best question yet is reserved for those who have power, resources, and influence to create change. Is it within my power to seek out solutions, and perhaps provide relief to the very situations that created their outcry?

It’s a paradigm shift and our nation (perhaps even our world) needs to get on board. As it relates to the conflict between law enforcement and residents of inner-city communities, have we taken the time to understand the fear, lack of sensitivity, and aggression of some in the police department? Or have we made the judgment of racism the only plausible prognosis? Could it be that the clear desensitization regularly on display in many inner-cities amongst its own residents through drugs, violence and murder has in some way contributed to the hardness of the police who patrol those streets? These are the real, true questions that we have to consider if we want to go beyond finger-pointing and find real solutions to heal our nation. It comes down to perspective. Blindness occurs when we are only committed to seeing our own.

Before seeing ‘Straight Outta Compton’ I had judgment in my heart towards Gangsta Rap because I believed that it played a part in the surge of violence that cost so many lives and nearly cost me my own. After viewing the film I left seeing a bit of myself in several of the characters. They each represented early parts of my evolution. My wife Sarah recounts her mother discussing how humans have the tendency to hypocritically, “burn the school down after they graduate.” I didn’t want to be guilty of lighting a match to a time and place I knew all too well. After watching the movie I saw myself in Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and so many others. The prevailing sentiment of NWA is that they wanted the same thing that most people want – to express themselves, and to get ahead. The inner-city environment creates a desperation to escape by any means necessary. The possibility of finally doing so can blind many to the reality that some of those means leave a trail of bodies on their road STRAIGHT OUTTA where they came from. I don’t believe that NWA expected their music would fuel gang culture or create hate. They just blazed a trail using what appeared to be the only option in sight. Gangster rap may have been their runway, but their exposure allowed for them to take off and evolve into doing greater and more productive things. Maybe you have a right to critique their methods and your vantage point should be respected as well, but when you make a judgment you must factor in the group’s reality at the time they were creating their sound. This is a lesson that even our nation’s justice system can learn from. Fair and productive justice will always require the balance that comes from seeking to understand diverse perspectives. Will I ever again be a fan of Gangsta Rap, or “reality rap” as NWA would call it? I doubt it, but our nation would do well by understanding it and aiming to see the part that we’ve played in its creation. Often we play a role in the creation of something by ignoring the cry that created what we have come to lament.

I believe there is an opportunity to heal from an unlikely place. I think that healing just might come Straight Outta Compton.

4 thoughts on “Why Every American Should See The Film ‘Straight Outta Compton’

  1. I saw the movie #StraightOuttaCompton my good friend and actor Allen Maldonado was in the film. Hes plays one of the dope dealers (bright skinned) in the movie. I loved the entire movie! Id love to see a sequel! The music brought back so many memories,for me, as I have a younger brother and sister that began to hang out Snoop Dogg, and Warren G, etc etc etc while I am home praying for them all! I had no clue what NWA was really all about. But I knew God had kept and blessed them! (LBC-ya had to be there in 83-87) Back then Long Beach was so full of acts and music and opportunities to be discovered and become famous! I love my history!

  2. I saw the movie #StraightOuttaCompton in support of actor Allen Maldonado who is in the film. Hes plays one of the dope dealers in the movie. I loved the entire movie! I d love to see a sequel! I mean Dr Dre, Ice Cube, and Snoop still make music today, right? The music brought back so many memories for me. As I have a younger brother and sister that began to hang out Snoop Dogg, and Warren G, back in the day while I am home praying for them all! Back then I had no clue who or what NWA was really all about. But I knew one thing God truly kept and blessed all of them! (LBC-ya had to be there in 83-87) Back then Long Beach was so full of acts and music and opportunities to be discovered and become famous! I love my history!

  3. That couldn’t have been stated more eloquently. Thank you, Pastor. I love how you and First Lady Sarah speak on subjects without being caught up in church community backlash. It’s real and relevant. I too saw the movie and although I didn’t grow up in that environment, I definitely had more compassion understanding the root – causes that surrounded them. I’ll say no more. You said it all. Thank you.

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