By Santura Pegram
Whether you’re a fan of rap music or not. Someone who hails from urban America, rural America or suburbia. Regardless of whether your ethnic background often unfairly restricts you to being deemed less worthy (and less human) due to being someone with a darker skin pigmentation, or someone who has chosen to ignore the historical benefits of being a recipient of “white privilege,” the intellectual-spiritual- and economic principles that were practiced daily by Mr. Ermias ‘Nipsey Hussle’ Asghedom should never be forgotten and cannot be devalued by anyone.
As someone who is almost twice Nipsey’s age when his life was tragically cut short recently in yet another senseless act of gun violence, and as someone who has always found responses to be unacceptable excuses regarding conversations on why there have not been more examples of community empowerment models throughout African-American communities, Nipsey and I not only shared the experience of what it means to have been a Grandma’s boy, but we also shared a similar, uncommon mindset of helping disadvantaged people from disenfranchised communities even though I never had the pleasure of meeting or talking with him.
Although every life is priceless and there continues to be a lengthy, devastating, ongoing trail of people who have left this realm seemingly long before their time – including my own son who was forced to leave here at 25 years of age – Nipsey’s transition was different than most. No, he was not among the first national music celebrities to lose his life to street violence just as his promising career was on the verge of rising to a greater level: Scott La Rock, Chris Bender, Tupac Shakur, Christopher ‘Biggie Smalls’ Wallace, my old buddie – DJ Uncle Al, and an unnecessary list of others over the last three decades did that. (May peace be upon their souls). However, the loss of Nipsey Hussle penetrated deeper than most because of his almost unheard of, unwavering allegiance to the community in which he came from.
‘Neighborhood Nip’s’ story transcends life unlike any other figure in sports, music, entertainment or politics throughout the last 100 years. And, he did so through the message of business. For most young minority males (and some females too) who lack(ed) the blessing of having a college education, influential connections or a parent(s) who have the financial means to pay to get you into and/or through a top-tier university, life in urban America is real. More unlikely is the ability to overcome the lifestyle of transitioning from being a street soldier into becoming a legitimate entrepreneur like Mr. Asghedom did. The guy was the epitome of what it means to “give back” to where it all began. He didn’t do so for the purpose of seeking public awards or recognition. Instead, he did so because it was/is the right thing to do for those less fortunate. Nipsey surely had the potential to make other wealthy celebrities and business leaders feel a sense of shame for that which the majority of them have never done…reach back and do the biblical thing of directly helping people who are strangers and don’t owe them or us anything beforehand.
He, and his like-minded circle of family members-friends, essentially created a modern day one block version for the Crenshaw-Slauson District of L.A. akin to what Black Wall Street was to Greenwood-Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early 1900’s. Thankfully, Nipsey and the closest members of his team did more than simply talk about the problems plaguing every urban community. He/They understood that every ethnic group of people help their own except Black people, which compelled him/them to be the exception.
Yes, rap music may have been his chosen profession and one which he clearly garnered attention from countless youth by utilizing that platform, but his real power evolved through his rare comprehension and self-taught devotion to implementing business models as a means to impacting one’s community that resonated with hardworking, struggling, ordinary people. Combined with his insistence upon hiring men and women who society continually discriminates against for possessing any of the following disqualifiers – an ex-felon, former addict, someone who lacks a college degree, an 800-plus credit score or another trivial “reason” that has always been used against a person of color, Ermias Asghedom’s ability to strategically build a savvy team around him and cultivate his vision into reality is unprecedented. Sadly, most people fail to comprehend that few things in life are as important as empowering people by offering someone the means or helping them to feed themselves, clothe themselves and shelter themselves. Variables which are embraced Islamic principles and ones which evolve from a simple job opportunity. And, elements which can improve any city.
More importantly, Ermias apparently understood and exercised spiritual enlightenment as signs of keen wisdom were woven into everything he did in his community from re-building basketball courts to advocating against street violence to offering job opportunities to people in his old neighborhood by opening relevant businesses. That’s better than honorable…that’s tangible and God-pleasing! We’re not talking about a guy who was a proprietor of a liquor store, seedy bars/nite clubs, predatory loan or check cashing stores, pawn shops, bails bond companies or another common eyesore within every urban community that preys upon its residents like parasites. Instead, Ermias ‘Nipsey Hussle’ Asghedom was a legitimate entrepreneurial genius-community influencer-musical trendsetter-urban humanitarian, and Prince of Peaceful Prosperity.
Imagine what could transpire if 10 or 20 of the wealthiest African-American athletes from every sport (among the likes of Lebron-Stephen Curry, Russell Wilson-Khalil Mack, Ryan Howard-Derek Jeter, Serena-Venus Williams, Floyd Mayweather-Bernard Hopkins) linked up with 10 to 20 of the wealthiest music entertainers (like Jay-Z, Kanye West and others), 10 to 20 of the top African-American actors/actresses/film & television producers-directors (such as Oprah, Tyler Perry, Denzel Washington and more), 10 to 20 of the leading black corporate CEO’s (like David L. Steward, Kenneth Chenault, R. Donahue Peebles, etc.), and 10 to 20 of the top African-American investment leaders on the globe (like Robert F. Smith, Mellody Hobson, Adebayo Ogunlesi and others) to spark ongoing conversations and concentrate on a “massive action plan for urban communities across America.” A plan that would entail launching companies that could compete with most of the major brands out there today across every sector of business which are owned by and look nothing like their primary customer(s). Now THAT would be a chess move plan!
Hopefully, more people will begin to consider business plans of brilliant individual’s like Nipsey Hussle’s. After all, for a Marathon to continue, a person or people must be willing to accept the baton and run forward by capitalizing on recognizing the difference between a hand up vs. a handout.
Thanks for the lesson, Hussleman!
“Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.” * (Proverbs 22:9)
- (Santura Pegram is a freelance writer and business professional. A former aide-protégé to the Honorable M. Athalie Range of Florida, Santura often writes on topics ranging from socially relevant issues to international business to politics.)