Pouring Concrete Over Roses

When I saw the new Powerade “Rose From Concrete” commercial, I knew we had another great moment to raise some important questions:

The tagline at the end of the commercial states in simple white font over a black background: “We’re all just a kid from somewhere.” The inspiration for this commercial seems to have come from the late Tupac Shakur’s poem, “The Rose That Grew From Concrete.” 

Before we talk about the deeper questions raised by this commercial, let’s start with a powerful clip of Tupac explaining the poem (and if ever there was a time to step back and be grateful for technology like YouTube, this is one of those times).

“People love to have mercy and sympathy for everything…from the animals, to the whales, to fur, to everything…except us. Your youth. The ones who you’ve given no attention to…who become adults…if you walk by a street…and you saw a rose growing out of concrete…even if it had messed up petals and it was a little to the side, you would marvel at just seeing a rose grow through concrete. So why is it that when you see some ghetto kid grow out of all the dirtiest circumstances, and he can talk and sit across from you and make you smile and make you cry and make you laugh…all you can talk about is my dirty rose, my dirty stems, and how I’m leaning crooked to the side…you can’t even see that I came up out of that sh*t.”

For those of us from the Chicago area, there is a deep connection to Derrick Rose and the Shakespearean battles between his athletic gift and his physical health. But for those from the Englewood neighborhood on the south side of Chicago who really understand what life is like at the street intersection (75th & S. Ashland) featured in the commercial…there is a different level of connection to the images of a mother, of a child riding a BMX-style bike past a police car and through alleys, and of the parade of empty streets with boarded apartment buildings and closed storefronts.

Still I Rise (L/E 1500 Litho)

So, with the powerful imagery of the commercial’s directors…and the powerful context provided by Tupac’s poem and commentary, we come back to the commercial’s tagline:

We’re all just a kid from somewhere.”

“We’re All” – These are potentially very powerful words in a moment when multiple communities are challenging the American people with the foundational question of whether they get to be included in the “We the people” clause of our nation’s Constitution. These opening words challenge each of us to consider whether we are willing to identify and stand with those who have “dirty stems” and are “leaning crooked to the side”. This is one of the most important questions we have to answer as a country. This question calls for something much more profound that pity, shame, or even empathy. Are we willing to go there?

“Just a kid” – A powerful clause. It suggests a level of humility that is rarely demonstrated when we get into conversations about “what to do” with young people in all the Englewoods across the country. This statement is less about the child(ren) we’re seeing, and really speaks to what we see in ourselves. This is a statement about the present. This is saying that we are currently “just kids”. It is a statement of humility. It says that we are all products of our life experiences and present contexts, and that our life perspectives are both enhanced and limited by the lives we’ve lived. This clause says: “I don’t know it all. My way of solving problems may not work for you. You know things that I don’t. I can learn from you. I can listen to you. We can work together to solve our problems.” What would happen if each of us approached the world from that mindset?

“From somewhere” – This ending seems straightforward enough, but our current political, social, and economic environment is failing so many people in part because we have allowed ourselves to give into a narrative where some people’s “somewhere” is more important than other people’s “somewhere”. I am not trying to pretend that some level of the “us-vs-them, protect-the-tribe” mentality has not always been part of the human experience. I am asking us to pretend – or even better, believe – that our country stands and survives on a few core principles. One of these principles is that our unalienable rights (as well as our Bill of Rights) should not depend on whether someone else deems our cultural, geographic, or economic location to be worthy of such rights. Debate about the full meaning of these rights is fine. Devaluing the full humanity of those who come from a different “somewhere” is not.

Tupac ends his poem with the line,

Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared!

I agree.

– Day G.

Host, Class of Hope & Change