When R&B superstar Usher teamed up with entertainment mogul Jay Z’s Tidal to promote a contest in conjunction with his “Chains” single, I instantly began brainstorming how “The REP Zone” could support the movement.
The contest was extended nationally to college students to tweet the hashtag #TIDALxCHAINS with their college or university’s name. The school with the most tweets would be the lucky winner to be considered for a chance to have Usher come to their school and host a conversation on social injustice.
So, I grabbed my DSLR camera, teamed up with a group of students at my college (Georgia State University) and created my own “Chains” video, #NoChainsOnGState, which illustrated how students on our campus are defying racial stereotypes and being leaders by “breaking the chains.” I can’t begin to express how excited I was when the video went viral on campus, causing our school to be the winners of the contest!
The non-stop chatter around campus everyday was on the anticipation of Usher’s visit, scheduled for April 12, 2016. On the day of the event, the GSU auditorium was jam packed with more students in the overflow area. He wasn’t coming to perform; he was coming to spend an hour sharing his inspiring vision while inspiring us to create a vision of change for ourselves too. My video was set on repeat and played on the big screens while the students enthusiastically filed into the room and found their highly sought after seats. I was excited and proud that this day was happening because a group of young people wanted to help to make a difference.
After Usher allowed me and my video cast to hang out with him in a private meet and greet, he made a grand entrance into our GSU auditorium, explained the concept behind his two ‘Chains’ music videos in thorough detail and even put the entire auditorium of students on his snapchat. He encouraged us to use the power of social media along with our talents and skills to spread positive messages around issues that we are passionate to share with the world. He shared his thoughts on police brutality and how he hopes his own artistic talents can be used to raise awareness about this very sensitive issue. He encouraged us to use our voices to raise awareness for other social issues, as well. It was very inspirational when he said, “As long as you have the ability to influence one person, that’s all you need. It’s a choice. It’s a matter of you making [these issues] a priority.”
He discussed the purpose of his “Chains” video and explained the video’s technology focused features that forced viewers to watch photos of police brutality victims such as Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and more were featured. If the viewer looked away, the video paused with a caption reading, “Don’t look away.”
“You can’t look away,” Usher told us. “In order to fix [the issues] we have to face [them]. It was exciting to see, hear and feel the excitement and responses from my video’s participating cast after the event and the awesome opportunity to meet with the guest of honor.
Khylia Davis enthusiastically expressed, “I wanted to be involved in the video because it is such a pressing issue in my community that is constantly overlooked and the video gave my friends and I even my campus a voice to be heard in a non-violent and positive way that the world had no choice but to hear us. Also because social activism is important to get your point across in a positive stand point.”
Corey Gray, Jr said, “I wanted to be involved in the video because of what the story behind the lyrics are. This song is such a powerful and motivation song that truly exemplifies what is actually happening right now. It was a great opportunity being a part of this project. It was such an honor to meet and hear from Usher! He is such a genuine and compassionate person who truly cares about his fans.
“Social activism is probably the most important type of activism that affects our community. One thing that I feel like we need a stronger sense of in America is community. I can truly say that this song inspires people to stand up for what they believe in and unite as a people. One people.”
And Micole Kemp shared, “I mainly wanted to be involved to support Tony and his vision to give back to the community. My experience with Usher was amazing! He had such an amazing spirit and shared some amazing words of encouragement. The most important thing I learned from Usher was ‘when you’re given a platform, use it to your advantage with an amazing message attached to it.’”
The greatest feelings come from taking action to support a cause that makes a positive impact and helps to change the world. That’s what being in “The REP Zone” is all about. Living our lives to represent in the most positive and impactful ways possible and using our talents, skills and resources to make a difference.
Usher and the winning students of Georgia State University are breaking the chains and definitely in The REP ZONE! Get in!
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