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Common knows a thing or two about wrestling with tough subjects.  

In his 25-plus years as a Grammy- and Oscar-winning rapper, actor, advocate, and activist, the Chicago native has gone up against racial injustice, social inequality, and poverty with his powerful words and performances.  

But recently, he has taken an active role in another tough battle: education reform.


All photos courtesy of XQ.

In 2006, he started the Common Ground Foundation, a nonprofit that, as he puts it, isn't trying to "preach" to kids, but rather inspire them to lift themselves up.

"I always believed that if we started with the youth then we would be planting the seeds for our future to blossom," says Common in his organization's mission statement. "Give the children a sense of hope, self-esteem, and love that will better the world."

Common's idea for improving education revolves around one simple concept: Education has to evolve.

"I think education has to evolve when society evolves," Common says. "It's like a constant evolution of what the youth may need and what they're attentive to ... and finding out those things and letting that curriculum be something that's progressive."

"I still think about the periodic charts in science that I can still recite," Common says, remembering a science teacher from his youth who made his students rattle off the elements of the periodic table in a rhythmic pattern. He used an engaging and youthful form of communication to teach a lesson that stuck. "His method was fun," he explains.

XQ Luminary: Common

Thanks to one very special teacher, this rapper can still recite the elements of the periodic table.

Posted by Upworthy on Thursday, December 14, 2017

Around the country, more and more schools are helping their students by engaging directly with their interests.

There's Youth On Record, an organization that helps kids catch up on missed high school credits by teaching them music production, and classrooms like Makerspace in Phoenix, where kids can build whatever they want.

If the American education system is to be improved, finding out what kids actually enjoy — and using that to teach — could be a crucial way to do it.

"We have to relate to one another," Common says. "Teachers have to know how to relate. If we can relate as educators, and teachers and school systems to the youth, they will receive it and retain it. And go out and apply it at a higher level."

Whether it's music, fashion, or building robots, there are lessons to be learned everywhere. Common believes that harnessing the power of those natural interests is the key to our future."But I'm just offering my two cents," he says.

"My Common sense. Pun intended."

Learn more at XQSuperSchool.org.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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