Tracy Morgan in a scene from Cop Out

*Comedian Tracy Morgan has seen Bruce Willis’ “Die Hard” movies umpteen times. So, when he got the chance to co-star with Willis in the new action-comedy “Cop Out,” Morgan was ecstatic. “For them to even offer me the role, I couldn’t believe it. This was definitely a dream come true,” Morgan enthuses.

A lot of Tracy Morgan’s dreams have come true since his childhood in the projects of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Back then, Morgan had no idea that he’d wind up starring in movies and on two hit TV series (“Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock”) but he was determined to escape what he calls “the deprivation…(and) degradation that I witnessed” in his neighborhood.

“My dad sat me down and said, ‘You have to be better than this generation. You have to be better than me. So, he gave me the drive and the motivation,” remembers Morgan gratefully.

Those life lessons were co-signed by Morgan’s mom. You can hear the pride in his voice when Morgan says, “My mother gave me the stubbornness to refuse to lose. My mother had five kids and raised them all. She refused to lose any of us to the streets or anything!”

“BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME”

Writer/director Jeb Stuart’s gripping independent film “Blood Done Sign My Name” dramatizes the outrage that shook the racially-divided town of Oxford, North Carolina in 1970 after a group of white men was acquitted for murdering a black Vietnam War veteran. The dynamic young actor Nate Parker (“The Great Debaters,” “The Secret Life of Bees” and the forthcoming Tuskegee Airmen actioner, “Red Tails”) stars as Benjamin Chavis who at that time, (decades before his stint as NAACP chairman and ally to Louis Farrakhan, Russell Simmons, etc.), was a 22-year-old high school teacher who inspired Oxford’s teens to protest the unjust murder verdict. Fired by abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ timeless charge that “power concedes nothing without demand,” Chavis exhorts his students to redirect their anger from rioting to organized demonstrations that put pressure on the racist system.

“Blood Done Sign My Name” reminds us that African-American youth and young adults have played a crucial role in the struggle against racial injustice. The flame of social consciousness still burns within many of our black youth, but it seems much less widespread than in decades past. It’s true that young voters came out en masse when Barack Obama ran for President, but how many of them are still engaged in the political process? How many youth are tracking the important debates in Washington (or in their state capitals and city halls for that matter) around the economy, budget cuts for schools and social programs, healthcare reform or the war in Afghanistan? How many youth read the paper or watch network news?

Over the last decade, Benjamin Chavis has helped hip hop mogul Russell Simmons’ organize youth seminars on politics and finance through Simmons’ Hip Hop Summit Action Network. Many young people attend these events eager to absorb important information, but others show up merely to meet their favorite entertainers and sports stars. How well-attended would workshops like this be if no rappers or pro athletes were scheduled to attend?

Hip hop stars deserve applause for building businesses and launching charitable foundations. But, despite decades of talk by conscious rappers and activists, the so-called “Hip Hop Nation” has not become a force in political, social and economic policy. And it never will so long as it continues to be self-centered, tolerant of anti-social behavior and obsessed with trivialities like brand names, cars, selfish sex, bling and being up in the VIP at the club. Biggie Smalls’ infamous line, “Money, ho**s and clothes, all a n***ga knows,” has become a social doctrine for far too many of our youth. And our people as a whole are weaker for it.

There’s a powerful scene in “Blood Done Sign My Name” where Nate Parker, as Ben Chavis, etches a bold motto on the chalkboard for his students: “You can have whatever you can take, but you can only keep what you can hold.” Chavis tells his class that taking and holding on to “things” isn’t important – in fact, the system won’t come down on you if that’s all you care about. But taking, and holding on to equality is the key to bringing down an unjust system. In 2010, black young people need to make sure they’re taking and holding onto the right things.

Thanks for listening. I’m Cameron Turner and that’s my two cents.

THINK! IT AIN’T ILLEGAL…YET!

Read more “Turner’s Two Cents” on www.UrbanThoughtCollective.com, www.UrbanBeautyCollective.com and www.PasadenaJournal.com. In Los Angeles, watch for Cameron Turner on KNBC Channel 4 on “The Filter with Fred Roggin.”