Common Performs at the White House; Obama Makes No Mention of Controversy

By MichaelJames

May 11, 2011 9:42pm

ABC News' Sunlen Miller reports:

Without mention of controversy surrounding Common’s performance, President Obama welcomed an audience to the White House poetry night, revealing that he, too, considers himself a poet.

“I have actually submitted a couple poems to my college literary magazine and you will be pleased to know what that I will not be reading them,” President Obama joked from the East Room of the White House this evening.

The president spoke about the emotion of poetry.

“The power of poetry is everybody experiences it differently. There are no rules on what makes a great poem,” Obama said. “Instead, a great poem is one that resonates with us and challenges us and teaches us something about ourselves.”

President Obama also referenced the long history of poetry in the United States – how it has told the nation’s story or helped a nation heal in times of tragedy.

“It was after the bombing of Fort McHenry during the war of 1812 when a young Frances Scott Key penned the poems that would become our national anthem,” Obama said. “And whenever our nation has faced a great tragedy, whether it was the loss of a great civil rights leader, the crew of a space shuttle or the thousands of Americans who were lost during a clear September day, we turn to poetry when we can’t quite find the words to express what we’re feeling.”

The president said that tonight was a celebration, hearing from the nation’s greatest and newest performers.

The much anticipated Common recited lyrics to a rap song in poem form, which tipped his hat to the nation’s first African American president and started and ended with words of Martin Luther King playing over the loud speaker.

This is his poem:  

“I woke up with the sunshine. A sunshine I had never seen. There was light at the end of it. Reminded me to forever dream. I was dreaming I walked into the White House. With love on my sleeve. And love for each and every one of you. Reminding you to believe. These are the words of a believer achiever. Leader of the globe, feed the souls of those in need.  I bleed the blood of the struggle. Walking over troubled puddles. The hustle is in my chest. No hustle no progress. Extremities of life in this process. The birth of a son. The death of another. With love I caress both mothers. And told ‘em whose in control is the one that’s above is. I walk where money talks and love stutters. The body language of a nation. Going though changes. The young become dangerous. Spent into anger. Anger gets sent through the chamber. It’s tough when your own look like strangers. We are the sons of gangsters and stone rangers. If he could how would Ernie Barnes paint us? Look at the picture. It’s hard not to blame us. But time forgives in the shy where the young die often. Do they end up in a coffin because we haven’t taught them? Is it what we talkin’, we really ain't walking. Dudes, hustlers, paid. How much did it cost them? I find myself on the same corner that we lost them. Real talkin’ in their ear like a walkman. My thoughts been around the corner to the world. So when I see them I see my baby girl. The Lord lives among us. The youngest hunger, recover. Means to get it by anyways necessary under pressure. Children feeling lesser with the spill upon the dresser. Killer, willer aggressors. Destiny’s children, survivors, soldiers.  In front of buildings their eyes look older. It’s hard to see blessings in a violent culture. Face against rappings. Sirens holsters – that ‘aint the way that Langston Hughes wrote us. So controllers on the shoulders of Moses. And Noah. We go from being precious to Oprah. Cultivated to overcome. Ever since we came over. Seize the day in the way that you can see the determined. The soul that keeps burning. Shorty’s know to keep learning. Lessons in my life are like stripes that we earning.  I took Grant’s advice that Christ is returning. Like a thief in the night. I write for beacons of light. For those of us in dark alleys and park valleys. Street hits spark valleys of the conscience. Conquerors of a contest . Even the unseen know that God watches. For one King’s dream he was able to Barack us. One King’s dream he was able to Barack us. One King’s dream he was able to Barack us.”

“Thank you and God bless,” Common said at the end of his poem, without referring to the controversy over his invitation to perform. “I appreciate being here.”

Right after Steve Martin’s band finished, President Obama stood up, clapping, and then brought everyone back onstage, thanking all of the performers by name. Before exiting the stage, Obama gave Common a big hug.

- Sunlen Miller

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