Common said, “I definitely want to do my best to benefit the planet.” (Lila Brown/L.A. Sentinel)

On Dec. 7, the Black Equity Collective (BEC) held a Fireside Chat featuring hip hop artist, actor and philanthropist Common at the Blackbird House in Culver City. The program was moderated by Kaci Patterson, founder and chief architect of the BEC, which launched in 2021.

The intimate conversation was proceeded by a panel discussion facilitated by Felicia Jones, BEC managing director of Programs and Operations. BEC Members, Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life; Yusef-Andre Wiley, founder/CEO from Timelist Group Inc.; and Dina Walker, president/CEO of BLU Educational Foundation; were recognized for their work to advance racial justice in Los Angeles. This panel discussion aimed to address critical issues surrounding funding and racial equity within the Black community.

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Beyond his musical achievements, Common is a dedicated activist using his platform to address pressing social issues. His advocacy spans criminal justice reform, civil rights, and educational equality, reflecting a commitment to positive change.

By extension of his advocacy work, Common is actively involved in philanthropy focusing on education and community development through his organizations, Imagine Justice and Common Ground Foundation. His mission with Imagine Justice is to use uplifting stories of hope, redemption and humanity from people impacted by mass incarceration while his Common Ground Foundation seeks to empower and uplift youth from “high potential communities” – a conceptual term that he actively uses in place of descriptors such as minority and disadvantaged -to become future leaders.

Kaci Patterson and Common discuss racial equity and philanthropy. (Lila Brown/L.A. Sentinel)

The BEC is a network of funders and nonprofit leaders committed to investing in the long-term sustainability of Black-led organizations in Southern California. The organization demonstrates how to practice racial equity in grantmaking by co-designing programs geared for Black-led organizations with Black leaders themselves. The network of professionals provides technical assistance, financial resources and individual and peer coaching in order for Black-led organizations to thrive.

There is also a focus advancing equitable practices in philanthropy by creating spaces for funders to examine their own grant-making practices. To date, the BEC has re-granted $5.6 million to Black-led organizations in Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties.


“I definitely want to do my best to benefit the planet. It has come full circle to see someone I knew growing up that has been locked up for most of their lives, get to be a part of the program I’m now leading” Common explained to the audience while discussing his advocacy to abolish mass incarceration and rebuild a system of accountability.

His program works to reframe the narrative around incarceration while extending support for rehabilitation. “I know what creativity and purpose can be for anybody. Art and creativity is the way to express yourself and purpose for one to make better decisions. I’m really enthused about the work we’ve been doing from that perspective” he elaborated.

In 2017, Common partnered with the California Endowment to tour state prisons, which culminated with a concert of the steps of the State Capital that drew about 25,000 people. After an artistic career that propelled him from the south side of Chicago to poetry nights in the Obama White House, he is now a resident of Los Angeles dedicated to change the criminal justice system in the state.

From left are Susan Burton, Yusef-Andre Wiley, Dina Walker, and Felicia Jones. (Phylicia J. Photography)

“During my first day and moments, I met people who are some of the most impactful and most enlightened people I’ve met in my life. Some of the stories of the individuals the way they could trace their trauma and be able to talk about their turning points and talk about where they are now coming from the issues that we have in our communities that are beyond the individual. Those experiences are things that made me say I have to do more. That been my heart from the beginning,” he said.

Already deemed a New York Times best-selling author, Common has written numerous printed works including his 2019 memoir titled, “Let Love Have the Last Word,” and his forthcoming book, “And Then We Rise,” which is set to be released January 2024.

Through all his endeavors, Common remains a powerful voice for change, inspiring others to use their talents for the greater good.