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Common’s online class helps students find their voices while addressing social justice issues

The South Side native partners with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students to experts in more than 3,000 subjects including history, science and broadcasting.

Common performs onstage at the Lena Horne Prize Event Honoring Solange Knowles in February in New York City.
Common performs onstage at the Lena Horne Prize Event Honoring Solange Knowles in February in New York City.
Getty Images

In an era where parents are searching for creative ways to keep their children engaged outside of e-learning, an educational organization has enlisted one of Chicago’s favorite sons to teach a virtual course .

Starting Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., South Side native Common — who wears many hats, as a musician, activist and actor — will launch the online Varsity Tutors’ Social Conscience Series with the aim of teaching students how to develop their voices in causes that matter to them.

Common plans to teach a free, one session only 45-minute class titled “Finding Your Voice,” to assist students in curating their voices while sharing his experiences and influences.

Anyone interested in registering for hisclass or any others in the series, can sign up at https://www.varsitytutors.com/. (All ages are welcome, but the class is best for sixth graders to high school students.)

The classes are also meant to assist parents in supplementing e-learning lessons amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it gives parents and students a chance to focus and hear from people who have had journeys and are well-equipped through life experiences to teach about life and to teach about whatever their passion and their career has created for them,” said Common, who often advocates for social justice including criminal justice reform, HIV/AIDS awareness, and animal rights. “I would always say that if I wasn’t an artist and a musician, I would’ve wound up teaching, so I’m getting to live out and fulfill some of that prophecy — that vision for myself.

Common has education is blood. He has his mother, Dr. Mahalia Hines, who has 35 years of experience as a former Chicago Public Schools principal and teacher, to lean on for advice.

“I was just talking to her about that [teaching experience],”said Common. “I actually felt like her being a teacher benefited me so much. To this day, not only just what I was doing in school specifically, but I feel like that’s what helps set a foundation for what I do now.”

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 23: (L-R) Dr. Mahalia Ann Hines and Common attend the Common Ground Gala on April 23, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty Images for Common Ground Foundation) ORG XMIT: 632215575
Dr. Mahalia Hines (left) and her son, musician/activist Common attend the Common Ground Foundation Gala on April 23, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.
Jeff Schear/Getty Images

The Social Conscience Series has a variety of virtual classes including “Who Was the Greatest? Boxers Who Fought for Social Justice,” “Women in Modern American History,” and “The Origins of American Slavery,” among others.

Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform founded in 2007, connects students to experts in more than 3,000 subjects including history, science, and broadcasting, among other disciplines. Common is one of the notable figures trying their hand at teaching including gymnast Aly Raisman, engineer and retired NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, and wildlife educator Nathaniel “Coyote” Peterson.

“Common is the merge in terms of this platform where we’ll have tens of thousands of students in his class, and what really intrigued us about him was his activism via the Common Ground Foundation and all he’s doing for HIV/AIDS awareness and social justice,” said Brian Galvin, Varsity Tutors’ chief academic officer who the MC for Common’s “Finding Your Voice” class. “He’s taken his platform and used it for good in so many ways — he also has this universally recognized voice.”

Galvin says about 500,000 students have taken advantage of some of Varsity Tutors’ larger free classes. He says the company wanted to go further than the normal platitudes while casually bowing out of addressing social justice issues in any tangible way.

“A lot of companies had ‘Facebook blackout’ for a day or they’ve made donations,” said Galvin. “We’ve had at that point close to half a million students come through and look at free classes and we thought: ‘We got this platform where kids want to learn about what’s going on.’ A lot of topics on activism, Black history, women’s history, and social justice that just don’t make it into mainstream curriculum.”

Common believes the class, along with the others in Varsity Tutors’ curriculum can offer an outlet for inspiration.

“I know my people from Chicago have been going through a lot,” said Common. “I wasn’t given those jewels [specific advice] growing up, so I feel it’s very valuable what I’m going to teach about finding your voice and then using your voice for change. It’s been the story of my life and I thrive in it.”