Sho Baraka is one of the most interesting people out there. He’s an Atlanta-based rapper with a brand new album (The Narrative) but that’s only half of his public presence. He is also a bona fide public intellectual and co-founder of the AND Campaign, a nonpartisan group that tries to influence the political sphere. Going into a year that will need authentic, bold Christian voices more than ever, Baraka might be one of 2017’s most important people. We talked with him about Christians using their voices for social change.
###Last year, you co-founded a nonprofit called the AND Campaign. Tell us about that.
There’s a lot of people who are like me, who have strong convictions that come from a biblical or faith background, but also struggle as individuals somewhat diverse in their upbringing. I don’t necessarily feel like I align wholeheartedly with a political party.
There are things about the left that I think are wonderful, traditional speaking. There are things about the right, traditional speaking, that I think are excellent, as well. But to subscribe to one political party and give all of myself to the party without any kind of castigation I think is somewhat dangerous.
There’s a group of people who feel like they are left out of the political landscape, because the right doesn’t necessarily speak for them and the left doesn’t necessarily speak for them. So we wanted to create a coalition, called the AND campaign, that removes the false choice and the false binaries that politics tend to create for people. We wanted to say we transcend the parties and we want to be able to engage both sides in a way that will perpetuate our values.
###How does public engagement connect with your work as an artist?
It’s all who I am. One of the things I’ve tried to figure out is how to consolidate all of who I am, rather than feeling like I’m compartmentalizing myself, and so this aspect of being what some people would call a social-thought leader or a public figure is an asset of who I am as an artist.
I try to make sure that there’s intersectionality in all that I do because my faith informs my art, which also informs my public thinking, which also informs my friendships and the work I do as a leadership developer.
###You’ve been particularly vocal about issues related to race lately. Why?
The things I won’t address are the things that I feel like I’m ignorant on, or the things that I feel like I don’t have great authority to speak to. But it just seems to be that this particular climate we’re living in leans heavily on race, things of identity, things of faith.
Before I was ever “qualified” to speak on those things, I was processing through this as a young black man growing up with an identity complex. … And so once I became more academically savvy, once I became an individual who knew how to put terms, theories and philosophies to these thoughts that I was wrestling with, then it gave me the qualification to be able to speak to it on a more recognized platform.
###What do you think Christians need to be concerned about specifically in 2017?
What we’re trying to create is a coalition that has yet to have a legitimate platform. And if we can do that, I think we can make some significant changes.
Policy and politics follow culture. It’s not the other way: Politics don’t shape culture. It’s those people who have a great influence and what they want. When you galvanize people for a cause and they really speak up loudly then they make strong decisions.
The same thing with the religious right, the Moral Majority in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I think that’s part of the problem with what it is today in all these groups—whether it be the Tea Party, LGBTQ groups, the religious right, the Moral Majority—we bullied policy through no matter if it was right or wrong.
What the AND campaign is trying to say is that at some point we have got to have legitimate, real conversations about how we can come together and create legislation and policy as it benefits to everybody and not bully stuff through and not just intimidate people with believing and forcing policies that fit our own people group.
How do we have those conversations? I think if we can galvanize enough people, if we can get enough people that think like us to say, “Let’s start having these conversations in a public space.” I think that would be most beneficial.
###Get to Know Sho
If you’re not yet familiar with Sho Baraka, here’s a little guide to remedy your Sho shortage.
Baraka’s social advocacy group. Check it out at theandcampaign.com
His newest and most creative album yet.
A hard-hitting, social commentary-laiden record.
Aaron Cline Hanbury is a contributing editor for RELEVANT. You can follow him on Twitter at @achanbury