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Behind The Music: How Ari Lennox Found Creative Inspiration During The Pandemic

"One day outside will be open again. I think it's important that we come together and let the therapy happen."

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The global pandemic due to the outbreak of COVID-19 has put a halt on everything --- especially creativity. For many people, including artists like Ari Lennox, it's been challenging to find creative inspiration with all that's going on in the world, from the pandemic to continued police brutality to natural disasters. The chaos around us makes it hard for creativity to thrive.

However, the right opportunity can find you when you least expect it and help re-spark your creativity. That was the case for Ari Lennox when she was approached by Crown Royal to remake the song "If You Want Me To Stay" by Sly & The Family Stone.

Courtesy of Crown Royal

"Crown Royal came to me with a beautiful opportunity to work with Anthony Ramos and I couldn't turn that down. They're amazing, and Anthony is amazing. I just felt like it'll be an honor to work with them."

On the track, the Shea Butter Baby artist collaborated with singer and actor Anthony Ramos (Netflix's She's Gotta Have It). Their rendition of "If You Want Me To Stay" seeks to support businesses that help us heal through music and entertainment, such as bars, clubs, and venues. These spaces are in danger of closing due to COVID-19.

"I'm thankful that this cover happened because it's hard to find inspiration during this time to create about what I normally create about, which is love and romance. How do you find anyone or get some during this time?" she laughs. "I'm not sure how it's possible at all."

Courtesy of Crown Royal

"It's nice to be led by the greats, the legends, like Sly & The Family Stone who can offer words and his beautiful song so that I can find inspiration and try my best to do his song justice."

When asked to describe the process of creating this record in one word, Ari called it "refreshing", similarly to Peach Crown Royal, one of her favorite flavors of the whiskey.

If you need to refresh your creativity during this difficult time, here are three lessons you can learn from Ari's experience remaking this classic track:

Study the greats that came before you.

Courtesy of Crown Royal

After Crown Royal approached Ari with the opportunity to remix the song with Anthony, she intentionally analyzed the lyrics. "I studied the record because I wanted to properly execute and be respectful to Sly & The Family Stone. So I did my best in learning it."

The internet gives us access to so much information. To re-spark your creativity, go beyond merely reading about the greats and take the time to really study their work like Ari did to prepare for the record. Read articles, watch interviews, pay attention to the social media captions of those who you admire to better understand their journey and how you can apply it to your life.

Make a human connection and feel the vibe.

Courtesy of Crown Royal

One of the biggest lessons that we've learned from 2020 is that we truly need each other to get by. The forced isolation of quarantine makes us appreciate authentic human connections more than ever. Ari built a genuine relationship with Anthony while recording the song together that was based on good vibes from the start. "First, we had a Facetime call, and he was so funny, always cracking jokes. I could tell he was good vibes. Then it was the same thing when I met him in real life."

During the studio session, they decided which person would sing which part of the song and how to do the remix justice. "It was great, good vibes. It was fun, he's so hilarious. It was good, good energy... Anthony really helped me stay kind of calm, and it was nice. In the studio session, we really got to know each other and focused on making sure we respect Sly & The Family Stone with each word that we sung."

Courtesy of Crown Royal

"Outside of the fact that we had on masks, it just felt supernatural. It was like a relief -- it kind of felt like outside was open again because it was good vibes and everybody was just so sweet, thoughtful, and had good energy."

Ari's experience is a reminder that energy is so magnetic that nothing can interfere with it. If you're struggling to find creative inspiration right now, consider bouncing ideas with someone else. Set up a coffee chat on Zoom with someone you've been wanting to get to know and learn more about their dreams and aspirations to see if there's an opportunity for you two to collaborate or support each other.

Think about the bigger picture and how you can impact others.

Courtesy of Crown Royal

Ari and Anthony's remake of "If You Want Me to Stay" is backed by a bigger purpose. Crown Royal partnered with The Main Street Alliance, an organization dedicated to supporting small businesses in the United States, to launch a national relief campaign that supports bars, stages, and clubs that are in danger of closing due to COVID-19. For every stream of the track, Crown Royal pledged to donate $1 (up to $500,000) to The Main Street Alliance to help music venues that were impacted by the pandemic.

"We need these venues. They're therapeutic for who's watching and whoever is on stage delivering the music," says Ari. "Also, all of the staff. [It's important to] make sure people stay employed once outside opens. Whether it's the owners, the bartenders, security, technicians, electricians, backstage people, caterers… There are just so many people involved."

Crown Royal will also continue supporting these music venues as they reopen their doors by providing updated point of sale assets, training staff on how to leverage brand ambassadors, and sponsoring events to further raise charitable funds. One of the reasons why Ari jumped at this opportunity was because she recognized the impact that the song could have and how it can give people hope during the craziest year this generation has experienced.

Similarly, you can find creative inspiration by thinking about your role in the bigger picture. If you don't know what your purpose is, spend some time analyzing what people ask you for and what comes naturally to you. If you already have an idea of what you're supposed to be doing, lean into that and try to be inspired by your divine calling. The ideas that you're sitting on because it doesn't feel like the right time can change someone's life, or at the very least, give them encouragement to keep going.

"One day outside will be open again. I think it's important that we come together and let the therapy happen," says Ari.

Stream Ari Lennox and Anthony Ramos' new song "If You Want Me To Stay" on all major digital platforms to support cultural landmarks, like bars, clubs, and stages that've been impacted by COVID-19 and learn more about Crown Royal's commitment to these businesses at crownroyal.com/generosity.

Featured image courtesy of Crown Royal

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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