Last year, hip-hop artist, activist, and actor Common helped open a progressive charter school on the South Side of Chicago. It's called Art in Motion and it has a peace room and a dedicated wellness center. Instead of detention, the kids are taught to meditate. The curriculum is centered around music and the arts as well as individualized personal learning, wellness and movement classes.
Common, whose real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr, grew up nearby completely unaware of things like holistic healing, therapy, and veganism, even as he began expressing himself through songwriting and rapping. In fact, Common credits hip-hop for introducing him to the wide world of wellness - namely via KRS-One and A Tribe Called Quest, who rapped about the advantages of not eating meat. In the '90s, Common adopted a vegan diet and started working out more. He began to meditate, and even laughs when he admits to wearing a lot of crochet back then too. Today, Common credits his healthy lifestyle to the inner happiness and peace he's found through it. It's what keeps him grounded and focused, empathetic and loving. Last year, his album Let Love focused on his spirituality and wellness-driven lifestyle. Now, he's taking everything he's learned over the years and sharing it with the world in a new YouTube series that premiered earlier this week called Com+Well.
The six-part show, which was produced by former American Vogue staffer Dayna Carney and airs weekly on Tuesday mornings via YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, features Common alongside his team of wellness gurus, including joy strategist Grace Harry, trainer Yancy Berry, and LA community gardener and Plant the Seeds founder Ron Finley. Common's personal chef Lauren Von Der Pool, who served as the executive chef for Michelle Obama's childhood obesity prevention campaign, will also be featured - they'll be cooking vegan meals together, discussing the best workouts, and talking about the importance of therapy and meditation. There's gardening therapy too, which Common says is new to his repertoire. And, in partnership with the company Larabar, each episode will include information about how to donate to a health and wellness-focused organisation in underfunded urban communities.
Speaking to Common about Com+Well over the phone this week, it was clear that his passion for sharing all of this information and normalising it among communities like the one he grew up in on the South Side of Chicago runs deep. Below, Common opens up about why he decided to launch this series now, how he wants to help others, and where his wellness journey may lead him next.
After you first discovered veganism and the wellness space, how did your wellness journey evolve from there?
Once I started eating vegan, I saw how things were improving in my life just by removing certain things from my diet - pizza, fried food, meat, all of that - and adding vegetables and plant-based foods. It became the true foundation to leading a better lifestyle, a happier one. And once I realised, man, I have control over myself to not eat certain addictive foods but to really be disciplined enough and make better choices for myself overall... I started to work out harder than I'd ever worked out before, I began meditating and praying every morning. It was natural. I just felt better so I continued to be disciplined and follow a routine. It became normal for me. It was about saying to myself: "How can I be better? What things are not working well in my life and how can I fix those things and improve myself?"
Why did you feel that this was the right time for you to launch the 'Com+Well' series?
When everything started to shut down because of Covid-19 in the spring, I was having a lot of conversations with people and I could feel the weight of the world on them. I still felt optimistic and had a positive outlook and was really thinking, like, "Man, okay, I feel good, y'all. I'm finding peace amongst all of these things." Not that I'm not acknowledging the virus or the social justice movement that's happening, but I honestly feel peace and I feel like we are going to come out better. So I started thinking about why I was feeling that way, and one of the major reasons is my spirituality, but also taking care of myself and loving myself and what that allows me to do. Eating well is caring for yourself, working out is caring for yourself, meditation is caring for yourself. So when you do these things, you automatically feel better. Even if you don't feel like doing it when you first do it, when you eventually go through the process and get to the light at the end of the tunnel, you're like, "Oh, man, this is good. I feel like I've overcome something that I might've been stressed about or I just feel good that I did that for myself." You have the strength to go out there and do what you need to do to help what's going on. That's why I created Com+Well, I wanted to give people access to some of the tools and resources that help me to stay peaceful and happy and joyful. And it doesn't mean you will have those feelings every moment of the day, but you'll have the tools to help you get out of the difficult moments.
Now that the first episode and introduction have aired, what has the initial reaction been like from your fans and followers?
I've had friends from Chicago call me and say, "I watched the intro episode three or four times. This is great, I need that reinforcement, I need the information and inspiration." For me, it's about creating access. There are a lot of Black men, a lot of brown men, a lot of Black and brown women who have not had exposure to some of the things we're talking about in the series. And I just think people in general would like to have that information, that access. I know a lot of communities that have not had exposure to meditation, for example, which is why we created the meditation room instead of detention at our school in Chicago. Com+Well was one of my biggest goals. Whatever things I've been able to see in my life, I want to create access for those who haven't had that exposure. Some of those things may be tools that they use to build their lives or help them fulfil their dreams. And so far, the response has been incredible because watching the news and seeing what's going on in the world, as human beings we all feel it, the anxiety and stress and depression.
How much does the series explore or talk about the importance of mental health issues?
We really talk about mental health in terms of a joy strategy or personal development, rather than traditional psychology. But personally, for me, therapy was one of those things where, at a certain point, I was doing so well in a lot of areas in my life but I wasn't doing well when it came to relationships and figuring out certain issues I had and why I was drawn to certain people. So therapy was a result of me saying to myself, I'm not going to keep going through the same cycles and making the same mistakes. I was taking care of myself physically but I finally got to taking care of my emotional capacity, which is essential.
Do you see yourself doing more within the wellness space in the near future?
What I've realised is that, when I put things out there, I'm very authentic and really, truly want to put things out that are positive. The core of Com+Well, and everything I do, is to uplift and inspire people. This is my life and I want to share it with people because I feel like it could be beneficial. It's for everyone from all walks of life, but it's great to be able to target it to people who haven't been exposed to it, communities who don't usually have access to this kind of information. I do see the wellness space as somewhere for me to continue to put out content, maybe products, but definitely speak on it, because people are dealing with a lot and this is one of my ways to give it back.