“Real Life is No Joke,” Spike Lee Warns JHU Graduates

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Spike Lee commencement

Wake up! Or as they say in the ‘hood, Get woke.

The world is not a fairy tale.  It’s time to get real. Donald Trump is not going to make America great again.

That was the message filmmaker Spike Lee delivered to the Johns Hopkins University Class of 2016 during graduation ceremonies yesterday at Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena.

Shelton Jackson  “Spike” Lee was one of eight people who received honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from Hopkins, and he gave the commencement speech. (“I know you may not have aspired to be the first class to graduate from the Royal Farms Arena,” quipped Hopkins president Ronald Daniels about the recently-renamed facility.)

Lee was recognized for his work as a writer, director, actor and producer of films, including Do The Right Thing and Jungle Fever, and for challenging assumptions about race and prejudice.

He lived up to his reputation with a spirited address that was part pep talk, part dire warning, all cold dose of reality. In the space of 13 minutes, he mentioned brass knuckles, guns, nuclear war,  slavery, Malcolm X, Mike Tyson, Freddie Gray, and Ozzie and Harriet. He bashed Donald Trump, praised Prince and Barack Obama, and generally gave listeners a piece of his mind. He mispronounced the Hopkins name three times.

“No matter how one might wish it would be otherwise, we are not making America great again by going back to Eisenhower, Jim Crow, fire houses, German shepherds, Ozzie and Harriet, and Leave it to Beaver,” he told the audience. “Not happening.”

Lee said he has had recurring nightmares about Trump becoming President and starting a nuclear war. “He gets mad at somebody, and we’re all going to go BOOM.”

Most of all, he warned Hopkins graduates that the world they are entering isn’t a happy place for everyone, especially people of color.

“I wish you would be graduating into a world of peace, light and love,” he said. “But that’s not the case. We don’t live in a fairy tale. But I guess the One Percent does. After you leave here today, it’s going to be real life, and real life is no joke.”

Here is the full text of his speech:

Hello.

(Barely any response from the audience.)

That’s weak. HELLO!

(Louder Hello from audience.)

Thank you. Greetings to the John Hopkins University. My good thanks to President Daniels, the board of trustees, the faculty, administration, especially the graduating class of 2016. And again, we must acknowledge the people who made this all possible, the parents.

As the great philosopher and poet, Mr. P. R. Nelson, once said, ‘Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.’

But on this occasion of the graduation of the class in the Year of our Lord, 2016, John Hopkins University, I’ve been blessed to do what I want, what I love. I love what I do. What I do is I make films. I’m a filmmaker. I’m a storyteller. And there are two words that are almost in all of my 23 feature films to date. These two words are WAKE UP. Wake up from the sleep. Wake up from being comatose. Wake up from the slumber that keeps your eyes shut to all the inequalities and injustices to this all-too-more-than-not evil, crazy and insane world we live in.

Let’s move our unconscious minds from the back to the front, to a conscious state, and wake up. Let’s leave our lofty ivory towers and institutions and get down to the people. As the sisters and the brothers say on the block, get woke. Let’s be alert, be open minded, get woke. Let’s wake up.

Like the knuckle rings worn by the late Ray Raheem, let’s truly know the difference between love and hate. As Malcolm X said, we’ve been took, hoodwinked, led astray, run amok and bamboozled.

People, we’re at a very crucial moment in the history of the United States of America. And the way I’m looking at it today, to tell you the truth, things are looking dicey. They can go either way.

I don’t know about you, but I’m worried. I’m worried for the graduating class here at John Hopkins University. They told me about the S. I didn’t know, but I got educated. In addition to the graduating classes all over this God’s planet. I wish you would be graduating into a world of peace, light and love. But that’s not the case. We don’t live in a fairy tale. But I guess the One Percent does. After you leave here today, it’s going to be real life, and real life is no joke.

It’s real out here for the other 99 Percent, for sure. Now it’s up to you, this new generation, to make it fairer, a just world. It’s up to the graduation classes of  2016 to make a better world for the 99 percent who daily are being hornswoggled, hoodwinked, duped and scorned, double crossed, incarcerated, profiled, starved, mis-educated, used and abused, and even shot down on our streets. Graduates, please leave here on the straight and narrow. And please don’t go the way of straight up skullduggery. I got that word from Mike Tyson.  One of my favorite words, skullduggery.

The United States of America is a very diverse nation. This is one of the many things that makes it great, despite the legacy of the genocide of the native peoples and slavery. The United States Census Bureau, and not Spike Lee, says five years from now, white children will be in the minority. And by 2049, white people will be wholly outnumbered by non-whites.

This is happening, people. Get ready now. I feel it’s time to start embracing it, not fight it. No matter how one might wish it would be otherwise, we are not making America great again by going back to Eisenhower, Jim Crow, fire houses, German shepherds, Ozzie and Harriett, and Leave it to Beaver. Not happening. Now’s the time to seize the day, take advantage of this great moment in history, and build bridges amongst us. I’m talking about gender, race, religion and nations, not walls. Let us build bridges of love, versus walls of hate.

Sidebar Number One. Standing here, I’m amongst some of the greatest minds in the world here at John Hopkins University. People who are a lot smarter than me. So I ask, can somebody please educate me, me, somebody from a public school education, in the public of Brooklyn New York. Can somebody please explain to me how you can tell Mexico to build a 25-foot wall on the border and on top of that, have the audacity to tell them, you foot the bill, too? WTF.

Sidebar Dos. Tonya, my lovely wife who is here, and I gave a fundraiser in our home for President Barack Hussein Obama, during his first term in office. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to miss him. And he will be on the right side of history.

But anyhoo. I heard of this football. This is a device, it looks like a briefcase, that when activated, can trigger a nuclear war. I thought it was a myth. It’s always close to the president. It was in our home, in the vehicle parked outside. And I stand before you to testify it’s not a myth. This football is for real, and I was scared just to catch a glimpse of it.

Fast forward to today. Now I have recurring nightmares. I toss and turn because in my nightmare, Donald Trump has become the 45th President of the United States of America, and he has the nuclear code to the football. He gets mad at somebody and we’re all going to go BOOM. Two more booms. BOOM. BOOM. Dear God, save us. But we gotta get woke, gotta wake up.

To bring it to a close here, I’d like to go back once again to my friend, the philosopher, poet and the great humanitarian, Mr. P. R. Nelson. You might know him also as the artist Prince. Can we give some love to Prince please? Prince is a truly great American, and he wrote a song entitled Baltimore. Don’t worry. I’m not going to sing it, but here it is:

“Baltimore”
Nobody got in nobody’s way
So I guess you could say it was a good day
At least a little better than the day in Baltimore
Does anybody hear us pray
For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray?
Peace is more than the absence of war
Absence of war

Are we gonna see another bloody day?
We’re tired of the cryin’ and people dyin’
Let’s take all the guns away

Absence of war, you and me
Maybe we can finally say
Enough is enough, it’s time for love
It’s time to hear
It’s time to hear the guitar play, guitar play
Baltimore, ever more

If there ain’t no justice then there ain’t no peace
If there ain’t no justice then there ain’t no peace
If there ain’t no justice then there ain’t no peace
If there ain’t no justice then there ain’t no peace

Are we gonna see another bloody day?
We’re tired of the cryin’ and people dyin’
Let’s take all the guns away

If there ain’t no justice, then there aint gonna be no peace, Baltimore.

If there ain’t no justice, there ain’t gonna be no peace.

Thank you. Go with God. Black Lives Matter.

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.
Ed Gunts


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