Brandon’s Speech at the 2019 Emerge Summit

May 31st, 2019 – credit to @youll-remember-me on Tumblr. “Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, Gil Scott-Heron, The Clash, U2, N.W.A, Tupac, Public Enemy. Those are some heavy hitters. All of them…

Brandon's Speech at the 2019 Emerge Summit

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May 31st, 2019 – credit to @youll-remember-me on Tumblr.

“Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, Gil Scott-Heron, The Clash, U2, N.W.A, Tupac, Public Enemy. Those are some heavy hitters. All of them stand out. Jackpot, heavy-weight musical icons. But they also have something else in common. They made music with a conscience. They told the truth. 

“Now, it feels a little funny quoting scripture in the Hard Rock in Las Vegas, Nevada, but I’m going to do it anyway. In Matthew Chapter 5, verse 15, it reads, ‘Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.’ Now I stand here tonight as one of the millions of recipients of that light projected by those giants of music in that legendary lineup I mentioned earlier. 

“But unlike Bob Dylan and Public Enemy and the rest of them, my band is not known for being politically charged, and after five albums, our fans have not come to expect that kind of material from us. So the song I wrote titled ‘Land of the Free’ didn’t come easy. I asked myself, ‘Do people want to hear this from me? [CROWD: ‘YES!!!!’] ‘Isn’t there another musician better suited to shine a light on these problems?’  [CROWD: ‘NOOO!!!!’] 

“I hate that my country has more school shootings than anywhere else. I hate that my country locks up more people per capita than any other country in the world. I hate the way Mexicans, Central and South American immigrants are being treated. As more and more incidents occurred, including one so close to home, on October 1st, 2017 – the largest mass shooting in modern American history – I began to replace my reservations with conviction. 

“We released ‘Land of the Free’ in January of this year accompanied by a short film directed by the great Spike Lee. I also thought it was important to let our fans in on the motivation and aspirations behind the song. I wanted them to know where my heart was at. Before performing for you tonight, I’m going to give you the statement that I released for the fans.

“‘On December 14th, 2012, I woke up, unlocked my phone, and, like so many others, saw the pleas to ‘Pray for Sandy Hook.’ The news was devastating. Heart wrenching. A gut punch. But, sadly, not as shocking as it should have been. As a father I’ll never fully comprehend what that community and those parents went through. But my church upbringing taught me to mourn with those that mourn and I did it in the best way that I knew how. I cried for those kids and teachers, I got on my knees and I prayed for those families.

“‘If there was a single moment that I mentally began to assemble ‘Land of the Free,’ that was it. In the months and years that followed, America would be hit with an onslaught of more mass shootings of innocents and too many examples of racial injustice to ignore. After some self education and soul searching – with the help of great beacons like Ava DuVernay’s ‘13th,’ and my friend Jimmy Kimmel’s powerful opening monologues – I couldn’t help but sit down and commit how I was feeling into a song.

“‘We dishonor our values, our ancestors and our heritage when we tear gas our brothers and sisters seeking asylum. I see my family in the faces of those vulnerable people. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that my grandmother and her family immigrated from Lithuania to escape the U.S.S.R’s oppression. They chose to leave everything they knew behind to come to America and work grueling jobs in dangerous coal mines rather than endure tyranny at home.

“‘I love my country. I know that these are complicated issues but whether you stand to the left, right, or straddle the line, you’ve gotta believe that we can do better.’

“So ‘Land of the Free,’ it doesn’t offer solutions to America’s problems. A lot of them are very complicated. But what it does do, or at least what it did for me, was remind me of how lucky I am. It reminds me that I should be kinder and more compassionate to my brothers and sisters. Everyone in this room can be a city on a hill, and with your voices and votes, you all can be a light. May it shine brighter and brighter until the perfect day. Amen.”