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Opinion | Spike Lee

Wake up, people, and embrace diversity

Spike Lee delivered the 2016 commencement address at Johns Hopkins University on Wednesday.
Spike Lee delivered the 2016 commencement address at Johns Hopkins University on Wednesday. (Leigh Vogel/Getty Images)

Filmmaker and director Spike Lee delivered the commencement address to Johns Hopkins University Wednesday. Below is an edited excerpt of his remarks.

I love what I do. What I do is make films. 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 slum where they keep your eyes shut from all the inequalities and injustices, to this often, more-than-not, evil, crazy 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 of institutions and get down to the people. As our sisters and 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’d. Hoodwinked. Led astray. Run amuck. 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. It can go either way. I don’t know about you, but I’m worried. I’m worried for the graduating class here at Johns Hopkins University, for classes all over God’s planet. I wish you’d be graduating into a world of peace and light and love, but that’s not the case. We don’t live in a fairy tale, but I guess the 1 percent does.

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After you leave here today, it’s gonna 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. And it’s up to the graduating classes of 2016 to make it a better world for the 99 percent, who are daily being hornswoggled, hoodwinked, duped, rebuked, and scorned, double-crossed, incarcerated, profiled, starved, mis-educated, used and abused, and even shot down on our streets.

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Graduates, please leave here on the straight and narrow, and please don’t go the way of straight-up 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 people and slavery. The United States Census Bureau says five years from now, white children will be a minority, and by 2049, white folks will be wholly outnumbered by non-whites. This is happening, people, here and now. It’s time to start embracing it, not fight it.

No matter how one might wish it be otherwise, we are not making America great again by going back to Eisenhower, Jim Crow, firehouses, German shepherds, and “Leave It To Beaver.’’ Not happening. Now’s the time to seize the day, take advantage of this unique moment in history, and build bridges amongst us. Talking about gender, race, religion, and nations, not walls. Let us build bridges of love, versus walls of hate.

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

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Sidebar Dos. Tonya, my lovely wife, and I gave a lovely fundraiser at our home for President Barack Hussein Obama during his first term in office. I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna miss him. And he will be on the right side of history. But anyhoo. I’ve heard of this football. This device, it looks like a briefcase, that, when activated, can trigger a nuclear attack. I thought it was a myth that it’s always close to the president. It wasn’t in our home, but 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 catching a glimpse of it. Fast forward to today, and 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 codes! To the football! He gets mad at somebody, and we’re all gonna go! BOOM! Two more booms! BOOM! BOOM! Dear God, save us. But we gotta get woke. We gotta wake up.

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To bring it to a close here, I’d like to go back once again to my friend, the philosopher, the poet, and the great humanitarian, Mr. P.R. Nelson. You might know also him as the artist, Prince.

Prince is a true great American. And he wrote a song entitled “Baltimore.” Don’t worry, I’m not gonna sing it. But here it is:

Baltimore

Nobody got in nobody’s way

So, I guess you’d say it was a good day

At least a little bit better than the day in Baltimore

Does anybody hear us pray

For Mike Brown or Freddie Gray?

Peace is more than absence of war

Absence of war

Are we gonna see another bloody day?

We’re tired of the cryin’ and people dyin’

Let’s all take 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 there ain’t no peace

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

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

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

Baltimore, Are we gonna see another bloody day?

We’re tired of the cryin’ and people are dyin’

Let’s take all the guns away

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

Baltimore

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

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

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

Thank you. Go with God. Black Lives Matter.