Kendrick Lamar’s key to Compton represents hope to a troubled city

Photo: A.R. Shaw for Steed Media

The city of Compton has captured the nation’s attention over the past 12 months. With the release of the cinematic gem, Straight Outta Compton, it revealed how the city has become a breeding ground for great entertainers and athletes.

Along with the success of Compton-made N.W.A.(Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E), Venus and Serena Williams (tennis); Game (rapper); Anthony Anderson (comedian); DeMar DeRozan (NBA); and Aja DuVernay (director) are a few of many noteworthy individuals who were raised in the city. One of the most noticeable entertainers from Compton in recent years has been Kendrick Lamar.

After releasing his critically acclaimed debut, Good kid, M.A.A.D. City, Lamar followed up with the equally impressive, To Pimp A Butterfly. Both albums shed light on the depravity and despair that looms over the city’s youth. The lack of opportunities are often a direct result of racial and economical inequalities.

When taking a journey through Compton, California today, there are still severe issues that need to addressed. Abandoned buildings and homes are tombs of a forgotten place; the liquor stores and storefront churches are dwellings for the poor man’s escapism and salvation; and the apartments that feature burglar bars on doors and windows are signs of how poverty and the potential of crime can be a form of incarceration within itself. Last week, the city was struck by tragedy after 1-year-old Autumn Johnson was killed after being hit with a stray bullet while in her crib at her family’s home. This is the unfortunate reality of Compton.

The kids who walk the streets of Compton are aware of what their life may become if they can’t find a way to break out of the city limits. Only 6 percent of people age 25+ have earned a Bachelor’s degree and 26 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census.

But, there are beacons of hope. Mayor Aja Brown, 33, stands as one of the youngest mayors in America. There are plans to build a 14-screen, 60,000-square foot theater. And, Dr. Dre recently announced plans to construct a performing arts center in the city as well.

And, then there is Kendrick Lamar. The rapper will take center stage at the 58th Grammy Awards on Feb. 15 and leads all artists with 11 nominations. To congratulate Lamar, Mayor Brown and other city and state influencers held a day in his honor and issued him the key to the city.

Held at Compton’s City Hall on Feb. 13, the event featured poetry, dance, and musical selections from kids who attend schools in the surrounding areas. It was Lamar’s day, but it was also an opportunity for the youth in Compton to see the possibility of success.

After the performances and remarks by city officials, Lamar jumped on stage to share how he was inspired by Compton as a youth.

“Looking around as a kid, I was fascinated knowing that it doesn’t stop right here. Being 5 years-old, I knew for a fact that I could be anything I wanted to be. And, coming back here today and seeing these kids out here, we share the same similar stories. Having this key to the city, it’s just not a representation or glorification that I have for Compton. It’s a representation of all of us. This is a representation of us opening more programs for these kids and opening more job opportunities. That’s how I’m looking at it from my own platform,” Lamar said.

Entertainment and sports will never be every kid’s path to success in or outside of Compton. But, there is power in knowing that a path does indeed exist.

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