Jordin Sparks recently took to Instagram to post a performance of her powerful ballad “Unknown” (from her new EP dropping this week), which was recorded back in February but has taken on more emotional weight during the growing Black Lives Matter movement.
“With everything that’s been happening in our nation right now, with Breonna Taylor — which they still need to charge those cops for — and Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and just everything that’s been happening, and people of color and Black people are still being harmed, it took on another meaning with that too, just because things are unknown,” Sparks tells Yahoo Entertainment.
A scroll through Sparks’s Instagram feed and Stories shows frequent BLM posts, including tributes to George Floyd and Colin Kaepernick and videos of her marching in her first BLM protest in Los Angeles. It’s an activist tone that may surprise some fans of the now 30-year-old singer, who was first thrust into the public eye via the historically conservative talent show American Idol. Sparks was only 17 at the time, making her the youngest Idol winner ever, and until recently she was relatively quiet when it came to politics. But she says now is the time for her, and for everyone, to be vocal.
“I’ve always had this feeling. I’ve always wanted to say something, but I haven’t. And it was because of those reasons, they don’t even make sense anymore. Like, they’re just excuses at this point. But I finally had a moment where I was like, ‘I don’t care. I don’t care anymore,’” Sparks explains. “And so I really had to check in with myself and go, ‘There’s somebody who’s sitting across the country seeing this comment, and they disagree with me. Is that going to keep me from actually speaking about what’s right?’ … The fear of my husband leaving [the house] and potentially not coming back, the fear that the people see my son as so adorable and cute right now but in a few years might see him as a threat, I have to speak on that.”
Sparks says it was watching the video of Floyd’s murder and weeping with her husband, Dana Isaiah (“a golden, sweet Black man who would never hurt a fly”), that was a no-turning-back moment for her. “Both of us were just so emotional over what happened and what has been happening to Black people in this country, and it was just time,” she recalls.
Seeing Floyd call out for his mama in the shocking video was especially heartbreaking for Sparks, as a mother herself. “I have a son now who is also going to be viewed as Black in this world, even though he’s lighter and has blue eyes. … I mean, if that was Dana or [my son] DJ, I don’t know what I would do. I would probably tear up everything. Oh, my gosh, I can’t even imagine it,” she says, choking up. “It’s impossible for me to imagine any mother across this country not feeling anything, not feeling any empathy — although we have seen that there are people who do not care about what happened to [Floyd], and it just doesn’t make any sense. You know, we’re all humans. We all bleed the same blood. We all bleed red when we’re cut.”
DJ is only 2 years old right now, but Sparks knows that eventually she and her husband will have to sit him down and have a difficult discussion about police brutality and the risks he will face as a Black man in America. “I honestly don’t know what I’m going to say,” Sparks admits. “The thought of having to tell a child that people may not like him just because of the color of his skin, I cannot believe that I actually have to have that conversation. … I hope that by the time he’s of the age when we would have to tell him that it’s better than this, that the world is better than it is right now. I just have to hope that that is where we’re headed, that that’s what this movement is doing — and that eventually, hopefully when he has kids, he’ll never have to have that conversation again.”
Sparks has had some tough conversations with her own parent — her father, Phillippi Sparks, who played in the NFL from 1992 to 2001 — about racism, since the NFL’s punishment of Kaepernick troubled them deeply and sadly tarnished their love of football. (Sparks wrote a subtle protest on her hand when she sang at a game in 2017.)
— The Root (@TheRoot) September 26, 2017
“Obviously, we’re big football fans. … For me, watching a game after they kind of essentially sacrificed [Kaepernick] for everybody — he put himself out there, and I just respect him so much for saying what he had to say and for standing up for what was right, and he’s still doing the work, and it’s amazing to have somebody like that as an example — watching games after that always felt a little off with me,” admits Sparks. “Just because here we have somebody who was in the NFL peacefully protesting against police brutality … he doesn’t have a job. He’s definitely one of the best quarterbacks in the league. It just seemed wrong to be watching something that was purposely and actively keeping him out, just for speaking up for what was right.
“And when my dad and I have that conversation, it’s hard as a businessperson and an athlete and a person of color; there’s all these different things that go into it,” Sparks continues. “And my dad was like, ‘Racism is rampant everywhere. It definitely is in the NFL.’ He was like, ‘I’m just glad that [Kaepernick] spoke for what was right.’ And so, all of us are just like, ‘Go, Kaepernick!’ We hope that he gets his job back. He better get a job back, after what Roger Goodell said.”
Along with her hopes for a brighter future for her son and for Colin Kaepernick’s career, Sparks says attending her first BLM protest made her feel extremely optimistic, describing the march as a “beautiful experience.”
“I did post a picture on my Instagram of this beautiful white woman. I didn’t even get her name, but she had a backpack that said, ‘I have first aid. If the police get violent, stand behind me.’ And I was just so taken by the fact that she would risk her life, because she knows that if the police got violent, it’s people of color that they’re going to aim for,” Sparks recalls. “For her to understand that within her white privilege… It was beautiful to see her acknowledging that and also saying, ‘Hey, I got your back if you need me’ — a stranger, a complete stranger. Oh, it was so beautiful to see. I had a great experience. My husband lost his voice. I kind of lost mine as well from shouting and screaming so loud! But it was great to be out there with everybody, knowing that this is a movement. It’s not a moment.
“We cannot ignore it anymore,” Sparks says of racism in America. “And if we ignore it, we’re consciously making the choice to do so, which is upholding the systematic suppression — the years of suppression that we’ve been doing. So to be able to do this and to speak on it is great. … I can’t be silent about this or things that matter to me. Even if my voice shakes, I need to speak for what’s right.”
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