The Amazing Mom Behind the Actor & Rapper Common

Bobbi Brown
·Editor in Chief
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Common and his mother Dr. Mahalia Hines. Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Oscar and Grammy-winner, rapper, author and actor—it’s hard not to be impressed by Common. In addition to being wildly talented, he always comes across as smart, thoughtful, and very kind. That was exactly how he turned out to be when I met him last week, the two of us in an elevator after the Met Ball. I knew a lot about Common but I had also heard about his amazing mother, Dr. Mahalia Hines, who served as a principal in the Chicago Public Schools for seventeen years. I told him that for mother’s day, I wanted to get to know the woman behind such a cool guy. Here’s my talk with Dr. Hines. 

Bobbi Brown: I met your amazing son in the elevator at the Met Ball last week. I first told him how good looking he was (as a happily married mother of three). Next, I told him that I had read about you, and wanted to interview you for Mother’s Day. I believe that many of the greatest men have wonderful mothers behind them. So tell me what was Common like growing up? 

Dr. Mahalia Hines: He was really a good kid, he was always studious honestly. But he got into a lot of stuff, some of the stuff I didn’t know until I read his book. It’s good thing I didn’t know! Which is fine, my mother didn’t know about some of the things I did. But he was a pretty good kid. 

How much do you think has to do with you looking over him, checking his homework, staying on top of where he was, that sort of thing?

I think parents are definitely very instrumental into how their children turn out as adults. It is also important that you bring other people into their lives that will have an influence in them. That was a conscious decision of mine because Rashid’s father and I separated when he was six months and I didn’t remarry until Rashid was 7. One thing, Rashid didn’t look at was TV. Some of this may have come from being an educator, but it was really driven by, I wanted a child that other people liked and loved. 

 Was that an idea you got from your own mother? 

 Yes. There was a lot of love in our house. People talk about my brothers and sisters and how giving they are. It nothing my mother told us, so I always thank her for modeling that behavior. 

That’s true. They say children don’t listen as much to your words as watch your actions. 

This is a very smart generation. It’s really what you do and not what you say. 

 I heard you had something to do with Rashid choosing the name Common? When he was not making good informed decisions, I told him education was not enough. I told him he had to have some common sense. So that’s how he came up with the name. 

Everyone is proud of their kid, but Common is such a talent and he’s so nice too, which must be the best gift of all.

I would like him if he wasn’t my son. I really like him. We are friends now, but never growing up. I have learned so much from him. I don’t see him as a star or entertainer, I just see him as Rashid, and I like him for who he is. He’s so regular. He doesn’t act like a star. 

You have such a an impressive resume yourself. You were in marketing at Gillette and also an educator and now you are on the Board of Ed in Chicago.

I wanted to go into marketing and sales merchandising, but when I graduated in 1965 that wasn’t open to women a lot, especially black women. I ended up teaching to make a living, and I loved it. 

 You also work together on the Hip House Schoolhouse, tell me a little bit about that. 

Ever since I was a Principal I found it very difficult to get boys to read. So I told Rashid I needed some hip hop books. He’s written three and he’s going to write some more. Back then it was because Mama asked him, now he’s into it.

I always find it fascinating to understand where people came from and getting to know the moms behind some really amazing people. 

Thank you Bobbi, I started using your makeup when you gave some to the National Association of Women in Music and they had an event for the moms of hip hop. That’s how I became close friends with Mos Def’s mom and Ludacris’ mom. 

I love that! I am a hip hop fanatic. I loved meeting your son and I’ve loved getting to know you. Happy Mother’s Day! Have a great day.

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