by: Ronnie Tyler
Last year, Lamar and I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know (Milwaukee native) Speech Thomas (founder and lead vocalist of the two-time Grammy Award winning group, Arrested Development) and his lovely wife, Yolanda. Arrested Development is best known for bringing balance to hip-hop. In a time, when Gangsta rap was all the rage, Arrested Development was able to successfully provide a more positive and socially conscious alternative.
I was happy to find that Speech is exactly the way I imagined him to be; a very kind and positive person that cares deeply for people.
Below is an interview that I did with Speech for Moms Clean Air Force. He explains why Arrested Development decided to produce a song and video that tackles environmental issues, and what he thinks each person can do to make real changes to improve the environment.
What Inspired Arrested Development to produce a song and video (Greener) that tackles environmental issues?
The whole idea of being health & green conscious had primarily been a “white” thing to a lot of black people I met. We addressed the green revolution from a regular black persons perspective, to try to get information out there.
In AD’s song “GREENER”, you say: “Blacks want to be green…They want to recycle.” Can you elaborate on what you mean by that statement?
Being conscientious of the lands resources and its power, are concepts that resonate innately in indigenous people, and of course, people of African descent too. There’s something deep within us, that make us want to care for the Earth.
Do you think there is a perception that African Americans are not environmentally conscious? If so, why?
Yes, the perception is that we don’t care. I think it’s because of two reasons: 1. We’ve been stripped of our initial connection with the land. Through the sheer embarrassment & exploitive nature of slavery, share cropping, and the injustice that we associate with working the land, we’ve tried to disconnect from that pain. I believe it was just to survive emotionally & have hope again. We gotta keep in mind that slavery was less than 200 years ago; that’s my great grandmother’s parents. 2. Our deep cycle of poverty (that centuries of slavery brought about) made it imperative to search for work in urban areas after the industrial revolution. That need placed us within urban landscapes. These realities have made us learn other skills to survive and thrive. What once was natural to us i.e.: passing down clothes generationally, conserving water, growing our own foods, and saving electricity became foreign. The framework of using special light bulbs, recycling by putting things in bins, considering electric cars, felt weird to us. It’s a new learning curve, and a new application of things we historically understood.
As a father, what are you doing to ensure that your children understand that we all have the responsibility to protect the environment?
Talks, and gradual changes in our life. As we learn more we do more. It’s definitely a process. The biggest thing is that we try to make it fun and connect it to God, and how blessed we are to have this Earth!
We regularly talk about things that everyday people can do (i.e. ditch Styrofoam, change light bulbs, and recycle.) But we want big change. How do you envision that happening?
People are steadily coming to me offering NEW and EXCITING alternatives to fossil fuels, environmental practices and lifestyle. I say we need to simply follow their direction and lead. These visionaries are popping up everywhere! Atlanta Recording Studios like Tree Sound is using wind & solar power & biodiesel to bring clients amazing results. There’s race car manufactures like BioFuelracing that makes race cars that go up to 200 MPH off of biodiesel fuel, they’re also educating at their events on the connection between health and environment. It’s exciting. TwoVital’s Dwayne Bass, creates Rubblox furniture made of recycled rubber! The Atlanta University Center Sustainable Campus and Community Initiative (ASCCI) and it’s Executive Director, Dr. Olu Olatidoye have created the ability to transform used cooking grease from Atlanta’s local restaurants and fire departments to biodiesel fuel. It was an amazing lesson on how many people are excited about making the most of what we already have!
There are many people who are trying to gut the Clean Air Act and dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency. Do you think governmental regulations for global warming/climate change are needed?
I’m torn. I know that governmental agencies can often be too cumbersome and they get abused by greedy people looking for handouts. However, I know I believe in educating consumers, so they demand better products, stop buying the bad stuff, and let capitalism do what it does best.
I think we’ve got to start educating people on the sacred nature of all people. Expose the disparities between the poor and wealthy, so that healthy food choices become available & realistic for the poor. Public transportation should be biodiesel so it doesn’t emit so much smog that creates asthma. These things should be regulated, but just as important, they must be understood, so the people themselves see the need.
What is your hope for the future for your kids as it pertains to the environment?
We want them to be able to grow any foods they want without companies owning rights to the seeds. We want them to enjoy clean air and water to drink! We want them to be aware of the power that natural foods possess to invigorate, heal and refresh their lives! We have “FREE” resources all around us and I want my kids to see that blessing and bring happiness to their future families because of it.
What’s next for Arrested Development?
We’re about to release a NEW album, July 4th, called “STANDING AT THE CROSSROADS!” Our single just dropped, it’s called, “LIVING!” We’re extremely excited about our 20th year in music, we’ll tour throughout the U.S to celebrate!