Like many artists and activists right now, artist and producer Nadir Omowale has been reflecting on and reacting to the protests against police brutality happening in Michigan and across the country. It inspired Omowale to finally release a song he's been working on for years. It’s dropping on Juneteenth, a day that celebrates the end of slavery in America. He’s been working on the song since 1998. It’s called “Run.”
Omowale started writing the song more than twenty years ago after hearing about the brutal murder of James Byrd Jr. by white supremacists in Texas. But he says he sat on it, waiting for the right time to release the track.
“The same things keep happening, and I would just keep refining the song.” Omowale said. “And so finally the case of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia came up where he was being chased, and we watched on video tapes as he’s shot with a shotgun after being chased while jogging through his own neighborhood.”
The song opens with the lyrics “Can’t stop / How far can I run.” It evokes imagery of a Black man running, and the perspective switches back and forth from someone running from the cops during the current moment to an enslaved Black American making a run for freedom. The track’s drums set a distinctive pace, a choice that Omowale says was intentional.
“If you’re running long distances, you have to be able to keep up a good, steady, solid, quick pace. And this is a long distance run, it’s not a sprint, so you can’t go too fast, but if you go too slow you get caught,” Omowale explained. “The drums make it come alive and feel even more urgent and make it feel like somebody’s chasing you.”
Omowale lives in Ferndale, a majority white city just outside of Detroit. He has twin seven-year-olds, a boy and a girl. Like most kids their age, the twins don't fully grasp yet what it means to be Black in this country.
“There will probably be an instance in their lives where race becomes a bigger issue, and then we’ll have to explain to them what’s going on.” Omowale said. “They already notice it, they already talk about the fact that there are more “beige” kids than “brown” kids in their school.”
As Omowale watches the protests against police brutality happening across the country, he says he's hopeful that things will change this time.
“We really need to understand what this idea of defunding the police is about,” he said. “It’s about reallocating resources so that it makes more sense, and so that the police are a community asset, like they are to the residents of Ferndale.”
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Olive Scott.
Support for arts and culture coverage is supported in part by an award from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.