The awesome power of a free mind

Dear President Trump,

In Soul Choir this morning we practiced the anthem we’ll sing next week – “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley. It’s not an easy song from a musical standpoint so I was really grateful when the musicians among us asked that we go over certain parts (repeatedly) since it was tough for them too.

The lyrics are also challenging in that there are a lot of them and they seem disjointed. So, the best part of practice was when someone remarked that it was hard for her to know how to sing a particular section because she didn’t know what to make of it. In order to give that later section some context I need to tell you about the earlier parts of the song, most of which are fairly straightforward.

Marley first references Africans having been robbed of their freedom, their literal “I’ness” by pirates and sold to merchants who forced them into the bowels of ships and then he tells us that the narrator’s hands are strong, having been given strength by the Almighty (capitalized in the lyrics). We move to the chorus about redemption songs and then on to the idea of emancipating oneself from mental slavery and how none but ourselves can free our own minds. I think he’s talking about reclaiming or claiming one’s “I’ness” here. The various websites I checked out about the meaning of this song talk about how Marley borrowed these phrases from a 1937 speech by Marcus Garvey and seem to be indicating that this passage about mental slavery is the tricky part of the song.

However, it’s the next line we initially thought was out of leftfield and the websites don’t mention it at all. The line is: “have no fear for atomic energy / ‘cause none of them can stop the time.” The song came out in 1980, which you might (or might not) recall was a time when there was a lot of fear about whether there would be a nuclear war with Russia. What we came to as a group was that Marley was referencing the biggest, strongest, most awesome force he could think of to describe a free mind and was saying, ‘hey, even minds as big and strong and awesome as atomic energy need not be feared and anyway, as time goes inexorably on, we’ll all have such free minds – no one can stop that progress.’

Not even presidents who attempt to enslave their people with constant lies.

May we be safe as we free our minds.
May we be happy for each one to claim their very own “I’ness.”
May we be healthy and strong.
May we all make peace with true freedom.

Tracy Simpson

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