TAMPA — Killer Mike came to the University of South Florida on Wednesday night with no speech planned for the hundreds who packed into the Oval Theater to hear from the rapper and social activist.
But Killer Mike a.k.a Michael Render, the Grammy-winning artist of Run the Jewels fame, didn't need index cards to deliver his message. Fans know that's not his style anyway.
A fast-talking, passionate Render paced the stage and told a sea of USF students this:
You need to get out in the community if you want to make a difference.
"It is time for you to take your butt off campus and find a child that does not look like you (to mentor)," he said.
Render was the university's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Week speaker. His talk was the signature event in the campus' weeklong commemoration of King's legacy.
The thrust of his speech focused on the importance of mentoring: Black college students need to be living examples for younger minorities, Render said. And white students must engage with the black community — not just to help struggling kids, but to learn themselves.
"It is time you find black people to teach you and become your friends," he said, then later emphasized: "You will grow from the friendship. I am not the activist I am because I only trained with black people."
Render kept the mood light, often cracking jokes about himself. But he also touched on several serious topics involving race in America.
He also came to the defense of presidential hopeful and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who Render has supported on social media and interviewed for a series of online videos on Youtube.com.
Earlier Wednesday, Render took to Twitter to defend Sanders from bestselling author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who criticized Sanders in the Atlantic magazine for failing to support the idea of reparations for slavery as a way to combat white supremacy. Coates wrote that it was hypocritical for Sanders to propose a wide range of policies and ideas that have little chance of ever becoming law — but then offer no support for a radical idea to combat racism.
"Sanders says the chance of getting reparations through Congress is 'nil,'" Coates wrote in the January issue, "a correct observation which could just as well apply to much of the Vermont senator's own platform."
But Render said Coates' criticism was unfair, that Sanders has ideas for dealing with racism and improving the lives of black Americans.
"I'd like to say that fact that (Sanders) doesn't directly come out and say, 'Hey, I can definitely see reparations happening,' doesn't turn me from the fact his policy directly affects black men getting out of jail right now," Render told the crowd Wednesday.
The 40-year-old related rapper to the auditorium packed mostly with 18- to 20-somethings with ease. Render touched on the complexity of what King left behind after he was assassinated 47 years ago.
"I don't accept that 'dream' they sell you on Martin Luther King," he said. "He was a radical … Don't say you want to be like Dr. King unless you really want to be like Dr. King."
He told students who aren't engaged with protests erupting across the country over race relations to stand alongside the black community and "pick up a sign, yell and scream" and then, afterward, "ask to understand."
"As white people, it's time for you to help," Render said, "and we need your help."
He told the crowd they're not going to fix global problems if they don't fix the ones "5 miles" away. He also encouraged students to "leave their team." That meant they should leave behind whatever culture, religion or racial group they may have been raised to believe they belong to exclusively.
"You can create a new team based on truth, based on honesty, based on love, based on integrity," Render said.
Contact Sara DiNatale at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400. Follow @sara_dinatale.