Common: A Letter to My Cousin About Seeing His Power, Intelligence, and Beauty

Embracing vulnerability is more than just a bit of psychobabble. It’s the first step to acknowledging your strength, resiliency, and love. Only from this can a foundational belief in one’s worthiness arise.

by Common
Originally Published: 
An illustration of a man jogging through the city while wearing white headphones
Peter Phobia for Fatherly

Fatherly’s Letters to Boys project offers boys (and the men raising them) guidance in the form of heartfelt advice given generously by great men who show us how to take that crucial first step in confronting seemingly unsolvable issues — by offering honest words. Read all the letters here, or share your own.

Dear Marcus,

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, you’re surrounded by brick. There aren’t reflective surfaces. You don’t see yourself. You don’t see what you can become. I know. I’m from there too.

So let me be the reflective surface. Let me describe you to you. You’re a powerful, intelligent and beautiful young man. Powerful. Intelligent. Beautiful. I know that’s a hard message to let in. It’s cheesy. It’s corny. It’s soft. But it’s true. Until you let that reality take root, these will just be words. But if you can allow yourself to be vulnerable and hear the truth — let it slip between the cracks in the armor your neighborhood demands — it will guide you, save you, empower you.

You need to hear this from the men who love you. We see you this way even when you don’t. You may be surrounded by kids with money, kids who can fight, kids who go hard. There will be times when kids want you to get into trouble with them. There will be times when kids will convince you that manhood is about how cool you can be, how many girlfriends you got, how tough you seem. You and God define who you are, not them. You are God’s perfect child. Powerful. Intelligent. Beautiful.

You’re also goofy. Stay goofy. You laugh at corny jokes. You make corny jokes. And that’s great. It takes courage, strength and patience to stay true — to laugh at the things you think are funny. When people start trying to define you, which they will, it will require strength not to get angry or allow your anger to change who you are. Don’t be defined by your reactions to ignorance. When it seems the world is rejecting you, return to this thought: You are loved, lovable, and deserving of love. You are full of God’s love.

When I first started rapping, I wasn’t much older than you. I was rapping about how dope I was. I was rapping about how my first album was going to go platinum. But when it came out, the record didn’t even go gold, much less platinum. It sold less than 100,000 copies. I questioned whether I should even make a second album. What kept me going was this small, insistent voice inside me, reminding me what I was. Powerful. Intelligent. Beautiful.

This is a message you need to hear over and over again and a message you need to tell yourself over and over again. It’s a message that is most important to hear in the moments you are least likely to hear it. It’s a light in darkness.

As for me, I didn’t truly understand what it meant to live this truth until I was 28 years old and heartbroken. I was really down. I had to sort through the sadness and find what I loved about myself. I talked to God and I tried to express God through my actions and words. Slowly, I started to believe in my own worthiness.

Ultimately, the pathway to our highest selves comes through pain and the struggle. The good news, Marcus, is you don’t have to go search for that. It’ll come find you. Know that I love you, God loves you, and you can face and overcome anything that comes your way. You are Powerful. Intelligent. Beautiful. And Blessed.

Your Cousin,


Common is an Academy Award–winning rapper, philanthropist, and author, most recently of the memoir Let Love Have the Last Word.

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