New Edition star says celebrities must participate in social movements

Mornings are a time of respite for Ronnie Devoe. Before entering the toil of the workday, the New Edition star often strolls about his Atlanta neighborhood, greeting his neighbors as he passes.

It clears his mind, he says. And that clarity is needed much more now.

The death of George Floyd — who was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota — and the subsequent ground-shaking protests against police brutality and racism cast clouds indiscriminately over the heads of Americans. For many, including Devoe, it did more than that. No more injustice, he said. Enough is enough.

The R&B singer, usually more resigned in his frustration, brought those feelings of outrage to his fans. Some were supportive of his outspokenness, of his using his status to elevate a social issue.

Others, less so, he said.

“Because you work at some administrative office, or because you’re flipping burgers at some spot, or because you’re the CEO of your own company ... you have the right to say something?” Devoe mused in a recent Instagram video.

“But because I dance around,” he continued, “because I’m a successful entrepreneur and entertainer for over 30 (expletive) plus years, you mean to tell me that I’ve got to lay down when it comes to injustice?”

Wherever a movement begins, a celebrity is typically moving in lockstep with it, or in direct opposition to it. But as the number of celebrities taking up the flag of social issues increases, so do questions about who is allowed to participate in a demonstration and in what way.

Devoe acknowledged he is not the first celebrity who some have tried to bar from a social movement.

“You sound like the chick, Laura Ingraham,” the Bell Biv Devoe star said in an Instagram video, referencing the infamous comment the Fox News journalist aimed toward LeBron James in 2018.

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James had questioned the efficacy of the nation’s gun control laws after 17 people were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“How is it possible that we can have minors go buy a gun?” he asked. “We have a kid who wasn’t legally unable to buy a beer at a bar, but he can go buy an AR-15? It doesn’t make sense.”

Ingraham’s reply: “shut up and dribble.”

“(With fame) there is influence there,” Devoe said in an interview with AJC.com, “so they don’t want you to use your influence. They want you to dance around.”

However, Devoe said, with that influence comes a responsibility. It falls on the people with a platform to try to raise up the people who first put them on it, he contended.

It's not without risks. In an attempt to raise awareness of police brutality, former San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the national anthem throughout the 2016 NFL season. The 32-year-old has not played a game since.

Actor John Boyega, with tears streaming down his face, picked up a megaphone at a recent protest against racism.

“I don't know if I'm going to have a career after this,” the Star Wars cast member said,”  but (expletive) that."

MORE: Boyega hailed after Black Lives Matter speech

“Ever since we got the courage to poke our chest out with the Civil Rights Movement, we’ve been continuing the fight,” Devoe said.

That won’t stop, he added.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an entertainer. It doesn’t matter if you do heating and air. It doesn’t matter if you’re a guidance counselor. Everybody has a voice,” he said. “How is your voice more valid than my voice?”

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