R&B artist Grace Weber is a GRAMMY Award-winning recording artist, well-known for her writing credit on Chance the Rapper’s "All We Got." A frequent collaborator of Chance, The Social Experiment, and Francis and the Lights, among others, Weber recently released "Mercy," featuring Vic Mensa, through Capitol Records. Weber previously released critically acclaimed singles "More Than Friends" and "Elated" through her manager Binta Brown's independent label, b|g mouth entertainment (now known as oma lilly projects).
I saw a tweet from Questlove yesterday that made my day. He posted a video of a group of little kids embracing one of their classmates who had just gotten a new prosthetic leg and they were all running around with her, showing off her new leg, in completely uninhibited joy. In Quest’s tweet, he wrote, “needed this.”
I needed it too. Witnessing kindness between others is like seeing hope in physical form.
At the core of our humanity sits a little gem, radiating amidst all the confusion and pain and yearning to make sense of the world, called mercy. Mercy, one of the greatest forms of kindness and compassion, is at the foundation of love, of family dynamics and orchestration, of sharing space and ideas, and was intended as the foundation of our justice system. Mercy is the ability to see another human’s goodness and light and to forgive and love that person despite their darkness. Mercy is an opening of a heart, a listening, and the embrace of a weary person so desperate for a chance. The ability to give mercy, and to ask for it, takes strength. More strength than the sometimes strangely comforting ease of slamming the harsh door of anger shut. Mercy and love, over division and hate, should be the pride of what it means to be human.
This past Friday, I released a song and video called "Mercy," featuring Vic Mensa. I’ve been witnessing something other than kindness in social media comments on public pages for a while, and that, along with our current leadership and national tone of division and bullying, has been making me—a lot of us, really—think a lot about who we are and what we value and how we are so quick to judge, to shut out, to “cancel,” and decide who another person is within a matter of seconds. A description of troll culture or hate politics, but also, a definition of racism.
While on tour in Birmingham, Alabama, my manager and I recently visited the Civil Rights Institute. We saw reenactments of “colored water fountains” and “white water fountains,” newspaper clippings of governors in the South fighting for segregation, a recording of a black mother explaining to her daughter why they can’t go to the movie theater. We saw a depiction of what a classroom for black children looked like and what a classroom for white children looked like, videos of the Freedom Riders, and images of lynchings. Equally as disturbing is having the knowledge and awareness that there are STILL lynchings happening today, that there are STILL politicians fighting (if only in the cover of shadow and through misappropriated tools of government) for segregation, and there is STILL a huge discrepancy between the resources provided to young black children versus young white children today.
But I also saw video of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and a blown-up print of a “Letter from Birmingham Jail” where he writes, “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” And I saw images of black and white Freedom Riders working together and a sculpture of Rosa Parks sitting at the front of the bus. I saw a timeline of the marked progress that people like John Lewis, Martin Luther King, and James L. Farmer accomplished with sheer grit, resilience, and a magnanimous amount of mercy. The strength to choose resilience over bitterness is the only thing that keeps progress churning forward, and I was in deep awe as I was reminded of the example of hope provided by the tireless champions of the civil rights movement then and today.
When I started talking to the video director for “Mercy,” Andy Madeleine, we wanted to show love, compassion, and mercy in action. Hope. We were inspired by the movie Magnolia. In Magnolia, director Paul Thomas Anderson tells the story of 12 different people, a “mosaic of interrelated characters in search of happiness, forgiveness, and meaning."
What I loved most about the film was Anderson’s use of the long take, especially the 135-second take right at the beginning of the movie. I loved how the camera tracked different people walking through the television studio and for a brief moment, made the “star of the film” whoever it might be following for that instant. The long take made everyone’s journey and existence feel equally important in those 135 seconds. Perspective, how we see the world, is beautifully personal and rooted in history and experience. My goal with this song and video, however, was to shift your perspective into seeing the world through someone else’s eyes and to make a call for compassion.
“What do you see, mercy, mercy me? What do you see?”
Four years ago to the month, I was sitting on the subway in New York, heading to a meeting, and feeling completely defeated by my career. I felt so insecure and depressed. As I sat there, wading in a pool of self-doubt, a homeless woman started walking down the train car, asking for help. As she reached where I was sitting, all of a sudden she turned to me and looked me straight in the eye, and said: “Don’t give up. keep going.” I burst into tears and told her, 'Thank you.' As tears streamed down my face, I tried to process how this woman, who was asking for help because she didn’t have a home to live in, took that moment to help me in my lowest point and to offer me hope and mercy. The fact that she knew I needed her comfort at that moment and how she so generously and beautifully gave me understanding and love is something I will never ever forget. Someone I and others may have viewed as the one needing help was ultimately was the one who saved me.
As I write this editorial from inside a tour van, currently traveling around the country opening for PJ Morton and having just signed a record deal with Capitol Records, I think about how grateful I am to that woman for giving me hope that rainy day four Decembers ago. Her seeing me that day truly helped me decide to continue the hustle of what can feel like a constant uphill struggle of making a living as a musician.
In the trailer for Magnolia, John C. Reilly narrates a tale of love, tragedy, and coincidence and how our lives can be more interwoven than we even realize. The effect we have on others is vast and powerful. From a comment on an Instagram post to a smile at the checkout line, to a hug from a friend you thought you lost, these seemingly insignificant moments of kindness and mercy have the power to change our lives.
This song has taken me on a journey from the time I first started writing it with Nate Fox and Nico Segal. It has forced me to look at my own choices and see where I was blinded. In the process of building the song, I was ignorant to another artist’s view and it took me longer than I would have hoped to understand it. And it was because I chose fear and worry and defensiveness over compassion, love, and listening. I’ve also withheld mercy from some of my closest friends over the past year in a determination that I wasn’t ready to forgive. I wish I had the strength to chose true forgiveness sooner, because the moments of mercy I’ve received from others in my own life, others who had the strength to give it to me, gave me the lifeline I needed to keep going.
I believe the greatest example of love and mercy exists in the leadership of the civil rights leaders—Martin Luther King, Dorothy Height, and John Lewis, among others—who not only chose to see hope for our world and believe we could come together in compassion for each other, but who also fought for mercy in the form of justice. I am inspired by people who choose resilience over complacency, within themselves and for the world. I’m inspired by our differences and a willingness to grow. I want to be a witness to kindness and love and listening. I hope to view the world, the people in it, including myself, through an ever clear lens of mercy.