During his 33 years of life, Ermias Joseph Asghedom (pronounced “Air-me-yaahs” and “Ahs-ged-om”), also known as “Nipsey Hussle,” was an ambitious and virtuous man who inspired millions to never give up, achieve their dreams and give back to their community. For those of you who have never heard of Asghedom, or only learned about him in the last week since his untimely death, please allow me to introduce him to you before I highlight some lessons we future lawyers should learn from Asghedom’s life.
Asghedom was born in Los Angeles in 1985 to an Eritrean father (Dawit Asghedom) and an African-American mother (Angelique Smith) and raised in the Crenshaw neighborhood of South Los Angeles. As a youth growing up in the rough world of South LA, Asghedom joined the “Rollin 60’s” Neighborhood Crips gang. Despite his affiliation with the Rollin 60’s in his early years, Asghedom knew early on that he wanted to transition out of the gangster life and into one where he could become a musical artist and entrepreneur. Fortunately, Asghedom was able to realize both of these goals before his untimely death.
Lesson 1: Take The Time To Learn About The Place And Culture From Which You/Your Family Came
In 2004, at the age of 19, Asghedom visited his father’s homeland of Eritrea for the first time. The trip had a profound impact on him, as he had never before been in a country where everyone looked like him and lived like a tight-knit family. According to an interview Asghedom did with Complex Magazine in 2010, he said the visit also “put [him] in touch with [his] roots. If you don’t know your full-throttle history, the whole story of how you came to where you are, it’s kind of hard to put things together,” he said. “That filled in a blank spot for me, as far as understanding myself.” Asghedom would go on to visit Eritrea one more time, in 2018.
I myself am Eritrean, and have been back to Eritrea once, back in 2002. My trip there had a similar impact on me. It made me feel informed, proud, grounded, and inspired. It was amazing to meet grandparents, cousins, and family friends that I had only seen photos of and briefly spoken to via telephone. It was also inspiring to personally observe the love, strength, and resiliency of the Eritrean people, individuals who have endured decades of war, famine, and neocolonialism.
As future lawyers and professionals it is imperative that each of us has a good understanding of where we come from. I encourage everyone to go and seek out their roots, regardless of if it means going to another part of Pennsylvania or the other side of the world. Possessing knowledge about the place and culture from which you and your family originated can give you a strong sense of identity, pride, support, and connectedness to your community. Further, it will allow you to better connect with both past and future generations (personally and academically), since culture is one of the most important things that can be passed from one generation to the next.
Lesson 2: Give Back to the Community That Helped You Become the Person You Are Today
Perhaps Asghedom’s greatest legacy is the time, money, and resources he invested into his South LA community. Asghedom: (1) purchased commercial space in the Hyde Park neighborhood for the flagship store of his premium clothing brand, “Marathon Clothing”; (2) later purchased the rest of the strip mall around Marathon Clothing (including a store, a barbershop and several restaurants) and employed community residents in those businesses; (3) invested in the 59th Street Elementary School, giving shoes to all of the students and renovating its basketball courts and playground; and (4) created “Vector90”, a combination co-working space and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) center in the Crenshaw district (to help prepare the youth of South LA for careers in Silicon Valley). In addition to those endeavors, Asghedom partnered with both the LA City Council and the LA Police Department to promote anti-gun violence initiatives in South LA.
It is important for each of us to “pay it forward,” or give back to the community that helped make us who we are today, especially if the community is impoverished and/or faces significant obstacles in providing its young people with academic/professional opportunities. By volunteering our time, money and/or support, we can help ensure that the next generation has opportunities they may not have otherwise had and that we have served as positive role models for young people looking for inspiration and guidance.
Lesson 3: Don’t Be Afraid to Take (Calculated) Risks, Innovate and Above All, Never Give Up
Asghedom was also a man of courage and vision. As mentioned above, he had no desire to leave South LA entirely for one of LA’s affluent suburbs, like Beverly Hill or Brentwood. Instead, he decided to take ownership of his content (music, clothing, merchandise and his overall brand) and set up his own shop in South LA. There was, and is, some inherent financial risk in opening a business in a lower-income neighborhood, but Asghedom took the challenge head-on, never gave up, and was willing to bet on his community.
From the very beginning of his career, Asghedom was an outspoken advocate for ownership and entrepreneurship among artists. He reiterated this in an interview with Mass Appeal, stating that “there’s a business model that exists in the music industry to prevent you from having ownership, to prevent you from being a partner in the lion’s share of the profit. The value is created in content, so when I think of us as hip-hop artists, we create content, but we don’t have a wide product line.” This is a major reason why he only (recently) released a major-studio album, Victory Lap. However, even in partnering with Atlantic Records to release Victory Lap, which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Album, he negotiated to retain control over his work through the partnership with his All Money In company.
Finally, Asghedom’s Marathon Clothing store was the first “smart store” in history. Asghedom enlisted the efforts of Ghana-born software engineer Iddris Sandu to create an innovative “smart store” app which allows customers to view and download exclusive music and other digital content by simply scanning the barcode of store merchandise using the app.
As future lawyers, we too should be unafraid to take calculated risks in our careers and lives. In my opinion, most admirable achievements require some level of sacrifice and risk, so we should take advantage of unique opportunities when they come our way. It is also important to innovate and find a way to separate ourselves from “the pack” where possible, especially in a profession as conservative as the legal profession. And above all, never give up. Those who develop and reinforce “grit,” or mental toughness, within themselves are more likely to become successful leaders and persevere through difficult personal and professional obstacles.
Philadelphia Vigil & Asghedom’s Legacy: In the wake of Asghedom’s tragic death, millions of people across the world have come together to celebrate his life and legacy. In the United States alone, vigils were held in over thirty cities, including Philadelphia. There were two vigils hosted in Philadelphia.
On the evening of March 31st, the day Asghedom died in LA, nearly 200 people (including African-Americans, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Sudanese, Liberians, and others) congregated outside Dahlak Restaurant, an Eritrean restaurant in West Philadelphia, to remember and celebrate Asghedom’s life. The evening was filled with moving speeches and songs of love, faith and self-empowerment. The vigil’s attendees also raised funds to donate to Asghedom’s extraordinary Vector90 STEM project in South Central LA. The Sunday vigil was largely organized by Carmenta Amare and Dahlak Restaurant.
The next day, April 1st, over 50 people congregated in West Philadelphia at the Eritrean Community Center of Philadelphia to remember and celebrate Asghedom. The evening was filled with more speeches, songs and prayers in both English and Tigrinya (the major language spoken in Eritrea). This vigil was organized by the Eritrean Community of Philadelphia, led by the efforts of Sinit Abraham and Blaine Yohannes, a junior in in the Temple University College of Education.
Asghedom’s legacy is about service to the community, knowledge of one’s past, love for everyone (regardless of where they came from), pride and integrity in the honorable work one does and the importance of cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit that allows one to truly see what is possible. To honor his legacy, we should each instill these values within ourselves and work together to ensure that every day we reflect and improve ourselves, both personally and professionally, in the acknowledgment that life and the journey to happiness and success is a marathon, not a sprint.
Rest in peace Ermias Asghedom, may your legacy live on within all of us in Philadelphia and around the world.