The killing of 33-year-old rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle last month in Los Angeles has echoed around the world. Candlelight vigils were held for him across the United States, in London and even here, in Charlotte.
One of the organizers of the vigil in uptown on Sunday was Rahel Ferai. She said as an Eritrean American, Nipsey was a source of pride for her as an immigrant from a small East African country.
“And to us he wasn't just a rapper," Ferai said. "He was someone that a lot of the youth could look up to. The reason being is because he stated quite clearly where he comes from. He basically let it be known that he’s Eritrean and he’s proud of his heritage.”
Nipsey, born Ermias Asghedom to an Eritrean father and African American mother has said that he didn't know much about his Eritrean side growing up. He was influenced by Los Angeles gang culture and headed in a bad direction. At age 18, his father took him on a trip to their homeland. That’s when he changed his outlook on life.
Ferai said Nipsey’s experience is a story that many immigrant children share.
“He makes it very clear that when he went to Eritrea, that he had a sense of purpose. It solidified who he was, which made him start turning his life around," Ferai said. "I feel a lot of us Eritreans in the diaspora can relate to that. Sometimes you're going through things within your own life when you're trying to fit into American culture and then at home, you’re so into the Eritrean culture and you're like — Which way do I go?”
In the mid-2000s, Nipsey turned away from the street life and began to pursue music. In his music, he preached giving back, ownership, and economic empowerment for black communities. His debut album Victory Lap was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2019 Grammys.
On Thursday, more than 20,000 friends, family and fans will gather for Nipsey’s memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.