Musician Michael Franti lectures at the Alys Stephens Center in Birmingham, Ala., Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. His appearance was part of a series of UAB events commemorating the civil rights movement and linked to the city's 50 Years Forward commemoration. Photo by Tamika Moore | firstname.lastname@example.org
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Michael Franti's prescription for social change can be distilled into four simple words.
When people ask him, "What can I do to make a difference in the world?" Franti responds this way: "Do what you can."
It's his version of the "think globally, act locally" concept.
Franti -- a singer-songwriter, author, world traveler and social activist -- also advocates the "each to his talents" principle.
Use your particular skills and abilities to help the folks around you, Franti said. He believes that small actions can have a great impact -- in families, neighborhoods, workplaces and communities.
"It takes something from within each of us," Franti said. "It takes a strength and an endurance."
"Having civil rights (laws) doesn't make happiness," Franti said. "It takes love and connectedness and being open to each other."
He mentioned a hairstylist who opens her salon to cancer patients, helping them to cope with the ravages of chemotherapy. Franti also talked about singer Bono of U2, who had intended to dig irrigation ditches in Ethiopia.
After one day of manual labor in a village -- resulting in blistered hands, an aching back and not much work done -- Bono was asked by the village chief to use his energies in another way, Franti said. So Bono created songs for the village, helping them to spread the word about healthcare basics and sanitary issues.
These songs became part of the local folklore and culture, Franti said, and did a great deal of good.
For about 90 minutes, Franti offered an inspirational message of hope, urging listeners to avoid apathy and despair when the status quo doesn't live up to their expectations. Through stories and songs -- including "The Sound of Sunshine" and "Have a Little Faith" -- he encouraged the crowd to regard the world a "a glass that's half empty and half full," and therefore full of opportunities.
Franti, 46, is an advocate for peace, human rights, environmental preservation and social equality. Such topics are the backbone of his music, especially on the albums "Stay Human" (2000), "Everyone Deserves Music" (2003) and "Yell Fire!"(2006).
Franti produced a documentary, "I Know I'm Not Alone," based on a trip to the Middle East and featuring the music of "Yell Fire!"
He supports organizations such as Amnesty International, CARE, War Child International and Common Ground Relief. In 2001, he received the Domestic Human Rights Award from Global Exchange, an international organization.
He showed off a few yoga moves on Thursday, at the urging of an audience member, and answered questions about his life and career. Franti -- dreadlocks, no shoes, dressed in jeans and a hoodie -- had just spent time in Bali, where he's built the Soulshine Retreat Center.