Krip-Hop Nation (KHN) All right. Let’s go. So I got a couple questions here. You have written many books about Black masculinity and manhood, but what sticks out to me is that you mention diversity concepts of what is Black manhood, including Black GBLTQ. As a Black, disabled man, tell us how did your mind expand on manhood throughout the years?
KEVIN POWELL: Well, I tell you, The Education of Kevin Powell, which is my 12th book is really, truly the hardest thing I’ve ever written in my life because I realized that I hadn’t looked really hard at the mirror, as a heterosexual Black man trying to navigate my way through this whole thing we call life, from my childhood. As people know who’ve read the book, or who will read the book, there’s some great sorrow there, there’s violence, there’s this anger, there’s hurt, there’s trauma, there’s pain. But there’s also what my mother gave me, which was a work ethic, resposibility, fall back, gotta get back up no matter what. I feel that I’m a lot more close to those things. It was very easy to give up more than a few times in my life.
KEVIN POWELL: May I add something?
KEVIN POWELL: And as you explained to me in detail with Krip Hop, one of my closest friends is a Black man named Charlie Braxton, who’s a dynamic writer and community activist. He also is a part of disabled community and a lifelong hip hop fan.
KHN: Oh, kool.
KEVIN POWELL: Charlie actually was born with cerebral palsy.
KHN: OK, yeah, I got the same disability. All right.
KEVIN POWELL: You as well?
KEVIN POWELL: OK, so he was actually the first Black male from disabled community that I became very close to, back in the 1990s. He was walking with crutches at the time. Charlie’s in a wheelchair now just cuz he got tired of dealing with the crutches. But he is one of the smartest human beings that I’ve met. When I think of the Black Panthers, people always ask me for examples that I’ve encountered in my life anywhere in the country. Charlie is at the top one or two or three of the most powerful Black men that, against all odds and all circumstance, what’s he had do to in his life as a father, as a husband. He’s one person in Jackson, Mississippi, but people from rival gangs, they come to his house to talk peace. He’s got that kind of spirit and that kind of respect that he can do that. So when I think about Black Panthers, I also think about all the Black brothers that I’ve met like Charlie who are just amazing examples of what is possible, even with the so-called disability. You know what I’m saying?
KHN: Oh, cool. Thank you for giving me that story. I gotta check out his story.
KEVIN POWELL: Yeah, yeah. With you starting Krip-Hop I want to put that on the record. And everywhere I go, umm brother Leroy when I talk about– I would always say racism, sexism, and classism, homophbia but I’m sure to always say “disabled.”
KHN: Yeah, I know. I realized. I was checking out your videos. You’re one of the first Black males that are in hip hop that really talks about disability and queerness. When I first saw it, I was like, “Oh wow. I gotta interview this brother” because usually in hip hop and hip hop drillers and hip hop culture. You know, you don’t see or hear people talking about disability or queer issues. So yeah.
KEVIN POWELL: You know, part of it for me, Leroy, is being Black in this country–as you know–I grew up poor. So from the very beginning, I knew what it’s like to feel like they’re invisible. They feel like being ignore or like they’re a problem. So as I matured, and became politically conscious in my late teens into my twenties I thought very seriously about justice for all people. It can’t just be for part of us it has to be connected to all of us and that is important. And that’s why I will say that. Everywhere I go, I always say that. That’s important. And after I see disabled sisters and brothers–they could be Black, white, Mexican, or Asian I go up to them and make sure that they know that I see them. I acknowledge that they’re here and that they are important . Whatever the disability is, I always thoughtfully– Like the college space what Charlie Braxton taught me that he couldn’t go up there and do what I just did but a lot of intellects blows it but Charlie trained me and his mind is sharp. So I tried put disability into my work.
KHN: Mmhmm. Many don’t realize that disability has a culture, has a history, has arts and stuff. So I’m so glad that you’re talking about that. So you grew up in poverty. Today, there is this industry of poverty where middle class and wealthy people are chosen to be spokespersons of people with disabilities, people in poverty. It seems we have flipped the practice of the poor people march with the help of academia. So what is your views on how media treats poor people, especially your writings on MLK?
KEVIN POWELL: I’m so glad you asked that question. It hurts my heart when I hear people referred to as “ghetto” as “hood, as “trailor trash” as “redneck” as “welfare queen”, any terms that are negative that attacks poor people it really borthers me. It borthers me when I was growing up heearing from police and others that I was baster child and such because my mother was poor and on welfare. I’m just saying I was embarrass by it but in my adult life I talk about it and have a chance to travel the world with this book I have a deeper understanding. Everywhere I go, I have to say something, always, about poverty. I think that poverty is a form of violence against poor people. People who are conservative in this country, people who don’t have any kind of passion or symptoms the media as well, they try to blame poor people for their poverty. As Tupac Shakur famously said, “I was given this world. I didn’t make it.” So I feel that way. I didn’t ask to be born in poverty. I was born in poverty. You know what I mean? It’s almost in a certain kind of way, it could be argued that that’s a kind of disability where you have to limp to survive. You’re surviving literally paycheck to paycheck, if you happen to have a paycheck or a welfare check or some food stamps or EBT card. We were happy when we got free stuff, like government cheese but we suppose to be ok like some free sandwiches or a free t-shirt. You have to understand poverty isn’t just financial, but it affects the spirit. It affects your self-esteem, it affects your psyche, it affects every part of your being. It’s like an assault, an attack on you from every angle. And then, when you’re in affinity with other folks who are poor, we start preying on ourselves and each other. So I’m never gonna forget where I come from. I don’t care where I go in the world, what success I have, I am always, always, always going to speak on behalf of poor people because I come from it, and I know exactly what it feels like, the culture, to come from the bottom of society and be avoided and shunned and told that you’re unprivileged, disadvantage, and all these terms they use that I now reject. But I say to people now that we are so rich in our creativity. We are rich in our imagination, we’re rich in our spirits, we’re rich in our intellect. One of the things that poverty has taught me is how to–the basic definition of hip hop–how to make something out of nothing and how to win on your home turf. You know what I’m saying?
KEVIN POWELL: So I see now, I appreciate where I come from cuz I am not a person who falls apart and I have plenty. So from the grace of God, with my ancestors, I could be dead right now, where I come from.
KHN: Yeah, yeah.
KEVIN POWELL: One reason why I am a writer, and I’m so glad you asked this question, when I became a journalist when I was very young is because I was determined to tell the story of the people that the media tries to avoid, but to tell it in a way where it’s from our perspective, not from others who might think we are. But I know from my own experience exactly who we are as poor people. And as poor people who we are African-Americans, who are Latinos, who are Jamicans who created hip hop. We need to be very clear about that. This is who Kool Herc whose came from Jamaica in 1967 you know. Dr. King who was one of the organizers of the poor people’s campaign. So in a sense, hip hop is a poor people’s campaign. That’s what hip hop is, and all truth in matter.
KHN: Yeah. So true. So true. It’s so weird that today we have wealthy people talking about poverty. The last election we had, just saying, we had Cornell West and Tavis Smiley doing the poor people’s tour without having poor people take over the mic. It was kind of disturbing for me to see that.
KEVIN POWELL: How do I feel about poor people– and what was the last part?
KHN: Yeah, it just feels strange to see wealthy people talking about poverty issues and not having poor scholars to talk about it. POOR Magazine has this term called “poverty scholarship.” It just seems to me, especially today with the presidential elections, today and four years ago, there was this poverty tour that two wealthy Black men were on but never gave the mic to poverty scholarship. So yeah.
KEVIN POWELL: To me, the real poverty scholars are people like my mama.
KHN: Yeah, exactly.
KEVIN POWELL: People in Brooklyn, people in Oakland, the folks in the 9th Ward of New Orleans, people in South LA. You have people there in East Oakland, as I siad, people in Southside Chicago, people in the West side of Detroit. If folks really are concerned about poverty, they should make it a point to listen to people who actually have to live through it. One reason why I admire Dr. King so much is because when you think about his life, at the end of his life was into the poor people’s campaign. You know he could of done anything with his life. I could have visited Boyd in Atlanta maybe a year ago, and it was striking to me. Dr. King was born into the Black middle class, upper middle class. His father and grandfather were preachers, and they owned property. But they lived in a community with people took a stand against segregation, which I think made a big impact on him. He never thought of himself as separate from folks who were less fortunate than he was. We know that by the time he was 15, he was a college student at Morehouse College, and then by the time he was in his early 20s, this man was on his way getting his PhD. By 26, he’s leading the bus boycott. And at the age of 34, he’s giving I Have a Dream speech and also wanting to know about peace. So he’s like could have done anything with his life. But the thing I admire about Dr. King is that when the Watts Rebellon riots after 1965, were you are, Leroy out there in California, down in Southern California, Watts, LA Dr. King went out there because he wanted to understand why Black folks, poor Black folks, working class Black folks were exploding the way they did. He listened, and you can watch this on YouTube. There are people saying to Dr. King on camera, Black folks, “Get outta, Dr. King. We don’t wanna hear that non-violent stuff.” They were upset about Watts, and they were upset about police brutality, which is what sparked the whole LA Rebellion, Watts Rebellion in the first place. I’m sure a lot of your folks know, who know your work. Because he was a humble man, he listened, and he learned and in concern, moved to Chicago in 1966, one year later, to live side by side with poverty that he had picked for himself. People were trying to say, “No let’s get a nice place over here.” He said, “Oh no. I’ll take the place where my people are at.”
KEVIN POWELL: That’s kind of people that I grew up in, in my lifetime. You know what I mean?
KEVIN POWELL: And this formed the basis of the poor people’s campaign. So to me, if people are serious in understanding poverty, you do need to put yourself in the midst of this. The other thing I do know that affects Dr. King is in his Vietnam war speech one year later—1967- America was sending poor Blacks and poor whites and poor yellow people in a place called Vietnam. So it’s interesting. We have massive poverty in America that’s not being dealt with properly. We have more poverty than with President Johnson. But now we’re siphoning money from social programs in America to build up this war in Vietnam. We’re seeing poor kids from America not the rich kids to fight a war, the poor kids fight a war Vietnam. So I think that he and also people like Bobby Kennedy, who was a wealthy white male Irish, Roman Catholic, they had privilege. But they also had a sense of humanity. That’s the difference and they lived it and was open to learn from others. Bobby created something called the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation here in Brooklyn where I live. That corporation was a response to poverty in centeral Brooklyn People which today is the biggest Black community in American there are over a million Black people in Brooklyn and people don’t realize that. I said it that the example’s right here. Here’s what King did, and here’s what Bobby Kennedy did. So what are you gonna do? This is what we’re saying is the difference between justice and charity. Charity just gives people some change every now and then or say, “Hey, I’ll sponsor your program and so on but justice is, “I wanna make sure that we can move forward an institution that addresses it head on.
KHN: Yeah, yeah. Totally agree. Totally agree. I told you about Krip-Hop Nation and how it started and stuff. It’s been 10 years in the making, and a lot of disabled hip hop artists always talk about discrimination in hip hop around disability. As a formal journalist and a writer, have you seen ableism in the hip hop arena?
KEVIN POWELL: Oh yes, I think that hip hop is just like the larger society. I think there is definitely discrimination and ableism going on against the disabled community. You see it when you go to hip hop parties. I always think about if the space is accessible to disabled community. You know I think about that a lot like how can people get into this event if there’s no elevator, if there’s no ramp for that person. I think that I’ve seen improvements here. So I think we are always more conscious of are there safe spaces. Again, ableism it’s like a lot of folks don’t recognize their privilege. Those people, when they’re privileged, they often are clueless with their privilege. They don’t realize they’re only thinking about themselves. They’re not thinking about our community. If I could take you back Charli B for a second, I think about how we traveled in cities over the twenty years how important it was when we went out that’s always comfortable in those spaces. I noticed how while me and the other homies talked to Charlie to get to one point to another that we had people looking like, well why here? That’s ableist. Or like he’s some sort of burden because he might be holding up the line a little bit. So I challenge people on that saying, “You can’t do that!” But you don’t understand that even those who happened to be disabled are as an important part of the community as anyone else.
KHN: Yeah. You write about Black males and masculinity. Me being in activism, being a Black, disabled activist around police brutality, I see a lot of police brutality against Black, disabled men. It seems like it’s not written about, especially in the Black Lives Matter movement and other movements. How do we lift those kind of stories into the Black community, about Black, disabled men being shot by police? It’s a high percentage. It’s almost 70% of all police shootings are Black, disabled people, and most of them are males.
KEVIN POWELL: Black, disabled brothers being shot by the police?
KEVIN POWELL: Yeah. It’s off the wall. There’s almost like a hierarchy even within when we talk about Black suffering. It’s clear that we lift up heterosexual Black males who are able-bodied. I talk about Black women the death of Sandra Bland. You rarely, if ever, hear about Black, disabled brothers and their encounters with the police out there how they are harass and brutalize. You know what I say to the brothers in the disabled community is that it’s so important that you all tell your stories and find allies. Like I’m an ally and others who will also put it out there for you. I think that is critical, though, like what you’re doing as a media person. You have to become the media yourself, literally. You have to be a reporter yourself and tell your own stories. Otherwise, they won’t know about it. And I’ll tell you honestly though, Leroy, it’s started being even to be truthful since I started the last four years some of the best education I’ve gotten in the last couple years about the community Latino, Black, white, and otherwise, I learned from people talking to people on Facebook, on Twitter, about the brutality that they have faced as disabled sisters and brothers. So I encourage people to do social media, do blogs and so on but just to make sure that people know that your voices are loud and clear. That’s the only way. Now I’m saying that the needle will begin to move if people acknowledge that this is something that we need to be aware of and need to be report on.
KHN: Yeah, one more question and I’ll let you go. I know you’re busy. Well, two more questions. One that’s just a statement. Tell us about the BK Nation and how people like myself can get involved.
KEVIN POWELL: Well, BK Nation stands for Building Knowledge. Our whole premise is that we believe that the leadership that we have been waiting for is us. So we don’t believe in this one person leader or this one organization leader of BK Nation. So BK Nation has a clearinghouse, resources including our website and blog space at bknation.org. Our first step is to get BK Nation all accross the nation. We had a few core projects, a homeless project, a health and wellness project, an education project, a jobs and business project, and also a leadership development project. We believe that people should either fine-tune the leadership skills they already have or be given a leadership tool kit that will be online soon for free . We also believe that we have to help connect the dots between the Bay Area and Brooklyn, New York, here in the City so folks know that they’re not out there by themselves. Their whole community by people doing the same work and looking for connections all around the country. So that’s BK Nation. Now, we’ve been in the front lines of a lot of stuff. We’re out there in support of Trayvon Martin situation happened. They organized when Michael Brown got killed out there, certainly here in New York when Eric Garner was choked to death by police. So we’ve been around for police profiling cases, gender violence situations. We believe in to not only responding to injustice, but also in being proactive and help folks build a social movement. Institutions and organizations where they are. We just feel strongly that in the beginning, that leadership is actually in our own hands. We need to get our power back.
KHN: Thank you so much, Kevin.
KEVIN POWELL: Thank you, brother. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you for it.
KHN: OK, you take care. Have a good one.
KEVIN POWELL: I look forward to seeing you in the Bay Area in a little bit: Yeah. Definitely, definitely.
KEVIN POWELL: All right.
KHN: All right. Peace.