This month, Clutch successfully caught up with the acclaimed activist, author, and hip-hop historian Kevin Powell to find out the latest. Our interview with Kevin was so extensive and important that we decided to turn into to a series. Kevin touched on so many topics and issues that are faced in our communities and culture.
Clutch: First I want to thank you for making time to answer a few questions for us. Many people remember you from MTV’s first season of The Real World. Do you think your appearance on the show helped your career as a journalist and if so, in what way?
Kevin Powell: (Laughs) No, I go back to my mother. My mother is responsible for everything I do. She moved from South Carolina in her 20’s to the North where she met my father. Unfortunately, like with likes of women, she was abandoned by him. Only having a grade school education and no real money or skills, she did an amazing job with limited resources raising me. I don’t believe in talking about where I am today with out mentioning my mother and God – that’s what’s important to me. She laid the ground work for everything I do. She taught me how to make something out of nothing with limited resources, my work habits and my belief in God.
Clutch: There are some like myself who have followed your career and greatly admire the work you do as well as the mission behind your message. What drives you to be the voice of freedom in our time?
Kevin Powell: I am committed to our people. When I got to college back in the 80’s, it was a really interesting time. At that time Reverend Jesse Jackson was running for president and I got to witness the campaign first hand. I always remind people of Reverend Jackson running for president in 1984, because so many people are excited about Barack Obama and it was the same kind of thing happening 20 years ago when he Jesse was running. It was the Anti-Apartheid Movement and I really didn’t know about South Africa and it had a really big impact on me. The work that I do now, started with what I did in the 80’s. Hip-Hop was a lot different than it is now. It was incredible to be a young person coming up with KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy and Chuck D, N.W.A., Queen Latifah and M.C. Lyte. I am a hip-hop head, been one my entire life, it was a very diverse back then. All that stuff prepared me for where I am now. I also went to college with someone named Lisa Williamson, which mosy know as Sista Souljah. She was a couple years ahead of me at Rutgers, but we became very close and organized youth camps and voter registration campaigns not only in the east coast, but in the south as well. One thing I noticed is that in the American society people kinda tend to see you in fragments. They might say, I saw you on BET or CNN, I read your article in this place or that place or didn’t know had a book or I read your book and I have to inform them that I have wrote seven. But, this has been ongoing work for me, I have been committed to helping people close to 20 years. My entire life has been dedicated to public service, this is my life calling, it’s not a career. I don’t even use the word career anymore, I actually say my life journey. I am not a journalist, I am an activist, I’m a writer and I don’t really care about the titles. It’s really what can I do everyday of my life as I try to help myself, my immediate family and to also help people in our community.
Clutch: What was the main message in your book titled Someday We’ll All Be Free which speaks candidly about the tragic events of both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina?
Kevin Powell: That alot of us terms like freedom and democracy and don’t really know what they mean. Real democracy to me on a basic level means if we are voting for a president of the United States, as we are going in 2008. It should really be one person, one vote, not we vote and it’s for some electoral college and we don’t even know who those people are – that’s not democracy to me. We know that’s the mess that we got into in 2000 and again on some level in 2004. A real democracy means we make sure everyone in the country has access to a quality education. If a child has to go through the public school system they should come out with a real education. Just this morning, a young man called me, he was 19 years old and he was illiterate. He went through the public school system and can’t read or write. I was very proud of him and I applaud his courage on telling me his story. Unfortunately, we see alot of our young males and females in urban areas living as functioning illiterates. And we wonder why they end up out their hustling or swinging from poles or trying to be rappers or ball players. They have to find something that is not going to really require the kind of due diligence that most have. I just feel like so much of our work has got to be about empowering our people and I have hope that we are going to move forward. But, what has happened is this kind of collapse in our communities over the last 25-30 years, a few of us have done alright, but don’t come back to help our communities.