Manhood, Mental Illness, and The Colorado Massacre by Kevin Powell

“How come all these crazies are White boys?” my White male friend Michael Cohen asked me via email in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting. It is something I have been hearing nonstop these past few days since 24-year-old James Holmes murdered 12 and wounded nearly 60 people in a horrific mass shooting at a screening of the new Batman film.

The question also makes me recall that Chris Rock stand-up routine where he said he fears angry White males more than he fears angry Black males because you simply don’t know what the White dudes will do when pissed off. Or something to that effect.

However, to reduce this to mass murderers being “White” and “crazy” would ignore that an Arab-American man, Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan, killed 13 soldiers and civilians and wounded more than two dozen at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009. Or that South Korean-American Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people, and himself, on the campus of Virginia Tech in 2007.

But, too, very defensive folks in America’s Black and Latino communities will have you believe that we do not do things like that. Case in point is a conversation I had with a Black police officer in my Brooklyn, New York ‘hood just last night where he swore, up and down, we Black and Brown folks ain’t like them White folks when it comes to killings. How then, I asked, do you explain the record numbers of Black and Latino young males shooting maiming paralyzing killing each other from New York to Chicago to Oakland and pretty much every other large or small American ghetto this very bloody Summer of 2012?

The officer, who ought to know better given his line of work, maintained it was different. What really is the difference between one violent White man taking out a dozen at a time and a dozen violent Black or Latino men in the same ghetto killing one person each? Is not the total still 12 people dead, senselessly? While many of the reasons why White males shoot people are very different from why Black and Latino males shoot people, the bottom line is that murder is murder.

But, for sure, these “mass murders” happen daily weekly monthly yearly in neighborhoods of color but those stolen lives barely make the news, if ever. If not for the oral reporting of hip-hop and brilliant songs like Nas’ “Accident Murderers” from his new cd, we’d have no idea that life is the complete opposite of good in the ‘hood. So while I have complete and total compassion for the lives that were taken, wounded, and altered by what happened in Colorado, it also saddens me extremely to know that when it comes to Black and Latino people being murdered rarely are their lives given much public attention. It is that unfortunate and painful reminder that in the eyes of our America their lives don’t matter as much.

Beyond the above, I feel the problem is that we in America are not only unwilling to engage in real and raw conversations about the root causes of violence, but we also are ducking and dodging any dialogue about how we define manhood and what, exactly, mental illness is, and how dangerous it is for everyone when warped notions of manhood collide with someone who is very emotionally unstable.

Put another way, Albert Einstein once famously said insanity is saying or doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result. When you look at the massive media coverage of the Aurora theater shooting, you could easily be watching the same coverage of Fort Hood, or Virginia Tech, or Columbine, in Colorado, way back when Bill Clinton was president.

What we gloss over or completely ignore is that there is something profoundly wrong with how we define manhood in America. The definition is as old as this nation. And we know that definition begins with immigrant men from Europe ransacking the land of Native Americans and enslaving Africans. And that definition of manhood means the long American journey has been one riddled with men and boys who think it their birthright to use brute force to achieve their ends. Yup, there is a straight line from so-called explorers to cowboys to gangsters to rock stars to whichever rapper is hot this current moment to the hate-baiting mouthpieces on the Fox News Channel. 

It means our notion of manhood is actually based in myth-making, in mythology, and these myths of who and what the American man is or suppose to be has been spread, since we were boys, from school history lessons to our religious institutions, and practically in every kind of book, magazine, tv show, film, or video game we absorb.

That is why when you look at the ever-expanding list of the worst mass murderers in American history, you cannot find a woman. They simply do not get down the way we men do. Women do not sexually harass men the way we sexually harass them. Women do not rape men the way we rape them. Women do not commit acts of domestic violence at the level we do to them. Most women do not wind up in seedy extramarital affairs as often as we men do. And women do not cover up the rape and abuse of children at a major university the way the men of Penn State did, just to protect a storied football program.

So the problem, to me, is that we are in denial about who we have been taught to be as men, how much of what we say we are is addicted to violence, to twisted ego trips and narrow-minded visions of power, to mindless competition that leads us to destroy each other (and ourselves) over and over again. Where it ends, always, we know. It is called that theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. It is called certain types of male police officers gunning down Black and Latino young men who are unarmed with names like Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, or Ramarley Graham. It is called what George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin. It is called the tragedy of Penn State. It is called the bloodshed on the streets of urban America.

And it is called mental illness, y’all, for what else are violent behavior but the work of someone, well, who is simply not well? On the surface James Holmes appeared to be a genius and nothing more than a shy and introverted young man. He was an outstanding undergrad student at the University of California-Riverside, and many of his former classmates from high school and college talked about what a good person he was, and how shocked they are by this eruption.

I battled depression, low self-esteem and, yes, violent and physical outbursts in my past lives, and I know that we males, particularly, have not been socialized or encouraged to discuss our true feelings. Only because of years of therapy and involvement in multiple men’s groups and healing circles was I able to think about the root causes of what was bothering me, of what was triggering specific actions and reactions in my life. Most men do not go to therapy, and never will. Men are taught to be “strong,” to hold back emotions, to talk little about our internal struggles. Instead, like James Holmes, we will repress, hide, and even create a cover for what is often seen on the surface as just anti-social behavior. Again, in Holmes’ case, he was just dismissed as shy, as socially awkward. And only someone whose identity is that fragile will be driven to recreate himself as a new person entirely. For Holmes that new person was the fictional Joker character from Batman. Where he felt completely disempowered previously, to the point of even giving up on grad school, he now was omnipotent, emboldened by 6000 rounds of ammunition, four guns, tear gas, and an all-black costume just like the character Bane’s in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Call it self-creation through violent means, because that is exactly what it was for James Holmes.

We still do not know what the tipping point was for James Holmes. Was it his struggles with grad school? Was it the ending of a relationship? I think often of a former friend of mine, who lost his cushy corporate job and his marriage around the same time about six years ago. Many had always considered him a bit of an outcast, but the twin traumas of career and marriage collapse pushed him over the edge. So much so, in fact, that many people avoid him and have joked that “he seems like one of those guys who will snap at any moment and shoot a bunch of people.”

Yeah—

But it is not a joke. Not when the path to personal pain and low self-esteem is layered with resentment that becomes paranoia. And if that man starts to retreat into a self-made world of rage and self-pity, he becomes more isolated. I saw my friend who lost his job and marriage spiral into that universe of thoughts and fantasies of revenge, of intentionally scaring people, because it made him feel powerful. As a matter of fact the last time I was ever with him, he drove 100 miles an hour across one of New York City’s bridge, with me in the passenger seat, for no reason other than he felt he could. I thought we were going to die that very day, and I have not seen nor spoken with him since. I was suddenly that terrified of him.

But it is simplistic to reduce men and boys who may have emotional problems and past pains they are coping with, to being crazy or weird, to medicate them with drugs, without rolling back the layers of who they are, without creating spaces, once and for all, where men and boys can open up, talk, share, and, yes, own what it is that is causing them pain or trauma. I cannot tell you how many emails and private Facebook and Twitter messages, for example, I get from American men and boys of various backgrounds every single week asking for help in some way. For some it is because they have battered or abused a female partner. For others they simply do not know what a man is, are terribly confused, and are seeking answers and guidance, or some word to move them from their state of arrested development.

And those answers will only come, in America, if we begin to have the kinds of conversations women and girls have long had to talk openly and freely about all that is happening to us. That is not to say murder, including mass murder, will stop, nor that men who committed violent acts should not be held accountable for their actions, because they should be. Nor is it to say we do not need better and tighter gun control, because God knows we do. The mere fact that James Holmes was able to purchase so much of his ammo online is disturbing beyond words.

But how many lives could we save in our entire nation if that national conversation on violence we so badly need to have also includes an honest and open discussion about manhood, about mental health and mental illness?

Kevin Powell, writer, activist, public speaker, is the author or editor of 11 books, including “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays” (www.lulu.com). Email him at kevin@kevinpowell.net or follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell

Kevin Powell: Tyler Perry’s ‘For Colored Girls Who have Considered Suicide’

Push pause before watching for colored girls….

People either love or hate filmmaker Tyler Perry—that much is clear to me. Weeks before I decided to see Perry’s “For Colored Girls” on opening night I could hear the extreme reactions to the fact he was adapting, producing, and directing a film version of Ntozake Shange’s classic 1970s choreopoem/play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf.”

“I think Tyler is the worst filmmaker ever,” one pal of mine said, an amazing actress and writer, who is completely traumatized that Perry was even permitted to touch Shange’s writing.

And then there have been all the pre-film blogs written and passed around which have, in the main, been attempts to prepare viewers, particularly Black women movie goers, for the worst. Indeed, one blog I sampled encouraged women to read Shange’s words first, to go as a group, almost as if bracing themselves for a natural disaster. Another blog demolished Perry as a proprietor of modern-day minstrel shows in real-time Black face. This woman’s blog was so detailed in her point-by-point critiques of Tyler’s pictures, that it set off what appears to be at least 100 responses, most supporting her views, with a few not, and a handful saying she was an extremist, and, better yet, a hater. And this last blog and its comments are from a year ago when it was first announced Perry was tackling Shange’s piece.

(A not-so-humorous side note: From the hardcore reactions to one Tyler Perry, you would think his films have done as much damage to Black America as, say, racism, HIV/AIDS, failing public schools, rampant unemployment, crime, drug dealing and drug abuse, gentrification, the prison-industrial complex, police brutality, Republican right-wingers and the Fox News Channel, ghetto dictatorships and lazy leadership in the form of certain very identifiable Black politicians and Black preachers, corner liquor stores, fast food restaurants, and every other challenge you could name….)

Since then it hasn’t helped that the trailer for the adaptation doesn’t do the actual film any poetic justice. You see Janet Jackson far too much (it is clear Mr. Perry has an acute fascination with Ms. Jackson in spite of her well-meaning but limited acting abilities), and you see a plethora of quick-cut imagery in the film, but unless you’ve closely read the Shange book yourself, or have seen the words interpreted on the stage through the years, you come away from the trailer not really clear what the film narrative is.

As a result I was really torn about watching “For Colored Girls.” First off, I have seen some of Perry’s “Madea” films and, yes, they have made me cringe. How could they not when I know very well the history of Black images in America, how destructive so many of these images have been to our collective spirits, psyches, and bodies, be they mammy, big momma, tragic “mulatto,” gangsta, thug, pimp, prostitute, thief, hustler, or bumbling, stumbling coon or buffoon. If there was a true and intentional balance to what we colored folks are given to digest on television, in movies, in music videos, in video games, and now on the internet, then there would hardly be a whisper about Tyler Perry’s films. And if he had stayed in the urban Black theater scene—our theatrical version of the famous “chitin’ circuit” for Black performers—then no one, save poor or working-class and or church-going Black folks, would probably even know who Perry is today.

But it is precisely because those poor or working-class and or church-going Black folks flock to venues like the Beacon Theater in New York City, every time one of these plays is announced on local urban radio stations, that Tyler Perry is famous and fabulously wealthy. The plays are simplistic, but with enough Black around-the-way humor and morality lessons that serve as a necessary escape from the grind of our daily Black lives. Who would not want that? And is it little surprise that Perry’s career first skyrocketed during the Bush II years, and continues to be an entertainment outlet for the souls of many Black folks during The Great Recession? No, he is not a great writer, not a great director, not a great actor. Not yet, and I have no clue if he will ever be any of those things. But Tyler Perry is an astute entrepreneur, a marketing genius, someone who has filled a huge void for working-class Black America, for church-going Black America, with film after film. Up until “For Colored Girls,” Perry has not pretended to be an artist, or a super-talented director in the vein of Julie Dash, Martin Scorsese, or Kasi Lemmons.

Tyler Perry

No, what Perry has done is exactly what pioneering African American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux did from 1919 to 1948: give Black people themselves on screen on a regular basis, something that, as evidenced by Perry’s huge box-office receipts with each film (including approximately $20 million this past opening weekend for “For Colored Girls”), we desperately crave. Indeed just as Oscar Micheaux steadily fed the Black masses with his 44 films and 7 novels (including one national bestseller) over those 29 years, Perry too has been relentless with his productivity and his work ethic, churning out, it feels, a film a year, if not two. This is on top of his plays, his television shows, and the running of his new state-of-the-art film and television studio in Georgia. But please be clear that Tyler Perry is not the first African American to own his own film and tv compound. No, that distinction belongs to Tim Reid and Daphne Maxwell Reid and what they built and opened in Virginia in the late 1990s. But Perry has taken the best of the hustle and flow of Micheaux, the bravado of Blaxploitation wonder-man Melvin Van Peebles, the make-Black-films-by-any-means-necessary mantra of Spike Lee, and the business savvy of the Reids, remixed the ingredients, and given us Tyler Perry, the baddest Black film mogul this side of the 21st century. And that begets a taste of power that makes Perry the Booker T. Washington of Black filmmakers. In other words, like how Booker T. was hotly debated in his day for his dealings with Black folks and issues of race, so too is Tyler P. hotly debated in his day for his dealings with Black folks and, yeah, issues of race (images).

But what one cannot deny about either is that in an America where it has always been extremely hard for Black folks to own and sustain institutions, both built institutions that stand as unbelievable achievements of the human spirit, and in spite of entrenched American racism and White privilege in the realms of education (Booker T.) and Hollywood (Tyler P.). One could even go so far as to say that outside of Oprah Winfrey, Perry is easily the most powerful Black entertainer in our nation, and one of the most influential regardless of race.

For Tyler Perry has taken the business of Black filmmaking to another level. A level that Micheaux, Van Peebles, and not even Spike Lee could have ever achieved. Because Tyler Perry is not only the master of his own ship, the owner of his vision and his brand, but he is now positioned to tackle Hollywood racism head on without ever uttering a single word about it. For sure, Perry says he does not discriminate against anyone, and that is clear from his diverse team of production folks. But it is also abundantly clear he has added brick after brick to the Spike Lee foundation of hiring Black people in every position possible, to nurture and train them for long careers in film and television production. The kind of opportunities they would not get elsewhere. I mean, when I look at the credits to, say, Francis Ford Coppola’s epics, “The Godfather I and II,” it is not lost on me the numerous Italian surnames. Coppola was clearly looking out for his people. So why can’t Perry do the same for his?

But with the box office success, the full-fledged studio, the role as the most powerful Black person in Hollywood, and an uncanny ability to get every kind of Black actress or actor you can think of into his films (no matter the quality of the films), I imagine the question began to gnaw at Tyler as the refrain scrutinizing his filmmaking skills, or lack thereof, have grown louder and louder: Where do I, Tyler Perry, go from here?

Here, I believe, means Tyler knows, there in the underbelly of his Southern soul, that he cannot continue to make, solely, Madea films, preachy PG movies with one-dimensional characters and a gumbo pot full of plotlines. That he had to leave his comfort zone, had to create 34th Street Films so that he can begin to make more meaningful films, better developed and multi-faceted films, films written and directed by others, and perhaps others with extensive film training, who can bring to life the kind of Black tales seldom told, and seldom seen in the history of American cinema—

Push play: for colored girls unfolds….

Living in New York City for the past 20 years as both a writer and activist means I have seen and heard versions of Shange’s choreopoem many many times. I even once lived with and dated an actress who, like many Black actresses, frequently used a monologue from “For Colored Girls…” in one audition or another. What I learned from my then-girlfriend, and from my Black female actress friends through the years, is that there is an enormous scarcity of monologues written specifically for Black women, that what Shange wrote really is as timeless as Shakespeare. And as poetic and lofty, too. That when you enter the world of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls…” you are, in essence, entering high and sacred ground.

 

Which brings me back to my decision to see the film on opening night. The evening before I had visited my mother in my hometown of Jersey City, and there we were, in the same kitchen she has been in for 30-plus years. As I ate the fish my moms prepared for me, she sat, all 67 years of her, slightly slumped, in a plastic-covered chair by the stove. My mother looked both at peace, and well, very tired. Tired from years of being a Black woman in America. Tired from years of working in cotton fields, factories, and in the homes of the wealthy and the elderly. Tired of being tired, these several years later, from talking about how my father had wronged her. To the point, now, that she herself had aged with hints of sorrow in her heart and twinges of bitterness at the corners of her mouth. She, a colored girl, who had survived the hostile abandonment of my father, and all the would-be suitors who came to move in, not to love her.

 

She, a colored girl, who had survived acute poverty, minimal life skills, and an 8th grade education to raise me, a Black boy, to be something other than yet another wretched statistic. Who will sing the coarse songs of women like my mother? Who will tell their tales if not us?

The late Judge Shirley Torintino

And then to the other extreme of why I was in Jersey City Thursday night: Judge Shirley Tolentino, the first Black woman judge I’d ever met, had died, and I went to St. Aloysius Church on Westside Avenue to pay my respects at her wake. And what a wake it was. The church was loaded with all kinds of people, mostly Black, there to say good-bye to a Black woman many considered one of Jersey’s most powerful judges. I met her when I was a teen and driving my mother mad. I don’t even recall what the particular indiscretion was with the law, but there I was in front of Judge Tolentino, utterly stunned a Black woman, this Black woman, was about to decide my fate. For whatever reason, she gave me a break, I never went to a juvenile detention center, never landed in jail, so I had to see her one last time, even in that coffin box, just to say “Thank you.” I had thought of Judge Tolentino often through the years, long before I knew of Harriet Tubman or Sojourner Truth, or Ida B. Wells or Mary McLeod Bethune, or Shirley Chisholm or Angela Davis, or the ladies in Shange’s “For Colored Girls…,” or Michelle Obama, even. For Judge Tolentino, like my mother, represents a kind of power that Black women have always possessed, from the golden earth of Africa to the concrete jungles of America’s inner cities, a power that said you may try to destroy us by all available means but like that Maya Angelou poem, still we rise—

And somewhere in Tyler Perry’s life, ostensibly, he has been affected, aided, raised, prepared, by Black women like the ones I know. All us Black boys know them. No, I have not always liked the way Perry has depicted Black women in his films, but I also cannot ignore how many Black actresses he has employed, quite a few of them so remarkably gifted by their God yet so completely shunned or forgotten by Hollywood. Nor can I disregard that in his newly minted studio are soundstages named after Black female acting giants like Ruby Dee and Cicely Tyson. Somewhere in Perry croons an undying love for Black women—

For Colored Girls Cast

Yes, these things were on my mind as I made my way to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see Perry’s film. I purposely sat in the back row so that I could watch any who entered. And here they came, slowly but surely, Black women like my mother, and Black women like Judge Tolentino. Younger Black women and older Black women. Straight Black women and lesbian or bisexual Black women. Black women with perms and weaves, and Black women with dreadlocks or baldheads. There were a few of us Black males present, and a few White sisters and brothers. I could feel some Black female eyes on me as I sat alone, wondering what had brought me to this film, maybe. I think if I had suffered through what countless Black women have suffered through in their lives, including my mother, I would question, too. For what is it to live in a nation where you have been victimized not only because of your race, but also because of your sex? Where you have not only had to contend with sheer madness ranging from slave masters to corporate bosses with a reckless disregard for your being, but also from husbands, boyfriends, lovers, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, sons, and grandsons whose own internalized racism and oppression have destroyed them and, in effect, destroyed you. This is the heaviness of experience and history that these Black women march with into one Tyler Perry movie after another. They simply want to see fragments of themselves on screen, be it Madea or Shange’s “For Colored Girls.” And most of these women are not like my actress friends, not like my cultural critics friends, not like my academic or scholarly friends, and not like my bohemian friends: well versed in all things Black, cultural, artistic, political, or literary. They are more like my mother, a woman who does not read books, save bits and pieces of the bible, and who has never really been told (nor mustered the strength to tell herself) that she is beautiful, that she is powerful, that she is visible. Which is why since the 1970s when I was a child, as far back as I can remember, my mother mostly goes to the movies when it is Black people up on the screen. My moms is especially fond of Whoopie Goldberg and I suspect it is because Whoopie, like my mother, is a dark-complexioned Black woman who has been told, more times than not, that she is ugly, and you and I both know that Whoopie, and my mother, are quite beautiful. Therefore in seeing Whoopie shine on that screen my mother is seeing herself shine, is seeing her beautiful brown skin shine in a way it never shined in those cotton fields, in those factories, in the homes of those wealthy or elderly folks, and certainly never shined in the eyes of my long-gone father. Women like my mother, younger and older, simply need to know that their lives are valid, that their lives do matter. Love him or hate him, that is the space Tyler Perry has created for many a Black person, a space my mother asked me to share with her when she requested “Can you take me to see that movie about them colored girls?” Yes, ma, I will—

So there is this film, and as “For Colored Girls” began, I washed away the negative reviews I’d read, the questions on why him to do this, and simply watched the movie. I would say about 15 minutes into it I realized I was watching something very different than other Perry flicks, that he had grown as a filmmaker, that he was not butchering Shange’s words as so many had suggested he would, or had.

Instead what we were getting was a 21st century reading of “For Colored Girls,” very much required, in reality, given that Shange’s piece was created in the 1970s. And no different, undoubtedly, than Ethan Hawke taking Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and setting it at the Denmark Corporation in his early 2000s film version, while retaining the old language. If Hawke could keep the old language and update the setting, why can’t Perry? Moreover, it was clear to me, as the drama unfolded, that many in the theater, including the Black woman sitting right next to me, had never read the Shange book, nor had ever seen a staged production. Tyler Perry’s flick was it, was their introduction. And in this world of fast-paced videos, Twitter, and every manner of cell phone with video components, Perry has taken the best of what Shange has willed to us, combined it with a stellar ensemble that features Phylicia Rashad, Whoopie Goldberg, Anika Noni Rose, Kimberly Elise, Thandie Newton, and Loretta Devine, and created something that is, well, very special and quite magical, in spite of the hurt and pain peppered throughout this film.

The film had to be given a bona fide backdrop in Harlem, the men had to be given some voices here and there, and the women’s names could not merely be Lady in Red, Lady in Brown, and so on. We need to know them as Crystal and Yasmine and Jo. Need to know their names because those names are the real names of real Black women who live in Harlem, Brooklyn, Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, D.C., St. Louis, Houston, wherever Black women be. But Perry had to cast his bucket somewhere, so Harlem became the metaphor for anywhere America, specifically one walk-up apartment building where most of the characters dwell. Think of how Gloria Naylor put her main female characters on one block in her majestic novel “The Women of Brewster Place.” Or how a Brooklyn neighborhood exploded off the screen in Spike’s “Do The Right Thing.” With “For Colored Girls” I was awestruck by the color palettes used for the film, the exquisiteness of these Black women’s many skin hues, the imaginative method in which Perry stitched Shange’s original words in with freshly written lines to make the narrative go. And go they do, for they are brilliant, hardworking, dedicated, steadfast, loving, divine, and, often, very very lonely in their own skins. You feel it with Phylicia Rashad’s character, the manager of the building, whose sole purpose at this moment seems to be as ears and eyes of what is happening with her neighbors. But it is in helping them through their pain that gives her life a pulse. You feel it in Whoopie Goldberg’s character, so terrified of the universe that she has turned her apartment into a shrine of boxes filled with God only knows what, her life reduced to prays, pray oils, and an overwhelming belief that anyone who does not believe in her God and her religion is destined for hell, including her two daughters. You feel it in the innocence of Anika Noni Rose’s character, wide-eyed and recently out of a relationship, and so horrifically duped by a handsome man into a rape scene and subsequent monologue that was so jarring it felt like the entire theater had instantly become a mountainous chorus of tears, wails, and gasps for air. And you feel it in Kimberly Elise, so broken by mental abuse and domestic violence that she is just one step from a complete nervous breakdown. And then her husband does it, he murders her two children in broad daylight, dropping them—and the sanity and heart of Elise’s character— from their apartment window, their blood smeared on the asphalt below like the jagged journey of Black women and girls in America.

“I never thought I’d see the day when I enjoyed a Tyler Perry film,” said one female friend, and I concurred with her. But I am not sure if “enjoy” is the right word. “For Colored Girls” is a conversation, a mirror, something, obviously, that one culturally and socially ignorant film critic after another just did not get as they blasted the film in their reviews. One repeated critique is that the movie deals too much in pathologies. Are you going to tell me that Coppola’s “Godfather I and II,” widely hailed as two of the best movies of all time, are not riddled with multiple social pathologies? Likewise with “Citizen Kane,” or “Forrest Gump,” even? So to these over-the-top haters of Perry’s “For Colored Girls,” What film, exactly, were you watching that that is the sum of what you viewed? How does one come away from that film and not agree that Kimberly Elise should be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, and Thandie Newton (with Anika Noni Rose and Whoopie Goldberg not far behind) for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar? How does one not acknowledge the terrific score, the captivating cinematography, or the set design, even? And how does one gripe that the back-alley abortion scene is not credible in these times if one has never been to, never lived in, nor ever spent significant time in an American ghetto and, as a consequence, is not fully aware of the physical and psychological lengths us poor Black folks have historically had to go to, even in the age of Obama and in an allegedly post-racial America, to duck and dodge the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?

Additionally, I do know if a Tom Hanks, a man who was on a mediocre television sitcom and made mediocre film after mediocre film in the 1980s, could reinvent himself as a leading man and Oscar winner in the 1990s, then why can’t Tyler Perry be given the space to evolve, to grow, to be something other than what first made his fame and fortune? Or if a Marvin Gaye could go from crooning catchy but clichéd Motown pop ballads to making a masterpiece model for social protest music with “What’s Going On?” then why can’t we believe, in our hearts, that Perry made a strong, compelling, and emotionally-riveting movie with “For Colored Girls?”

Yes, there are flaws in the film. Here are the glaring ones for me: Janet Jackson, who I have always loved in general, just should not be in the film nor should she have been given top billing. Janet simply does not have the range and depth she displayed as a child actor on “Good Times.” Next, the director did not push Kerry Washington hard enough, I feel, to display the kind of emotional dexterity needed for her character as she witnessed the breaking down of lives about her, and her inability to have a baby. And it was so pathetically predictable that Janet’s husband in the film would turn out to be “a brother on the down-low.” We’ve got to stop fanning the flames of fear and homophobia to Black people like that, once and for all. The issue with HIV/AIDS in Black America is sexual dishonesty and sexual irresponsibility across the board, not whether someone is straight or gay. Everyone has to be more honest and everyone has to be more careful. That scene is one moment of a few in the film where I felt we were getting the old Tyler Perry, the Perry as Madea film where the script got stiff and, well, lethargic and unimaginative.

And, no, for the record, I as a Black man had no problem whatsoever with the depiction of Black males in the film. “For Colored Girls” is not a male-bashing film. It is a story about women and if you, a man, happen to be uncomfortable with what you see and hear, then maybe it is because elements of who you be are in some of those characters. I absolutely thought about my own relationships with Black women through the years as I digested “For Colored Girls,” thought of women I have dated, women I have treated correctly and as my equals, and of women I’ve treated poorly or disrespectfully. So if you are an honest man, one serious about your own growth and evolution, then you come to “For Colored Girls,” or any story about women and girls, with emotional courage and integrity, not disdain, finger-pointing, and haterism.

Unfortunately, this same wave of negative male responses occurred when Shange’s “For Colored Girls…” opened on Broadway in the 1970s, and with “The Color Purple,” the film, in the mid1980s. So it is to be expected given the patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny that runs rampant on our planet, still. Men will refuse to see the film and say it is unfair to them just because. But what is missing is that we males do need to listen to the stories of women, do need to empathize with their highs and their lows, do need to understand how much more we can learn about ourselves, if we simply develop the intellectual muscle to listen to the blues songs of women, including the women who are our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, cousins, lovers, bosses, employees, wives, friends—

But, alas, in an American society as drenched in sexism as it is in racism, that is a huge leap for many of us. Male privilege is a tough thing to shake, above all when we’ve been conditioned our entire lives to believe we are the superior sex, to believe that the only way to view the world is through our eyes. As if the women’s eyes don’t matter at all. The stories told in “For Colored Girls” are very factual, happen to women in Black, White, Latina, and Native American communities every single day; happen to women who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths, or no faiths whatsoever; and those stories, in particular the ones of rape and domestic violence, are the reasons why it was stated in a New York Times Magazine article in 2009 that global violence against women is the human rights issue of the 21st century.

What that means, matter of fact, for my community, the Black community, is that we’ve got some long-held and far-rooted traumas that we’ve got to deal with immediately. That was evident from the excessive laughter during scenes that were clearly not funny. Also evident by all the Black folks complaining about the audience chatter that took place during their viewing of the film. Or complaints of cell phones that went off. Mad annoying and each gripe valid, yes, but worthy of long Facebook posts and blistering denigration of each other that reeks of Black self-hatred and, in some cases, blatant classism by some of my more, uh, uppity and uptight Black sisters and brothers? No. But as long as we continue to suffer from what scholars and activists in Black America refer to as “post-traumatic slave syndrome,” passed from generation to generation, like a baton in a relay race, where your pain becomes your child’s pain, and so on and so forth, then we will continue to be divided, inwardly and outwardly. Was that not clear from the scarred and shredded relationship between the characters depicted by Whoopie Goldberg and Thandie Newton? At the end of the day, people who are hurting simply want love, but often fail to recognize the first love must be of self. In sexing all those men in the film, Newton’s character was essentially ducking and dodging the inner her, and ducking and dodging the past she needed to confront, finally. That is why that coming together of community at the end of “For Colored Girls” is so critical, and so necessary. For none of us can go it alone. Yes, Black males have issues too and, and yes, we deserve films that present as whole human beings, as well, but that is not the point of “For Colored Girls,” nor should it be; and, no, Black women are not abandoning us simply because of one film, but Perry’s “For Colored Girls” does suggest that if we are to be healthy, and whole, then it means we’ve got to make conscious decisions to come together in a way where I am not hurting you and you are not hurting me. And to love our powerful and beautiful selves before it is too late—

That is the challenge for Mr. Tyler Perry, as “For Colored Girls” continues to make money and continues to be both debated and disparaged. That is, can Tyler Perry—or will Tyler Perry—strive and struggle to transform the one-man economy his films have manifested, and use his voice, and his power, to push the envelope to make films, Black films, that not only show the vast complexities of the Black experience in America, and on this planet, but to also be spaces, simply by virtue of the genius of the work he produces and endorses for others, that can be healing circles for as many of us as possible? Will Perry, the next time a woman’s story is presented to him, step aside and support a dynamic Black female director like Nzingha Stewart, Julie Dash, Ayoka Chenzira, or Kasi Lemmons? Will he, as a man, use his male privilege to make sure, in fact, that “For Colored Girls” the movie is not the last time, for decades and decades, we see such rich and layered depictions of Black women in theaters? Tall orders, yes, but I don’t think Perry has been given this grand opportunity just for the sake of making dollars. As Perry admitted himself in one interview, he tried to avoid doing “For Colored Girls,” both on Broadway and on film, but it kept coming back to him. Now it is done, it is out, and it is what he does from this moment forward that will determine his place in cinematic history and whether Tyler Perry’s body of work will ultimately be a legacy for the ages.

Kevin Powell, New York City-based activist and public speaker, is the author or editor of 10 books, including the essay collection Open Letters to America and the poetry book No Sleep Till Brooklyn. Kevin’s writings have appeared in Esquire, Newsweek, Ebony, Essence, Rolling Stone, Vibe, huffingtonpost.com, and elsewhere through the years. Email him at kevin@kevinpowell.net

Open Letter from Kevin Powell to Black Leaders: ‘Stop Ghetto Dictatorships’

NOTE: This statement is also posted at Daily Kos: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/9/17/115615/585?new=true

Post-Congressional campaign STATEMENT by Kevin Powell

Friday, September 17, 2010

I first want to say thank you to God for giving me an incredible opportunity to run as a Democrat for Congress in 2010. I am so profoundly in love with Brooklyn, New York, with the residents of Brooklyn, because I truly believe in one Brooklyn, and I believe that Brooklyn is America with its great diversity and creativity and magic. Be it Russians in Starrett City, or Chinese immigrants or Puerto Ricans in Williamsburg, or African Americans and West Indians in Canarsie, or my Jewish sisters and brothers in Boerum Hill, I cannot begin to tell you how spiritually and emotionally uplifting this 2010 journey has been for me as a human being and as a man. Thank you, Brooklyn, thank you.

Indeed, I am so glad to have run for Congress, as I believe deeply in public service, in helping people, all people, to help themselves. We did not win the election but we did win in the hearts and minds of many Brooklynites and New Yorkers in general, and folks across America. There has been such a great outpouring of positive and affirming messages via phone, email, Twitter, and Facebook, that it is very very humbling, to say the least. I am invigorated by this love and support from everyday Americans. For we know that together we can make our country the land of opportunity and access for all.

Second, I want to thank my campaign staff, paid and unpaid, the ones who stuck with us to the very end, did not quit or make excuses, did their work and beyond, because they too believe in the power and nobility of public service. And because they really believed in our Congressional campaign from start to finish. I love each and every one of you, and I know I would not have made it across the finish line without your individual and collective strength and determination.

Next, I must say thank you very much to all the donors, voters, and supporters (both public ones and the silent, invisible ones) who helped us along the way. Suffice to say you were godsends to our Congressional campaign. Thank you for believing in me, and for having the courage to invest in a new kind of leadership for Brooklyn, and for America. A leadership that is honest, transparent, about practical solutions, and that puts people first, always.

Additionally, I must say this to my opponent, Congressman Ed Towns, his team, and his supporters: You may have won this time but it is so clear to so many that the days of your reign here in Brooklyn are very close to over. You’ve never had to work so hard to hold on to your seat, you’ve never had your nearly three decades of lazy leadership exposed so much and to so many, and you can no longer be invisible, silent, or otherwise missing in action to the people of Brooklyn’s 10th Congressional district, nor to the American people.

Mr. Towns, we expect you to earn the salary and great benefits our taxpayer dollars cover, and we expect you to think very seriously about your legacy as a Congressman in these final years of your Congressional life. When you and I crossed paths Tuesday night, election night, at that polling site near Starrett City, it was the first and only time we’ve ever had a one-on-one conversation, and I have lived in this community, in your district, for 20 years. You avoided debating me in 2008 (as you have avoided debating all opponents since you were first elected in 1982), and you avoided debating me again this year. And that is fine. It is clear you do not really believe in the very democracy that many sacrificed their lives for to achieve, including those in places like North Carolina where you were born and where some of the great battles of the Civil Rights Movement occurred.

But what was most telling about our conversation, Mr. Towns, is that all you could say is that you had not attacked me as I attacked you, and that you did not know me. First, let me correct you, sir: your team was relentless in attacking me personally, in the media, in the social networks, including many times very disrespectfully coming on to my Facebook page with the personal insults. We never did that a single time to you or your team or family. Never. What we did do was talk about your record. I never stepped into your personal life the way you did mine, although I could have, as there is much there to discuss. But we decided to be bigger than that, to talk about ideas and what we can do to help Brooklyn. Not once during this campaign did you offer any real vision for the future of Brooklyn, sir.

Moreover, Congressman Towns, it is a two-way street: you have to begin to respect and acknowledge the leadership that is not just your son, or your daughter, or your daughter-in-law, or someone you’ve handpicked to be in your Brooklyn circle. As I have stated before, what is most troubling for me and many others in Brooklyn is that within Black Brooklyn (as is the case throughout Black America) we have something I call “ghetto dictatorships.” In other words, you may have had good intentions when you first got into office, Mr. Towns, for I do believe you are, at your core, a good and decent man. But somewhere along the way you lost your way and your Congressional seat has become more about power and influence for yourself than about everyday people. This is particularly disturbing when we look at the poorest and most underdeveloped parts of Brooklyn’s 10th Congressional district: for example, huge sections of East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant (especially inside the many housing projects in the district). These people need jobs, affordable and decent housing, afterschool programs, quality schools, senior centers,, and they need it now, Congressman Towns. Your job, as an elected official with access to federal dollars and a network you’ve created with nearly three decades in Congress, is to figure out basic solutions for the most vulnerable in the district by all available means. Earn your salary, Congressman Towns, and create a legacy, for it is not too late to do so, if you really care and if you really try.  If you do not, I and many others, locally and nationally, are going to very publicly hold you accountable every single time you fail to be a loud voice for the people of this district. I guarantee that.

So I end this statement by saying that I challenge you, Congressman Towns, and all Black elected officials in Brooklyn and across America, to cease participating in these ghetto dictatorships, to really look yourselves in the mirror and answer the question I asked you, Mr. Towns, which you could not answer on Tuesday night: What is your legacy going to be, what have you really done for the people of your district, not just for a handful of people lucky enough to have gotten a job or favor from you? That is the true mark of leadership, to touch as many lives as possible, to help as many people as possible to become self-empowered, with or without legislation, and in as many creative ways as possible. Anything less means we’ve done a grave disservice to whatever God we claim to believe in, a grave disservice to the history and the people that came before us, and a grave disservice to that sacred space we call public service.

Kevin Powell is an activist, writer, and an author of 10 books based in Brooklyn, NY. His email is kevin@kevinpowell.net

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

An Open Letter to HipHop America from Kevin Powell

In less than a week (Sept 14) folks in New York will have the opportunity to weigh in and put someone in leadership position who will hopefully make a difference. I think Kevin Powell will be that guy, especially over his opponent Ed Townes. Just on the strength that Townes is one of those Black leaders in Congress who took telecom corporate money  and is now running around saying we don’t need to protect Net Neutrality is reason enough to NOT vote for him and support Powell. Its a clear indication that Townes is leadership that is not only out of touch, but will go out of his way to support policies that are detrimental… That has got to change in 2010.. We should also note that Powell wrote a great article explaining why we should support Net Neutrality.

-Davey D-

Open Letter to Hiphop America

September 2010

Peace to all of you. I am writing this letter from Brooklyn, New York, where I am currently a Democratic candidate for Congress. For those who do not know, there are 435 United States Congresspersons in America, and 100 United States Senators, all based in Washington, D.C. when not in their home districts, and all of them together represent the 300 million Americans living in our nation. That is power. The power to provide resources, services, information, jobs, and loans for small businesses. The power to help people to help themselves.

That is why I am running for Congress. I come from a single-mother led househouse, I had no father figure whatsoever, and grew up in the kind of poverty, violence, and confusion I would not wish on anyone. But a few things definitely saved and empowered my life. One was a belief in God, instilled by mother. Second was definitely my moms and her giving me a love of education, in spite of she herself only having a grade school education. And finally it was definitely music and culture, especially hiphop as I came of age in the 1970s and through the 1980s.

I was a dancer and I tagged my nickname—“kepo1”—any and everywhere in my native Jersey City. I was at all the famous hiphop clubs of the 1980s, like Union Square, Funhouse, and The Rooftop. I helped to produce, along with youth activists like Sister Souljah, those big outdoor rap concerts on 125th Street in Harlem in the late 1980s. A writer since I was a child, I was a founding staff member at Vibe, and interviewed Tupac Shakur more than any other journalist when he was alive. And I was the curator of the very first exhibit on hiphop culture, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

I am hiphop. And I am also a public servant and activist for people, all people. For the past 25 years, in fact, since I was a youth.

That is why I am running for Congress. Not only would I be the first true hiphop head in Congress, but I also would be bringing a fresh take on leadership, blending the best of grassroots politics with Washington, D.C. maneuvering, all to that boom-bap beat.

And, as Dead Prez once famously said, this is actually bigger than hiphop. This is about my being a leader, a bridge-builder, and all of us weaned on hiphop music and culture understanding the power of this, the most dominant art form of the past 30 years.

If not us, then who?

Respectfully,

Kevin Powelll

Go to www.kevinpowell.net to contribute $1, $5, or $10 to Kevin Powell 4 Congress now by clicking DONATE at the site

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

Black Leadership in the Age of Obama: HKR interview w/ author/activist & Congressional Candidate Kevin Powell

Click HERE to listen to our Hard Knock Radio interview w/ Kevin Powell

http://www.swift.fm/mrdaveyd/song/58699/

The discussion around leadership especially in the Black community is an on going one that will continuously be revisited. For some its old news that needs to be avoided. With so much going on in our lives why have a discussion about leadership where one may wind up stressed out and left with lots of questions. For many others, as activist/ author  and Congressional candidate Kevin Powell points out such discussions are necessary if for any reason to keep people accountable.

The community needs to be accountable to those who speak and does things in their names. It’s understandable, when one looks at how messy politics can be.. but to not be political is political and far too often with dire consequences. Hence a community must constantly challenge, hold up high, push and agitate.

For those who see themselves as leaders such discussions are important in order to check in and make sure one is truly repping the interests of the folks they are trying to serve versus serving the interests of the institutions they are a part of.. In short a leader is in service to his community and constantly giving voice to the voiceless.

In our interview with Kevin Powell builds off many of the points he lays out in an upcoming article to be featured in Ebony Magazine. He gives an incredible and insightful breakdown of of what leadership should ideally look like in the Obama Era. He notes its not enough to simply have a few people who look like us in high places. It’s important to have a plan of action to help put into place the things people truly need.

In our interview Powell goes into great detail explaining the challenges our generation has of being lured by the ‘cult of personality’ and media punditry and how we must align ourselves with those who do the work in terms of organizing.He talks about the importance of bridging generational, class and gender divides. He talks about how we should build coalitions with others. He also talks about how we should look to make room for others to emerge. We also talk about Kevin’s run for Congress and the recent lawsuit that was launched against him by his opponent which was dismissed and seemed designed to be a distraction and a money drain versus being something of any real substance.

Like I said a lot of ground gets covered.. too much to write..

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

Why is Congressman Ed Towns Suing Opponent Kevin Powell?

Why is Congressman Ed Towns Suing Opponent Kevin Powell?
A Statement by Kevin Powell

Monday, August 2, 2010

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kevin-powell/why-is-congressman-ed-tow_b_666921.html

Good day to you all. Today is the day we go to court for democracy.

I find it very sad and contradictory that Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns, a 27-year Democratic incumbent here in Brooklyn, New York’s 10th Congressional District, is suing me. Like him, I am a life-long Democrat. Like him I was born in another state but came to Brooklyn at a relatively young age and served my community in a variety of capacities before seeking public office. And like Mr. Towns, now age 76 and someone who lived through the Civil Rights Movement, I am African American.

This is why the entire spectacle of Mr. Towns suing a fellow Democrat to prevent me from being on the Democratic primary ballot on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 is sad and contradictory. Sad because it says that Mr. Towns and his team are now so nervous about my Congressional campaign that they are resorting to the same kind of legal maneuvers that once prevented Blacks like him from voting in America. Doubly sad because this legal tactic has become common in Brooklyn Democratic Party politics. It was done by then party boss Clarence Norman to Charles Barron in 1997. It was done by Assemblywoman Annette Robinson to Cenceria Edwards in 2008. And now it is being done to me in 2010. And the lawsuits are always so predictable. In my case it is being stated that I do not live in the district, even though I have lived most of my 20 years in New York City in Brooklyn’s 10th Congressional district; and I am a very well-informed and engaged citizen so I certainly know who reps me on all levels.

After our many volunteers worked diligently for a month collecting 8200-plus signatures–signatures that were very carefully reviewed by our petition consultants–it is being alleged that we’ve committed fraud. I am here to say that Mr. Towns and his team are wrong on these and all counts. I certainly live in the district, have proof of it, and we certainly have more than enough legitimate signatures to be on the ballot (1250 signatures are needed to be on the ballot for this particular race).

The real issue here is about American democracy. It is clear that Mr. Towns and a few others in our Democratic Party right here in Brooklyn, New York really do not believe in democracy at all. If Mr. Towns did, we would not hear the endless stories from voters in our Congressional district being threatened with job loss or the ending of funding support simply for supporting me publicly. Or what of one woman supporter, just last Thursday night, July 29, 2010, at approximately 10pm, who had a mysterious man and woman show up at her home, awake her and her son, claiming to be “officials from the Board of Elections?” When the woman asked for identification the pair ran back to their car and sped off. Clearly they are employed by Mr. Towns.

These kinds of scare and bully tactics might have worked in the old Brooklyn, but they are not going to work in the new Brooklyn. For there is a new generation of residents, engaged citizens, and, yes, leaders, who do not subscribe to clubhouse or machine-style politics. Our belief is that a public servant, whose salary is paid for by taxpayers, is here to help the people, period. That means any and all public servants owe it to the people to be accountable, visible, and accessible. And when challenged in a campaign, to participate in public debates and the free exchange of ideas and solutions, with the voters–not a courtroom–deciding who should win an election. In essence, by attempting to get me off the ballot Mr. Towns is pushing for a Tuesday, September 14th Democratic Primary where the voters will have no choice but him. How is this any different than what the Dixiecrats pulled in Southern states like North Carolina, where Mr. Towns was born in 1934, during segregation in America?

Finally, this whole circus of Mr. Towns suing me is so contradictory to the very principles of our nation, is an incredible waste of taxpayer dollars, and is nothing more than him stalling the inevitable: Kevin Powell will be on the ballot on Tuesday, September 14, 2010. We’ve been running a clean, responsible, and transparent campaign the entire way; we’ve picked up waves of support across Brooklyn, and beyond, and we know that the people of our borough, and of nation, want a new direction, and fresh voices, for these times. No matter what Mr. Towns and his team do or say, they simply cannot stop the changing of the guard that is now here and ready in America. It is our time.

written by Kevin Powell

Visit his site at http://www.kevinpowell.net/

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

Kevin Powell Goes In on Charlie Rangel & Congressman Ed Towns-This Needed to Be Said

Charlie Rangel Begat Ed Towns: Something Is Broken In Brooklyn, Too
By Kevin Powell

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
—Abraham Lincoln

And the drama of Congressman Charlie Rangel continues to unfold with 13 charges of misconduct, even as I type this essay: Mr. Rangel faces a range of accusations stemming from his accepting four rent-stabilized apartments, to misusing his office to preserve a tax loophole worth half a billion dollars for an oil executive who pledged a donation for an educational center being built in Mr. Rangel’s honor. In short, Mr. Rangel, one of the most powerful Democrats in the United States House of Representatives, has given his Republican foes much fodder to attack Dems as the November mid-term elections quickly approach.

While this saga continues, two questions dangle in the air: First, where did it all go so terribly wrong? And, second, did Mr. Rangel begat the lack of ethics also present in the career of his colleague, friend, and staunch ally Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns of Brooklyn, New York?

http://beta.wnyc.org/blogs/azi-paybarah/2010/jul/28/towns-rangel-going-be-there/

To answer these questions I think we must go back to the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement’s waning days. Dr. King was still alive, but his popularity had plummeted, which explains why, to this day, many people do not know his writings or sermons from those latter years. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. of Harlem (Mr. Rangel’s predecessor) was clinging to his seat amidst ethics battles of his own. The streets of Black America were habitually afire, as urban unrest became the language of the unheard ghetto masses. And in majority Black communities like Harlem and Brooklyn, Black leaders, emboldened by Civil Rights victories, chants of “Black Power,” and a once-in-a-century opportunity for power, rushed through the kicked-in doors, into politics, into business, into film and television, into book publishing and magazines (or started their own), and into colleges and universities heretofore shuttered. It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. The best because many really believed “change” was on the horizon. The worst because some Black movers and shakers were so happy to get inside that they came with no vision or a plan whatsoever for their followers.

Clearly very few even bothered to read Dr. King’s landmark essay “Black Power Redefined,” which sought to push Black leaders toward a programmatic agenda that included the poor and economically disenfranchised.

And if there were any communities in Black America to test Dr. King’s vision, they were Harlem and Brooklyn. Brooklyn has Black America’s largest concentration of people of African descent. But Harlem, in particular, was the symbolic capital of Black America, and it was there that the now famous Gang of Four—Percy Sutton, Charlie Rangel, David Dinkins, and Basil Paterson—planned and plotted a course for their community, and themselves. Rangel replaced Powell in Congress and became the dean of New York politics. Sutton would first be a successful politician himself, then eventually start Inner City Broadcasting, a major person of color owned media enterprise; Basil Paterson would be, among other things, New York State Senator, Deputy Mayor of New York City, and New York Secretary of State; and David Dinkins, of course, became the first Black mayor of New York City.

Charles Rangel

Truth be told Mr. Rangel and his colleagues had an incredible vision and really did nothing differently than their White predecessors had been doing for decades in America: they saw an opportunity for a taste of power and they took it. (And at least the Gang of Four brought an economic empowerment zone to Harlem, something Congressman Towns pretended to want to do in the mid1990s for Brooklyn, then mysteriously backed away from, instead endorsing then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s re-election bid, with Brooklyn never hearing about that zone again.)

Indeed, as I was coming of age as a student and youth activist in the 1980s, and as a then-reporter with various Black newspapers in the New York City area, I remember well hearing their names mentioned often. And, to a lesser extent, the names of their Black political peers in Brooklyn like Al Vann, Major Owens, and Sonny Carson. It was awe-inspiring, because I did not know that Black folks were leaders in this way. The pinnacle of this Black political ascension in New York City, without question, was the election of David Dinkins in 1989. For New York was the last of the major American cities to produce a Black mayor.

But something stopped during Dinkins’ years in City Hall. Black New York was unable to shake off the catastrophic effects of the 1980s crack cocaine scourge, or Reagan-era social policies. Meanwhile, Black leadership in New York, rather than nurture and prepare the next generation of Black voices to succeed them, did exactly what their White forerunners had done: they dug their heels deeper into the sands of power and have instead become leaders of what I call “a ghetto monarchy.” In other words, the community-first values of the Civil Rights era have been replaced by the post-Civil Rights era values of me-first, career first, and control and domination of my building, my block, my housing projects, my district, my part of the community (if not all of it), my church, my community center, or my organization, by any means necessary. For as long as possible. And often for as much money, privilege, and access to power as one can get with a “career” as a Black leader or figurehead.

And that, my friends, is what leads us, again, to the sad spectacles of the two senior most Congresspersons in New York State: Charlie Rangel of Harlem, and my representative in Brooklyn, Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns.

For it is so clear that the leadership path of Congressman Rangel begat the leadership path of Congressman Towns. Both may have been well intentioned at the beginning of their careers. Both may very well believe in the goodness, as I do, of public service for the people. But something has gone terribly wrong, the longer they have stayed in office (40 years now, for Mr. Rangel, and 27 long years for Mr. Towns); something that, I believe, has zapped them of their ability to serve effectively. That has zapped them of sound moral, political and ethical judgment. That has led both to be disconnected from the very people they claim to serve, both younger and older people alike.

And you see this pattern with old school Black political leaders nationwide. For ghettoes exist wherever you see Black city council or alderpersons. Ghettoes exist wherever you see Black state senators and assemblypersons. And ghettoes exist for most of the Congressional districts, too, represented by Black House members. 40-plus long years of Black political representation, in record numbers, in fact, but it seems our communities are worse off than even before the Civil Rights Movement.

Now I am very clear that systemic racism has done a number on these communities from coast to coast, from how financial institutions have treated urban areas, to the deterioration of our public schools when White flight became real in the 1960s and 1970s, to loss of factories, and other job incubators, to the often combative relationship between our communities and local police. And let us not begin to talk about the effects of gentrification on urban areas across America the past decade and a half.

But if a leader really has any vision, she or he figures out some way to help the people to help themselves. You simply do not retreat to what is safe, secure, and predictable in terms of your actions, or lack thereof. Doing that means you simply have given up. Or, worse, you just do not care.

For me, no clearer evidence than the other day when I was campaigning for Congress in Marcy Projects in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, the Marcy Projects made famous in the lyrics of hiphop superstar and Brooklyn native son Jay-Z. 60-year-old Marcy Projects is so huge a housing complex that it swallows whole Myrtle and Park and Flushing Avenues between Nostrand and Marcy. It consists of 27 buildings, over 1700 apartments, and approximately 5000 residents. And except for areas like Fort Greene (excluding its own projects), Clinton Hill, Boerum Hill, and parts of Dumbo, Bed-Stuy, East Flatbush, and Canarsie, most of Mr. Towns’ district is as impoverished, under-served, and as forgotten as Marcy Projects.

There is the sight of several elderly women sitting on benches in the middle of this aging complex, frustrated with the state of their lives, their meager incomes, the bags of garbage strewn about them, and the rats who have created dirt holes so big around each building, that a small human head could fit through most of those holes. When I ask these women where is the nearest senior citizen center so they could have some measure of relief, they say, in unison, “Right here, outside, where we are sitting now, these benches. This is the safest place we got.”

There is the sight of children, pre-teens and teens, running, jumping, over pissed stained asphalt, scraping their knees on the ground filled with broken bottles and broken promises. There also is no community center open in Marcy any longer. Why that is the case, no Marcy resident can tell me. What they do tell me is that Marcy Playground is being renovated. And indeed it is. But the residents feel it is not for them, that it is for “the new White people coming into the area, and the new Black people who have some money.”

There is the sight of all those Black and Latino males standing on this or that corner, in front of this or that building, the hands of their lives shoved deep into their pockets, their hunger for something better fed by a Newport cigarette, a taste of malt liquor or Hennessey, a pull on a marijuana stick. And then the ritual happens: a police car shows up, males and females of all ages are asked for identification, are thrown up against a wall, against the squad car, or to the ground, asked where they live, where they are going, why are they standing there, what is in their shoes, in their underwear. Or they are accused of trespassing for going from one building to another, even if they are simply visiting a relative or friend.

This is not just life in Marcy Projects, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. This is what ghetto monarchs like Congressman Towns and Congressman Rangel preside over in Black communities nationwide. Perhaps, once more, they really cared at one point—maybe they really did. But circa 2010, Charlie Rangel’s problems are Ed Towns’ problems because the apple does not fall very far from the tree. Yes, cite Mr. Rangel’s litany of indiscretions, but let us not forget Mr. Towns’ own timeline of indiscretions while overseeing his district (see the timeline below for Mr. Towns), for nearly three decades, with, among other things, some of the bloodiest violence in America, the highest HIV/AIDS rates in America, the most under-achieving schools (with a few notable exceptions), and vast disparities between the haves and the have-nots. Right here in Brooklyn, New York.

Is it little wonder that as I travel this Congressional district, meeting with Jewish folks in Boerum HIill, Chinese folks in Williamsburg, West Indian folks in East Flatbush and Canarsie, or African American and Puerto Rican folks in East New York, I hear the same things time and again: “We never see Mr. Towns except maybe when he needs our vote” or “I have never seen Mr. Towns in my life” or “I have called Mr. Towns’ office many times and never gotten the help I need” or “I just do not trust any of these politicians at all. They all lie.”

Ed Towns

This is why voter turnout is perpetually low. This is why incumbents get to stay in office decade after decade. The formula is very simple for electeds like Congressman Ed Towns: Identify the loyal voters and only cater to them (helping them get election poll jobs, or regular jobs, helping their children get into schools, paying for trips out of town to some casino or amusement park or cookout). Stay out of sight of all the other registered Democratic voters, banking on them simply pulling the lever for “Democrats” every election cycle without any fuss or questions. Never debate an insurgent opponent for fear of your being exposed for who you really are, and for what you have not done for the community. Turn your political seat into a business, one where your family member and circle of friends and colleagues benefit from the powerful reach of your position.

So why would you want to give that up? Why would you even bother to do more than is absolutely necessary when you are able to enjoy the perks of a long political career without much effort, without much sweat equity at all? Why would you even think that taking on the values of political corruption are unethical at all, if there has been no one to hold you accountable for so very long?

And why would you see that Brooklyn, and the Brooklyns of America, are broken, so very terribly broken, even though it is clear as day to the people in your community?

Kevin Powell is a 2010 Democratic candidate for the United States House of Representatives in Brooklyn, New York’s 10th Congressional district. You can contact him at www.kevinpowell.net

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

How and Why Hip Hop Has Always Been Political-But Will That Continue to Be the Case?

Whenever we talk about Hip Hop and Politics it’s always done from the stand point with us going to the ballot box as the ultimate goal. Don’t get me wrong, voting and participating in the electoral arena are important, but Hip Hop is so much bigger and so is politics.

For many of us politics is more than us voting for a particular candidate or having a catchy slogan that everyone chants at a rally. At its core, politics is about Empowerment. It’s the social, economic and political control of our communities with voting and political education being among the important steps we take to reach that goal.

Hip Hop is more than a ‘Hot 16‘, ‘fresh new gear‘ or ‘swagger devoid of substance‘. At the end of the day Hip Hop like politics is also about Empowerment. It’s about giving voice to the voiceless and helping remove both ourselves and the community from a position of being maligned and irrelevant with respect to the larger society. Like voting, knowledge and understanding of self and our communities is critical.

It’s important for us to have a firm understanding about the political and social conditions that existed at the dawn of Hip Hop’s birth in the early 70s. It’s important to note that our communities were under serious attack and the expressions associated with Hip Hop was one way in which we responded and ultimately coped.

The pioneers to this culture came up seeing how the FBI under the leadership of J Edgar Hoover and his Cointel Program, went all out to destroy the symbols of resistence and liberation from earlier generations including; Malcolm X who was killed, Martin Luther King who was killed and the Black Panther Party which was destroyed with many of its members jailed. Among those incarcerated during the dawning of Hip Hop was Afeni Shakur and the mother of Tupac. She along with her Panther comrades known as the New York 21. were jailed in 1971 while she was pregnant with Pac

The Free Speech and Anti-War Movements were under attack with then President Nixon declaring an all out war on radical youth. Hippies and Yippies were two components of youth culture caught up in the cross hairs as were Black and Brown organizations like SNCC, the Young Lords and the Brown Berets.

During Hip Hop’s dawning, New York City was enduring serious financial hardship as it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. That calamity was avoided when city leaders decided to keep the cops, the firemen and garbage workers and instead fired 15 thousand school teachers leaving many of us without after-school programs, extracurricular classes like music and art and our overall education, shortchanged on many levels.

All this was exasperated by greedy landlords in the South Bronx who were burning down tenement buildings almost every other day and collecting the insurance money. Their actions put an already stressed community into an economic tail spin as the Bronx became the worldwide symbol of urban decay.

While all this was going on, the NYPD seemingly working in tandem with President Nixon’s War on Youth had launched an all out war on the gangs that were starting to emerge in the Bronx. They even had a special gang division who were just as brutal back in the days as they are now. Compounding this war by the police, was the fact that many Black and Brown gangs formed because they found themselves under attack by white greaser gangs who didn’t take too kindly to the Bronx neighborhoods expanding its Black and Puerto Rican populations. Hence there was serious racial tension.

It was in this climate that Hip Hop emerged.

Charlie Rock an original Zulu Nation member and former Black Spade which was the largest gang in New York gives a run down of the political and social climate at the dawning of Hip Hop

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycREFrL6-RA

The Spirit of Resistence: Hip Hop Has Always Been Political

Resistence-It’s a facet in Hip Hop that is not fully appreciated and reflected upon.

So again let me repeat… Hip Hop is resistence…It was us fighting back, standing up to and flipping the script on oppressive forces. Bootom line Hip Hop was always POLITICAL.

Afrika Bambaataa

It was political when Afrika Bambaataa a former Black Spade warlord while attending Stevenson High School in the Bronx sought to escape gang life and formed the Organization which he later turned into the Mighty Zulu Nation. This was Hip Hop’s first organization which had among its goals to be a youth movement.

It was political when you went to hear Bambaataa spin at a park jam and he would rock Malcolm X speeches over breakbeats, reminding us what our political ideology should be.

It was political when Bam took the name ‘Zulu’ for his new organization after being inspired by the movie of the same name that depicted the South African Zulus fighting European colonizers. As the Zulu Nation grew, Bambaataa sought to instill pride and bring out the best positive attributes from the people around him. He did this by referring to Zulu members as ‘Kings’ and ‘Queens’. Bam once told me he did this to help raise people’s self esteem with the hopes that they would live up to the lofty titles he bestowed.

It was political when Bambaataa and other artists including Kurtis Blow, Kool Herc, Mele-Mel, Run DMC and the Fat Boys all participated in the Artist United Against Apartheid project where they recorded several songs for the Sun City album. Later Bambaattaa would tour Europe doing concerts to raise money for the ANC (African National Congress).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joYTCwNMdq8

What was even more remarkable and definitely ‘political’ about Afrika Bambaataa who was dubbed the Master of Records, was his goal to turn his former gang comrades into a positive force. Bam has often remarked how and he and others would spend lots of time working and building with folks. He said it took a ‘whole lot of meetings and whole lot of patience‘ but eventually folks grew and got it together.

When he started touring Bam took many of the folks from his Bronx River neighborhood with him. He gave them jobs as roadies or as security. He did whatever it took to get them into new environments to help expand their horizons. He was essentially doing a prison to work program years before the city was doing one. If that isn’t political I don’t know what is..

Years later we would see a number of other Hip Hop artists, most notably MC Hammer a former High Street Bank Boy out of Oakland, do similar things. Hammer spent hundreds of thousands of dollars creating jobs within his company in to help facilitate the transition friends and people in his neighborhood would have to make when returning home from the pen.

Hammer took his desire to transform lives to another level when he approached local Bay Area urban radio station KMEL in the early 90s and convinced them to let him air a radio show he created called Street Soldiers. The show was designed to give folks who were ‘in the life’ (gangs drugs etc) an opportunity to get out. Gang members would call in and talk about the challenges they were facing and get feedback from their peers and community experts who would help them turn their lives around. Hammer hosted the show for the first several months and then turned it over to current hosts Joe Marshall and Margret Norris of the Omega Boys club.

The Geto Boys

In a similar vein we have the Geto Boys out of Houston. Everyone is familiar with many of their politically charged rap songs that dealt with everything from crooked police to shady DEA Agents to a President and his quest for war. We’re also familiar with the fact that Willie D used to do a political talk show on Houston radio.

However, what many people didn’t know was that the GB spent quite a bit of money paying legal fees and other court costs trying to get innocent people out of jail. Bushwick Bill and Scarface talked about this in great detail a few years ago when they came on our daily Hard Knock Radio show to protest the state of Texas executing Shaka Sankofa. If I recall correctly, Bushwick said they spent at least 200-250 thousand dollars in their efforts. That was another example of Hip Hop’s spirit of resistence.

Hip Hop Has Always Addressed Electoral Politics

Melle-Mel recorded a song called 'Jesse' praising Rev Jesse Jackson-It one of the earliest rap songs encouraging folks to Get Out and Vote

Moving into the arena of the Ballot Box, Hip Hop has been a participant in some form or fashion going all the way back to 1984 when Melle-Mel of Grand Master Flash & the Furious 5 recorded a song called Jesse’ which highlighted Reverand Jesse Jackson‘s historic run for the White House. The song also encouraged everyone to ‘Get out and Vote‘ while at the same time taking then President Ronald Reagan to task for the economic harm he was causing poor people around the country.

See Ronald Reagan speaking on TV, smiling like everything’s fine and dandy
Sounded real good when he tried to give a pep talk to over 30 million poor people like me
How can we say we got to stick it out when his belly is full and his future is sunny?
I don’t need his jive advice but I sure do need his jive time money
The dream is a nightmare in disguise (Let’s talk about Jesse)
Red tape and lies fill your for spacious skies (Let’s talk about Jesse)
But don’t think that DC just did it first (Let’s talk about Jesse)
There’s a lot of DC’s all over this universe (His name is Jesse)

Later in the song, Melle-Mel smashes on the former President for his initial refusal to meet with Jesse Jackson after he offered to go to Syria and help secure the release of Navy Lt. Robert O. Goodman Jr. who was being hostage after his plane was shot down when he ‘accidently’ flew into their airspace. Ironically even though the song was popular in clubs and at rallies, many urban station never played the record. Jackson himself, told me he didn’t hear the record until the some 10 years after it was recorded. Talk about a disconnect between generations.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROZllkxVshM

In 1988 Luther Campbell aka Uncle Luke of the 2 Live Crew teamed up with one of his artists Anquette to back former US Attorney General Janet Reno who at the time was a Dade County (Miami) District Attorney vying for another term.

Anquette did this incredible James Brown inspired song called Janet Reno where she praised Reno for her legal prowess and for going after dead beat dads. The song helped Reno win the election which in turn angered her opponent a lawyer by the name of Jack Thompson.

Thompson sought revenge on Campbell and launched a campaign where he pressured officials throughout the state including Governor Bob Martinez and Broward County sheriff Nick Navarro to go after the 2 live Crew for violating state obscenity laws. Eventually Navarro won a ruling that deemed the group’s album As Nasty As They Wanna Be as obscene.

Local record store owners were warned not to sell the album or they would be arrested. Many shop owners protested but didn’t dare test Navarro. Things came to a head when 2 of the 2 Live Crew members were arrested for performing songs off the album. This is turn set off a huge legal firestorm around first amendment rights.

Campbell, fought this case all the way to the Supreme Court where Harvard Professor Henry Louis ‘Skip’ Gates testified on behalf of the 2Live Crew. He noted that the salacious material they recorded was rooted in the oral/song traditions of African-Americans. The ruling of obscenity were overturned. Again, all this legal drama was caused by Luke’s subversive efforts and Anquette’s song which help turn the tide in an election.

Now we could do an entire book on Hip Hop and Elections where we’d have to cover everyone from Diddy‘s Vote or Die efforts to Russell Simmons Hip Hop Summit Action Network to the Hip Hop Political Conventions that took place in 04, 06 and 08. We’d also have to talk about the formation of Hip Hop Congress and the work they do on campuses around the country, the introduction of Rap Sessions and the political town halls they hold around the country, The League of Young Voters who put out Hip Hop oriented voting guides and recently has been doing work around the census and we’d have to cover Washington based Hip Hop Caucus that routinely engages elected officials on Capitol Hill and did the Respect My Vote Campaign in 08.

We would also have to talk about the recent victory of artist/activist Ras Baraka to the City Council in Newark. He used to serve as deputy mayor. We’d have to talk about the Honorable George Martinez who is currently serving as cultural Envoy, Hip-Hop Ambassador at U.S. State Department. Prior to him serving that position well known Brooklyn based freestyle artist Toni Blackman was this country’s Hip Hop Ambassador. I believe Martinez who also once served on the New York State Democratic Committee is currently running for Congress in NY’s 12th district.

Also running for Congressional office is author/ activist Kevin Powell. This is his second attempt and from the looks of things he stands a really good chance of beating the 28 year incumbent Edolphus Towns. The battle ground is in New York’s 10th district in Brooklyn

Lastly we’d have to talk about Dr Jared Ball out of Maryland who is best known for his political mix tapes ‘Freemix radio‘ ran for Green Party nomination for president in in 08 and long time activist Rosa Clemente who made history by securing the vice presidential nomination for the Green Party. She and former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney had their name on the ballots in all 50 states and garnered impressive numbers even though their historic bid was overshadowed by Barack Obama’s run for the White House which definitely brought out and politicized many in the Hip Hop generation.

From Paris to Brazil Fear of a Politicized Hip Hop

Never in our wildest dreams did marginalized Black and Brown ghetto youth living in the South Bronx, one of the poorest most dilapidated regions of the country ever think this culture of music, dance and oratory expressions we call Hip Hop would mean so much to so many people all over the world. From the slums of Nairobi, Kenya to the streets of Paris, France to the favelas in Rio, Brazil to the hoods in Detroit, to the streets in Gaza, Hip Hop’s presence is not only felt, but has been a driving cultural force in resistence movements especially amongst the young, poor and oppressed. Much of this was inspired by seminal artists like Public Enemy, KRS-One, dead prez , X-Clan and 2Pac to name a few who embodied this spirit of resistence.

For those who think this is far-fetched, think back to 2005 when Paris erupted in riots and over 200 French politicians signed a petition calling for legal action against Hip Hop acts and their aggressive lyrics which they said incited the riots. Acts like Monsieur R and Sniper became the main targets and were actually brought up on charges and faced lawsuits because of their songs that encouraged resistence to the police and government oppression.

Although there were no government petitions signed, in the late 80s, the FBI’s assistant director Milt Ahlerich saw fit to shoot off a letter to Priority Records expressing outrage over the song ‘Fuck tha Police’ which was put out by NWA. In the letter he noted that “advocating violence and assault is wrong and we in the law enforcement community take exception to such action“. Over the years NWA found themselves not being allowed to perform that song at many of the venues because of police pressure. The one time they did in Detroit, 20 plain clothes officers rushed the stage to shut the group down.

MV Bill is an artist we should all know

Several years ago in 2004 a corporate MTV-like 2 day Hip Hop festival called Hip Hop Manifest featuring Snoop and Ja Rule was boycotted by a coalition of Brazilian artists including the enormously popular MV Bill who stated in a Stress magazine article “The organizers are not interested in our issues, or what we rhyme about, they just want to buy our legitimacy, and I have a moral commitment to uphold the history that has created hip-hop. I pity the black man who sells our history for a price.”

What was at stake was these corporate media promoters refused to reinvest the profits into the poor communities in the area and lower ticket prices to make the event more accessible. Many of the Brazilian artists gave up hefty paychecks and a chance to get serious international spotlight, but they felt strongly about the issue and held their ground. They also put a call out to Snoop and Ja Rule and other American rappers to recognize the injustice they were fighting and invited them to come spend time in the poor communities.

“We cannot allow ourselves to be seen simply as idols. Ever since I began creating hip hop, my dream was to show Black people that we could be free and break the shackles.” Snoop, isn’t this beautiful?”, is the question Sao Paulo rap star LF posted to Snoop in an open letter.

M-1 of dead prez who recently went to Gaza always represents for the people

These are just a few of the dozens of examples that could easily be cited to show the resistence and political nature within Hip Hop. From the anti-police brutality albums, put together by artists like Mos Def and Talib Kweli, to the legendary voter registration rallies in Harlem once put on by Sista Souljah to the Stop the Violence Movement started by KRS-One, to the Orphanage recently opened by Immortal Technique in Afghanistan to M1 of dead prez making a trip to Gaza to the anti-police brutality work done by groups like One Hood in Pittsburgh or Hip Hop Against Police Brutality in Texas, to Knaan having his song Raise the Flag be used in the World Cup to Invincible and Finale using their song Locust to make a full fledge documentary about gentrification in Detroit, Hip Hop doesnt give lip service to politics.

From the anti-war efforts put forth by numerous artists (over 200 songs have been recorded at last count) to the efforts around the Jena 6 with artist like Jasiri X doing a theme song. tireless work put forth by artists like David Banner, Nelly, and others in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to the recent efforts put forth by artists like Wyclef Jean, NY Oil, Mystic and many others to help bring relief to victims of the earthquake in Haiti, Hip Hop artists have proven to be a responsive. Pick a subject, Immigration, Domestic Violence, Gulf Oil Spill, you name it and Hip Hop has and is there. The reason being because there are always people in our communities who will resist and are down to fight for Freedom no matter what.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Web707z2oB0

Currently, Hip Hop’s biggest challenge is to resist all the attempts to dilute and redirect its potential to spark meaningful social and political change in the face of oppression. This especially true for Hip Hop that makes its way into corporate backed mainstream enclaves. The corporate agenda is to reduce Hip Hop down to a meaningless disposable song and to reduce politics to a voting over catchy phrase or sensationalistic headline and scandal.

It’s no mistake that much of what I’ve written about has not been highlighted, celebrated, shown on TV or played on the radio. It’s not because people won’t find these acts interesting, newsworthy or popular. The end game is to lessen the influence of an artist and dumb down the audience so game can be run on us. That game of course is to sell us product and complacent ideology. The end game is to get Hip Hop to be used as a tool to drive consumerism vs activism and make the music and our people disposable entities to be discarded or conquered.

Return to Davey D’s Hip hop Corner

Kevin Powell: An Open Letter to Black America

OPEN LETTER TO BLACK AMERICA
By Kevin Powell

DEAR BLACK AMERICA:

This 42nd anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is an opportune moment to reflect on how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go. It calls us to reconsider the words Dr. King gave us at the end of his life, when he said that we need “a radical revolution of values.” Certainly, we have much to be proud of. There is the first Black president. There are more Black elected officials, more Blacks in corporate America, the media, and in very real power positions, like Oprah Winfrey, Richard Parsons, Donna Brazile, and Jay-Z.

But, if we are to be brutally honest with ourselves, we’ve also got to acknowledge that things have not been right for some time. The civil rights era concept that our leaders would deliver us into the promised land has devolved into the idea that all we need to do is show up and follow. We have lost the sense of individual responsibility toward collective change.

Think back to the days immediately after slavery, when it was clear that Blacks wanted two things: education and land. In spite of vicious White terrorism, we plodded forward. There was hope, and a vocabulary of purpose. These values emboldened us during the Civil Rights Movement. And they were re-born during the 2008 presidential campaign. Yet, unlike before, many of us have failed to embrace the miraculous kind of self and community transformation that led us to walk, literally, into the teeth of barking dogs, water hoses, and police brutality, mainly because we refused to let anyone turn us around.

Why, politically, did we come out in record numbers for Barack Obama, then instantly return to apathy? Why do we remain suspended in a state of arrested development, believing that a dynamic leader will be our salvation? A civil rights veteran said it best to me many years ago: “We were just happy to get in the door. We never really had a plan beyond that.” So we have to be honest and admit that Black leadership in America, except a few shining examples such as The Brotherhood/Sister Sol in New York City or John Hope Bryant’s Operation Hope, has been too often stuck in yesterday. It has been unable to produce an agenda for Black America that will transform our communities in a holistic way. So we’ve spent 40 years like the Israelites, wandering the wilderness, harboring the misguided expectations that people like Barack, or Oprah, or anyone Black and famous will free us. It simply isn’t going to happen.

And while we’ve been waiting, praying, and producing the same predictable conferences, summits, studies, and reports again and again, Black America is on the brink of catastrophe. We need to remind ourselves that Hurricane Katrina and Haiti’s earthquake only magnify the slow forms of devastation happening each day. They include HIV and AIDS, poverty, Black self-hatred and Black-on-Black violence, the huge class divide, mediocre school systems, and the steady march of our youth into jails and cemeteries. We should stop saying this is a post-racial America because of President Obama. It is not. Despite Barack and Michelle we continue to be bombarded with destructive images of Black people in the mass media. As I travel the country speaking at universities and working for social justice, I note that our prisons are packed with black and brown bodies, and every American ghetto looks exactly the same: a lack of resources, services, and jobs, failing public schools, and limited access to the American dream.

That said, let us no longer wait on a savior to come. Do we want to continue wandering or do we want to create our future here and now? We have the power to transform our communities by enacting those “radical revolution of values.” So I propose six things we must do immediately: Create a Spiritual Foundation; Move Toward Mental Wellness; Take Care of Our Physical Health; Become Politically Active; Understand the Power of Our Culture; and Start a Plan for Economic Empowerment.

Our spiritual foundation must be rooted in God or something greater than us, and a love for self and for all Black folks, unconditionally. It must grow out of our beliefs and our willingness to act selflessly. And it must begin with mental wellness because we cannot stand up for our convictions, our faith, or ourselves if our self-esteem is not in tact. Susan L. Taylor put it best when it comes to our mental health, Black America: healing is the new activism. Be it the increase in domestic violence, homicides and suicides, or the way so many of us say “I can’t” it is clear to me that since the civil rights period our individual and collective psyches have been damaged. But we can heal by seeking counseling and therapy, forming or joining positive support groups, and courageously ridding ourselves of toxic people, even if they are longtime friends, lovers, or kinfolk.

Physically, we can no longer accept that we are pre-destined for diabetes, high-blood pressure, and other ailments. Yes, like all Americans, we should have access to healthcare. But we should also change our diets and exercise regularly. Recently, my mother was hospitalized. After years of sitting on the sofa watching TV and indulging in terrible eating habits, that was her wake-up call. Change your diet and live. Don’t change and die a painful and preventable death, as many of our relatives have.

Taking charge of our health and wellness also means changing the way we discuss our realities in America. Let us stop bemoaning our “crises” and start strategizing to meet our “challenges.” Let us cease spreading reports that compare us unfavorably to our White sisters and brothers. Likewise, our culture, the way we talk, eat, sing, pray, dance, laugh, and cry must become more balanced so that it no longer reflects solely what is wrong with us, but also projects a vision of how great we can become, or are.

Financially, we’ve got to disconnect our self-esteem from our clothes and cars and instead focus on building true wealth. If my illiterate late grandparents could own land in South Carolina, by saving coins in their day, then we can, too. We can use our resources to empower ourselves, to help our ’hoods, and to support our people. This means doing more than donating to charity. It means a sincere and consistent giving back in terms of time, energy, and presence.

Black America, we’ve been surviving for 400 years in this nation. The question for the twenty-first century is this: Do we want to just survive, or do we want to win? The “radical” answers, if we search hard enough, are right there in our own hands.

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

Hip-Hop’s Betrayal of Black Women

dbanner1newparis

Hip-Hop’s Betrayal of Black Women