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Kevin Powell

Fatherhood, Manhood, and Tupac Shakur

The death of a human being, particularly a human being one has come to know fairly well on one level or another, has a funny way of making one realize, in a hurry, one's own mortality and limitations. The presence of death remains, whether we care to admit it or not. That is because life is always, whether we humans care to admit it or not, one last and halting breath away from death. I personally have had, since I was a very bad and very foul-mouthed little Black boy, an extremely ambiguous relationship with death. More to the point, I just have never gotten it. Uh-huh, sure, the church(es) I attended offered the clichéd, knee-jerk interpretation: be good and you shall get to heaven; be bad and you shall bust hell wide open.. I wondered on those days I had off from da Lawd, What hell could be worse than the ghetto in which I was born? It is also utterly perplexing because we do not know what is out there once we are gone nor do we, ostensibly, have any control over “when,” as the old folks Down South like to say, “it is your time.”

Open Letter to Young America

Dear Young America:
I’ve started and stopped this letter to you several times before. The magnitude of these times has been both my muse and my chief distraction. All these months since you, we, elected Barack Obama president of the United States, I have yet to rejoice the way many of you have. There has been great pride, no question, and a sense of relief at this new chapter in American history. But beneath my pride and sense of relief are both an element of shock, and, for sure, anxiety. Shock in the sense that I never thought I would live to witness someone who looked like me becoming president. And certainly not someone with the name Barack Hussein Obama. And shock, too, because, like me, President Obama is the product of a single mother, an absent father, an extended family, and so much movement in his early life that he did not fully grasp the significance of his own name, his own identity, until many years later. So I view Barack Obama as an ordinary American—we are all ordinary Americans—who accomplished something extraordinary on this Earth because he had the audacity to believe in himself and the possibilities of the hard-to-obtain American dream.

Open Letter to Black America

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.

Open Letter to an American Woman

Hello Kevin Powell:
I read one of your articles in Ebony magazine’s May issue. It really hit close to home. On March 29, 2009, I lost my best friend to domestic violence. Her name was Kewaii Rogers-Buckner. She was only thirty-one years old. Kewaii was gunned down in her home by her husband in front of their three children, ages twelve, eleven, and nine. This tragic event has devastated all of her family, friends, loved ones, and our community. During our senior year in high school (1996), I slowly started to notice small changes in her personality and her need to be with this person every time she got the chance.

Looking for America

I have sat in my Brooklyn, New York, apartment quietly, for several days now, too perplexed to talk with people, friends or not, about the American presidential election. I have read mainstream and alternative news accounts of the campaign, absorbed statistics and exit polls, sifted through the debates, flipped between CNN and the Fox News Channel, dodged most emails and phone calls coming my way, asking what I thought it meant that President George W. Bush had won, that Senator John Kerry had lost. I have heard the chorus of Bush supporters say it was Mr. Bush’s “faith” that led them to punch the hole, to pull the lever, to touch the screen for the president-elect. And I have heard the chorus of Kerry patrons say they feel robbed, that there must be some vast conservative conspiracy, that they are deeply traumatized, in a state of shock, that they know neither what to do next, nor to whom to turn. I have spoken with my mother, who has voted in every election since she has been able to, since the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement, and who, with her sharp South Carolina accent and uncomplicated front-porch observations on the world, has always given me something to ponder. My mother, like me, is a lifelong Democrat and her sleepy response was dry, nonchalant, uncharacteristically melancholic: “Boy,” she said, “at least we got the chance to vote.”

Men Can Stop Domestic Violence

Given the hype around Chris Brown’s alleged beating of Rihanna, now is the time to launch a conversation on ending violence against females in our communities. If it can happen to these young rising stars, it can happen to anyone. Yet so many men just pretend it doesn’t exist, while others are incredibly defensive about it. Noted author bell hooks once told me that “violence against women and girls, at the hands of men and boys, will not end until you males make it end.”

Ending Violence Against Women and Girls

In my recent travels and political and community work and speeches around the country, it became so very obvious that many American males are unaware of the monumental problem of domestic violence in our nation. This seems as good a time as any to address this urgent and overlooked issue. Why is it that so few of us actually think about violence against women and girls, or think that it’s our problem? Why do we go on believing it’s all good, even as our sisters, our mothers, and our daughters suffer and a growing number of us participate in the brutality of berating, beating, or killing our female counterparts?

Black Men and Our Health

I received a very distressing email a few days back, from someone who informed me that a long-time friend and colleague of mine had had a mini-stroke. I was stunned because this friend, a Black man just barely 40 like myself, holds a black belt in the martial arts, works out religiously, and dating back twenty years, when we both were then members of the Nation of Islam, he has always been very conscience of the food he puts into his body. In fact he is a vegetarian. When I called my friend on his cellphone, he was lying in a hospital bed. He sounded terrible, groggy, and, well, very sad. My friend is an amazing educator, one of the best I’ve encountered, one who worked his way up from being a teacher to an in-demand principal in a very short amount of time. And because there are so few Black male principals in the New York City area—or across America, for that matter—my friend not only carried the burden of overseeing an entire school, but of being a beacon of hope to students, parents, and a community.

Don Imus, Race, and Sex in America

I attended Rutgers University in the 1980s, I am a native of Jersey City, and I’ve always been proud of any accomplishments that have come from that state. So you can imagine my pride as the school’s women’s basketball team made its march through the recent NCAA tournament. Proud because Rutgers’ coach, C. Vivian Stringer, one of the sport’s great mentors, has had so many tragedies in her life, yet she has withstood them with grace, dignity, and a complete dedication to these young women, all underclass students. Proud because I noted the backgrounds of RU’s players (the majority of them African American), many of them from inner city environments similar to mine; yet they had managed to avoid those minefields and had become, with their brilliant run to the championship game against the mighty University of Tennessee, an example for women and girls nationwide. Focus and persevere, their play seem to say, and you can achieve anything.

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