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Kevin  Powell

Kevin Powell

Writer, Humanitarian & President of BK Nation

Biography

Kevin Powell is one of the most acclaimed political, cultural, literary and hip-hop voices in America today. Kevin is a native of Jersey City, raised by a single mother in extreme poverty, but managed to study at Rutgers University in New Brunswick thanks to New Jersey’s Educational Opportunity Fund. Kevin has gone on to be the author of 12 books, including his newest title, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood. It is a critically acclaimed and brutally honest memoir about his life, including his youth. In 2018, he will publish a biography of Tupac Shakur, the late rapper and controversial American icon. Kevin's writings have also appeared in CNN.com, Esquire, Ebony, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, ESPN.com and Vibe Magazine, where he worked for many years as a senior writer, interviewing such diverse public figures as Tupac Shakur and General Colin Powell. Read More >

Kevin routinely appears in interviews on television, radio, and in print and on the Internet discussing major issues of our time. As an activist, he is the president and co-founder of BK Nation, a new national, progressive, multicultural organization focused on such issues as education, civic engagement, leadership training, health and wellness, social media, arts and culture, and job and small business creation. Kevin was also a Democratic candidate for Congress in Brooklyn, New York, his adopted hometown, in 2008 and 2010.  

Kevin routinely travels nationally and globally as a public speaker, at colleges and corporations, at various institutions, and a wide range of communities. Recent speaking engagements include stops at Microsoft headquarters, Stanford University, the U.S. Department of Justice, the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the "March on Washington," a one-week residency at the American University in Nigeria, visiting lecturer positions at Central State University and Virginia State University and as Hip-hop Scholar-in-Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. On behalf of the U.S. State Department, he toured Japan lecturing on the relevance of Dr. King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech in the 21st century. Kevin also visited Wales in the United Kingdom for a series of lectures and workshops on the 100th birthday of 20th century poet Dylan Thomas, and the connections between Welsh and American poetry and spoken-word traditions. As a result, he was named the International Ambassador for the Dylan Thomas Centennial in America for 2014.   

As a pop culture curator, Kevin produced the first exhibit on the history of hip-hop in America at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, which toured America and overseas. As a humanitarian, Kevin's work includes local, national and international initiatives to end violence against women and girls (including a very well-regarded appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show highlighting domestic violence); and he has done extensive philanthropic and relief work, ranging from Hurricane Katrina to earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, to Superstorm Sandy in New York, to his annual holiday party and clothing drive for the homeless every December since 9/11.

As an acknowledgement of Kevin's life of public service and his dedication to literature and the arts, Cornell University recently became the owner of The Kevin Powell Collection, documenting nearly 30 years of his work to date in print, photos, videos, books, handwritten notes, speeches, and select memorabilia. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

The Education of Powell

Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement

Education Challenges Today

Powell at Babson College

Failed Opportunities

Dr. King and Understanding History

Speech Topics

We Gon’ Be Alright? Civic Engagement & Voting After Obama

Kevin’s speech visits the importance of voting and civic engagement during presidential elections. Eight years ago it was young people who made the phenomenon of Barack Obama happen—voting in record numbers. Eight years later there are debates once more about Americans of all ages voting, or not, and why and why not. As the Millennial generation prepares itself to lead America deep into the 21st century, the question of political participation versus political apathy is louder than ever.

Looking for Martin: Dr. King, Community, Civil Rights, Social Media & the New Activism

Kevin’s lecture focuses on America during the Civil Rights Movement, roughly 1954 to the late 1960s, with an emphasis on the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. He will discuss the landscape of that time, and what has changed since that era. Kevin will also highlight what work remains to be done in the 21st century, around race, gender, class, sexual identity, and other forms of inequality for all people. Forever inclusive, Kevin will also talk about people of different abilities and disabilities and various spiritual and religious beliefs (or not). Finally, the talk will hone in on the present with young people, American pop culture, social media and its effects on activism in these times.

Stop Waiting for Superman: The Leadership is Us

Kevin discusses the importance of finding leadership within ourselves. While Kevin reflects on his own journey as an activist and community organizer, he discusses the importance of leadership building rather than leadership seeking. Read More >

 

Kevin draws on history, current events, and the models of leadership he has experienced first-hand across America and globally, keying in 6 steps for holistic leadership development:

  1. Spirituality
  2. Political and social awareness
  3. Cultural knowledge
  4. Financial literacy
  5. Physical health
  6. Mental wellness

Finally, Kevin ties it all together around basic action steps (reading, studying, doing) that leaders of all backgrounds and ages can and should challenge themselves on, for the good of themselves and their environments. Read Less ^

This Man’s Work: Ending Violence Against Women and Girls

Speaking very personally, Kevin talks about how he was socialized, from boyhood on, and via school, the mass media culture, his community, and religious institutions he attended to view women and girls as separate and unequal to men and boys. This “education,” Kevin believes, is why so many boys grow into men rooted in male privilege, sexism, and violence in various forms against women and girls. Indeed, Kevin’s speech focuses on the shared responsibility it takes to end violence against women and girls, especially since much of the gender violence on the planet is men and boys assaulting women and girls in one form or another. He directly engages the issue and problem of male privilege and the role it plays in leaving a humanitarian issue to the oppressed group. Kevin draws from his own experiences in acknowledging his own privilege and mistakes, and how that informs his community organizing and activism today. Kevin offers a study guide of alternative definitions of manhood rooted in self-love, peace, vulnerability, honesty along with material (books, blogs, films, etc.) for attendees to explore beyond this interactive conversation.

Dear Mama: What My Mother Taught Me About Women’s History, Leadership, and Feminism

Kevin’s talk will reflect on his own experience of being raised by a single mother and the lessons he learned from her example and experiences, including her very raw and real assessment of men’s attitudes and behavior toward women. He also discusses the importance of not only mother’s voices but women’s voices throughout history and in our personal lives. Kevin reveals the wider narrative that is displayed through these stories and lessons mothers leave their children about womanhood, about the first leaders children ever meet.

Dreaming American: Celebrating Differences in a Multicultural World

One of Kevin’s favorite topics, he offers his own vision of the United States and our planet, drawing on his experiences as a child of post-integration America. Raised for part of his life in an inner city of New Jersey, he also spent part of his formative years in racially mixed schools and a predominantly White neighborhood. From there, Kevin attended Rutgers University where his awareness around race and culture identity grew and exploded. What began in college as an effort to reclaim his own identity transformed into a life of bridge-building while directly challenging all forms of hate and discrimination, be it race, sex, class, gender identity, ability or disability, or religion (or no religion at all). A firm believer that the human race is one family and that we are all sisters and brothers, Kevin also challenges audiences to think honestly, openly, about systems of power and privilege, about ignorance versus what he calls enthusiastic ignorance, about what love and acceptance means, or should mean.

Pop Goes the Culture: American Music, TV, Film, and Sports in the 21st Century

Very much a product of American popular culture himself, Kevin is uniquely qualified to talk about its impact on the lives of people of all ages. Be it his association with MTV or being a founding staff writer at Quincy Jone’s Vibe magazine where he documented the music and messages of iconic figures like Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre, Kevin has always had his pulse on American music, TV, film, and sports. But he also goes beyond the surface to see music, TV, film, and sports as metaphors for our American lives, as ways to discuss deeper societal issues like race, gender, class, violence, and materialism. Nothing, to Kevin, is ever just a song, TV show, movie, or sporting event. 

There’s No Place Called Careful: A Conversation on Race and Racism in America

Kevin’s childhood memories, as laid out in his new book, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood, were dominated by scenes and words about race. They included his mother’s stories of the American South before the Civil Rights Movement and his encounters with racism as a youth, both while attending integrated schools and living in a mostly White neighborhood during his teen years. But these early experiences around race, racial identity, and racism also taught Kevin how to appreciate the cultures of people different from him. Put on pause during his years as a student leader at New Jersey’s Rutgers University due to the need to learn his own history, in America, in Africa, globally, Kevin is today one of the foremost voices on race and racism. Kevin will approach race and racism in real, direct, honest ways focusing on power, privilege, and history and storytelling from the perspective of all people, as equals. Kevin will address the many ways racism can present itself among Blacks, Whites, Asians, Native Americans, and Latino communities. He will likewise highlight the culture of scapegoating groups of people, be it the Irish, Jewish people, or Arab Americans. Kevin believes any dialogue on race and racism in America must begin with willing participants unafraid to not only speak their truths but to listen, even when painful or difficult.

By All Means Necessary: Re-imagining Education and Teaching for America

As a product of America’s public schools, Kevin’s love for learning began with his mother.

 

The moment he could speak, his mother, herself the product of only a grade-school education in the old segregated South, taught him non-stop, planting the seeds of knowledge. Hence, by the time was in kindergarten he was testing on a third-grade level. Kevin experienced majority people of schools, and he experienced majority White American schools. So while he excelled in the classroom right through his high school graduated (he left there with awards in both English and Math), he suffered greatly in terms of self-esteem, alienation, and struggling to fit into various environments. Thus, Kevin’s talk will discuss the importance of re-thinking education that serves the child holistically. Kevin will touch on the privatization of education, standardized testing, teaching techniques, family and community impact on a young person’s ability to succeed in school from multiple angles, and “the achievement gap” as these topics affect young people and their futures. Finally, Kevin will touch on the possibilities for re-establishing the relationship young people have with learning, in a way where they feel truly self-empowered and a vital part of the experience.

The Manhood, Education, Hip-Hop, and Life North American Tour feat. Kevin Powell, author of The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood

In support of his new book Kevin is spearheading "The Manhood, Education, Hip-hop, & Life North American Tour," a 125-city speaking tour and interactive community conversation where he will visit all 50 American states, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam over the course of 24 months, as of October 2015. It is Kevin’s great intention to engage local communities in real talk around issues happening in our times, but also to provide safe and healing spaces, given many of the heavy topics covered in his memoir, like violence, abuse, abandonment, and various forms of discrimination and hate. The vision is an empowerment session, solution-oriented, with action steps all in attendance can take with them. The goal is also to connect local communities to local resources, services, and information they may not be aware of. All are welcome, all backgrounds, all creeds, all cultures and all generations, as Kevin views all human beings as a family, and all of us as part of the human race.

History Is a People’s Memory: Celebrating the Past, Celebrating Us

Borrowing the main title from a Malcolm X sound bite, Kevin is very clear that there is one race, the human race, the human family. However, he outlines in this talk a global history of racism and the erasing of Black civilizations and cultural contributions, as evidenced by his own miseducation, making Black History Month as necessary as ever. Kevin did not know anything other than fragments of the stories of Rosa Parks, Dr. King, Jackie Robinson, George Washington Carver, and slavery as youth, although he was an A student grades K thru 12. It was in college when he became engaged with South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement and the work to free Nelson Mandela from prison that Kevin learned his own history, in America, in the Caribbean, in Africa, across the planet. Discovering the E-185 section of his school’s library, Kevin devoured all he could about Black music, Black art, Black culture, Black languages, and Black traditions. These many years later he is a firm believer that there cannot be true diversity and humanity if we are not also knowledgeable of what we are bringing to the table of the human family. From ancient African civilizations to hip-hop, from Harriet Tubman to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Kevin lays out the journey of a people in an alternative narrative to what many of us have been taught, if anything at all.

Now We’re Here: Your College Life, Diversity, and Leadership

A special message to first-year college or high school students: Kevin Powell bridges the gap between race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, and the disabled community in order to begin the real conversations that affect new students and young people across America TODAY. He opens a way for young people to communicate, challenge, and take agency in their own learning experiences. Powell empowers these students not only with his words but also by providing a safe space for students to reflect, speak their own truths, and grow in their college life and beyond.