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Kevin  Powell

Kevin Powell

Writer, Activist, President of BK Nation

Biography

A thought-provoking speaker for corporate, college and community events, writer and activist Kevin Powell is one of the most acclaimed political and cultural voices in America today. His talks cover topics ranging from leadership, diversity & inclusion to the intersection of hip hop and the #MeToo movement. He also shares a motivational life journey of being raised in extreme poverty by a hard-working single mother, earning a full scholarship to college, becoming a celebrity on MTV’s The Real World and a hip hop/pop culture curator, authoring 13 books, running for Congress and now, leading an educational opportunity nonprofit while co-producing Hollywood films. Kevin’s moving and highly topical talks capture attention, build bridges across political and social divides, and spark audiences to make a positive impact on our workplaces, campuses and society. Read More >

Born into extreme poverty, Kevin was able to attend Rutgers University thanks to New Jersey’s Educational Opportunity Fund. His acclaimed and brutally honest memoir about his childhood and youth, The Education of Kevin Powell, chronicles his journey into manhood. His latest book, My Mother. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. And the Last Stand of the Angry White Man has been called “an autobiography of America,” featuring powerful essays that explore the four title figures and their times.  His upcoming book, a biography of Tupac Shakur is rooted in Kevin’s friendship with the legendary rapper and cultural icon and his many years as a hip hop and pop culture curator. Kevin’s writing has appeared in Esquire, Ebony, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone and Vibe Magazine, where he worked for many years as a senior writer interviewing public figures ranging from Tupac Shakur to Colin Powell. He also appears in interviews across media discussing major issues. Kevin is the president and co-founder of BK Nation, a progressive organization focused on education, civic engagement, leadership training and other issues. Driving numerous initiatives to end violence against women in girls, his work was recognized by Oprah in a highly regarded 2009 appearance on her show. Kevin has also volunteered for extensive philanthropic and disaster relief work in the U.S. and internationally, including assisting the U.S. State Department and the United Nations.

Kevin has traveled around the world and to almost every U.S. state as a public speaker. Appearances have included events at Microsoft headquarters, Stanford University, the U.S. Department of Justice and the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Currently a resident scholar on diversity, multiculturalism and leadership at James Madison University, Kevin has been a resident at the American University in Nigeria, visiting lecturer at Central State and Virginia State University and served as a Hip Hop Scholar-in-Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. He also curated the first exhibit on the history of hip-hop in America at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

As a speaker, Kevin interacts with audiences and promotes respectful dialog. His talks are inclusive, engaging, and very often, healing. Kevin approaches issues surrounding race, culture and gender in our society and workplaces with honesty and empathy, facilitating a safe space for productive exchange. He also brings his own compelling personal journey, a writer’s talent for storytelling, and extensive knowledge of the history of sports, pop culture, hip hop, and the African American experience. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

The Education of Powell

Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement

Education Challenges Today

On Power

Failed Opportunities

Dr. King and Understanding History

Speech Topics

Stay Woke: Diversity, Leadership, Donald Trump & the Future of America

In a world where violence, fear, division, and hate have become the norm, Kevin Powell offers hope and a new and different way to view ourselves, to view each other. Beginning with his personal story of moving from ignorance to being woke, Kevin talks candidly about the importance of each of us knowing who we are, where we come from, of being connected to our personal histories, and the histories of this world in which we live. Using everything from pop culture to politics to sports Kevin also sheds light on how we are educated or mis-educated, how we can teach or unteach ourselves in a way that not only empowers us as individuals, but helps us to understand how and why we are different, and also how and why we are the same. Be it racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, homophobia, transphobia, classism, able-ism, age-ism, anti-immigrant attitudes, or anything else that hurts and separates people, Kevin confronts those systems, those belief systems, in a way that is rooted in healing, and freedom and understanding for us all.

Re-Defining Manhood: A Message to Men, to Boys, to Us All

In this brutally honest and provocative talk, Kevin Powell offers his own life journey to illustrate how we can transform our concepts of manhood. Raised by a single mother in the inner city, Kevin’s rites of passage were typical of many heterosexual males: sports, violence, and viewing women and girls as mother figures or sexual objects, and nothing more. This view of women and girls exploded when, in his early 20s, he pushed a girlfriend into a bathroom door during an argument. Decades later, thanks to years of therapy, study, healing, and a commitment to growth and change, Kevin has become a solution-oriented writer, activist and speaker seeking to re-define manhood around nonviolence, peace, love, healthy self-expression, and as an ally to women and people of all gender identities.

How My Single Mother & Education Saved My Life: A Conversation with Kevin Powell

This interactive conversation between Kevin and the audience is about education, about what and how we learn, about honoring those who made it possible for us to be who we are. Kevin’s mother only got an eighth grade education herself, but he maintains that she was the first teacher and first leader she ever met. And what Kevin’s mother gave him very early was a passion for learning, and his first trip to the library, both of which would lead years later to his becoming an author of many books and a prolific journalist and public speaker. But it was never easy, and Kevin talks very honestly about his life, the poverty, the violence, the abuse, the low self-esteem, the depression, and how time and again it was a willingness to learn new things that led him back to a path of growth, self-empowerment, and healing.

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.

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.

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.

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.