Writer, Activist, President of BK Nation
Kevin Powell is one of the most respected and celebrated political, cultural, literary, and hip-hop voices in America today. The Jersey City product of a single mother, absent father, horrific poverty, and violence, he was able to study at Rutgers University in his home state of New Jersey due to the Educational Opportunity Fund, a program created during the Civil Rights Movement to benefit poor youth. Says Kevin, “Just to be able to get to college, to be exposed to a new world, a new way, changed my life forever, and I am forever grateful for the chance.” Read More >
The Education of Powell
Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement
Education Challenges Today
Dr. King and Understanding History
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 ^
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"Kevin was WONDERFUL! ...His personal story...combined with his reflections on why embracing diversity and equity and serving others with love, was well-received. At least half the room gave him a standing ovation, and leaders from everywhere (Alaska to Florida) were eager to engage and exchange with him following the event…Several of the NSBA board members stated that they enjoyed him and that more people need to hear him...As I said, I think his message about peace, diversity, tolerance, and providing kids with opportunities was right on the mark."
"I felt like Kevin was just like us. He was so open and nonjudgmental. I was very moved. Kevin was an excellent speaker and inspiring. His ability to show the importance of voting and civic engagement was incredible. Kevin’s talk was one that I wish all of our students could have heard. I would strongly recommend him to other colleges and organizations."
"Last night was truly a smashing success. Our students’ schedules are busy with group projects and other things that often force them to leave events before they are over. Nearly every single student stayed at your talk until the very end—a testament to the power of what you said and how you said it. Thank you for paying such close attention to the students’ words, poems, questions, even their names. Thank you for reading my and Amir’s notes so carefully. Thanks for wowing our president, our faculty/staff/and student body. Thank you!"
"He was EXCELLENT-- we really enjoyed him. About 150 folks showed to see him-- he was engaging, focused, informative and wonderful with my kids-- even stayed late to take additional questions from individuals who wanted one-on-one time."
"I just wanted to send you a note to tell you that Kevin Powell was a phenomenal speaker! He was powerful and motivating. I believe that students, faculty and staff will be talking about him for years to come. In several programs this week he has been quoted, from vice presidents to first year students. Thank you!"
"I am truly impressed with him and his transformation over the years. His humble spirit and true sense of both self and purpose are inspiring, and I thank him for taking the time to share just a little part of him and his heart with Capital One."
"I wanted to just let you know how much we all appreciated Kevin’s speech at our Unity through Diversity Conference last week. His speech was enlightening, inspiring, and contemporary. The mere fact that you could hear a pin drop during his speech in a room filled with 600 teenagers is a testament to his ability to captivate a young audience. Thanks for contributing to a wonderful day that will hopefully stay in the minds and hearts of all those in attendance."
"I want to thank Mr. Powell so much for his presence among us on yesterday, and for the powerful presentation that he delivered to our students. Our students (and I refer specifically to students of color) needed to hear every word that he said, and those words couldn't have come from a more compelling and credible person. I greatly admire and respect him and the work he does. I hope that I can convince him to do a residency here sometime. Our young men need him. We need him. Mr. Powell was a gift to us. I've given my life's blood to these students who often live in a state of perpetual culture shock. I'm here because they are here, but sometimes it takes a man to speak to men, and a person who is much closer in age to them. They heard him last night. Bless Mr. Powell and the work he does."
"The program was great. We were very happy with the way he engaged the students in the afternoon program. I was also pleased with the turnout for our evening program. There was a wide range of ages and ethnicities and some very good questions. Our assistant director, Joann Mondowney, said that he did exactly what we wanted, bringing the theme of the month together and adding a scholarly aspect to it."
"Outstanding!! He was awesome!! Great reviews from the students. The crowd was very diverse and comments were the same from all that heard him. The book signing was good as well—numerous students attended and bought books."
"I am very pleased with the way everything went last night and want to thank you Kevin Powell for a stimulating evening. Our students were very engaged and energized by his speech. He was very gracious to meet personally with our students and to treat them with such respect."
"THANK YOU so much for being our keynote speaker as I know it was such a last minute request at a very busy time for you. Your words were powerful, inspiring, and gave the audience hope for the future at a time when folks have needed it the most. Your humble spirit and ability to speak about concrete and holistic steps for the future were truly wonderful. Thanks for doing good in the world!"
"We couldn't thank you enough for speaking Saturday! You have done us an incredible service, especially on such short notice. On behalf of our executive board, we will forever be grateful. Students are still talking about your speech and how excited they are to begin reading your autobiography. We really appreciated having you, and hope that we can do something again in the future!"