Many of the more than 250 students who filled the Student Lounge on September 23, along with other community members, to hear activist, writer, and public lecturer Kevin Powell speak on “The Toolkit for Educating the Hip-Hop Generation,” may have been lured by their instructors with promises of extra credit. But by the time they left the room, some long after the main presentation was over, extra credit was the last thing on their minds.
Powell’s inspirational remarks, which focused on numerous topics, challenged the audience to close the generational gap by understanding the history, elements, and power of hip-hop and to use it as a constructive force in our communities. After his talk, he vowed to stay in the room until he answered every last question and heard every comment.
For sophomore Michael Turner, who stayed nearly two hours after the talk, Powell’s remarks struck a nerve.
“He always kept coming back to connecting to the young audience in the sort of way we could understand on our day-to-day terms and what we are going through,” says Ferguson, who studies social sciences and plays on Merritt’s basketball team. “He told us to open up our minds and explore the different options in life. He played sports in school, too, but he said his mother took him to the library all the time and he discovered he wanted to be a writer. ”
In fact, Mr. Powell would go on to attend Rutgers University, become a senior editor of Vibe magazine, write articles for numerous national magazines, and author 11 books (with two more in the works). He has traveled and lectured in 48 of the 50 states and throughout the world. Based on his own experiences, one of his main points of advice to the audience was to, “Read, study, travel, be in a position of power, and love yourself. Because you can’t talk about a empowering the community if you don’t love yourself first.”
Lasana Hotep, Dean of Special Programs, and a longtime colleague of Powell’s, says that connecting with students is what his friend does best and what has made him such a popular speaker and author.
“Kevin Powell’s message was timely, and he spoke directly to some of the contemporary challenges faced by our communities, says Dean Hotep. “Merritt College truly benefited from having him to engage and inspire us.”
And it seems the feeling was mutual. Two hours after his talk was over, Powell was still in the room, talking to students, signing books, and having photos taken with whoever requested one. And the next morning the posting on his Facebook revealed what a memorable experience it was for him to get to know the Merritt community. In part, he wrote:
“Merritt College is truly a college for the people, all people. They are at various stages of life in this two-year college to pursue their dreams no matter what, and regardless of past hardships. The people of Merritt College lifted me up in more ways than they could imagine. They kept thanking me, but I must thank them for the reminder of why my life is dedicated to the service of others. Nothing makes me happier than helping people to help themselves. I was especially moved by the comments and questions, by the spirit and energy in the room as we discussed hip hop, community, race, racial identity and racism, manhood, violence, the prison-industrial complex, how we raise our children, and so much more. I need to salute Lasana Hotep, one of the most brilliant scholars we have in America, and a dean at the school, for bringing me to Merritt.”
Top: Kevin Powell (Photo credit: Barbara Dimopoulos)
(L-R) Instructor Jason Seals, Dr. Audrey Trotter, Kevin Powell, Debra Jacks, Lasana Hotep
(L-R) Kevin Powell with long-time friend and colleague Lasana Hotep.