Tag Archives: Spoken Word

Hip-Hop Workshop

Objectives of the Workshops

  1. To reveal to the participants in the program the power they already have within themselves.
    1. This may mean the power to communicate, or the power to make a difference, or the power to tell a story, or anything else.
    2. The facilitators in this program are resources for the participants to tap into to gain knowledge of and proficiency with tools and developing skills. The facilitators are not to approach this program with the perception that they are creating anything in the participants that does not already exist. The facilitators are not putting things into the participants, rather, they are there to help the participants to draw out what is already inside of them, to help them shape it, and to help them organize it.
  2. Intellectually and emotionally process social conditions, and to continue the process of healing from trauma or traumatic experiences that have occurred in the lives of the participants.
    1. This may either be achieve directly by specifically addressing particular events or indirectly through providing a positive outlet through which emotions can be channeled.
    2. The participants are the directors of the productions, they are the creators, and will be the ones responsible for making the decisions about the content of the material produced. This is the practical application of the first objective, and it also provides protection from pushing an issue onto the participants that they may not be ready to address.
  • Whatever the content the participants select, the facilitator is to ask the questions “why is something important,” and “how does that make you feel,” and to seek to look at the content from different perspectives to foster a deeper understanding.
  1. To produce a final project that brings the vision of the participants to life such as, a complete recorded song or album, a video, or a live performance.
    1. The creation of art is deeply personal, cathartic, and expresses power. In addition, the final product is participant driven because the healing and processing component of the creation of art requires this for it to be the most effective.
    2. All three of the potential final products are interrelated, but have different steps, skills, tools, and planning associated with them. They also tend to have differing audiences and levels of impact, so what the participants would like to achieve with their final product will help to direct what that product is.
  • Components of the Workshops (2 days = 1 Week)~10 Weeks

 

  1. Introduction (1 day)
  2. Writing/Voice (2 days)
  3. Music/Beat Production (2 days)
  4. Song or Poem Development (4 days)
  5. Memorization/Recitation (2 days)
  6. Performing (1-2 days)
  7. Audio Recording (2-4 days)
  8. Video Production (4 days)
  9. Rocking A Show (2 days)

 

  • Tools
    1. Depending on the scope, nature, and constraints of the program, as well as, the access to resources, the tools necessary and selected will vary. If there is access to full audio studio and video equipment, then those may be selected when there is not a concern that the participants will have issues continuing to create material after the program.
    2. If the participants of the program would like to continue to produce material after the workshop and do not have ready access to the equipment needed for continued production, alternatives should be selected.
      1. Free For Computer
      2. Free For Phone (look in google play)
        • It is possible to download all the apps/programs necessary for both audio and video production onto a smart phone for free, and while the tools will not be as powerful as a full studio, they are vastly more than sufficient to create high quality material. (This is only an alternative, and it may not work if the participants do not have smart phones, so this must be considered as well.)
          • Music/Beat Production
            • Music Maker Jam
            • Groove Mixer
          • Audio Recording
            • Band Lab
          • Video Production
            • Adobe Clip (Photoshop)
          • Introduction
            1. Introduction of facilitators, participants, and the program.
              1. This may include a performance or display of material in audio or visual, such as poems, songs, or videos. If possible, the participants should be encouraged to display their work and talent as well.
              2. This is a time set up to let the participants an opportunity to get to know who they are working with and vice versa. Perhaps, some history of how music and poetry came into their life and why it is important to them now.

Phone Apps_edited-1

  • It is also a time to get to know the participants, why they enjoy music or poetry, what they would like to do with it, and what they would like to get out of it.
  1. This should be a time for setting the goals of the program.
    1. What kind of product do the participants want to create? Do they want to create audio recordings, videos, or to organize a performance.
    2. How much experience do they have and with what? What would they like help with?
  2. Introduce the tools that will be used to create their material so that the participants can play with them and start to learn what they can do and how to use them; if there are tutorials they can access share them at this time.
    1. There is no real right way to use any of the tools and the best way that I have found to learn any program is simply to play with it. Aside from the basics or how to get it started, my experience has been that most other instruction is not very effective until problems are encountered when attempting to do a specific function.
    2. There will be time set up later in the program, during each particular phase for working through the programs and whatever instruction is needed throughout the process of creating. Initially, this is merely to give the participants access to the tools so they can have something to take with them and get familiar with.
  • Writing/Voice
    1. Writing is the basis of both hip-hop and poetry and at the core of the writing is the voice of the author.
    2. This session or sessions should be devoted to introducing the participants a few different styles of writing; for example, while hip-hop may be a little more constrained in its stanza formation and rhythm, poetry does not necessarily have to be. While hip-hop is traditionally a style that incorporates rhyming, poetry does not necessarily have to.
    3. There is first person or third person perspective to consider. The consistency of tense; past, present, or future. The six basic questions to answer; who, what, when, where, why, and how of a piece of writing. The usage and power of metaphors and similes when discussing a subject. Is it a story, a description, an explanation, an apology, or a statement of fact?
    4. What are the emotional cues and relevance of particular styles and how emotion works with words to convey the desired message.
    5. Practice writing a few styles and putting together stanzas. The facilitator should come up with a few random prompts for the participants to exercise and play with. At the end of each of these sessions give the participants something to work on to bring back with them to the next session to share.
    6. Each subject can be approached from several perspectives and can be approached with many styles. Each has strengths and weaknesses. For example, a first person perspective while powerful may not necessarily be able to adequately address something that bigger than just the individual, or in reverse, something in third person may not really be able address the personal.
    7. These session will be focused on helping the participants select style, perspective, and to develop the voice of the piece so that it will best convey the messages they want to transmit.
  • Music/Beat Production
    1. These sessions will be devoted to learning the music production software, and the layout of the instrumental aspect of a song.
    2. The music can convey as much if not more emotion and intent as do the lyrics themselves. For example, is it fast or slow (excited or repressed), is the music bright or dark, happy or sad, is it scary or inviting; does it change?
    3. Most hip-hop is in a 4/4 time sequence, with sixteen bars to a verse, 8 bars to a chorus; with two or three verses and choruses to a song. It is this sort of standard recipe that identifies how much writing needs to be done and how long the stanza should be. Then there may be bridges, intros and outros also added into the song, with breaks and beat drops to provide emphasis.
    4. The participants will have had about a week or so to play with the software by this point, so hopefully they have some idea of how to use some of it. The facilitator should walk the participants through the basics of how to set up a drum line, bass line, and melody with the software.
    5. The take home assignment will be to create a beat with the structure of a song
  • Song/Poem Development
    1. Combining the writing and beat sessions, the facilitator should now focus on helping the participants to write to the instrumental.
      1. The voice is like a percussive instrument similar to that of the hi-hat of a drum, thus, the rhythm of the syllables of the written words have a sonically pleasing space to occupy as a component of the music; this is called cadence.
    2. The chorus is the thesis, or the underlying point of the song, and what many people will pay the most attention to. The chorus should be something that ties all the verses together and helps to make the song make sense.
    3. If there are three verses, there could be two or four, regardless, each verse should have a function.
      1. For example; let’s say there is a story, verse one can be scene one, verse two can be scene two, and verse three can be the moral of the story or what is learned from the story or why the story is important.
      2. For example; let’s say it’s a description of a problem, verse one defines in broad terms the subject, verse two gets specific to a particular issue, and verse three tell why it is a problem or what can/should be done about it.
    4. Aside from explaining the general structure of songs, the facilitator should really let the participants do their own writing and creation, and be present as someone who can answer questions or provide a sounding board. This will potentially be one of the most personal aspects of the entire process and is where the majority of the internal power of the participants will be developed and expressed. So, the less influence from the facilitator during this phase the better.
    5. The bulk of the writing process will not occur during the facilitated session, but rather, in between sessions, so that the facilitator can help the participants revise their writing as they create their song.
  • Memorization/Recitation
    1. Each facilitator will have different techniques associated with how to memorize their pieces
      1. One suggestion is to work on memorizing line by line without the music at first and as each verse is memorized to then practice saying it with the music. The verse may need to be revised during this process because it may be discovered that breathing is difficult, or that syllables are hard to say in sequence with one another when performed.
    2. When the piece is memorized, or as it is memorized in steps a major practicing technique is to recite it in front of others. When the performer is confronted with more thoughts than only the lyrics, such as, an audience those thoughts tend to interrupt the ability to recite and requires practice to manage the emotional impact of performing from memory.
    3. This is often a long process and will mostly be homework for the participants.
  • Performing
    1. This particular session will overlap with the memorization and rocking a show sessions, but it will be important at this point to discuss stage presence and how to move one’s body with the music and the lyrics because it impacts both focus and breathing. Part of this will include how to hold a microphone.
    2. This session is also a segue into recording the audio and shooting a video
  • Audio Recording
    1. These sessions will dive into how to use the recording software that the participants have been playing with for a few weeks.
    2. The recording method that will be used is called “dubbing,” wherein tracks will be layered onto one another.
      1. For example; Verse one will be recorded in entirety on one track and on another track specific phrases from the verse will be highlighted by recording them again, and lastly, depending on the verse “ad libs” may also be recorded on a separate track to give the song extra character.
    3. The last component of audio recording is called “mixing” which is setting all the levels of the instruments and lyrics to give the appropriate space to hear everything clearly. Mostly this stage is about turning volumes up and down, but it can get a lot more precise with equalizers and reverb effects depending on the time constraints and desires for the final product.

Mic Booth Functional

  • Video Production
    1. These sessions will dive into how to use the video recording and production software/equipment that the participants have been playing with for a few weeks.
    2. A solid discussion with the participants about how to visually represent the material of the song within the budget of the program and participants to begin to develop a plan for how to create the storyboard of the video.
      1. The storyboard details each scene, what will be required to successfully shoot the scene, and how all the scenes will fit together.
    3. The next step is the shooting of all the scenes of the video
    4. The editing process of the video will probably be the most time consuming component because this is where all the clips of video are put into time with the music that has been recorded. Much of the skill for this process will likely have been developed in the music production phase and working with that software. There will be medium specific things to deal with, but the concept of moving pieces around will be familiar.
  • Rocking A Show
    1. Part of rocking a show is setting it up and promoting it.
    2. The video will or can accomplish a lot of the promoting component, but there will also be an aspect of creating a flyer and informing people about the show. This will utilize both paper flyers and social media events and advertisements.
    3. However, before the promotion of a show, a venue has to approve the performance, which entails both negotiation and contracts usually. So, there should be some discussion and practice with securing a venue to perform at.
    4. Because the songs have been memorized and the video shot, much of the preparation for performing live will have already been accomplished. Returning to microphone control, watching cables, and stage dynamics, with a rehearsal or two; and the participants should be ready to perform if they want to.

 

Song Produced & Shared On My Phone Using Some of the Programs Listed Above

 

 

Summary and Benefits of the Hip-Hop/Spoken Word Workshop

 

The participants in this program will learn how to and develop the skills necessary to create and promote an album, to shoot a video, and to perform on stage. These skills will include writing, revising, teamwork, negotiation, contracts, editing, music productions, video production, recording audio, conceptualization, and project management which are all translatable skills into many fields. In addition to that, the participants will also learn how to use an artistic platform, which can be used as a positive outlet to process through their thoughts and emotions.

Depending on the scope of the project and how many songs and videos the participants want to create, the workshop should take between two and three months to complete. There is a lot to learn and a lot to do and moving much faster than that may not provide enough time for the participants to really grasp the programs and skills. In addition, many of the stages of the development of a hip-hop video is by its very nature creative, and that process may be longer than expected for different groups and individuals. So, setting at least two months aside to work through the program should be a sufficient amount of time for at least one or two songs being brought to completion.

“Out Here Doin Good” by Renaissance

 

I am a Black Liberationist, a Prison Abolitionist, and an Intersectional Organizer working for justice for all People. By justice I mean that which provides for the flourishing of all human beings.

This means I am fighting to bring an end to Patriarchy, Sexual and Gender Violence. This means that I work to end Deportations of People especially, when those deportations of people violate Human Rights and Peoples Rights, and when the motivation for migrating in the first place is a direct result of U.S. Imperialism. This means that I am fighting to bring an end to Climate Change, and to bring about Climate Justice because those who are most impacted the anthropogenic climate change are also the victims of Colonialism and Imperialism; People of Color globally. Furthermore, 68% of African descendants in the United States live within the danger zone of a coal fire power plant. Women and children are the most vulnerable and the most impacted by the effects of climate change. This means that I work for equal and fair access to equitable education at all levels and also, to bring about an end to the School-to-Prison Pipeline. I work to bring an end to Police Brutality, who are for all intents and purpose for our Communities, nothing more than the strong-arm of a repressive regime founded upon oppression. I am fighting to bring an end to the System of Mass Incarceration which, is merely the extension of the System of Enslavement in a new form. And the list goes on because there is no shortage of injustice in our world.

Please make a pledge to support my work:
https://www.patreon.com/renaissancethepoet

For us as a People to achieve our Collective Liberation, we must first work through the indoctrination of subordination that has been force fed to us. Thus, I work to implement a Radical Pedagogy with Decolonization at its core. This is sometimes through discussions, sometimes through book studies, and other times through Hip Hop Workshops. In all cases, what I am working with our People to bring about is a critical analysis of ourselves, and the system of systems we struggle within.

Hip Hop Workshop banner

I am a formerly incarcerated individual who grew up in gangs and on drugs. I am now over 16 years sober. When I turned 18 years old I had a 0.0 GPA in high school and no prospects for any sort of life with four felonies. However, recently at 34 years old I graduated from the University of Washington double-majoring in History and Philosophy. My focuses were on the rise and fall of civilizations, social movements, justice, ethics, and jurisprudence (philosophy of law). I am also a veteran Hip-Hop and Spoken Word artist, and I use my skills as a means to instruct and foster dialogue.

Today, I am merely a servant of the people doing what I can, when I can, where I can. The most important part of the work I do is accountability to our community because without it, then I am merely recreating the very same systems of oppression I assert that I am working to overcome.

This work is, in my opinion, some of the most important work that needs to be done. In turn, it is also some of the least paid work. So, I rely on our community to provide the things that I need and to help me to maintain the programs and campaigns that I am working on for our People.

http://azjusticethatworks.org/
https://www.facebook.com/azjusticethatworks/
https://www.facebook.com/noforprofitjails/

https://renaissancethepoet.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/hip-hop-workshop/

 

Please, make a pledge. It does not need to break your bank, not if those who can share the load. Many hands makes light the load. $5 here, $1 there, goes a long way in between the $20 or $50 gifts.

https://www.patreon.com/renaissancethepoet

 

Shelf-Life

I was born with an expiration date,
hung from my neck,
stamped like a license plate
It was a notice to the world stating
Get what you can from him because he won’t see 18
He won’t make it to college, not through high school
And do not listen to him when he tells you these are his dreams
Because they’re lies, and whether he recognizes it or not
We, have plans for him
And those plans neither include a family nor a happiness
Because neither are sufficient motivation for him to comply with us
No! for us to get what we want from him,
he must be, broken, shattered, hopeless
And he must believe he is the one responsible for his condition
He must believe it is the result of, his, decisions
That he chose his position
That he had an equal opportunity with everyone else to do something different
He can never know that the wrong side of the tracks
was really red lines on a map
drawn down at city hall
That it was the National Housing Act of 1934
That laid the path for the rise of the ghetto,
urban farms, where it’s not crops that are grown,
but people, stock for cell blocks,
to subsidize markets locked
by inflation from free trade participation in a nation
that ain’t never done shit without enslavement
These are the things he can never know
He cannot know that poverty, like wealth is created
He cannot know that it wasn’t chance,
or a roll of the dice that planted him in impoverishment like cracks in the pavement
He cannot know that the ghetto is not inevitable,
that it is not unchangeable, that being poor is not a fate, not predetermined
but planned, scripted, constricted to particular segments of the society we live
Because should he ever learn these things,
then that is the moment we lose control of him
And we need a continuous supply of workers, strong, and ready to go
Who will accept never drawing a check,
never checking the drawing and asking,
did I ever actually have a chance to live?
Is having a shelf-life really living?
Knowing you are member to a group of human beings they call and endangered species, they, call me, an endangered species
I was never expected to live
Imagine the weight of a license plate like that
If it hung from your neck could you ever stand fully erect, would you perform to your best, if the best you could expect was to somehow slip detection or to die in prison, stamping the plates of future children who will be following your steps
How would you feel?
How would you act?
If you knew the system might have more to gain from your death?
 
___________________________________________________________________________________________
 
If you are enjoying or appreciating my work, then please support it by checking out this page and making an investment towards what I do and create.
 
Thank you.
 

A Prisoner on the Streets of America

I am a true renaissance man and I have experienced so many forms of life and held so many positions or roles that it is difficult to narrow my thinking down to one foundational experience that has shaped and influenced my life. I died in a car accident when I was seven years old and the outcomes of being brought back to life and my faculties resulted in every person who was close to me expressing that I had a great role to fulfill on Earth.

I grew up in rough, alcoholic, and often violent home when I was younger and this heavily shaped my perception of poverty, addiction, relationships and vulnerability. My parents split when my mother had to flee from my father after he threatened to kill all of us before killing himself. That morning was the last time I ever saw my father and that definitely had a major influence on my life. The only place my family could flee to were areas in Oregon where my brother and I were the only black students in the schools. This was at a time that Oregon still had a prohibition in its State Constitution stating that Oregon was to be a white utopia and that black people were not permitted to settle within the limits of the state. Those experiences definitely shaped my perception of the world and my life. When we finally escaped the racist treatment of the people in Oregon, we moved to the Central District in Seattle where my brother and I, being tri-racial and coming directly from an all-white area lacked much of the social capital needed to be accepted by the black community in Seattle and found ourselves ostracized as outsiders. Those experiences also shaped my perception and influenced my life.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself indoctrinated into gang-life, criminal activity, and drugs. As a result of my behaviors, I spent a lot of time incarcerated and even went to juvenile prison for an extended period of time. It was there that I began to write poetry, which later in my life would lead me to being a spoken word and hip hop artist and being named Renaissance the Poet. After I was released from their prison, I was not able to shake the gang or the drugs, but the poetry stuck with me. On my eighteenth birthday I was given a drug called ecstasy, and under its influence was when I had my first experience with god. That experience caused me to leave the gang and the drugs alone and before I knew it, I had walked across the country from Washington to Massachusetts where I joined and became a priest in a cult.

I stayed with them for the better part of a year before I was able to escape from the mental imprisonment and the only method I knew to shut out the demons swirling in my head was to use drugs and alcohol to silence them. However, when I found myself back in Seattle I was ensnared by the chains of addiction once again and when the excitement of my return wore off, all of my family and friend severed their ties with me. I was left homeless, without prospects, and alone. Worst of all, the drugs were no longer working to silence the demons swirling in my head and a deep depression set in. After giving up everything I thought I was supposed to give up for god I felt truly alone because to me at the time that not even god could save me from myself.

Without anything else holding me to the planet or the people on it, I decided to take my own life by jumping off the Aurora Bridge. However, while I was walking to the bridge from Lake City, a lesson I head while I was in prison came back to me. There was an O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that came to visit us and he told us that strangely, he discovered that he felt more free when locked-up, and more of a prisoner when he was on the streets. At the time I heard him say that, I thought he was out of his mind, but as I became a victim of the streets and was on my way to end my life I finally understood what he meant so many years earlier. Aside from having my liberty taken from me, the single other largest factor to the peace I felt while I was in prison was that I was not using drugs. So, while I was on my way to the bridge I decided to call the emergency services and with the direction they gave me while they treated me overnight in a few short weeks I was able to find my way into a chemical abuse treatment facility, which changed my life forever. I have been sober ever since and I have never felt as hopeless as I did that night I walked to the bridge to end my suffering.

Getting sober did not solve all the problems I had in my life, but it did provide me with the tools to access a level of peace necessary to confront those problems. I had four felonies and several misdemeanors on my criminal record. Furthermore, I had failed high school and at the current standing when I left, I was a 0.0 GPA student. I had no place to call home, no friends, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. I was able to gain access to a half-way house for people in transition from institutions and shortly after I began living there I woke up to the news of 9/11. I did not know it when I moved in, but the house was run by a Mormon church, and while there is nothing wrong with helping the community, I had a hard time coping because of my experience with the cult I was in; there were too many similarities. Then given the factors of my history that were barring me from both employment and education, I decided to go to a Job Corps facility.

If there was any experience in my life that I believe really set the stage for the man I was to become, then it was my experience at Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria Oregon because it was there that I learned that I as an individual could have a positive impact in the lives of the people around me. Job Corps used to provide a bi-weekly allowance for the students that lived on campus, but that stipend was very limited. However, students could get a job to subsidize the funds they were lacking and I was encouraged to become part of the student government. I did and within a few months I had worked my way up the being the student body president of the facility. Aside from providing for the extracurricular activities for my fellow students we also challenged microagressions and negative stereotypes, although, at the time I did not know that is what we were doing. We challenged the center’s policy on sagging pants and how it related to the administration’s and staff’s perceptions of black youth who sagged their pants. I sagged my pants at the time and I was the president. More important, it was the issue that the students wanted me to bring up and fight for them.

While at the job corps facility I earned my G.E.D., my high school diploma, and printing apprentice certificate, and even started college. My goal for attending college was to go into law school, become a lawyer, then enter into politics and eventually become the president. It was a mixture between my experience at Job Corps being the president and a class I had in when Mr. Mollette my high school history teacher that told me that any American citizen could become president, one of the days that I passed through his class. I dropped out of school a few quarters after beginning and returned to Seattle thinking that I would get into college, but that was much easier said than done. My criminal record from when I was a juvenile still haunted me and I was barred from employment in most establishments.

I gave up on the idea of ever being able to afford college and found myself working in a used retail store for about a year when I began my journey into construction work. A man I met started hiring me on weekends to do odds and ends for him and paid me well. Then he brought me on as his first full time employee and decided that I would become his apprentice and eventually buy him out and take over the company. Within a few years I had become a professional heavy equipment operator, pipe-layer, estimator, and project manage and then I became a partner in the developing construction company negotiating contracts with Mid Mountain Contractors, Turner Construction, King County, and the City of Seattle.

During this time with the construction company I also started, hosted and ran the Cornerstone Open Mic & Artist Showcase, a hip hop and spoken word open mic that happen monthly at the Fair Gallery and Café on Capital Hill in Seattle, with my best friend and adopted brother Marcus Hoy. Mark Hoy and Sean Stuart are the people who named me Renaissance the Poet, because of the rollercoaster life I had lived prior to meeting them and the skill I had with poetry. The Cornerstone, as it became known, was a hub for revolutionary minded poets and artists from around the Puget Sound area where we discussed and challenged some of the most disparaging issues confronting our generation, such as, patriarchy, sexism, racism, and state control of citizens. Some of us may have been revolutionaries and activists at the time, but for the most part we were simply artists learning how to exercise our minds and our voices while we were learning how to exist and survive in the world we were all born into. In the more than five years that we hosted the Cornerstone, there was not one fight, and this was nearly unheard of for any hip hop venue anywhere at the time. Many relationships were forged there and the underground cultural element of resistance and justice was kept alive and fostered.

In 2010, our company won the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business “Minority Business of the Year” award. However, I always felt that I had missed my true calling to fulfill a great role on earth and thought that becoming a lawyer was the method I was supposed to take to achieve that role. In 2008, the economy spun on its head and we went into a dire recession that put a lot of pressure on our company. In 2011, a couple years after I had destroyed my knee mentoring some youth with the organization called TSB, the Service Board, battling to keep our business afloat and continuing to damage my knee, I realized that construction was never a trade I wanted to be in and decided to do whatever it took to go to college. So, I left R.J. Richards CE LLC and enrolled in North Seattle Community College (NSCC).

Somehow and somewhere along the line I had gotten this plan for my life and what I was supposed to do with it embedded into my head. I am going to write a new socioeconomic system for the entire planet that is environmentally sound, socially just, and equitable for all; and I am going to see it implemented before the day I die. I began studying history, philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, biology and mathematics and my understanding of the world exploded my perceptions of humanity and the insurmountable character of my goal. That is when I became involved with another student government and I was brought in as the Student Fee Board Coordinator, which was the treasurer for the college. To do that job I had to study the Washington State laws associated with public monies and student fees, and to study ethics because I had to select and train a board and we were going to have to make tough ethical decision. Before that I knew being part of the government enabled me to have a lot positive influence in the lives of marginalized people from my experience at Job Corps. However, I never fully grasped how much power the United States Congress has on the lives of every citizen in the United States until I was given a smaller, yet similar role. People can design all the best programs in the world, but if they do not have the funds to get them started and to maintain them, then they may often never be able to achieve the goals of their programs.

At this time OCCUPY was challenging the corporate structure and control of people’s lives worldwide after the economic collapse in 2008. Like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about the white clergy who questioned the movement while he was in the Birmingham jail during Project Confrontation, I agreed with their aims, but I disagreed with their methods. I disagreed with the mostly because I did not comprehend how they could be successful. It was a leaderless movement with demands that ran the spectrum. At the time it seemed to me that the movement lacked the necessary cohesion to achieve its aims. It was not that I disagreed with any of the demands. To the contrary, I believed that all of the things people were asking for should be achieved. My issue at the time was that I thought they could achieve more of their demands if they focused on them one or few at a time. I did not get involved with the movement because I did not understand it.

In 2013 I graduated from NSCC and had been accepted to the University of Washington (UW). When I first started at NSCC I thought that I would enter into the Law, Societies, and Justice program at UW, but by the time I entered the university I had settled on double-majoring in history and philosophy. I was still intent on progressing onto law school. I thought getting a good background in reading and research, with training in analysis, which the discipline of history would provide me with would be helpful in this regard. I thought having a strong understanding of morality and ethics, and the philosophical frameworks they are grounded in, plus developing my argumentative skills, which the discipline of philosophy would provide would further prepare me for law school and the work ahead of me. My ethical training began with a look at global justice, which confronted issues such as poverty, hunger, gendered vulnerability, social contracts, state legitimacy, climate change, immigration and feudal privilege, and many forms of oppression. It was these arguments about justice, which is to provide for that which promotes most the flourishing of all human beings, not the interpretation of it as punishment common in the United States that exposed me to the concepts of obligation and responsibility. History provided me with a lens into why these conditions exist and what factors led them to come into being. The courses at UW changed the way I envision my role in the world and I began to feel an immediate responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to benefit people.

During the summer of 2013, Sarra Tekola, my partner in life, brought me to my very first protest. We traveled down to the Columbia River on the border of Washington and Oregon States to participate in the Portland Rising Tide opposition to the coal and oil that were being shipped from the west coast to China. At the time, Sarra was an Environmental Science major at UW and part of the Divest University of Washington coalition and she schooled me on how important the issue of climate change was to our survival as a species. She also hipped me to the fact that people of color worldwide are the not only the first impacted by the effects of climate change, but are also the most impacted by it as well. She informed me that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of the best and brightest scientists on the planet determined that if we as a civilization burn enough carbon to increase the temperature of the planet by two degrees Celsius cumulatively, we will enter into a negative feedback loop of destruction that we will not be able to recover from. Desertification will destroy once plush and arid farm lands, like what had happened to her father’s people in Ethiopia. Melting polar ice caps will submerge places like the Philippines displacing millions, many of whom will die in the process. So, it was important to protest the extraction and transportation of carbon producing materials for everyone on the planet, but especially for people of color because people of color have nest to no power in the decision making circles like the U.S. Congress and the United Nations. It was scary and every moment I thought I was going to be arrested. Canoes spread across the river to block any ships and people spanned the bridge above holding signs, while a group rappelled off the bridge to display a huge banner. We did not stop the extraction or transportation of fossil fuel materials that day, but it felt good making a stand with like-minded people for the sake of justice.

The summer of 2014 I went to Greece with the Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) of UW to conduct research on immigration. I thought my time in Greece would help me to work on the issues surrounding immigration in the United States. Greece had been suffering from a major recession for several years and was also experiencing a major influx of people from the Middle East and the African continent. Most of the migrants were fleeing from deplorable situations and most did not intend for Greece to be their final destination, many wanted to continue onto other European Union (EU) nations. Greece was the entry point by both water and land into the EU for many migrants. However, the EU had tightened its policy on migrants and because of the Dublin II Regulation, the EU was returning any migrant discovered in any country to the country they entered into the EU at to process their applications of asylum. In addition to the recession, and the lack of financial assistance from the EU for both the residents of the country and the new influx of immigrants, there was also a nationalist and xenophobic organization oppressing the immigrants named Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn was a two-winged organization like the Dixiecrats of the South because they had nineteen percent of the parliamentary seats in Greece, in coordination with an organization like the Ku Klux Klan because they had a grassroots physically repressive regime harming immigrants. Immigration could be studied in any country in the world, but the particular set of conditions in Greece enabled us to observe the systematic denial of almost every singly right it is commonly agreed that people inherently possess simply for the sake of being human.

My second night in Greece at the American College of Greece dorm that UW has a satellite facility, I was taking a smoke break in the smoking section when for officers on two motor cycles turned the corner and immediately jumped off their bikes and pointed assault rifles at me simply because I am a black man. This may seem like a strange assertion until you have been to Athens, Greece and become acquainted with the reality that millions of people smoke and because of the smoldering heat that many people are out on the streets at night. There was nothing about me or what I was doing that was out of place except for the color of my skin. Luckily, I had my passport on me at that particular moment and I was saved from being hauled off into one of their immigration prisons. Their whole attitude toward me shifted as soon as they discovered I was an American, but until that moment I felt as though they regarded me as less than the mud on their boots would have shot me just to get a laugh. It was not until I hung out with an enterprising group of migrants from all over Africa in Monostraki Square—an electric flee market—and spending time with a parliamentary member that I learned Greece was a police state, and that the police had the authority to act independently of the government. I heard stories of how the police would select a street that migrants were known to frequent, then would block the exits, beat all the people of color and then imprison them. I spent most of my time in Greece terrified for my life from both the police and Golden Dawn because I did not have the social networks or rights that I had back in the United States. However, two nights before we left Greece I received word about the execution of Michal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by officer Daren Wilson and I knew there was no escape from state sanctioned or permitted violence.

The O.G. Vice Lord’s words came back to me and kept playing over and over in my head about how we are prisoners on the streets. Being a black man in America I exist as W.E.B. Du Bois mentions, with a “double-consciousness,” constantly viewing myself from two lenses; I experience myself as a man, and I am also always conscious of my status as a “black” man as viewed by white Americans. People of color in the United States suffer from dire economic sanctions which impose poverty upon us with a capitalistic system and an ideological framework of individualism. The system of oppression is held in place through red lining, the regressive tax system, voter disenfranchisement, poor education, and limited access to capital. Until I began researching the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP), I did not understand why many of the people I grew up with ended up in prison or dead, or locked in the revolving trap of poverty. I did not understand or even know about the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) or how it was linked to the Military Industrial Complex (MIC).  I had learned, like most people are taught that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ended slavery. However, what they do not teach is that slavery was abolished “except” in the case that a person is convicted of a crime. From that debt peonage and convict leasing emerged and over time prison slavery became a huge industry in the United States to the point that now America which has five percent of the world’s population also warehouses twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. The largest consumer of prison labor in the United States is the U.S. Department of Defense, a.k.a., the MIC.  But prisoners also fabricate furniture and produce paint and clothing for many companies. Prison labor subsidizes many industries that otherwise would be too expensive to conduct in the United States, industries that create products other countries would have a comparative advantage producing. Prisons are an oasis for profit that is garnered from the exploitation of millions and that also disproportionately disparages communities of color.

Applying the aforementioned information about the PIC to the statistics about the rates of suspension, expulsion, and incarceration of the youth of color in the U.S. the School-to-Prison Pipeline began to make a lot more sense. Black children and children of people of color are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. From the ninth grade on, one suspension or expulsion makes them fifty percent more likely to be incarcerated. After these children are incarcerated they become seventy-five percent more likely to enter the adult penitentiary system with prison slave labor, and over eighty-five percent likely to remain trapped in recidivism for the rest of their lives, in addition to their being disenfranchised from their first incarceration in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of all these factors is a phenomenon known as Institutional Racism/Discrimination that permeates America’s society and institutions. The police and prosecuting attorneys have been granted arbitrary discretionary power and legal protections to act with impunity in its dealing with citizens. So, in toto, the U.S. Department of Justice with all its subsidiary prisons and law enforcement agencies when stripped of its colorful and well-sounding appeals to justice and order dissolves to a system of oppression, suppression, and exploitation.  With this understanding of the ‘criminal justice’ system in the United States, the fact that most of the people I grew up with wound up in the negative feedback loop of poverty and exploitation, or how and why Michael Brown’s executioner was able to commit the atrocity with impunity were no longer mysterious to me. We, being people of color, whom at any time can have our very lives stripped from us because the laws of this country deny that we have a right to life, are prisoners on the streets of America.

Therefore, when I returned from Greece and Black Lives Matter, which was started by Alicia Garza after the assassination of Trevon Martin in 2012, decided to organize and protest the abuses of law enforcement and for justice in the Michael Brown execution, given my sense of responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to the benefit people of my community, I joined the movement for Black Liberation. My participation in the movement has taken many forms over the last year reaching from protests, to arrests, to testifying at Seattle City Hall and King County Metropolitan Council chambers, to giving a speech to Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee. All the while I was still a student at UW continuing to learn about the system we live in and the factors that helped to created it. My academic pursuits definitely suffered when I became involved in the movement because my time became divided, but that does not mean I have not continued to be successful. I highly doubt that I will be selected as the valedictorian as I was when I graduated from NSCC, but I nonetheless, have managed to maintain a very strong GPA given all of my community activity. However, that has no longer been my primary objective. I have used my education to learn what happened during previous social movements and struggles and I now understand the importance of a leaderless movement and demands that are specific to the regions they are made. I have learned precisely what I did not understand about the OCCUPY movement. There are some similar macro-problems, such as racism and institutional discrimination that people of color suffer everywhere, but those problems are expressed differently in different places. Furthermore, there is a history of the U.S. Department of Justice, through programs like COINTELPRO under the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that systematically destroyed activists and Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s and 70s.

I have lived one incredible, rollercoaster of a life that has made me a jack of all trades, and a true renaissance man. At no time have I ever known where one event would lead me. And looking back it is very difficult to pinpoint any one specific event that shaped me into the man that I am or the man I am becoming. Taken out of context, none of the major shifts or events in my life will tell anyone very much about me, who I am, or why I do the things I do. But the words of the O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that I met while locked up have been with me since then. There is something very wrong with feeling like and being a prisoner on our own streets. A place where one might think epitomized the essence freedom. That contradiction of beliefs filled my soul with dissonance and it reverberated through all of my life-experiences until it shook loose the warrior in me. Renaissance means to revitalize, or to bring new life. The system we live in has become a runaway train that no one seems to know how to stop or get off of, and what we need is to breathe new life into our civilization. We need a new system of values and an expanded conception of “we” that signifies, represents, and displays through action that we and our planet are all connected and intersecting components of our world organism. Each and every one is vital. No one is expendable. We all have our roles to fulfill on Earth. We are all responsible.