Kevin Powell at a Trayvon Martin Rally. Photo credit by jaydensonbx/Flickr.
By Stephanie Schieda
Kevin Powell, an activist-author who came to fame as an original cast member of MTV’s Real World, joined a student panel at Stony Brook University’s annual Black History Month Unity Forum on Thursday, Feb. 19 to discuss student leadership roles and responsibilities on campus. In order to change the world, students must be prepared by reading, studying and travelling, Powell said.
Powell added the evening’s “food for thought” is for students to look at the big issue: the miseducation of the nation.
Our nation, Powell said, celebrates names like Martin Luther King Jr., yet no one in the predominately black audience have studied any of his essays or speeches; Or how Helen Keller, a social activist, as “the blind and deaf woman.” Powell added our nation does not know the origins of Black History Month — Carter G. Woodson, a prominent Black author, publisher and historian, picked February as Black History Month in 1926 because of the birthdays of Frederick Douglas, an African American who escaped slavery to become an abolitionist and social reformer, and Abraham Lincoln, the president who is credited with abolishing slavery.
“Look in the mirror for yourself,” Powell said on the nation’s leadership. A leader must be prepared through constant learning and pass on that wisdom to others, which will make other leaders, Powell said to a barely quarter-full auditorium of primarily black students — half of which were on the hosting student leader panel — at the Charles B. Wang Center Theater.
Building or creating something, like organizations or community centers, Powell said, is important by applying the fundamental action steps every leader must have to achieve a goal.
John Kinder, 23, is a Stony Brook graduate student, spent his last year of eligibility as quarterback of the Seawolves, and was apart of the student panel at the unity forum. Kinder said he credits his leadership on and off the field to the training regiments of football. Kinder added that he wants students to stop watching World Star Hip Hop, a website that promotes fighting, sex and violence, because it only “perpetuates ignorance.”
Powell, however, had a different beginning. Born and reared by his single, poverty-stricken mother in New Jersey, Powell attended four grade schools and three high schools. His family often moved due to their lack of income and his perpetual behavior problems, yet he remained an ‘A’ student. His violent past began with his mother physically and mentally abusing him throughout his childhood which influenced his maltreatment of women throughout college, as well as threats and physical altercations with cast members on the Real World and coworkers in the journalism field, Powell said in an interview with the Huffington Post in 2011.
He has since committed himself to “self-reflection and healing” with therapy, counseling, yoga and a holistic life style, Powell stated.
“For our past can be a prison we are locked in permanently, or it can be the key to our freedom if we glean the lessons from it and deal with it directly,” Powell said.
Powell — an author of 11 books, which range from a biography about Tupac Shakur and Colin Powel — is the president and cofounder of Building Knowledge Nation, known as BK Nation, a progressive, multicultural organization that provides information, resources and services for all people who want to be leaders. Powell said that BK Nation’s meetings have a “church-feel” and welcomed people of any race, religion and gender to come join.
Powell’s philanthropic work was seen in his Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy aid, as well as an annual holiday party and clothing drive following Sept. 11, 2001. Powell said he wants to end violence against women and girls, spawning from his female-abusive past ranging from 1987 to 1991, which resulted in his expulsion from Rutgers University for threatening a female student –a topic that is openly shared and regretted in his book, “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight: Manhood, Race and Power in America.”
“A leader changes the direction of the conversation. He creates a new vocabulary,” Powell said.