In an intimate roundtable discussion in New York City, Kayla Reed, field organizer for the Organization for Black Struggle and St. Louis rapper/social activist Tef Poe discussed plans for the upcoming 1-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown and how August 9, 2014 altered their lives forever.
“It’s not just Ferguson.” Reed said. “It’s a national conversation now after the deaths of Sandra Bland and Samuel Dubose.”
While speaking to a small room full of black journalists, Tef Poe and Kayla Reed revealed that there will be a national moment of silence in Ferguson on the one year anniversary of Brown’s death. There will also be a hip-hop concert featuring Talib Kweli, Bun B and possibly Common that same day. The concert will be streamed online for those who can’t make it to the show. All events during 1-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death will be free.
Though artists such as Talib Kweli, Bun B, Common and J. Cole have shown support for the movement, many of hip-hop’s biggest stars have been noticeably silent on the matter.
“I’ve lost respect for a lot of rappers,” said Tef Poe, also a co-founder/director of Hands Up United, an activist organization which grew from the initial days of protest last year. “I view ‘conscious’ rappers the same way I view ‘studio gangstas’. They’re ‘studio revolutionaries’.”
Tef Poe also spoke candidly about how he would like the movement to be covered by the media. “There’s not enough coverage of the ongoing development of the movement,” he said. “I don’t get caught up in the mumbo jumbo of this mainstream media frenzy about Ferguson. We won’t allow media to sideswipe or take value from our work.”
An example of that work is Hands Up United’s Roy Clay Sr. Tech Impact, a six-week intensive program designed to teach coding to St. Louis residents between the ages of 16 to 30. Students will receive a stipend and a laptop for their participation. The organization partnered with ThoughtWorks, a global IT consulting firm that will match $1 for every outside donation, up to $15,000. (More information can be found here.)
A significant part of the discussion was centered on policing of African American communities. A recent New Yorker profile on Darren Wilson and his incendiary comments regarding the teenager he killed struck a nerve in the room as soon as it was mentioned.
“White supremacy at any level does not shock me,” Reed said. “We knew Darren was a racist from the moment he killed Mike Brown.”
“I think Darren opens up a conversation about the humanity of police, or lack thereof,” said Poe. “Are we running to Darren Wilson for validation on Black lives? I don’t care what his opinion is on the matter.”
The discussion also touched on how minorities in positions of power within police ranks could help bring a sense of balance to the corrupt system that disproportionately affects communities of color.
“It’s not about the people,” said Reed. It’s about the rules of the game. They’re just pawns. I’ve decided that fighting the system is necessary, but I have to empower my people. While I’m living, I have to make sure that my people aren’t dying at the rate they are. There’s been an over-policing of Black bodies for 400 years. ”