Activist Kevin Powell on the Power of Race, Other Social Inhibitions

During “There’s No Safe Place Called Careful: A Conversation on Race and Racism in America,” activist Kevin Powell welcomed the audience as his brothers and sisters, no matter their race, gender, sexuality, religion or disability at the university’s discussion.

Powell, an activist, public speaker and author, came to the university’s Hoff Theatre March 8 as part of The Maryland Dialogues on Diversity and Community.

Rhys Hall, senior sociology major, began the introduction for Powell’s speech. He told the audience about the depth and importance of this discussion.

“[I am here] to inform you that all the money in the world cannot get closed minds to become open or make cold hearts become warm; that is something only people can do, so I strive for you to be excellent,” Rhys said.

He then called University President Wallace Loh to the stage, who discussed why the university held this discussion.

“Events across the country in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston; the Black lives matter movement … events on this campus about an appalling racist, sexist and misogynistic email that circulated; about changing the name of the stadium; all of these issues have let us to begin a series of dialogue of conversations about diversity and community,”  Loh said.

Intersectionality of racism, sexism and so many other “isms” served as a key discussion point throughout the event. Powell recognized International Women’s Day and emphasized the need to celebrate women and see them as equals everyday.

Referring to all the men in the crowd, Powell said, “Every single one of us is a sexist, patriarchal misogynist, and it comes from our school system … it comes from the mass media culture, it comes from our religious institutions.”

He said the evidence of a racist, sexist, misogynistic country is everywhere and it’s constant. “It’s police brutality, it’s us fighting each other, or it’s mass shooting, these vicious attacks on women and girls … what is going on with us where violence is so normalized when someone gets killed we react for a moment then we go back to business as usual until the next person gets killed?”

The discussion took a turn toward politics. He referred to Republican nominees Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio as racists. He also mentioned the flaws of Democratic nominees Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Powell said mass incarceration “started and accelerated under [Hillary Clinton’s] husband.” He said Hillary Clinton, as a politician, has a history of supporting policies and ideals that perpetuate racism.

Sanders wasn’t exempt from criticism. Powell said Sanders often marginalizes the African-American community into the poor, uneducated stereotype, even though he stands against this injustice.

“All black folks ain’t from the ghetto, all black folks are not poor. And even those of us who are from the ghetto or are poor the way I was… I was [still] an A student.”

Powell said America has had the chance, again and again, to have a discussion about race and how it will be incorporated into society. Political action, like the Emancipation Proclamation or the Civil Rights Act of 1964, can have an impact on racial progress, but deep-rooted racism is still evident, according to Powell.

It’s more important that we, as people and a society can make a real and meaningful change, Powell insisted. “Whatever you all decide to do with your lives you have to say something … you have to decide what side of history you’re going to be on.”

Attendees murmured “mhmm” every time Powell asked, “Are ya’ll still with me?”

Kiauna Freeman, junior economics major, said there is something in Powell’s speech that everybody could take away and learn from.

“He repeatedly spoke about love,” Freeman said. “I think it’s important because everyone’s different and not everyone has the same beliefs but love and humanity… will take people far.”

Andy Weissfeld, a junior sociology and Jewish studies major, said he thinks it’s important for these discussions to be available on campus.

“I just think it’s important for students to have a general awareness of the topics of race relations and sexism,” he said. “We are on a very diverse campus and it’s important that we’re knowledgeable and understanding.”

Throughout the discussion, Powell talked about how discouraging the world can be, but he still believes in a future — a future that our generation can create, where humanity trumps all.

“It’s got to be about love … I have hope … because we ain’t really got any other choice.”
After his speech and a Q&A, Powell signed copies of his book, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood, which was given out for free to attendees.

Featured Photo Credit: April 2015 – Protesters during the Baltimore Riots. (Taken by Aiyah Sibay)

WritersBloc_Headshots_11Allie Melton is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at

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