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Arielle Nobile: I have the privilege of taking a workshop on “otherization”, from Kevin James Williams at the 2020 FREC Overcoming Racism Conference online. Lucky for all of us, he agreed to come on to this podcast where we dive into everything from black superheroes, colonization, Jamaica, religiosity and imagining a future that we all want to live in one that has never, ever before existed in all of history. Kevin hails from Brooklyn, New York, with familial roots in Jamaica, Panama, and the US. He now lives in Fresno, California where he is the Minister of equity and inclusion for the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission. He also owns his own consulting business K James Consultations, which provides training on cultural responsiveness, measurable equity outcomes and a variety of project management services. So, if your organization is looking to become more conscious about any of the above, please reach out to Kevin through his website that will provide in the show notes along with his full bio, which is extensive. A little bit more about Kevin that I want to share before we dive into our conversation. Well, he lived in Minnesota, he served as a strategic planning advisor for the Minneapolis, NAACP, he was the co-organizer of the taken the National Conference in 2018, and most recently in 2020 he assisted in organizing the national mother's march in Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd. I can't wait for you to meet Kevin and check out the show notes to get in touch with him and us after. If you'd like what you hear, please take a moment to review our podcasts and more people can discover and listen.

So welcome Kevin James Williams to the Belonging in the USA: Podcast, so excited to have you had the pleasure of being in your other realization workshop at the conference in the fall of 2020 and just felt so inspired and blown away by your just your presentation style and your essence and all the amazing content so.

Kevin Williams: Thank you, glad to be here.

Arielle: I'm curious when you hear the phrase belonging in the USA, what does that evoke for you?

Kevin: It's interesting, so I have a particular feeling and a lot of that has to do with my own history, just in terms of living in different spaces and being a part of different cultures. Another part of it is my genuine philosophy on like life in general is one that's very borders don't exist, and I understand that doesn't exist in, you know, the social dynamics that we have, I don't know if anybody's seen which Merlin and King author and, in that storyline, Merlin. At one point becomes a bird, and King Arthur's talking about war and Merlin kind of flies, you know, it has a bird fly, and he goes, look down, what do you see?  He sees ISIS land I see this he says yeah the thing you don't see is borders. Right and so like that whole like sense of belonging is like I get it but I'm like well, you know, we should we do all belong to humanity and we do all belong to the earth, whether we choose to acknowledge that belonging is different in how we choose to define that. So, I think of it in that sense, and then I also think about like how, what that means politically. And, you know, just this almost arrogance of Americanism. Right, just even as like, I'm American. Well, America, like Kenick Canadians are typically American right because North America is a continent. So, there's that piece of it followed by like, you know, I think this may have been part of presentation like the hyphenated idea right of like, there's American within this African American, there's Asian American, and so it's like this almost qualifier, of American and so a lot of interesting feelings around that is and what people mean when they say that.

Arielle: Yeah, and there's a reason I don't call my series, first say there's a reason I don't call it Belonging in America, because I have a lot of friends and family in South America. And they also are Americans. So, we have two continents of America, right, and then it's almost a tongue in cheek when I say belong in the USA. Because, like you're sort of alluding to, there's these, there's people that would say you either belong or you don't hear, whereas really, in my sense of the word. We all belong, because the US is made up of everywhere, right, everyone from everywhere and like I went to you I am a citizen of the world kind of person. One of the things I'm most resonated with was your telling of your sort of background as far as your cultural bridgeless the communications between the different backgrounds that you have and the different parts of yourself that help you be a bridge.

 Kevin: Sure. So, my stepdad, I refer to him as my dad because of the amount of time that he spent in my life. He was the main male figure in my life since I was about three. And he was Jamaican, and we moved to Jamaica when I was 13 in 1999.  So in a way that I like to describe it is that I was born in Brooklyn, and from 13 to 19 I grew up in Jamaica, and so there's really like formative years puberty figuring out who you are navigating identity, all of that kind of really happened in the context of Jamaica, and so I really, you know, because of my upbringing, and because those formative years were there I really do identify that as like part of who I am and part of my identity and part of my culture and my grandfather on my biological dad side is Panamanian. And so, that entire side of my family, their last name is Bella Zara and so my cousins that I grew up with, are our Latinx right and that was a large part of my identity as well. And I had moments where I didn't realize that that was so much a part or that Latin Latina Latino was part of who I was, particularly because my grandfather who is a darker skinned Panamanian used to always say like you're black, you're black, you're black, you're black, which, yes. Right, and so that's really stuck with me. And then, but also like speaking with friends about some of the experiences I had with my family named Bella who's like, that's not a thing that everybody does, like not everybody goes to King Lear and I was like, seriously. Yeah, that's not, it's not a thing. Oh, oh, that's a, that's a Latino thing. Oh right, and that wasn't even until later in life that I kind of put those things together. And so yeah, it's very interesting because navigating all those spaces is very different. I even see that in myself depending on like, you know who I'm interacting with the verbiage, the cadence, the mannerisms and it is challenging to be like, am I being genuinely myself and my codes which is like no all of these are part of my experience, and so I'm responding to that part of my experience as a coach or as a person.

Arielle: Well, and it's, it speaks to the way in which helps tell you a little story. Earlier this summer, a friend of mine. We were talking with her. Me, my husband and a bunch of other people, a mix of cultures and countries, and a table, and I wanted to bring up whiteness in this conversation around whiteness and my friend was like, but you're not white. You don't think of yourself as white. And now I was raised Jewish so maybe to her and to other people. I'm not white, but I said but I am why because everyone outside sees me as white, and I get the white privilege and I get all the benefits of being white, right, and she, she got it, but it was this this funny moment of like, Huh. And so, I think, and I've also noticed for myself because I speak Spanish fluently and because I have family in South America and all these things, I can. I have like these windows in. So I'm curious for you as you go about your life. Nobody can, it's that, I want you to speak to like that how you see yourself and how you feel, versus how you are perceived.

Kevin: I feel in myself, I feel very eclectic. I feel comfortable navigating those different pieces my culture. I feel very comfortable. And I think also because I've had the like life experience of culture shock if you will in different ways and in trade going from Brooklyn, New York, which has a very distinct culture Africa to Jamaica, which has a very distinct culture, to making the city versus Jamaica in the hills is a very distinct culture, right, and then going from there and supplanting into the soda which is a very distinct culture, right, and so like I do have a level of comfortability and navigating different cultural media different cultural spaces. I do think that what's peculiar, is, is, what is the expectation of me in different spaces, and the one thing that's consistent, is to your point about how people respond to you that one of the things that's consistent is black. That's the consistent thing and so it's, it's always, to some people surprised like, oh I didn't know that your grandfather's Panamanian, but you had a Panamanian heritage right. Oh, I didn't know that you grew up in Jamaica. Right. Those things are like out file there are characteristics that addition to your black, and that's always, that's the thing that's consistent. And so, what's, what I found that often peculiar is that learning those other things about me. Often gives people with an avenue to say oh, that's why you did this right, so. Oh wait, you have advanced degrees in your presentations. Oh, you're Jamaican and Panamanians, as if as if African Americans can’t do that as being black need something else to make it, make it make sense that these things could be accomplished and that's particularly interesting.

Arielle:  Well, it's almost like qualifying, your success. Yes, and there's got to be some explanation for how you are you. Right, right, beyond this perceived identity.

Kevin: Yeah, and it's, it's actually interesting because I'm currently doing a comparison of black superheroes with black historical figures for Black History Month, and actually the one I did yesterday was Granville T Woods who he was an engineer and he worked with electric, electric, electric engineering and created Telegraph that was a precursor to text messaging and emails, and he never, he never graduated from college or they're never graduated from college, but one thing that was really interesting about his story is that he would always tell people that he's Australian because he believed he would be respected more as a as an inventor, if people knew I thought that he was not born in the United States, or that he was not a black American. And you always tell people, he's from Australia, which is just very, very telling.

Arielle: I mean, that reminds me and it's not the same but it reminds me of, you know, I don't know, white female authors back in the day, giving themselves male pen names, right, just to get published like it's, it's like, let me just hide this to transform this so that I can be acceptable to this mass culture that is saying I could not possibly do that thing that I'm doing, naturally. Yes. And as part of the dehumanization, and the otherization that you were speaking about in your presentation. So, because of all your vast travels and journeys and experiences, because now you're in California, which is a whole “nother” country almost.

Kevin: Is it is it absolutely is.

Arielle: Whereas a child, did you feel when or when did you feel the greatest sense of belonging?

Kevin: Hmm. That is a good question. It's a very good question. I would probably say my teenage years in church choir was probably the most that felt belonging, even when I was still in New York I moved to school is very, very often. Part of that was because my mom was looking for a particular level of education, which is great. And, you know that that led her to kind of look around, and she's never satisfied until she got what she wanted, which is something that still sticks with her. And so, even, you know, throughout elementary school I didn't, I wasn't really at a school long enough to build those like lasting relationships. And so I was at one school for first grade and then I went to another school for a second, third, fourth grade, and went to another school for fifth grade and went to another school for sixth and seventh grade and I went to another school for eighth and eighth grade and then move to Jamaica, so there was never really a time when I felt like, Okay, now that I've solidified this friend group we're going to grow together, it was like I have friends. Okay, now they're gone now. It's all over again. And Jamaica, I think the one thing that became consistent was church. And so, you know, that was the first time that I really felt that sense of belonging. You know, growing up with people and having shared experience, even though a lot of our experiences are very different. But, you know, those over the course of those six years, having those experiences growing up together in a lot of sense was really wearing the first time I really felt like, Yes, this is this is my family out this my chosen family, where I felt like I was really see it was actually the also the first time my mom ever heard me sing in public because I would never sing in front of her. So, she didn't know I could sing even. There's a lot of, There's a lot of firsts there as well.

Arielle: As you are a musician as well as singer.

Kevin: So, I played classical piano I was a classical pianist, until we moved to Jamaica. And then I did more studying, rather than performing. So, yeah, so that was, that was my thing when I was a kid I traveled to Las Vegas. I performed at Carnegie Hall I performed a few, a few venues in Philadelphia. Yeah, and then we had summer concerts every year as well.

Arielle: That's amazing and you're still doing musical things as well as the rest of your talents.

Kevin: Um, yeah, it's a side thing.  I don't give it as much time as I would like, but, you know, I'll get there


Arielle: You do a lot. So, we're, these days, where do you feel your greatest sense of belonging and I guess I want to ask you what you consider belonging to even be?

Kevin: You know I have a very close-knit group of friends, and most of them are still in the Midwest. And, you know, that I think that is where I have the most belonging. We have an interesting story in that. A couple of. There's three of us that we date ourselves, the tribe. Play on A Tribe Called Quest. And so, what's interesting about our story is that we are all from New York, and we all met in Minnesota, very oddly, so I went to McAllister, my friend member is also from Brooklyn, and ended up going to McAllister, and our years didn't overlap, we just kind of me because I was going back and doing some stuff with track and field. And so, it's just peculiar because theoretically, as close as we were our passion have never crossed. And so, then they did and then we realized like, you know, we live, two miles from each other, like in childhood, and his aunt has a beauty supply store, which is right next to the place where my mom used to go to get all her closers for sewing. So, we've probably walked past each other and been on the bus together and been on the train together. So many times, and it took us to being adult and graduating and then wait, you're from where, as peculiar, and then the other person, Matt, who is bemba's best friend in high school, also moved to Minnesota and so like, it just the universe kind of really just put that together somehow. So, you know, that group and then there's obviously people within that group that larger group and so like you know, their significant others are some other people from McAllister. Our friend India who went to U of M, and I worked with her at the Boys and Girls Club. This is really, close-knit group. And that's really where I feel belonging, I think the most than being on the other side of the country now we still maintain that. And to your question about what my definition of belonging is it's, it's really finding space where you are your authentic self. And I feel comfortable being that way with them. And so, you know I'm obviously, you know, the experience of being a person of color, particularly black person in a lot of professional spaces this this thin coat switch right where you navigate and do certain things in a certain way because you understand the dynamics of the responses that you'll get. Right. And then, particularly with this group, I can kind of, you know, let my hair down and not be that just being in a space where you can be that authentic.

Arielle: I think really highlights what belonging, as well and that relates to my next sort of topic question obsession, which is what is freedom?

Kevin: I think. Freedom is a very interesting concept. Because I think that freedom is often equated to lack of consequence, and I don't think those are the same thing. And so, when people talk about, I have the right to have the freedom and we have the freedom to say x y z, you do. Yeah, absolutely do. And there's a consequence to it. And that's I think that's talking about individual freedom, I think we were talking about freedom in terms of systems in terms of nuance of policy and politics. I would argue that there's no freedom that exists in that, I think there's allowance that exists in that. I think there's passes that exist in that, but you don't get to navigate certain spaces without certain things. And so, this idea of just being free to do what you want, that doesn't exist. Right. And so, you know, for instance, we can't talk about freedom, if we're also saying that, you know, gerrymandering is a thing, and redlining is a thing, and voter suppression is the thing, then that's not freedom. I'm doing some work with COVID vaccinations now, right, and just looking at how there's still, there's still disparities in terms of who's getting vaccinated, even when you put vaccines. In contrast to what they call cognitive errors or poverty, which is communities that are mostly black and brown people. Right. And they don't have the freedom to just go get the vaccine because those spaces are being taken by people outside of their community. Right, like there's, there's so many dynamics to that that I think the whole like, even policy, the purpose so much of policies and laws, is to prevent right and so if you live in in spaces where the intent is to prevent and limit, then its freedom to an extent, which to me that makes it an allowance not a freedom, you know, the voting rights, there was law in place that said that, you know, with the with women's rights in 1921 and women getting the right to vote, nothing in that said, black women specifically couldn't vote, but the reality is black women couldn't vote right and so like, even with that language, if there's things that are limiting you from being able to participate, you're not free. They never said black women who can't vote, but you have The Amendment 15 That took away the restriction that prevented them from being able to do it. So, when they were there really freedom for them.

Arielle: Absolutely and that's huge. Those are there are so many nuances in our system, like that, that keep the people on top thinking that there's a freedom going on for everyone when it's just the few that have the freedom to get supposedly what they want. But I guess I want to know about in your ideal scenario. What is freedom?

Kevin:  In my ideal scenario, I think we look at look at situations in totality, and we consider things in a way that is supportive of the human experience. And that's a challenge, I think, particularly in a, in a cultural frame, where we're taught that our value is being better than somebody else, you know, and so I do think that freedom in my ideal situation would not be without consequence, that there would be an understanding of things right, I think. Nature has a perfect balance of freedom. You know, it's, you know, tigers go where they want to go, Lions go where they want to go. Zebras go where they want to go. And even though like 100 See other there's an understanding of boundaries, like, and the boundary is it out of this is mine. It's like no, I'm respecting that this is where you're supposed to be this is, this is where I fit right and even, you know, when you know a lion kills a gazelle, for instance, he doesn't kill the whole pack or there's an understanding that I need you to survive for me to survive as well and there's a shared accountability to keeping the ecosystem going. And somehow, humans are the only species that kind of doesn't get that we need each other. You know and I think for, especially now with COVID, like I think it's so, the irony of it, right, is that to stop this thing. We all must work together. Right, we all must, you know that you're hurting me doesn't happen if most people don't get the vaccine. And yet, people are still skipping, other people to get the vaccine. If only you get it, it doesn't matter why. Why do you need to be first? And it's just that really like, I think, again, to your question that idea of what freedom looks like is that we live in. We live and create an ecosystem where we're supportive of each other in what we do and what the best version of ourselves is, and it's then also what you're talking about that concept that nobody is free until we are all free, right, that if an AI, if we don't understand our interconnectedness being central to our humanity. The competition is antithetical to that it's just not. I mean, and we live in a capitalistic competitive society so it's so interesting to me that you have. You were lucky to have the kind of mother who was really in search of the best for you, and how that showed up was switching you to schools because I think a lot of this stuff, this idea that the imprinting and the programming of this competitive frame of mind begins in our education system. So, yes, and, I mean if you were a professional pianist as a child, I'm sure that was all about competition too right being better than. Yeah, yeah. You know we have America's Got Talent like if it was just let's just show each other the talents we have that would be one thing, but it said we must beat each other. That's something I even, even as a kid I was never comfortable with. I felt the pressure of other kids when they weren't when they were compared, yeah it just I didn't I didn't like it, you know, I just like, whatever you are good at that. You just excel at that and that's just it. You know, I didn't. Now I will say that my competitive spirit kind of got fired. If I earn some money say I couldn't do something, or like somebody was like supposed to be better than me that that kind of be like, Oh, okay. Well, let's find out like that's what I got like if you if you frame me as being not as good, then I got it.

Arielle: But if we just on a surface then sure, but isn't that almost, I mean I'm the same way about certain things like I've had professors I had a Spanish professor who basically I credited her with Why speak such good Spanish because I was the only nonnative speaker in this NYU, development of Latin American disclosure and couture Latino Americana and she was Cuban and she said to me in front of everyone in English. She said, if you want to speak in English, that's okay. And wow, did that silence me, but it also made me get an aider class. I was, I did well but I didn't speak again. But I learned how to speak so no one would ever say that to me. Yeah, like that again. But it was almost competition against me. I feel like that kind of competition to make me better, not at the expense of somebody else is a different way to look at, you know just growing versus beating someone out. But I'm curious for you. When and where have you Where do you feel the freest?

Kevin:  So, I love comics love comics. I love sci fi. So, I think the times that I feel most free i when I'm indulging in that. And so that's reading comics. I've recently started building LEGO sets that reflect those comics, draw comics and just like anything watching movies, rewatching cartoons like those things are just freeing because in other than like the social context and the social critique that I like to do comics, I think they just take me back to a time when I think about all those things. There's a certain joy, and innocence, watching Tom and Jerry, right, it's just, it's reliving those moments before life took that away, if you will, that I always go back to cartoons to my youth Thundercat’s, Thundercat’s. Superman, Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, those four like I always go back to them because, like that's back when I was three when I was four when I was two. Those are things that before I started trying to navigate a black kid before I started trying to navigate what, you know, what privileges and what black and white is and how I was supposed to speak around cops and how I'm not supposed to run down the street because somebody think I stole something before all that Thundercat’s and Superman and Ghostbusters a teen turtle was sheer joy. And so going back to that is like, almost to a large degree, going back to genuine self I've ever been because I wasn't navigating different spaces, innocence. Yes, disappearance. Yes. And you're making, you're creating a, an encyclopedia of black superheroes, yes. Yeah, what does that tell me about that. It's an amazing, amazing project and so it's something that I had been thinking about for a while. Because, even, you know, as a black kid or not being loving. Science fiction and loving comics. That was always a pushback on this character is black, you can't be that character. You know, I remember distinctly in second grade. Yeah, when Power Rangers came out, and the entire school ran home and we're all excited about Power Rangers and we all got into Power Rangers, and we all had to be the Black Ranger. And you think, looking back at it now is like wow that was really messed up, right, the Black Ranger was black, the yellow version was Asian, and the pink ranger was a girl that's like wow that was really, and then the most powerful Ranger. Was the White Ranger like, oh, come on? If you think back to that and just like well we've been programmed to think a certain way, but you know, if, if you wanted to be the Green Ranger the Blue Ranger because you couldn't because you're black, so you got to be a Black Ranger right or you know, you know, Superman is in black and I was my, he's my favorite superhero Superman is like spider man it's a black all these characters are black and so I remember growing up being like, I can't be any of them, you know, I think the thing that really made decisions actually pursue this was when Black Panther came out a few, a few years ago. And obviously you have these traumas from us and you kind of grew up and you go okay that happened it's whatever. And I went to go see black panther in theaters for the third time I saw nine. I'm pretty sure, and I'm waiting in line. And there's these kids in line, and, you know, the kids are really excited about watching movie. And there's this little black kid and a little white kid, they're having a conversation really excited about the movie, and the little whiteboard as Black Panther, and the black kid goes no, you can't be black, because he's black. And I didn't say anything but in my internal head was like, Ha, you can't be black, because you're not black, right. I just kind of was like, oh, I didn't really know that that was still something that was a touch point for me. And just having that experience and going you know there's so many other really, really powerful black comic characters that nobody knows about the accident is all about like the civil rights movement, and it was written in the 60s American civil rights movement with Malcolm X, supposedly like being the shape of Magneto being Magneto and then Professor X being Martin Luther King, and it's like this very like story about being accepted in humanity the Civil Rights right within the characters are black, with like this crazy you're reading this story about the black experience with no black people in it. So, really, those kinds of like insights are really, this is going to be a powerful thing. This is something that will really help with, you know, just looking at looking at these fictional characters and seeing yourself. You know, I think that you know not everybody but some people, some people are Misty Knight, right, some people are rocket, some people are icon, some people are static shock some people are Black Lightning like these are all the different personalities that exist that are black superheroes that tell very, very black stories.

Arielle: That's amazing. I can't wait to see it and read about it and I'm sure when is how, where are you in the process?

Kevin: So, I'm in the still getting writing phase so I have my list of all the superheroes and I'm just kind of collecting the information that I want to share on them. And, to that to that no during Black History Month I do that pairing, and so it's also almost to some degree of practice for it.

Where you know I highlight a black superhero and then mirror them with a black historical figure. And so, you're getting so that also makes it tangible for youth of all ages right is that it's, it's very easy to present the care, present a historical figure. And, but giving them that I think that that image, that's something that's fun that's tangible like a comic, to relate that person to helps them with memory and helps it cement, the value of it, and gets allows them to see themselves in fiction, and in real life, as being successful and powerful.

Arielle:  Yeah. And when I mean I'm not I think I read you know what I loved I loved the death series of graphic novels I don't know if they're considered comics, you know, Mr. Sandman, all those. Yes, that those were us, I love those. Obviously Thundercat’s, please, and Wonder Woman was a big deal for me because she was. I feel like she was the only one I could say there's, there's the woman that I, you know could be but then there was still that, you know, objectification of women stuff going on with the yes outfit. But I remember watching that. So I'm wondering, back to the X Men thing because I find that fascinating, is part of it, also about the evolution of consciousness, as far as who we're telling stories to inform, because if x men was created about that, but at the time, people, the powerful white people in the media thought well only white people are the people we want to reach, was it sort of a trance was it trying to, trying to get white people to understand something was it or raise their consciousness or, You know, why do you think they did that.

 Kevin: Well, I think it's above and because I think at the end of the day it's a business right. And so, you know, from the business perspective, who has the who has the capital who has the money. You know, it's what America so we must do it in a frame that makes white America white America happy. I think that was, that was a large part of it. I think also there was an intentionality of not having black characters seen as positive. And that if you do like kind of the research there's the comic, in the early blues early 50s. And once again, but where they had an ash, they had this very like series about going into space, and these astronauts were doing all these amazing things. And the last panel of the comic was the hero astronaut taking off their helmet and being a black person, and the comics code Association, which essentially does the center and monitoring all comics, said that they had to take that out, because they could not have the astronaut be a black person, which is very telling considering at the same time, we had a black woman, figure out the calculations to send man to the moon, right, like it's, it's very telling and so part of it is like we have to respond to. Who has the money and the other part of it was there was a very, very real feeling of being threatened by the idea of powerful black people because this is also the time of the Civil Rights Movement, this is the time, Malcolm maximum became this kind of mega average right this also around the time the evolution of the Black Panthers? And so, all those things. At that time, we can't put strong blackness in the forefront because there's the scene is threatening, which is. So, unfortunately, still in many circles in places today.

Arielle: And it's, it's true even in, you know the comic world, right, because we look at the stories now in all the stories are taken from the source material source material, which didn't want black people in power so there you go, well and it's crazy. I mean science fiction, which I do love that genre, too, is a place where apparently Anything could happen right there's logic to it right, anything is possible and it's all about possibility so the fact that there is even a group of people saying, this is not possible, even in this world of science fiction is just insane. To my right. Part of my whole world view perspective who what saved me was Mr. Rogers and the ideals that he had, and. And so, what I called when I was making this documentary series belonging in the USA stories from our neighbors and to me, we're all neighbors, right, because that's what Mr. Rogers taught me. Yes, yeah. So, what about you and how you think of this concept of neighbors or being neighborly both the ideal of that and the practical.

Kevin: To be completely honest, the two things come to mind and it's common to church. I joke with my mom recently because I wouldn't bought a Ghostbusters Proton Pack when she said, why choose watch your why would you buy that Why are you so interested in ghosts and I was like mine took me to Christian Pentecostal church where half of the time they talked about catching and expelling demons and then he showed me a cartoon of people catching and dispelling demons, why do you think I like Ghostbusters. But you know my I think a lot of my moral compass came from that church background and whether I think holds the value to preclude the practice of really using the GeoCities, I think that there's a certain level of humanity in so many religious sects and text right, is this idea that we are here for each other. We are here to support each other. That was a big reason that I connected with Superman as a character, because I was always, it was always intriguing to me how you have this person that can do just about anything. Right, but he does it because he's aware of how uncomfortable, that would make everybody else, right and this idea that I could change this, but I must work within the confines of humanity as a whole. And like that is that is more powerful to me than like, Hey, we're gonna try to say he you know he could, he doesn't, he doesn't even wear a mask right it's like, there's a, there's a trust there. Right. And at the same time this visibility because like, you know, think about how it's so silly that you have this character isn't wear mask, and nobody knows who he is, right, it's like, right, because you have framed him differently in your mind. Right. Why would you think he has a secret identity if he doesn't wear a mask like just simple things like that on top of, right, the fact that like he, he could just like be in the shoes and have to wear a cape and a blue thing he could just get a suit and be like, You know what, I'm gonna fly to work today, and that would make everybody around him so uncomfortable. Imagine if you could do. Imagine if you could be in Minnesota, and then be in New York, in 30 seconds. And you chose to take a plane, because the world would be uncomfortable, nobody can do it like that, that, that to me says so much about the value of other people's experience, and the comfort level of other people around you, and that having power doesn't give you the authority or right to make other people uncomfortable, like that is really for me like that's the most powerful thing about that character is like, I could fix all of this tomorrow. That's not what you want, that's not what you want as a society, so I want to get rid of nuclear, I can get a real good look, and this is an RV, but that's not where we are and that's not that's not what's good for people, right, that would lead to other questions that will make people feel unsafe. Right and so like taking what you can do into consideration. And then what is your responsibility to the rest of society to act or not act, or to question, or to or to navigate right that, I think, speaks, you know volumes to, to, to kind of what my vetoes is, you know, what is my responsibility based on the gifts that I've been given to get back into make life better, to improve for others. And yeah, the between, between Superman and Jesus parables, what kind of framed my, my ethics.

Arielle: Well, and all the great teachers in all the world religions, in a way are superheroes right. Yes, they have this these qualities that are superhuman but really, I think they also speak to kind of what you're saying, which is that we all have a capacity to elevate our consciousness to a greater sense of a greater good or a greater responsibility. Now we don't always live that out in our day to day, but we can, it's possible and that to me is also kind of what Mr. Rogers was all about. Yes, saying, you know Yeah, we have We are human, we have these emotions we have these reactions we have these uncomfortable feelings all the time, and we have these situations we're faced with basic societal evil level, but we all get to be in charge of how we respond, Yes, I want to ask you about some of your daily practices that you use to help you stay motivated centered and able to continue doing all the work that you're doing in a world that is not always ready for it, I'm sure.

Kevin:  When I moved when I moved out to California, which was December 2019 I just, it was, it was very perfect timing. Oh, that a setup table. No, I don't know I don't know why I made that decision is a there's so many ways to be informed, but if you want to know something, go on Twitter for five minutes and you'll find the article on Facebook on social media, and you can find out YouTube hasn't been. And so why that was important is because the purpose of ideally is to share information. The business of news is “sensationalization” right and so it's tiring because everything is breaking news, everything is urgent. Everything is, is when you must focus right because the reality is it's a business and they need money. And so, when you live in a constant state of panic, you have two options, either die or panic becomes normalized. So that you can say you adjust to that new reality. And I think cutting off the news, also, you know, allows you to allow you to focus.

And so, there are issues that are always safe that are consistent in our society. And I think one of the things with the last presidency is that so many things were happening that they're never focused on anything.

And so that's why we here in here like all the things that happened like, oh my god that was last year. Yeah, last year, right, but if you get a crazy news story, every other day, then nobody's held accountable for anything because you're still trying to catch up noise reacting, and that was that was a very big stress and listening to news stories it's kind of like, oh so what you're saying is we still don't have universal health care we should.

I didn't need to tell you that it's always pointing out what's wrong, not solution oriented at all right. Like, its stress, it's a constant stressor that's a choice. Yes, you don't have to take it in that way. Yep. So, what have you? What has grown in space in place because of your, I mean I don't know how much it was you were taking it before, but I had, I had seen on CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, BBC World like I was flicking through all of them and get angry, and I was like, I can't be doing that, I don't have I don't have kids.

So, you know what I do is like I watched about 1520 minutes today.  Typically, it's Seth Meyers, Steven Colbert because it was a comedy. And when I replaced that with his Legos sets, getting back into drawing comics, spending time on my book.  I'm going to take up sewing. That's something that's a historical thing, my grandmother, my mom's mom was rarely renouncing just in New York in the 40s. And my grandfather was the first owner on the drycleaners a black owner with dry cleaners in the country so that fashion is also part of a family legacy and some taking that up and then just doing simple things like, going on walks. That was one of the, not to knock on Minnesota like I hate cold, right, and I would just stay in the house I wouldn't do anything, be able to just like go outside and go for a walk and feel sunshine and listen to verbs to hear, the wind for those, those simple things.

Just going back, making time for those simple things, has been the motivating, motivating factor, and just read the comments on Facebook articles. Don't. Don't do that. Don't do that.

Arielle:  Do you have it, I'm curious, do you have any kind of meditation practice or anything like that?

Kevin:  Yes, but I it's interesting so I wouldn't call it meditation but in essence does the same thing. And I think for like putting together LEGO sets, it's very meditative for me, you know, just, it's thinking about how things connect, and where this works and, and how all these things come together to build this one thing, but they're intertwined and like I get it very, very much a sense of common a piece about that and I can't believe I forgot this and I've also started doing studying physics, physics in natural science because it's amazing to me like the parallels that exist when you really start looking at natural science and social science, and we see them as different, and I'm wondering if these principles, actually the same. And so that's been very comforting thing for me, which my mom was gonna laugh about which is this podcast because she's been trying to tell me I should be a math teacher and I'm like no, so she's gonna hear this, like, Ha, so looking forward to that.

Arielle:  I have to say, by the way I love Legos those I haven't played with them in years, and I have a 10-year-old daughter who does not like Legos at all. So, I think I might join you and just start doing Legos by myself, because I used to do, I used to build. I don't know. Yeah, just worlds. It's, it's very soothing, there's a way, it's just so present when you're doing it right.

Kevin: Yep, my friends laugh at me about similar theory about your kid like, like what if you have a child and like Batman. It's like no, no. You don't like him. He's capitalist you can't not him. He doesn't pay taxes on, that's what happened so they will always show it to you right you're just like, Okay, what are the things we can connect that right?

Arielle:  So, when I started this series, my films. I was really, it was a time where we had the Muslim ban, we had just, I was absolutely in my white privilege bubble feeling completely blindsided by the overtness of everything coming out suddenly as if I had been asleep, which I had been for you know the Early Childhood of my daughter, and suddenly it was all in my face and I just was like, How can I not be doing more about this so the US and theming, which is the thing that probably breaks my heart the most after anyone doing anything too horrible to a child, those are that's like the famous, if I have if I can, at all shift the needle on people understand that there is no us in them, ultimately, that we are all in this, we may not be in the same boat. We are in the same water. We may not, we're all on the same planet and we all have a responsibility to one another, and a basic human caring level, what are some solutions that you see or employ to help people shift their paradigm around this “us and theming” I'm talking about the fact that you know people who think that they're so liberal progressive, You know, and they're othering all these people that they think are different from them that think differently than them it's, and I'm like I'm always like, that's the same problem.  The same thing so I want you to speak of it to that.

Kevin:  So, as somebody engaged in the work. I would say the first thing that I do when I have these conversations is, remember that. I can't change anyone's mind. People will change when they're ready to, or when they're things that make them feel like they need to, which is difficult, you know, because you can present somebody with data, right. But if they're if their premise is, I'm right. It doesn't matter, right. So, we can say that with even, you know, the liberalism in America right like no, this is who we are. It is, yes, it is right and that we don't want like that, I don't want to accept that too, we are, when it is, it's absolutely who we are. And so, like, I can't, I can't make you say this is.

And so that's the first thing and I think that's for as people doing that work for your own mental health for your feeling who says like, I can't, I'm not going to be contingent upon the other thing that I employed is that I don't make statements asked questions. The reason I do that is because one can never say I took a position, and then too, when I asked you questions, anything that you say, didn't I didn't put that on you. That's something he said so now you must navigate with that. For you! An example of that.

As I said my family's very, very Christian. And one thing that's pushing point is this conversation on abortions.

And you know that, and that makes sense, right, given, given the information given about, or what they've been told, and really taking into consideration what they're exposed to what that means, and there, their experiences in life and what abortion stands for all those things aren't valid, and so I was, I asked him, I said so, you know, if you don't, if you're talking about the lives of children. Right. Then, what we're saying is this is what, what does it mean that 100% of unwanted pregnancies start with men. Well, yeah that makes sense. Well, if 100% Because how do you how do you have an unwanted pregnancy without, without me.

So, if 100% of pregnant, have of unwanted pregnancies involves that why is the focus on controlling women's bodies. I don't say what's right or wrong. I said, if you want to stop unwanted pregnancies, why don't you start where pregnancies begin. That's not a position.

But then makes you think, well, why are we doing that, I don't know. I don't know what birth; I mean if life starts at conception, conception happens when a man does something. So then why are we talking about woman. Wow, that makes you rethink. Well, is it about the boy is it about the life of the child or the control of the woman because if it's about the life of the child, then we should be taking a different approach?

Arielle: And by the way for everyone listening you cannot, the whole conversation we've been having I can't see me, but I am nodding my head. I'm gonna break my neck. I am pointing and gesturing.

Just ever face going crazy I mean this is just so right on and I've never heard it said that way. So, thank you. Why are we focusing on women, and it is because we have historically? That's part of patriarchy right we focus on controlling women to continue to maintain the power and a certain tiny plot and we divide and conquer, and the ways that we divide and conquer, go into every kind of grouping and demographic and all the way that we categorize people that's why we have all those categories in some level, not to celebrate, but divide those.

Kevin: Those are the facts right but those are the facts that we can't hear. I'm not ready to hear that yet. Right okay so I won't say that to you what I'll ask is, do you believe this, we believe this, then there's this and this. And if they don't, then you must figure out why they don't eat well and I wouldn't.

Arielle:  I mean, my job is to ask questions, that's what I do. That's what I've been doing for almost 20 years I asked, and I watched it, it's amazing when you ask someone a question. My favorite thing is to ask someone a question that they've never considered, and to watch the wheels turning and to get people when a lot of times when people say things out loud. If either entrenches them more in their position, or they're finally hearing what they're saying out loud.

Kevin:  Right, and the people that the people that are interested in changing, everybody's right hear themselves out loud to people that are tied to be right and tied to their positions. Go, just go deeper into it, and {Arielle:} you're right, we cannot change anyone. We are here to just be better ourselves individually and grow and if there's somebody who was open enough to have a conversation because really, it's about dialogue to Yes, and not just trying to get you over to my side, it's there. There's as many people as there on the earth, there's that many sides.

Kevin:  And this this we must be part of part of the reason why I think we don't get the impact that we want and it's because even as if you want to say liberal, as far as, you know, progressive, or even right, there's this, there's still this again this lack of understanding of how much we need each other. And this need for superiority, so it's not about moving the needle, it's about I'm right you’re not and when you go into a conversation trying to take that moral high ground, you invalidate anything that you're going to say, because you're invalid by doing that you're invalidating their experience you're not invalidating there, their hurts you're validating their lives you're validating what they've seen. And that makes what you're saying, irrelevant.

Arielle:   So, what are some of the greatest gifts or moments that have helped you both continue this, these many paths you're on, but, you know, to be in touch with your purpose to be on fire with, I mean you have your fire with this enormous you've done, you do a lot of things. So, what keeps you fueled up?

Kevin:  Honestly passionate. I think I am interested and intrigued and good, and I love so many things, and sometimes I do feel distracted. I do feel distracted often like I wish I I wish I wish; I already knew how to sew; I wish I continued playing piano, like I wish that I was working for DC drawing comics right now I wish I wish I wish I wish that. That's how I feel a lot. 

But one thing that has really kept me engaged recently is taking time writing five-year plans, taking time to new dreams, and I think that that is something that you particularly like in childhood, right, is the ability to dream, imagined. And that ability to dream for magic invigorates is, so I spent a lot of time doing that I spent a lot of time imagining, different possibilities, and I think that it's really important for us to get back to that, especially we were talking about the context of your markets belonging right and one of the challenges I have said this in the presentation is that we're talking about a world that none of us have ever lived in before. Right and so you must have imagination. You must be thinking about like what this new world looks like, where we're at and where it's equitable where people aren't suffering where we're not creating war that has not existed. So, we are creating something new, and you must engage that relentless imagination to get there.

And so, like that, that is something that really, really keeps me engaged with zoning because I think that all those things are possible and recognizing a certain level of privilege that I've seen in my family people switch careers and be successful in that. My mom was a secretary at NYU, and while we were living in New York, I saw her go to school and finish her undergrad in psychology. Right. This is also the woman that he was one of the first black women in segregated Brooklyn Tech to the specialized high school in New York, right at 13 years old.

You know, my grandfather and his dry cleaners. My grandmother came and like went through nursing school and became the Director of Nursing. By the time I was born at a nursing home.

And obviously that was later in life, so I've, I've also had examples of young, you can do this whenever you want. And like my mom is now a math teacher, I went to her graduation when she got her master's in teaching and math, right, and that was later in life. And so that gave me the perception that if you're still breathing. You can still do.

And so, with that in mind, you know, I, I'll be ready to jump into different things I'm talking about going to study physics. Are you crazy, Like, why not, you know, being able to, you know, imagine, and allow yourself to imagine and not put limitations on that imagination?

Arielle:  I love what you call it a relentless imagination? It's a beautiful way to say that and I mean so you're the manager of equity and inclusion for the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission. That is a mouthful.

Kevin: Yes. Yes

You have to say that often. I did not usually say EOC I don't say, a lot of words.

Arielle:  I'm curious if there's some event or inciting incident that really put you on this path.

Kevin: You know, I think, honestly, if I look, I will have to go back to undergrad, and one of my professors Duchess Harris, who teaches American Studies at Macalester. We were doing a class called Black public intellectuals. And I think, you know, at that point I wasn't radicalized if you will, but just being in that class of books that really kind of changed course for me with Richard rights, and just reading about that, that dynamics and even the conversation arguments I had with like one of my best friends in class was about how the black experience should be shared, how it shouldn't be shared, you know, and like, even thinking about that, that really started in the along this course of really questioning things and looking at the limitations that were systemically in place, and looking at how things didn't happen by accident. And how, even knowing that we're still hiding our stories, because of the perception. Right, and so the summer after that class, I went to the central library in Brooklyn. And when I tell you that I read everything that had Angela Davis and Bell Hooks or Black Panther on it. I literally read everything. Right.

And that that was kind of a turning point for me in terms of like activism. When I went to the scene where Philando Castile, was shot and killed. That was the thing that really jarred me. Because it was so close. And so, to where I was living at the time. And I knew people that knew him. And, like, no things happened, and he didn't. But until that point, and this is also a privilege. My parents and my grandparents sheltered me. So, I knew of opportunity, I love it. I never saw it; I knew of Rodney King. I never saw it. This was the first time I saw it happen, and it took it out of this black and white, theoretical into a tangible thing. And so, seeing that, then I researched Anita Hill and looked at it and saw that I looked at the trial. I need to help it saw how people were responding to her right and those that kind of big right where it's not a theoretical it's not a history lesson. It's life. And that was the first time I saw the pictures Emmett Till of me too because I hadn't seen it until then. And so that gave it so much gravitas that I couldn't not be engaged, especially after reading that entire library.

Arielle:  And it's, I mean, I'm sure you've read and studied more than I have but I've also read and studied a lot of different things that I, it's like once you know things you can't unknow them. Right. And once you see things you can't unsee them. And I think, you know, last summer George Floyd's murder was that incident, inciting moment for many people that maybe had never paid any attention before and I'm talking about mostly white people who have come to me over and over and spoke.  Well, I've worked like, I think, you know there's a lot of factors of why that was. But living in Jamaica, I've been going there since I was a small child. I'm curious about a, the context right I mean what I, as a white woman, to make is very different related situations.  And honestly, I will tell you that there was a huge shift in my relationship to Jamaica. When I went through adolescence.

Before, it was not a safe place for me anymore once I went through adolescence. And, and I love that country, and I love so many things. It's just a place that my heart feels good for you, moving there as a teenager from, obviously, New York, diversity, there's a lot of people there in New York but to a majority black country that still has so many deep seated issues with race that you regret, it's almost like if you haven't really been there and seen it and experienced it, it's hard to understand, what, how did that I'm imagine that that just sort of exploded your brain to.

Kevin: Was, it was interesting right because going to Jamaica, like, at that age like I still hadn't even tackled this idea of privilege. It was I didn't, I didn't have a context for it. You know, and honestly that that privilege is not something I even really wrap my head around until after the day I graduated college.

When you know, my grandmother asked me what my apartment was going to rent, and I told this apartment down the block, and she said, when does your lease start? and I said what's the lease? like that's the moment I realized like, Wait, I don't know anything about life. So, my sense of going into Jamaica like I didn't have that like analysis of race, and I lived in Brooklyn, which is majority black so it, so in that respect, I didn't have a lens to navigate, but I also did feel like I had to be very defensive. Initially, because I was an outsider. And so, that I felt now. I think part of that I put on myself.

But I also think part of that was fair in that, how the US presents itself, and how the US wants to be seen.

Then sits with me and my American passport. Right, and so it doesn't matter that rich. I'm American, you got a green card you can go where you want. You got something.

And so, it took me a long time to, to navigate that. Especially while also navigating that so much of my upbringing, so much of my identity up to that point, was shaped and framed by a Jamaican man that I didn't put it together.

Right, and so like there were so many things that I agreed and tied to, and couldn't understand because I'm not from here, right, and that was also the first time I heard my dad speaking patois, because he never did that in America, and so he got to Jamaica and he said, speaking to patois like WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

What is this?  

Who are you?

Yeah, I didn't have that I didn't have that lens that time.

But I do think that, you know, there was a as I began to think, and gotten got like engaged, later in college and think back into that and really look at the class dynamics that exist.  [Arielle:} And so, which are racially tied into me. [Kevin] Right, right. So, let's say that which are here to obviously as well, but I feel like to make is overt about it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's, it's, in that that that structure. Right, I think, again, is almost this this this arrogance of America, even liberal America like we are so like that's what you call colonization, right, like that's, that's, that's where that comes from you didn't invent it, like, we want to take pride for the bad things to where we're the best at being racist and we are the best at war, and also we are the best of healthcare even though nobody has it like what is wrong.

And so, you know, Americans, I mean, Jamaica has independent, right, but so much of the system is still from the colonial the colonial system. So why, if the roots are still there and that hasn't been undone, why should we expect that oh you're black, you're going to be different, that's, that's not that's not, that's not fair, like that's honestly this I'm gonna it's like, it's kind of racist like you're black, you shouldn't be sick like you shouldn't succumb to systems you're black, oh you mean the system, you created really, like, let's talk about the roots of why that is the same, you can say the same thing about the India, you say thing about China. Right, and so it's not the location it's, we got to get to what caused it. What is the underlying thing that made this a reality of life?

Arielle: Which is white supremacy?

Kevin: Yes.

Arielle:  So, given all of this. What gives you hope?

Kevin:  What is the hope?

Arielle:  Assuming you have hope.

Kevin: Well, it's interesting. So, the reason I took that deep breath, is because I think sometimes people use hope as an excuse to not be active. Right. Oh, I hope things get better. What do you do to make it better?  I just hope it gets better. No, no, this is, again, scriptural thing, right, that even I challenge you know my Christian family, you know, Faith without works is dead, that scriptural so you have faith isn't going to happen, but you don't act on it. I don't know if you really believe that. So, I think some of the things that give me hope. Honestly, I think conversations. I think having conversations and seeing people be challenged and feeling challenged. I say this a lot and I don't think really people understand it, it's like I've really enjoy being wrong. Because being wrong means I have an opportunity to learn. It means that for an opportunity to grow. It means I must add something to my lexicon I have to add something to my knowledge base like That's great.  You know, even with like the protests in the summer. One of the things that a lot of my friends had called me and said they're like Keavy were right, you told us this was gonna happen and I was like, I don't take pride in that. Don't take part in that. I'm not happy. Right. I just wish everybody else noticed that this happens every summer, like 2016 2017 2018, like, yeah, it every summer, it happens within the first three weeks of summer. It's challenging to me that nobody else picked up on it. But the thing that I think gives me hope is starting to have these conversations, intently. I will say that I do have a worry that these conversations will stop, because so many, so much of it has been a response to Trump, as opposed to a response to the system that created him. Which is, you know, I went back and forth, and he was like this is kind of why I want, I didn't vote for him. I didn't want him to win but I kind of didn't want him to win. Why because, if he did, you can't say this doesn't exist anymore, which is something that people of color have been yelling at you forever. So now you see it exists. Now, you feel threatened by it. Now we can do something about it.

And you know I think there's a, we try to avoid chaos. And I might have said this in the presentation as well. But in every other language like. There's no word for chaos. Because chaos is part of the cycle, right, and you build. After the chaos happens, you rebuild after the chaos happens. And so, you must have that moment of deconstruction to reconstruct, and the longer that you spend, avoiding that deconstruction, the more chaotic, it has to be.

And so, you know that set in different forms of like you know, you'll have to face the same lesson until you get it right, but every time it gets worse. And so, I have hope because we wouldn't do this because there was a siege at the capital, because of all these negative things that have happened that brought us to a point where we are facing reality, because now that we face reality. We at least have the option of moving forward where before we did it, because we didn't do what was in front of us. And so, seeing that I think gives me hope that, you know, again because we have the option of changing course.

Transcript for Kevin Williams: Our Next Neighbor

Arielle:  It remains to be seen whether we choose to change course, but the opportunity is there. And yes, and we're co creating this reality together, right, which is what I think sort of I love about the ways in which spirituality and science fiction overlap.

Kevin: Right, yes.  You know quantum physics and all that.

Arielle: And I just, I love I believe that these conversations are important, but only as important as the actions that we take based on them, right. What is it Maya Angelou “when you know better you do better”? Yes. Yeah, so. Well, thank you Kevin. I also must tell you that my maiden’s name is Williams, some connection. And I also lived in New York for many years, so we may have had I lived in Brooklyn for a little while we may involve each other on the street also very likely.

Arielle: So, I really appreciate this conversation and you and I look forward to other people listening and learning from you and connecting with you and we'll, we'll put all your links in the, in the notes for this episode. Awesome, well thank you for having me. I'm very, very, very happy I get to be a part of it. Thank you and I look forward to your Encyclopedia of Black Superheroes. Take care.

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