While the announcements for guest speaker Kevin Powell emphasized his role on MTV’s “The Real World,” his discussion with students last Wednesday had more to do with the real world than any reality show ever has.
Powell was born and raised in poverty in Jersey City, N.J. Thanks to good grades and hard work, he earned a full ride to Rutgers University. It was here that he changed his focus in life: A self-proclaimed track dork in high school, Powell became interested in student government and other similar organizations in college, interests which have proven to be stepping-stones for his current political activism.
Last year, Caroline Fulford ’13, part of AMP’s Contemporary and Cultural Issues committee, was shelving books in Earl Gregg Swem Library when she came across Powell’s book, “The Black Male Handbook.” The name caught her attention immediately, and after reading the book, she learned that Powell was not only an author, but an activist helping people all across the world. She immediately set to work to get in touch with Powell to have him visit the College this semester.
“We wanted to move away from commentators,” Fulford said. “We needed people who were really doing something.”
And Powell is doing something. In 2008 and 2010, he ran as a Democratic candidate for Congress in Brooklyn. He fights for equality on a daily basis, for everything from gender rights to equal rights for African Americans. He hopped on a plane as soon as he caught wind of Hurricane Katrina to help with relief efforts. When Haiti was devastated by the earthquake last year, Powell was involved in helping ship thousands of pounds of supplies to aid the survivors.
“I looked him up on Facebook beforehand, and what stood out to me was that he was a male that wanted to discuss anti-sexism and racism,” Alyssa Beda ’13 said. “I decided I would really like to hear what he has to say.”
The focus of his speech at the College of William and Mary, however, involved the steps one needs to take in order to become a leader. The first thing he had students do was picture their first leader, and like many in the crowd, Powell used his mother as his example. He credits his mother, who constantly pushed him to go to college, with much of his success.
“If you’re going to achieve anything, then college and education has to be a part of that,” Powell said.
He encouraged students to have some sort of spiritual foundation, whether it be a religious foundation or one rooted purely in humanity. He also pushed students to constantly develop themselves politically and to cross cultural boundaries. His last piece of advice were specifically directed at college students: To be a leader later in life, you have to take care of yourself now — financially, physically and most importantly, mentally.
“He was incredibly inspiring,” said Maggie Kern ’13. “Because you can’t do everything, sometimes it feels like you can’t do anything. Our country is in ruins in every way, and I get depressed with it.”
But Powell reminded her that “change starts with yourself.”
Powell’s main message, though, wasn’t about politics or government. He spent a good portion of the question-and-answer session trying to convince an ‘aspiring’ author to publish her work and follow her dreams. He believes in humanity and wants to encourage students of this generation to follow through with whatever it is they are passionate about, no matter what. His main belief is that change isn’t going to come from celebrities or politicians, but instead will come from us.