At the 2017 People’s Summit, Kendrick Sampson talks about the history of American cultural activism from Muhammad Ali to Colin Kaepernick
Speaker 1: Let’s get down to the real business of taking care of the people.
Intro Song: We cannot have a testimony without a test, and we are being tested. Whether we have courage enough, conviction enough, people power enough. To stand up and do what’s right for ourselves, and generations yet unborn.
Nina Turner: And if I might, for a moment, stay in the synergy of the civil rights movement, just for a moment. And I thought about that march from Selma to Montgomery. Over 8,000 people marching, and Dr. Martin Luther King gave an address right after that march as he was reflecting on all of the victories that the people had had. Even though the establishment of that time told them that it would not work and that over their dead bodies would people rise up to fight for racial justice and equality in these United States of America. He paused for a moment, to reflect on a 70-year-old woman who was from Selma, Alabama. And at the time of the Montgomery bus boycott, the 70-year-old woman, whose name is Miss Pollard, was asked a question about whether or not she wanted a ride. They were marching, they had boycotted the bus industry, as you all know. The transportation industry that refused to treat African-Americans as equals, even though, they took 100% of their money, but they treated them like 25% of a human being.
But in Dr. King’s reflection, when mother Pollard was asked, whether or not she was tired, and whether or not she needed a ride, she said these following words. She said: “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”
Nina Turner: Kendrick, welcome to the Nina Turner Show on the Real News.
Kendrick: I’m so happy to be here. Anything for you.
Nina Turner: Thank you, I really appreciate that. So listen, we are in Chi-town, we’re in Chicago.
Nina Turner: At the People’s Summit. Why are you here this year?
Kendrick: I’m here to support, I was here last year, and I’m here to support these progressive ideals and people, activists, from all over the nation. Just here to figure out how to move forward and to brainstorm and listen to each other and learn from each other.
Nina Turner: What’s different this year from last year?
Kendrick: Well, last year we were just … It was just after the primaries and … There’s a lot that’s different. I don’t know if I can put my finger on it, but I think there’s a bit of hope now, we’re coming off of the win, in the UK that we were talking about. Yeah, and I think there are a lot of great things, there are a lot of great things bubbling up all over …
Nina Turner: You gave a monologue last night.
Kendrick: I am convinced, that if we were to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society, to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism, are incapable of being conquered. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
Kendrick: Well, when we did that last year, it opened me up. It opened up a new perspective of how people have been fighting for some of these same issues, these same platforms that we think are new, or I thought were new ideas. I was ignorant of like, how long, generations and generations of people have been fighting for these things like universal health care and equal rights for women and people of color, and it inspires me, when I’m like, look, I’m tired. Like they’ve been fighting for this …
Nina Turner: A long time.
Kendrick: [crosstalk 00:05:25] You know, I can’t say that I’m tired yet. You know what I mean, I’ve got a long way to go. But it gives me that encouragement to see the progress, some of the progress that we’ve made and also that people have been fighting for it for so long and that we share that same mind space with some of these great people like Helen Keller, and Frederick Douglas, you know what I mean?
Nina Turner: It gives us perspective.
Kendrick: Yeah, absolutely.
Nina Turner: You did a great job, everybody really loved that. And I think for a lot of people, I was reading the audience, and they had a lot of Ah-ha moments, when you were reading that, you know. And I think we’re in an Ah-ha moment, as a country and as a world. What are … And you’ve traveled all over the country, I mean, you were a surrogate for Senator Bernie Sanders, you have continuously been engaged, you are what our friend Rosario would call an actor-vist, an actor and activist at the same time. And you all represent Susan Sarandon, Francis Fisher, Danny Glover, I mean we can name a lot. But you all represent this kind of bubbling I think, within the Hollywood community of people who are on the ground with the grass-roots. Share with our viewers what that is like, and why do you choose to use your cache in this way, because you don’t have to.
Kendrick: So, I honestly feel, I have a very spiritual background and I feel that God put me on this earth to stand up for those people whose voices are marginalized, for those people who do not have the privilege that I have. That may not have the male privilege that I have, or the financial privilege that I have. Whatever platform I have, I believe that I’ve been put on this earth to use to stand up for my brothers and sisters that need, you know, that need my voice, or that need my amplification. So all of these activists and organizers that are doing work, and doing, you know, some of the amazing work that you’ve done, all over the United States, need that amplification, so if I can use my platform or my friends platforms in any way, then I will. And hopefully get involved in some of the organizing myself, as much as I can.
Nina Turner: Well you’re very active on social media.
Kendrick: Yeah. And, you know, we were talking about, even more important than the social media, is us going and doing the work that nobody sees. You know, not just the work that, you know, we were talking about. Should I go there? I should go there. We were talking about a lot of the work that white people do, in front of people of color. So a lot of the time we will see white people say “Okay, I wanna get involved, how do I get involved?” And have the conversation with people of color, but then when they get back to their white friends, that conversation dies. And the work dies.
Nina Turner: Remember Malcolm X, that was one of his things to say to the white sisters and brothers, the best way you can help deal with racism in this country and build relations and bridges, and I’m paraphrasing him, is to go back into your community and be that beacon.
Nina Turner: And be that truth teller.
Nina Turner: And be that bridge builder.
Nina Turner: Like build the bridge this way.
Kendrick: Right, right. Because there’s such a burden on people of color to teach white people about racism, which is, ironic. The burden should be taken by white people on teaching, and sitting down with people of color, of course, and learning about their experiences and learning what they need, and then taking that information and going back and teaching their friends and family. Having those hard conversations in private spaces with their white brothers and sisters.
Nina Turner: That makes a difference. So speaking …
Kendrick: And becoming a real ally.
Nina Turner: And we need that, we need allies all across the board. But speaking of racism, Colin Kaepernick …
Nina Turner: The football player that really, re-energized, I think, athletes, in terms of them being activists too. People like Muhammad Ali comes first and foremost to my mind. And Jackie Robinson, and Arthur Ashe, who we don’t really talk about a lot. But moving back to the greatest, I mean, he really lost his belt, he lost his title, in the prime of his life. Fighting for a cause that was bigger than him, when it came to the Vietnam war, I mean he laid it on the line. And here we have Colin really kind of walking in those same footsteps in the 21st century, who said I am not going to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I am not going to rise for this as long as black bodies are not respected. What is some of your take on that?
Kendrick: It was super eye-opening to me, you know, and I’m so proud that he’ll be remembered more for what he did for people of color, and standing up for that cause, than even his career that he’s passionate about, you know. And facing all the ridicule and the persecution and the hate, the vitriol that he did, and still pushing forward. I have so much respect for him for doing that, and I just had this eye-opening moment. It didn’t take much but it just, you know, him saying that he’s not gonna stand for that, that he’s gonna take a knee, I was like oh right, because Francis Scott Key did not write that with people of color in mind. He actually had a very negative view of slaves. And that second stanza that was taken out, that had derogatory lyrics and very hateful lyrics toward slaves is a microcosmic example of what America does to the history of people of color
Nina Turner: [crosstalk 00:11:31] They want to sanitize their side of the story.
Kendrick: They wanna sanitize it, they wanna say that this is the foundation but there was a little hiccup and so we’ll just pick that off and throw it away.
Nina Turner: Nobody ever know …
Kendrick: No, we don’t have to know about that second stanza. But that second stanza is part of the foundation of that pledge …
Nina Turner: Of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Kendrick: “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And why should we stand … You know what I mean, for something that was not written for us, and it was not meant for us, we can’t do that, like I said, it’s a microcosmic example of what we need to do right now, which is shake up the foundation, not just pick off the aesthetic, the pieces that [crosstalk 00:12:19] don’t look pretty. Because some of the pieces that look really pretty, are the pieces that are most hurtful. We like to throw out “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that, again, was not written to include people of color or slaves.
Nina Turner: But I wanna encourage our viewers to really go and research the song, because Francis Scott Key never intended for black folks, or any other person of color, to sing that song.
Kendrick: Right, and I won’t.
Nina Turner: And to sing that song.
Kendrick: Because of Colin Kaepernick. Because he set that example.
Nina Turner: #woke. [crosstalk 00:12:59] All the way woke.
Kendrick: #woke AF
Nina Turner: Right. I get that.
Kendrick: And he’s followed it up, with donations, with huge sacrifices, and investments in communities and as we were talking about earlier, activists and people in the community that are doing the real work.
Nina Turner: And speaking of that, Kendrick, what would you say, I mean, we were having some heavy moments in our country, I would like to say that these heavy moments have always been there, but were at a particular synergy or point in time in our nation’s history or in the world’s history where the ripeness of the moment forces us to see. Not to put the blinders on. What would you say to people, if you had to give them three things, what would you say to them to remind them that they still can, in the words of Gandhi, “Be the change”.
Kendrick: Be the change …
Nina Turner: Yeah, and even if it’s not in three, maybe you don’t frame it the way I did, but people are looking for … I mean, that’s why we’re at the people’s summit, this is a family reunion of conscious minded people, but we’re not just here to say “Hey, I haven’t seen you since last year”. We’re also here to plan, and use that plan, to make a difference. So what would you say to people who are not here at the people’s summit, who maybe feeling as though, they can’t be the change?
Kendrick: See, yeah, I mean. Mahatma Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King was, I think like 25 when he started. I mean like, Muhammad Ali, all these people we recognized their greatness later, but they were ordinary people. And they also didn’t do it by themselves. We have been making progress, progress is not always pleasant. Often times it’s not, neither is growth, even in working out …
Nina Turner: Growing pain.
Kendrick: Growing is painful. Right, growing pains. And, just a year ago white privilege was a myth, we talked about it in private circles, but even I honestly believe, just a year ago, you say that on national TV and people think you’re talking about racism. And people are like, that’s not a real thing, it’s not blah blah blah blah blah. But we can talk about it in public spaces and things, so we are making progress and I think that people need to know. What me, Shailene, and Rosario and Nomiki, getting in that van and places that we were together, we met like, more than anything on that campaign, we met ordinary people, that had seemingly no platform, do more of a service to their community and the wider community than we could with our platforms. You know, just going and knocking on doors, going and lobbying, going and being consistent and standing up for their brothers and sisters …
Nina Turner: Being engaged.
Kendrick: And being engaged and not being afraid to have the … Actually I can’t even say not being afraid, because the fear is there, and it wouldn’t be as important if there was no fear involved.
Nina Turner: But they fought past that fear.
Kendrick: They fought past that fear, that fear is there. It is a, I don’t want to invalidate anybody’s fears, Martin Luther King had fear, Muhammad Ali feared for his life, Malcolm X feared for his life. These were not fearless people, these were people who took that fear and looked beyond their own personal …
Nina Turner: Comfort, convenience, and they sacrificed
Kendrick: Yeah, absolutely. They sacrificed.
Nina Turner: So our message can be for The Real News viewers, not just The Real News viewers, but just people all over, to fight past that fear.
Kendrick: Fight past that fear, have those uncomfortable conversations and move forward in love. Selfless love. Making sure that you’re keeping in mind that we are here on this earth to be our brothers and sisters keeper.
Nina Turner: Amen to that Kendrick! That is a great way to end our show. We’re gonna have to do this again. I am Nina Turner on The Real News Network, thank you so much for tuning in, and I’m so happy that Kendrick came by to join us today.
Nina Turner: You know, resistance is really good, but we have to take that resistance to action. Because anybody can put the problems out. Anybody can talk about the challenges, but takes a little more to go deeper, and be able to talk about the collective solutions, the things that will move us to action. So that we really get to see and feel the change that is needed to advance our cities, our states and this nation. If you believe in the mission, subscribe. If you believe in the cause, donate. If you believe in the change that we are pushing here at The Real News Network, we need you to watch and to share the Nina Turner show.
Outro: [crowd chanting “Nina Turner”]
Editor’s note: a previous version of this episode implied that Kendrick Sampson’s monologue was written by Howard Zinn. The monologue is an excerpt of Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, which was included in The People Speak: American Voices, Some Famous, Some Little Known, a 2004 book commemorating the millionth copy of A People’s History of the United States sold.