Aaron Maybin is an athlete turned street artist that captures black life in a unique and creative way. On this segment, we talk to Aaron about his craft, his transition from the NFL, and the importance of street art. From July 24th to July 26th, over a thousand black activists convened at the 1st annual Movement for Black Lives conference in Cleveland, Ohio. What was discussed at this convening? Watch more on teleSUR


Story Transcript

BILL FLETCHER, HOST, THE GLOBAL AFRICAN: Today on The Global African we’ll talk to visual artist Aaron Maybin about his work. We’ll also talk about the Movement for Black Lives Convention that took place in Cleveland, Ohio, several weeks ago. That’s today on The Global African. Thanks for joining us. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And don’t go anywhere.

~~~

FLETCHER: One of the most interesting aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement is the way that art has integrated itself into the fight. Through mediums like music, comedy, and photography, the lives of black folks are humanized in a nation that often doesn’t recognize our humanity. Our next guest, Aaron Maybin, is an athlete turned street artist who captures black city life in a unique and creative way. On this segment we will talk to Aaron about his craft, his transition from professional football, and the importance of street art. Join us. We’re joined by Aaron Maybin, who is a former NFL and Canadian Football League player who is now known for his artwork. His original paintings, street art installations, photography, and performance events are featured across the United States. Welcome to The Global African. AARON MAYBIN: Thank you for having me. FLETCHER: Pleasure. So how did you make this jump from professional athlete to art? MAYBIN: The jump was more so in my profession than in my lifestyle, because, truthfully, I’d been an artist much longer than people have known me for being a professional football player. I think at the age of 11 years old I got commissioned for my first piece by the state of Maryland. I did a 40 × 50 foot mural on the wall of a Habitat for Humanity over on North Avenue and St. Paul. And I had several other major art accomplishments as a young kid. But it was one of my majors in college. And throughout my career, in the beginning I struggled a little bit, but kind of found my stride once I got to New York. And I’ve had a great run. But towards the end of my career I just really wasn’t happy. FLETCHER: Your career as an athlete. MAYBIN: Yeah, as a professional football player. I was going to work every day and I was unhappy about the circumstance and the situations that I found myself in. But I also found myself feeling a little bit empty because there was so much artistically that I wanted to do and pursue, but due to the fact that contractually I had certain obligations that prevented me from doing some things that I wanted to do, but also being focused on my profession. You know, I had to sign my name on several contracts to pledge my services to different franchises. And I definitely wanted to honor that. But having to put as much into your profession as I did as a professional athlete and go home every day not being able to take a certain amount of happiness and satisfaction out of that, it made me just evaluate how important it was for me to be able to tell people I was a professional athlete and for me to be known as a professional athlete when I knew that I really wanted to pursue a lot of my artistic and community-oriented endeavors and I wanted to be able to participate in a lot of the activism needed in my community. FLETCHER: Who were your role models as an artist? MAYBIN: Man. Artistically, I feel like any artist, whether visual, music, musical, or otherwise, we’re a melting pot of different characteristics of many different people. The same way I said I had mentors like Charles Bibbs, Larry Poncho Brown, guys like that, I’ve grown up understanding what goes into their creative process, seeing elements in their style that I liked or disliked. So different pieces of different people, you kind of take aspects of their creativity and make it your own. But I get inspired every day from different artists all over the place. I can get inspired from Michelangelo just as much as I get inspired from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s style, from Langston Hughes’s poetry, from the way Malcolm X was able to stand in front of a room and speak. There are so many different forms of inspiration. And I think that all of them are essential in an artist being able to tell their story aesthetically. FLETCHER: What–in a period of crisis as we are in now–and I don’t mean just crisis in one city or another, but just more generally this social and economic crisis–what do you see as the role of an artist if any? Does an artist have an obligation? MAYBIN: The artist has a role. And I think that I was just watching an interview a couple of days ago where that was the debate. What is the artist’s role in this? And this is visual or, like I said, musical or otherwise. I feel like every artist and every entertainer, everybody with a platform, no matter whether that platform is to five people or a hundred, a thousand, or a million, you have a social and a moral obligation to use that platform in some way, shape, or form for the betterment of your culture and your people. And for me personally, I can’t be anybody’s judge and jury and say, you should do this, you should do that. But I feel as though what are we here for if not to change people’s ways of thinking and to challenge certain ideologies? Art is one of the few forms that allows you to make somebody feel something. You know what a mean? I could not speak one word to you, but I could pour my heart and soul out onto a canvas or see something in the imagery–I mean in an interaction with somebody and capture that moment in a picture that can physically and emotionally change your state of being. We have an obligation to use that for the betterment of our culture. FLETCHER: How do you grapple with the challenge of survival as an artist? I mean, there’s a lot of starving artists. And I mean that broadly, not just painters. We’re a country that I have generally felt to be fairly intolerant of artists. Only if you’re at the very, very top. And people have to fight to keep going. How does one sustain themself? MAYBIN: So I think the important thing now, and this is one of the things that I want to kind of prove with my life as an example, is if you’re dedicated enough to something, no matter how far-fetched the idea, you can make that reality real for yourself if you put that work in. And I think that that’s something that far too many times we don’t believe in our own passion and desire. If I believe wholeheartedly and unequivocally that I have–not only do I have a voice, but I have a message to get out to the world, I can find a way to feed myself off of that talent and that message. FLETCHER: I don’t have enough time to go into some more things, but I want to push back on this last one. And I hope that we can continue this dialog, because I hear what you’re saying, but I also remember the artists who were destroyed during the McCarthy era–writers, painters, poets, some people driven into exile because they took a political stand. They weren’t being destroyed because of their art; they were being destroyed because of the stand that they took. And so in that sense I want to wrap this together with the earlier point that you were raising. When artists take a stand and say that they’re going–that their art is going to have social content, it’s risky. MAYBIN: That’s a great question. And, truthfully, you’re exactly right. That is a dangerous–I think I said it earlier–that’s a dangerous thing, for an artist to be socially conscious on top of the talent. And that’s something that I’ve kind of had to realize in my life, that there are certain projects that I kind of got to pull the reins back and temper myself during these projects. And I can’t put all of what I would put into it if it was mine, if it was a commissioned project for a larger company and all that kind of stuff. And those are the kind of things that an artist has to do to survive. FLETCHER: That’s right. MAYBIN: And for me, I draw the line when it comes to me doing something that is potentially going to be to the detriment of the mentality of our people, ’cause, truthfully, a lot of people are going to see the work, but I don’t do it for everybody. You know what I mean? I want specifically my work to have an imprint on our people’s history. And then when you look at it, a lot of artists that have done work like that have been marginalized, some of my favorite artists. And this is not to say that he’s not a famous artist in his own right, but I feel like an artist like Kevin A. Williams should be talked about just as much as Basquiat. You know, I feel like Larry Poncho Brown and Charles Bibbs should be. You know, I feel like a lot of artists who I’ve been big fans of have been marginalized. But part of that systemic issue comes from our fear of the truth. You know what I mean? Because honorable minister Louis Farrakhan said something pretty profound. He said, how much longer are we going to wait around asking the powers that be for jobs instead of creating them ourselves, instead of supporting our own, instead of recycling our dollars in our own communities more? And that’s part of what it’s going to take for us to really see people with a voice continue to thrive in their careers, because the fact of the matter is they marginalize the ones they don’t want us listening to, because the ones they want us listening to are the reason why our people have fallen into the state that we’re in right now. We’ve opted for gangster rap over rap of consciousness. We’ve opted for sex and alcohol to sell over education and morality. You know, we’ve opted for these things. And I feel as though the more people that we can start to touch, the more people that we can start to bring back into the fold of not any kind of outrageous black nationalism movement or something like that, but just a consciousness of you are not what we have been professing ourselves to be. You know what I mean? You were born, you were born descendents of royalty. And now I’m not one of those artists that professes that each and every black man and woman walking the streets of America is descended from a king and queen. I know that there were slaves in Africa back in the days too. But here’s what we don’t I give ourselves enough credit for. When I call another black man king, another black man God, it’s because I know for a fact that even if you’re not descended from a king or queen, during the slave trade, when they took us, erased our history, and relocated us over here to America, only the strongest, biggest, intelligent–social Darwinism dictates this, and the fact that many of us were dumped overseas as cargo, you know, only the strongest ones, only the best ones, only the most intelligent ones even made it here. And then, on top of that, we had years, we had years of us being bred to be the biggest, to be the strongest, to be the–. So, yeah, I’m not saying that we’re all descendents from royalty, but I’m saying the fact that you are still here is a testament to your lineage and where we come from. And I think that the more that we identify and tie back in with that, the more we will be able to pick ourselves out of this issue, I mean, out of the issues that are facing us today. FLETCHER: Thank you very much for joining us on The Global African. MAYBIN: Appreciate you again for having me on. FLETCHER: Alright. And thank you for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll be back in a moment.

~~~

FLETCHER: From July 24 to July 26, over 1,000 black activists convened at the first annual Movement for Black Lives Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. Just in the last year, there has been a wave of activism surrounding the issue of police brutality and white supremacy in the United States as protests from Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore, Maryland, has sparked nationwide calls for change. The Movement for Black Lives Convention sought to harness that energy by engaging activists from all over the country to discuss ways to deal with inequities in housing, the criminal justice system, education, and income distribution. So how did the conference go? And what were the strategic aims of the assembly in Cleveland? That is what we will explore in this segment. For this segment, we’re joined by Charlene Carruthers and Maurice Mitchell. Charlene is a organizer and writer with over ten years of experience in racial justice, feminist, and youth leadership development movement work. She currently serves as the national director of Black Youth Project 100, which is an activist, member-led organization of black 18- to 35-year-olds dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all black people. Also joining us is Maurice Mitchell, who is a Cleveland-based activist and conference organizer for Black Lives Matter. And I want to welcome both of you to The Global African. CHARLENE CARRUTHERS: Thanks for having us. FLETCHER: My pleasure. I want to look at the conference that just recently took place, the Movement for Black Lives, and just start with your overall assessment of how it worked, how–the pluses and minuses, what worked, what didn’t, and where do things go. That’s what we want to get to. MAURICE MITCHELL: The conference, we wanted to create a space where we could have a conversation, a shared conversation from black folks all across the country who are interested in the idea of liberating ourselves, right? And we wanted to expand the frame, not just talk about police violence, but talk about the spectrum of violence that affects black folks in our communities. And we also wanted to expand the frame further to connect this particular wave of resistance to waves of resistance from generations before us. And so that’s what this, that’s what the convening was about. And it was also about us just expressing black love of one another and coming together and healing, and a lot of that happened during the weekend. FLETCHER: What were the areas of debate? CARRUTHERS: I think whenever you gather a large group of black folks in the room, you’re going to have a number of areas of debate. And what I believe happened at the Movement for Black Lives convening was a healthy, a very, very healthy amount of debate, of conversation, people working through tensions, be it political, emotional, and even some spiritual tension that folks face in this work on a day-to-day basis. And so I remember at one of the sessions that I was able to be a part of that focused on black women leadership using a black core feminist lens, I was nervous when we first entered the room to talk about what it means to organize for black liberation around a lens that is definitely built on the knowledge of the women from the Combahee River Collective, from folks like Kimberlé Crenshaw, Audre Lorde, and how we as an organization are working to make sure that that manifests. And we have folks from so many generations from across the movement in the room. FLETCHER: One of the issues that’s come up in various settings over the last year is sort of how one defines liberation, the objective of liberation. And there seems to be the gamut between those who ultimately see a solution rooted in some form of socialism, some that are talking more about sort of black capitalist institution building within the context of the United States. Was there further exploration of these issues in the conference? MITCHELL: Well, yeah, and the conference not only was a space for coming together and building; you also had more than 100 workshops. And so participants brought their full selves into the conference. And those types of conversations and dialogs happened. So one of the things that I’m really proud of is that the conference posed questions. And we posed these exact questions you’re talking about, like what exactly we fundamentally want, what is our vision, and how do we get there, without attempting to answer it. And what we’re attempting to do is to begin the conversation around alignment. But we weren’t attempting in three days to begin and end the conversation around that and to begin and end the conversation or settle a conversation around the very definition of liberation or whether or not your strategies are anticapitalist or you’re attempting to develop some sort of black capitalist strategy, right? It was more, I think, recognizing the diversity of opinion and beginning to engage in that debate. I think it was the first time for many of us to be in the same space, to actually have that conversation. So the conversation is beginning. And I think many of those streams of thought were present at the convening. FLETCHER: How would you identify or define the ultimate unity that you came to? And is an ongoing organization the result of this conference? CARRUTHERS: I believe that the Movement for Black Lives convening was a space for people, for many people for the first time, for us to think collectively. And so we–oftentimes we think about these things regionally or across organizational affiliations, or we think about them on the streets when the National Guard is occupying one of our cities or when we have to respond after one of our people have actually been at the heel of violence from the police state. And so one is to actually–the Movement for Black Lives is actually a space, a constructive space for people to have those conversations together in recognition that we generally don’t have those kinds–we don’t have that space. For example, the opening ceremony, the woman who opened up the space, her name is Elle Hearns, and she is a longtime activist for within and outside of the black trans community. And I have never been to a conference that was about black people that, or any people, actually, that was opened up by a black trans woman. FLETCHER: At the end of the conference, there was a reported incident with the police. And I was curious if you could say a little bit about precisely what happened and how the conference attendees responded. MITCHELL: So there was a teenager at a bus shelter who was detained by the police, right, and held by the police and harassed by the police. And it was at the same time that the conference was let out, so a number of our participants were there. And folks rallied around the teenager and held an action, an impromptu action, and forcing the police to let the young person go to the custody of his mother, right? So it was an impromptu action that was spurred by the actions of the police. CARRUTHERS: Yeah. I was on a plane. I was on a plane. I had a call from one of our members, and, like, I can’t talk right now, can you text me, and she said the police are pepper spraying. And this was actually very near the dorm where a number of the conference participants were staying. And so to my knowledge there were at minimum 12 people who were pepper sprayed by a police officer, who has recently been identified, and he was–I’m not sure if he’s currently suspended, but was suspended from his job. And he’s not a Cleveland police department officer. He’s an RTA for the public transit in Cleveland. And so just maybe a couple of hours ago, I was chatting with one of our folks who was directly impacted by the police officer’s actions prior to the blockade that was formed by people to basically say, you’ve got to let this young boy go. And she’s traumatized from the experience. And I think it’s reflective of so many–of the black experience in this country, right? MITCHELL: And the only thing I would add is that many people often question the value of direct action. Like, why are you all out in the streets? Why are you all out yelling? What’s the point? I mean, this was a demonstration of the value of direct action, going directly to the point of where the violence is actually occurring and interrupting it. And when we work collectively, we could actually shift things. CARRUTHERS: Right. FLETCHER: Charlene Carruthers and Maurice Mitchell, I want to both thank you for joining us on The Global African, but I also want to congratulate you on your conference. MITCHELL: Thank you. CARRUTHERS: Thank you. FLETCHER: Aright. Take care, then. Thank you very much for joining us for this episode of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll see you next time. So come back.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.