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John Legend's Commencement Address at UPenn

I generally disdain the Cult of the Celebrity. It frustrates me when the unqualified, unverified, and unquestioned present weak arguments and empty claims that are accepted as facts given from experts. While I also reject the Cult of Expertise, I’d take that one over celebrity.

The Cult of Celebrity & the Cult of Expertise often cross paths during this time of year: graduation time. Colleges across the country are hosting commencement celebrations and inviting speakers of all types to inspire students to go off and change the world. President Obama. First Lady Michelle Obama. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Newark, NJ Mayor Corey Booker. John Legend.

John Legend? Yeah, that John Legend.

He addressed the graduating class of UPenn on Monday, the school he graduated from 10 years ago. At first, I saw this as a classic case of the Cult of the Celebrity:

  1. Why exactly is this guy giving this address.
  2. Is he really that interesting/compelling/appropriate?
  3. I bet I’d give a better speech than him

While I will definitely not concede the third point, I was pleasantly surprised with the address he delivered. So much so in fact, that I’d like to share it with all of you.

My key takeaway from the speech was:

Now, I don’t assume that the truth is commonly found. Like its bedfellows of democracy and justice, I believe it is quite rare to find. It is born through process. It is gained through questioning. It is found in listening. It’s about accepting that complex problems require complicated solutions.

Enjoy this, and share it.

One Love. One II.

P.S. Now, back to my hating on the Cult of the Celebrity.

Domestic Tool of Torture: The Taser

This post is part of: A day of blogging for justice: Standing up against the police pre-trial electrocution of black children, women and men by taser.

Tasers are instruments of torture.

Tasers are instruments of torture.

Torture talk has been all over the news recently. The unfortunate [yet understandable] focus of the conversation is on torture in a military & international context.

This causes us to overlook the torture and murder of citizens here at home, victims of racial profiling, police brutality, and excessive use of lethal force by law enforcement.

This issue is not new, but the instruments of this type of torture are ever-evolving. While military torture involves tools like the waterboard, our domestic version uses the taser. 

Torture mentality has perverted our entire system

What happens at the top always impacts the bottom. Lawless leadership leads to lawless practices on the ground. When the Bush Administration OK’d torture, low-level interrogators became torturers. On the local level, when police chiefs embrace tasers as “non-lethal” alternatives to guns, people get killed unnecessarily.

Leadership complicit in torture and murder must be held accountable at all levels.Further, we need to preemptively demand that our leaders craft policies that prevent death, not enable it.

Our wars here at home on petty criminals and the disenfranchised should not be ones that result in capital murder.

What you can do

Contact your local police chief and ask whether officers are carrying tasers. Look up their contact information by searching for their zip code on USACOPS. If they’re using tasers not, thank him or her. If they are carrying, do the following:

  • Sign this petition calling on the Congressional Black Caucus to investigate this phenomenon.
  • Ask: Is the entire force armed with tasers?
    If not, which units have them?
  • Ask: Do officers carry both tasers and guns?
    Ask what the motivation is for this policy.
  • Ask: What’s the usage protocol for tasers?
    This will answer the question “when should tasers be used in place of guns?”
  • Suggest: Stop carrying tasers
    Direct them to our site documenting taser abuses in the US. Let them know that you’ll feel safer if police enagaged in non-lethal ways whenever possible. You know that the officers are well-trained and highly professional, and you just want them to do the best they can without taking lives.

Simply asking these questions will cause leadership to reflect on their policy. Reflection is the first step to change.

Let’s prevent this from spreading further.

One Love. One II.

Photo Credit: strangedays on Flickr

"It's not about race…"

In the car today, I had my attention split between driving, talking on the phone and listening to the BBC World Edition on NPR. On the show, they were discussing that how Britains (I could be wrong) have a more difficult time accepting immigrants into their culture because at least as far as recent history is concerned, Britain is a self-contained country by which those who live their have a distinct view of what being Britain truly entails. This state of affairs was contrasted with America where everyone, minus Native Americans are immigrants, can legitimately claim and believe to be truly American.

The part that jarred me is when an interviewer asks a Britain why its more difficult for Britains to accept immigrants (I should note that there appeard to be a tacit understanding that they were really talking about people of color) and a woman responded dryly, “It’s not about race, it’s about space.” For years now, I have considered how conflicts over land and resources become painted in race/culture specifiic terms in order for the powers that be to misdirect their true intentions. But I think the woman’s response more accurately depicts my thoughts and here is why.

Taken literally and figuratively, what keeps racism thriving is a perpetual denial of accepting “others” into your space. Literally, this “space” can be interpreted by where you live, where your kids go to school, where you hang out, etc. No less important is the figurative sense which can be interpreted via who you do/don’t allow to have access to your emotional space. There are a range of things people do with this void. Some fill this void with stereotypes that can serve as barriers to the type of humanity that God envisioned; Love your brother as yourself. Others are aware of their void and take steps to fill it with love and understanding. In the end, I suppose the takeaway from this post is that you should be mindful of how you filter who gets in your space and the morals and values that under gird these filters. It is impossible to allow poor morals to inform who gets into your space and not think these same values are expressed when you try to enter into another person’s space.

Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.

Asia McGowan, a terrible and unfortunate loss

Asia McGowan, a beautiful, talented, and warm-hearted twenty year-old woman was murdered by a deranged lunatic that murdered her at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit. Anthony Powell, 28 shot Asia, 20 at point blank range and after doing so, committed suicide….like a punk. But Brandon, you don’t understand what he was going through. He killed an innocent woman!!! Apparently, Powell posted some crazy youtube videos where he scorned Black women, discussed suicide, and decried atheists. No one quite knows for sure yet, but according to some youtube comments, (and I wouldn’t be surprised) Powell had a crush on Asia and left scathing comments on her videos.

In her last video, Asia addressed people leaving hateful comments on her videos, which were all innocent, funny, and not worth any hate, whatsoever.

So to everybody, and especially my nieces and nephews, be careful with whom you friend and converse with online. No one needs to know where you are at every second of the day. No one needs to see you do the latest dance, however innocent it may be. I know free speech is important but it is too easy with advances in technology to track and possibly do harm to someone. Just think about twitter, “I am at the coffee shop,” or “I am in history 101.” Please be careful and be wary of people who spew hate at you. Asia, was terribly young and had a bright future ahead of her so I ask you Lord, please provide solace and peace for Asia’s family and friends in their time of loss. Don’t let the day end without a warm heart and clear conscience.

Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.

The Ruins of Detroit?

Is this photo eulogy of my home city of Detroit by two French photographers deeply depressing or a vision of opportunity?

Detroit’s Beautiful, Horrible Decline

Downtown Detroit

Downtown Detroit

Brush Park

Brush Park

Lee Plaza Hotel

Lee Plaza Hotel

Farwell Building

Farwell Building

One Love. One II.

The Logic of Life: Racial segregation

Take a look at this 2 minute video explanation of Thomas Schelling’s Models of Segregation. The model demonstrates that even a mild preference for the colour of your neighbour can lead to extreme segregation.


The moral of the story:

Although we as individuals may be rational and we may be tolerant, the society that we produce together may be neither rational nor tolerant.

Think about this the next time someone tells you that because Barack Obama’s the President, we live in a post-racial society.

One Love. One II.

Big Opportunities, Big Change

Congratulations to President-Elect Barack Obama!

Barack Obama warned us that some would try to make this big election be about small things. My warning is that we don’t let this big opportunity only lead to small change.

Big Opportunity

More than 137 million voters cast ballots this election, up 14% from 2004. 63.7 million (56%) of those people voted for Barack Obama, giving him more votes than any candidate in the history of US Presidential Election history. That is what you call a mandate.

Being the candidate with more supporters than any other President has ever had, Obama has been given a chance to serve more people than anyone could imagine. He can impact the finances of millions of people. He can improve the health of hundreds of millions of people. He can increase the moral standing of a nation in the eyes of billions of people. What a great opportunity to carry out public service and set the tone for the spirit of shared service & shared sacrifice that he so eloquently espouses.

Big Change

To whom much is given, much is required. (Luke 12:48)

The level of support and passion surrounding Barack Obama says more about the people supporting him than about Obama himself. It says that Obama is an inspirational figure, but that was evident before he started running for President. More importantly, it says that people are hungry. Hungry for change. Hungry for a new approach. Hungry for something to do. This is why Obama always talks about this election not being about him, but instead being about us.

With everybody so hungry, the onus is on the Obama team to give us something to eat. I don’t want a snack. I want a full, seven course meal. Legions of people do not organize for incremental change. Armies form to march forth into bold victory.

Now is our chance to make real, fundamental change in very progressive ways. This change will not happen because Barack Obama is a progressive. It can & will happen if we push our government, our newly-elected President, and, most importantly, ourselves to work towards the new kind of politics that Barack Obama helped us to believe was possible.

Let’s be bold. Let’s ask for a lot out of this administration. Let’s make Barack Obama a successful President by ensuring that he keeps his promise to start making big changes to the way America works. We helped him make history on November 4th. Let’s keep making history for the next 4 years.

One Love. One II.

P.S. Homework assignment: Everyone under 30 should talk to someone over 60 about what this election means to them.

We Need Workers, Not Volunteers

20 Dollar Bill - Source: Darren Hester (

I’m just as excited as the next activist to see so many people engaging in the electoral process this year. People are phone-banking, canvasing, knocking on doors, calling their congress members, etc. All of this volunteerism is beautiful, an expression what passionate political participation by an informed and interested citizenry should look like in a democracy.

What’s not to like?

Well, there is actually one big thing not to like: Very, very little of this is sustainable. That’s right. 95% of this enthusiasm and participation will likely die the day after election day, with the other 5% dying the day after inauguration day.

Why is this not sustainable?

One word: money. Read More…

To Attack Community Organizers is to Attack Black Political Thought

I am a Community Organizer

This piece is part of Day of Blogging for Community Organizing Justice: “I Am a Community Organizer”.

Republicans don’t like Community Organizers. Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin ridiculed them specifically in their speeches last Wednesday at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, MN. This modern crop of Republicans has demonstrated how much they hate grassroots organizing in many ways with their hatred or unionization, their damnation of dissenters inside and outside of the government, and their willingness to ignore the rights, thoughts, and actions of the people of foreign nations that they decide to invade destroy occupy “help”.

While these positions on their own are outrageous and not in line with the ideals of the America that Republicans claim to love so much, it is consistent with another thread of modern-day Republican rhetoric and practice: racism.

For every generation leading up to [and including] the current one, the only foray for Black people to better their lives collectively has been through community organizing. When I say community organizing, I don’t just mean the highly visible ones like Malcolm & Martin, I mean the invisible ones that most of us will never hear or speak of that sacrifice their time, treasure, and talents so that people’s day-to-day lives are better and that their voices are heard. This is the path that nearly all Black politicians have taken to attain the capital needed to even run for office, let alone win. For one to minimize the work of organizers is to minimize the thoughts, actions, and efforts of all minorities and underrepresented groups who wish to uplift themselves individually and as a whole.

Read More…

Vote for the Social Media for Social Change Panel

As you may remember, I have been writing for a couple of months now at a site called Social Media for Social Change. The creator of that site, Michelle Riggen-Ransom, is moderating a panel at the upcoming 2009 SXSW Interactive conference called Social Media for Social Change, and, if accepted, I will be a panelist.

Here is a description of the panel:

Exploring ways non-profits and businesses are using social media to drive social change. From forums sharing life-changing information to online communities loaning money to entrepreneurs in Africa: social media tools and applications are powerful and growing. Find out what folks just like you are doing to change the world.

I’ll be talking about the online activism work that myself and others have been doing, specifically how The SuperSpade and other members of blacknetaction are impacting the offline world through our online efforts.

Here’s the comment I left on the panel description page:

This is an important topic, as technology is moving beyond the realm of mere entertainment and utility. Realizing that we can use the social media tools we love and create to not only make money but to make life better in a truly holistic sense is the key to the growth and sustainability of our industry.

What I Need You to Do: VOTE!!!

In order to make the panel happen and have the dialogue occur on a large, public platform, we need you to go vote for it. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Go to the Social Media for Social Change Panel Description page
  2. Where it says Your Vote, click 5 stars, which means that you find this panel “Amazing – This justifies a trip to SXSW.

Please vote before voting closes on August 29th. Vote early and vote often! If you’re feeling extra generous, sign up and leave a comment with your thoughts on the topic. Then, take a look at some of the other extremely interesting panels.

Thansk in advance!

One Love. One II.


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