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Kevin Powell Offers Advice on Developing New Leaders for New Centuries

February 5, 2008

kevinpowellAuthor and hip-hop historian Kevin Powell was the featured speaker for Mount Union College’s Black History Month as he addressed Mount Union faculty and staff, students and Alliance community members on Tuesday, February 5 in the Dewald Chapel.

One of the leading voices of his generation, Powell is a writer, community activist, hip-hop historian, public speaker and entrepreneur. Residing in Brooklyn, New York, he is also a Congressional candidate for his region. Educated at Rutgers University, he has published seven books, including “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” and will be releasing his childhood memoir in 2010. He is also passionate about relief work in New Orleans, and has taken college students to the area to provide aid after Hurricane Katrina.

In appropriate connection with his latest publication and in recognition of Black History Month, his speech was titled, “Someday We’ll All Be Free: Developing New Leaders for New Centuries.”

Beginning with a chilling account of his mother’s path from southern South Carolina to New York, Powell asked audience members to think about the leaders in their lives. His mother, who raised Powell alone, was someone who “had a vision and didn’t allow anything to slow her down.” While “stretching a dollar as far as it could go,” she demonstrated strong work ethic and organizational skills.

 “These are the types of people who are leaders, men and women in our everyday lives,” said Powell. Benefiting from an integrated childhood in a predominantly white neighborhood, Powell transitioned into his first year at Rutgers University.

“A time of culture shock ensued,” said Powell. “I was the only black student in my entire dorm. I was asked numerous racially distinctive questions and was stalked by the campus police, who continuously asked to see my I.D.”

Under these circumstances, Powell became a political activist, joining every student organization possible, while also distancing himself from those of different ethnicities and backgrounds.

“Leaders need to evolve and the greatest thing to do as a leader is to love others even if they don’t like you,” he said. “This is one issue I wish I would’ve thought about more in college.”

With these ideas in mind, Powell continued his address, outlining the “Six Steps to Becoming Serious, Fully Developed Leaders.”

The first step, according to Powell, is creating a spiritual foundation. Not just referring to belief in a “higher power,” spirituality also embodies moral guidelines and consistent standards to build your life around.

“If it’s about you, if you have an ego,” said Powell, “then you’re not a very spiritual leader. If your power is rooted in the people and a higher power, then there’s nothing wrong with it.”

The second step to becoming a serious and fully developed leader is having to read and having to study. Powell urged the college students in the audience to utilize the free time they enjoy while attending school to “develop the passion for reading.”
Another aspect of this step is realizing your own history as well as world history. Asked Powell, “How can you come together as a unified nation or group, if you don’t know what it is that you’re bringing to the table?” Use 21st century tools and be passionate about three things that you learn about.

The third step includes understanding popular culture in terms of relating to the people who absorb this information. Powell commented that it is the access to peoples’ minds and is something to understand whether you “hate or love it.” It’s also something to think critically about and to not always agree with what is fed to you by the media industries.

“Understanding the difference between ‘Hip-Hop’ culture and the ‘Hip-Hop’ industry is crucial. The culture includes a talk, an attitude, a hope. The industry is the corporate disrespect of it and portraying ignorance. It is something that has evolved from pop culture.”

The fourth step is thinking about economic empowerment. Powell urged audience members to “think about owning a business and being a ‘self-starter.’” The fifth step involves taking care of your physical health, as no one can be an effective leader if they cannot take care of their own self.

The final step Powell gave to becoming a developed leader is to move towards a mental wellness. Giving the example of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, drawing attention to the way King, Jr. looked.

“He was tired and exhausted and frustrated when he gave that speech. Being a leader is a lonely job, but King, Jr. still had a glimmer of hope. He wasn’t about to give up.”

In closing, Powell made it clear that he didn’t care about the 2008 Presidential Election, but what he did care about included the future leaders of the nation.
“I believe in you all, what matters is what you are going to do. The leadership we’re waiting for is not the next President of the United States. The leadership we’re waiting for is us.”

His address was followed by a question and answer session as well as a book signing in the Hoover-Price Campus Center.

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