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Journalist Kevin Powell On His New Book And His Hopes And Fears For His Future Child


At a time of such unrest and pain in this country, journalist and activist Kevin Powell was moved to write a letter to a person who may never exist. He's been contemplating what it would mean to bring a Black child into this world, so he wrote to that son or daughter.

KEVIN POWELL: (Reading) I do not want to transfer my sorrow songs or my many traumas to you. The cycles must be broken. I so desperately want to heal. I so desperately want to be different for you. So I write this letter to your soul, to your heart because I do not even know if my wife and I will ever have you, if we will ever produce a child. I do want a child badly because I want to do for you what my mother and my absent father were never able to do for me.

MARTIN: The New York Times published the letter last week. It's an excerpt of Power's latest book of essays, "When We Free The World." Earlier this week, Kevin Powell and I talked about his hopes and fears for the child he wants to have.

POWELL: I've always said I really want a daughter, but I think about the sexism. I think about 1 in 3 women and girls on the planet being the survivors of sexual violence. I think about Breonna Taylor, I think about Sandra Bland, Black women who've been killed because not only are they women but they're Black. As a man, I think about Black boys like Tamir Rice, men like George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks killed because they happen to be Black men. And so those are real fears.

What do you say? How do you prepare a child to go into a world where, because of their skin color or their gender or their gender identity, they could potentially be wounded or hurt or even killed because of who they are? And I just said, well, we have to tell the truth, and I also have to arm them, as I do at the end of the letter - love. It has to - you still have to have love, even if people don't love you. You still have to go through this world with love, no matter what.

MARTIN: How did your own parents prepare you?

POWELL: It was very difficult. I mean, I - my mother and father were not married. So at first I was abandoned by my father, so that had a huge impact on me when I was 8 years old. And my mother did the best that she could. I mean, imagine being a single Black woman mother who has to deal with racism and sexism and classism her entire life while trying to raise this boy child. I mean, my mother was literally born in the middle of segregation, 1943 in South Carolina. You know, there were signs that said for whites only, for coloreds only.

And so I do know and understand that a lot of the hurts that my mother had were taken out on me, but I had to, thanks to years of therapy, learn how to forgive and love and understand. You know, she did the best that she could.

MARTIN: So America is in the middle of this reckoning, right? White Americans are waking up to the everyday racism and trauma that Black Americans have lived intimately every day for hundreds of years. What do you think this moment could bring? Could it bring anything real, lasting?

POWELL: You know, it's my prayer. I feel like this is a critical moment. I see white people out there protesting, and I feel because of the Trump administration, because of the pandemic, because of that video of George Floyd, all those things together, I think it has touched this era of America, of white brothers and sisters, in understanding that this is also us. This can happen to us. And I think we're finding their humanity in a way that we haven't seen in a long time. And I believe that's what we're seeing with this multicultural army of people out there mostly protesting peacefully and together. I've never seen anything like this in my life. It's incredible to me.

MARTIN: I hear a sense of optimism in what you're saying, which ties into the original essay, right? The idea, the act of bringing a child into the world I believe to be an inherently optimistic act, and I wonder if you think of it as such. Even with all of the pain in the world and the burden of having to prepare a Black child to live in it, do you still think of it as an optimistic act?

POWELL: I mean, I'm going to be honest with you. I'm trying not to cry doing this interview. We have to have hope. Why are we here if we don't have hope? I don't know how I would raise a child in the middle of this (ph). I know how - what my ideals are, which is love and peace and nonviolence, and I think we have a responsibility - we owe it to these children to make an effort to do better. That's why I wrote the letter. That's why I wrote the book.

MARTIN: Kevin Powell - his recent essay appeared in The New York Times. His newest book is "When We Free The World." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.