Saturday, June 3, 2017

Swinging For The Fences

I spent Tuesday, November 8th 2016 at Brookfield Village Elementary School in Oakland. I’m a teacher, but I don’t actually work at that school. Instead of showing up to my normal job that day, I took a personal day and spent it working the polls. Now, before you flip out, let me be clear—I said “polls” not “pole.” Despite some significant student loans, it has not yet come to that.

This past election, like many before, I served as a Precinct Board Member for the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. My first time doing this was in 2002. After experiencing the shenanigans of 2000, I decided that I wanted a front row seat to the show and an opportunity to help ensure that no machines, miscounts, hanging chads or ethically-challenged Secretary of State would ever again decide a presidential election in this country. Since then I have served several times in Oakland as a Clerk, then a Judge, and now as an Inspector.

That Tuesday was a different experience for everyone who lived it—for me, it was one of the most stressful days of my life. In fact, it was so stressful that I had no time or mental capacity to worry about what the outcome of the election would be—I had my hands full trying to coordinate two separate polling locations “conveniently” located inside the same school auditorium in Deep East Oakland

My day started around 5:30 am and wouldn’t end until close to midnight. Some time in the early evening I got a one sentence text message from my girlfriend (now fiancé!). It read, “I hate the world.” I was too busy to text back, and legally, I wasn’t supposed to indulge in a conversation about how the election was turning. But her text was enough for me to guess. Amazingly, my reality that day was so hectic that I just had to keep it moving, so the news had little immediate effect on me.

It wasn’t until I got home late that night that the rest of my life started. Allison and I talked for a little bit—nothing coherent, nothing insightful… mostly just pain, sadness and anger. Soon I found myself standing in the bathroom with a simple question ringing in my head—“What are you going to do about it?” I pondered the question as I looked in the mirror, feeling a little fire in my belly. I thought about the election and all the elections before it that I’ve lived through, and as I did so that little fire grew hotter and hotter until I realized that my fists were clenched hard enough to cut fingernail marks in to my palms. 

I recognized that fire—it was the fire that fueled and sustained me through the years under the George W. Bush administration. In many ways, the 2016 election felt to me like watching the Twin Towers crumble to the ground again eight years later. When the so-called “War on Terror” began, it changed the world drastically—I responded by making drastic changes in my life. I left the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown and doubled down on my path as a Hip Hop artist, activist and entrepreneur. Looking back, anything less drastic would have been downright uncivilized, and there is not a bone in my body that has ever regretted that choice.

Eventually that chapter of my life did come to a close, opening the way to new adventures. If you are curious, you can spend the next ??? hours reading the previous 106 entries on this blog—or not. Maybe I was free to pursue a different path, focusing on coaching and youth development… maybe I got complacent when Obama was elected. Either way, the fire in my belly on the night of November 8th was one that I hadn’t quite felt in many years, at least in the same way.

Instead of trying to relax, I let the fire spread from my core to my finger tips, from my gut to the follicles in my skin. It felt natural… it felt like power. I clenched my fists even tighter, daring the skin of my palms to flinch first and give way to a drop of blood. It didn’t. Clench, unclench. Breathe in, breathe out. Sometimes we need to be angry. It’s much better than being paralyzed or stuck. I made my decision, stepped out of the bathroom and announced to Allison that I would be running for President of the United States in 2020. 

The next day I sat in an emergency/optional faculty meeting, listening as a dozen or so of my colleagues tried to process it all. I told them what my plan was—if they thought I was crazy at least they had the decency to hold their tongue. I think most of them believed and still believe that I may be crazy in a good way, but certainly not delusional. The best part about Wednesday, November 9th—in fact, the only good part for me—was catching devastated students in the hallways and telling them that I would be running for President. If nothing else, I made a whole bunch of teenagers smile and giggle on a day when there wasn’t much to smile about. At best, I think I gave them some hope, whether or not they would ever vote for me. You see, one thing I’ve learned from being a high school teacher is that no matter how much independence they claim to want, sometimes they just need to be assured that the adults in the room are on it. What could shake young America’s sense of security and confidence in us more than anything in the world? Electing Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America. They are right to lose faith in us, unless of course we do something to earn their confidence back.

In the weeks after the election I reached out to my people to let them know about my decision. I called my immediately family members. I sent texts to most of the people in my phone. I updated my social media pages to make it official. More than anything, I did this as a way to hold myself to the drastic decision I made on the evening of November 8th. Here’s the amazing part—virtually everyone I told was fully supportive, not even in an oh-that’s-so-cute patronizing way. I was hearing things like, “let me know what I can do to help—I will be there…” or “that’s what the f*** I’m talking ‘bout!” My favorite answer of all was, “finally, it’s about time!” While this was all good for my ego, it was even better for my soul—it brings me inner peace to know that so many people that know me so well believe in me, and see me, and know what I’m really all about.

So, yes, I’m about to ask you for money, but we will get to that in a second. I haven’t written an entry in this blog in over a year, so pardon me if this one is on the longer side.

I had a good time letting everyone know that I was running for President, but I always knew I had some tough questions to answer for myself. I knew that I had zero intention of running a conventional campaign—for example, raising millions of dollars and spending it on media buys and other things that actually reinforce the systems that most urgently need dismantling. Perhaps I will just stand for office instead of running. Ultimately, I cannot justify abandoning my work in youth development to spend the next three and half years hobnobbing, backslapping, and speechifying.That’s just not gonna work for me. Moreover, one of the prime reasons for my candidacy would be to reach the un-reached, the un-moved, the overlooked. I have little desire to go head-to-head with entrenched billionaire centrist Democrats and Republicans in a battle to when over the so-called decent hard working salt-of-the-earth middle of the country. I know my constituency—they are the same kids that smiled in the hallway when I told them what my plan was.

I decided that phase one of my “campaign” would focus almost exclusively on high school students, and that it wouldn’t even be a campaign at all. Instead of focusing on running for office, I would double—no, quadruple down on my work with young people. Capacity building. Youth Empowerment. CIVIC EDUCATION!!! Instead of building up a war chest, I would be train up an army of activated young folks, ready to thrown down in 2020, and in some cases before. In truth, I would be OK with it if they chose not to vote for me—just vote! Hopefully, my candidacy can give them a reason to show up. This is not about voter registration—this is about voter motivation.

So what now? Now I am swinging for the fences. Last year–before the election—I joined the board of a young non-profit organization called Youth Education for Success. After a six-month process of crafting our mission statement, we are poised to “enrich the creative capacity of youth for real world excellence.” Our next project is the 2020 Conference, a week-long youth empowerment experience for high school students that will take place in Oakland this summer. The theme of the conference is “tools to build the world you want to live in.” 

This is my baby, but it’s a lot bigger than me. I am pulling out all the stops to make this a success, swinging for the fences to produce a game-changing experience for the students that participate, and for their communities. Our vision is to begin building a cohort of capable young folks that will return to their high schools and go off to colleges and early careers with the same fire in their bellies that I felt on the evening of November 8th. What they do with that fire is ultimately up to them. Our job as adults is to do our part to make sure they are prepared and up for the challenges ahead.

Which bring us back to the money. I believe that the 2020 Conference will be the most diverse group of high school students ever assembled in Oakland for this type of experience. This means I am committed to making the conference accessible to all Bay Area high school students, no matter how much money their families have. Our scholarship fund for the conference depends entirely on donations from individuals, and guess who is doing all the fundraising. There are no big grants this time, no corporate sponsors, and no government funding. Just me and you and those dead presidents that I am asking you to part with.

If you are with me on this, please CLICK HERE or on the button below to make a donation in support of the 2020 Conference. It is tax-deductible, it is important, and it will be well-spent on helping young people fix the mess we’ve made. My goal is to raise $10,000 during the month of June. Your support is your love, and both are appreciated!

Pura Vida,


CLICK HERE to visit the Official 2020 Conference Website

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