Journalist, poet and television personality Kevin Powell spoke to a crowd of nearly 100 people in Corwin Pavilion Monday night. Powell’s speech kicked off the MultiCultural Center’s Black History Month events.
Powell, who is best known for his stint as a cast member on the first season of MTV’s “The Real World” in New York City in 1992, concentrated his talk on the importance of critical and independent thinking.
As an example, Powell talked about his student career at Rutgers University, where, he said, people who thought they were enlightened or educated were anything but.
“Ignorance is one thing, but ignorance with enthusiasm is a whole different ballpark,” Powell said. “A lot of people like to claim they’re conscious but don’t have any of the internal things going on that constitute being so.”
Powell said education should be more than just a rote memorization process.
“Some of the laziest, most underachieving people I’ve ever met have college degrees,” Powell said. “Too often education is confused with memorization; anyone can read facts and regurgitate them back. Being educated is being an independent critical thinker.”
He said his time at Rutgers also pointed to some of his earlier problems in concentrating too much on race.
“When I was little I used to hate myself, dark-skinned people, completely. I worshipped white culture,” Powell said. “In college I grew to hate white people and saw black people as the kings and queens of the universe. My problem was that I focused only on race and didn’t pay attention to other important issues.”
One issue Powell addressed was the importance of making education available to those who could not afford it. Describing his upbringing by a poor single mother in New Jersey, Powell said his family’s history of poverty was a strong argument for affirmative action.
“I inherited poverty like it was the baton in a relay race. I wouldn’t be speaking to you right now if it weren’t for affirmative action,” he said. “George W. Bush was a C-average student, but used his family connections to get into Yale and Harvard Business School. If that isn’t some form of affirmative action, I don’t know what is.”
Powell also discussed the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., most notably those in the latter part of King’s career.
“Everyone focuses on King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and ignore what he said later in his life,” he said. “King claimed that America needs ‘a radical revolution of values,’ that we’re moving from ‘a people-oriented society to a thing-oriented society.’ People need to pay attention to the miseducation they’re getting through things like television and magazines.”
Powell ended by encouraging people to look at “what they’re being told to think.”
“We’re spending all this money imprisoning people or rebuilding Iraq when America has a huge poverty problem,” he said. “People need to ask themselves how they’re being educated and to what end.”
Powell has also written six books, most recently Who’s Gonna Take the Weight, a commentary on race in America. He also says he will run for Congress in 2006.