The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey into Manhood
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In the spirit of Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, writer and activist Kevin Powell’s memoir—“illuminating…an education for us all” (USA Today)—vividly recounts the horrific poverty of his youth and his struggles to overcome a legacy of anger, violence, and self-hatred.
When Kevin Powell was three, he discovered the volatile nature of his world: a place of pain, poverty, violence, fire, rats, roaches, and a fear that would haunt him for years; but also moments of joy, transcendence, and belonging. By the time he graduated from high school, something his single mother and his grandparents did not do, Powell had survived abuse, abandonment by his father, debilitating low self-esteem, a police beating, and years of constant relocation—from school to school, neighborhood to neighborhood. He was left feeling isolated, wondering if his life had any value, and doubting that he would survive to see old age.
In this unflinchingly honest autobiography, Kevin Powell reflects on his tumultuous, turbulent passage from child to man. He revisits the path that led him to become a successful writer, public speaker, activist, and cast member on the influential first season of MTV’s The Real World. He also recalls the terrible lows he endured of depression, thoughts of suicide, alcoholism, bankruptcy, doomed relationships, failed political campaigns, and the soul-shattering murder of Tupac Shakur.
Time and again, Powell harks back to lessons his mother taught him as a little boy: never stop learning, never stop telling the truth, always strive to be a better man, do what is right. Written with urgency and insight by one of the most gifted voices of our times, The Education of Kevin Powell is a powerful chronicle of healing and growth, survival and redemption. Ultimately, Kevin Powell’s journey is our journey, too.
as thin barriers between them and the filthy bench. Anthony and I would run by our mothers again and again. And when our fathers bought us our first bikes, we would ride laps around our mothers, again and again. Yes, we had fathers. Anthony’s father was John Gamble, and mine was Elize Cunningham. We did not see them much. Our fathers bought Anthony and me our first bicycles and our first watches, because our mothers asked them to, and very little beyond that. The only steady male figure Anthony
Tupac Shakur 26. Suicide 27. Running for Congress 28. Love, a many splintered thing 29. Africa 30. Finding my father Acknowledgments About Kevin Powell For my mother, Shirley Powell, the first teacher and leader I ever met. Ma, I love you forever— “How I got over/How I got over/Oooh, my soul look back and wonder/How I got over” —CLARA WARD/THE FAMOUS WARD SINGERS “I think that somehow, we learn who we really are and then live with that decision.” —ELEANOR ROOSEVELT “Wanting to be
Black students applauded us for our courage, especially because we were eighteen-year-old first-year students, but I could tell that White students in my Busch Campus dorm disliked me more after our article appeared. That friction came to a head one late September evening when my roommate and I got into a heated argument about our dorm area. I had noticed that he kept his things separate from mine, like the room was segregated into “Whites only” and “Coloreds only.” I resented him for it, hated
was more important than a random trip to the backwoods of South Carolina. When the somber old men had lowered my grandmother’s casket into the dirt in the “Black cemetery” next to the church, with each shovel scoop of coarse gravel atop her casket I thought of how little I knew my grandmother. I had never sat at my grandma Lottie’s feet to learn the traditions of our families, of our people, of the American South. And now it was too late— Back up north, my mother made it clear that I was no
May of 1992, I got wind of a new Quincy Jones venture called Vibe magazine, which would focus on hip-hop and urban culture. I got a small record review in this test issue, but Jonathan Van Meter, the young, White, openly gay editor in chief, saw something bigger for me. He had read my clips, including a piece that I had written for Urban Profile magazine called “Ghetto Bastard.” In it, I talked about not only my inner-city roots in New Jersey, but also how I narrowly escaped a beat-down from a