Rev. Yearwood: Liberator For The Mind, Leader For Its Body

Confined by the stereotypes of an imprudent media’s perception, hip-hop has become the scapegoat for a lifetime’s worth of transgression whilst the very tyrant, who directs that culpability towards the culture of an oppressed people, commits far superior crimes disturbing the balance of humanity itself.

If hip-hop is truly not to blame for a world gone mad, if it’s truly not dead, and if it’s wise enough to point that finger back at the corporate cronies and media whores who dammed it in the first place, then it will require a leader willing to sacrifice for a cause greater than just the music, or the shoes, or the art.

Hip-hop wishes to plead its own case. For too long have others spoken for it. And those that have wish to censor and bowdlerize it.

Hip-hop necessitates for a leader, a guide for the movement, who understands what the culture has been through, and what it marches towards.

It has found such a leader in Reverend Lennox Yearwood.

BallerStatus recently spoke with Yearwood, the virtuous President of the Hip-Hop Caucus and National Director for the Gulf Coast Renewal Campaign, about the role of hip-hop in today’s society and what it can do to better it. We’ll I’m so glad you’re out of jail now.

Rev. Yearwood: I’m glad I’m out of jail. How did it feel to be walking down the steps of the Capitol in handcuffs when you were protesting the biggest bunch of criminals this country has ever seen?

Rev. Yearwood: Yeah. You know? They’re handcuffing the wrong people obviously. They shouldn’t be arresting the ones who are protesting and trying to make the injustice visible. They should handcuff the ones who are committing the injustice in the first place. And so you’re right… it was… it was very difficult. My wrist is still hurting. They were plastic handcuffs, so they tighten up as you move. It was very tight on my left wrist. The damage to my thumb is still not right. I’m hoping it repairs itself naturally, but that is the cost literally for trying to bring awareness and trying to get this congress to do what it’s supposed to do. You’ve spoken about John Conyers being your mentor. How does it feel to be let down by him?

Rev. Yearwood: Well, I mean honestly in regards to Congressman Conyers he is… I mean he was a great mentor for me since the days of being a White House intern for Clinton, and then when I was actually a political director for Russell Simmons, he was a great ear to discuss that, and on the issue of Katrina, and some many different things. But unfortunately we both realized — and it was disappointing — that we did not agree on his role as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to uphold our Constitution by holding this President and Vice President accountable for admitting egregious impeachable offenses. Here’s a quote you said about the sit in, “We sat down so others could stand up.” Explain to the public what you had in mind when you said that?

Rev. Yearwood: It’s funny because Rosa Parks worked in John Conyers’ office, so it was actually ironic to me — in the lobby of the office there’s a bust of Rosa Parks — and so we just followed suit to savor that Rosa Parks sat down so a whole movement could stand up, the Civil Rights movement. We did the same thing for the impeach movement. We sat down even though it might cost us a day of our freedom to be arrested, and now be monitored by certain agencies about our personal information, but we sat down because we recognized its time for us to have the impeachment movement standup. We’re standing up to this President and this Vice President. We recognize that if we don’t stand up now in the 21st century, then our future is very bleak. It came out a couple days ago, in the BBC, that apparently Prescott Bush was part of the Business Plot back in the 30s to overthrow Roosevelt and install a fascist dictator in the White House. Did you hear about that?

Rev. Yearwood: Nah, actually I didn’t. I need to look that up. Took them about 70 years, but they finally did it, to an extent.

Rev. Yearwood: Yeah, and that’s the thing. The irony to this whole process is that Congressman Conyers’ wife sits on the City Council of Detroit, the largest city, to call for, and put impeachment on the table. And so her husband is in the position to push it forward or keep it from happening, so it’s important to note that Congressman Conyers is the authority on impeachment. He and his staff actually wrote the book on it, on the crimes and what would be impeachable, while they were in the minority. And that’s important because they listed out everything from Downing Street to torture, obviously Katrina, and then the signing statements. I mean there are so many acts that are breaking the rule of law, and the bottom line here is that if the law makers break the rule of law there is no rule of law. There is no law at all. And so Congress’ job is to make laws, but if there is no rule of law, Congress might as well go home. And I told somebody this today, I said, “Right now in 2008, we’re voting for Hillary Clinton and maybe in 2028, we’ll be voting for Chelsea Clinton.” And there might be a situation where the precedent that is set now, for our generation, is a precedent that can be disastrous because if you cannot impeach this President now for torture and starting an illegal war where hundreds-of-thousands of people have lost there lives, for literally leaving the Katrina survivors behind while they go on vacation, for signing statements and egregious after egregious act then we’ll never be able to impeach anybody in the future. That’s really telling. What will it take, hauling off minorities and disabled to camps and gas chambers? That’s next the run on this downward ladder to hell. When they impeached Clinton only one person wrote the bill if I’m not mistaken. I believe it was Hyde. There were no other co-sponsors. And there are at least 15 signed on to oust Cheney as we speak. And you mentioned Detroit, and they are nearly a hundred other cities that are backing it as well. Perhaps as much as 40 percent of the population is backing impeachment.

Rev. Yearwood: That’s funny because the people actually… this has essentially become a polling nation, where a focus group gets polled and decisions are based on that. One of the things about being a polling nation is that they’re done so often now, on every minor issue that many aren’t taken seriously anymore. Even the polls show that this nation wants impeachment. We brought one million signatures of people who were calling on this President to be impeached. It is the people who are calling for this impeachment. And if the Congress does not follow the will of the people, then whose House is it? Is it the people’s House? Or is it somebody else’s House? It’s Wall Street’s House. So anyway, when did you first become a minister?

Rev. Yearwood: I became a minister right after college. I was the SGA President, and also I played college basketball. And while I was there, I was a White House intern. That was someway I felt I could pursue in order to help, and I felt that I needed something outside of myself. In this day and age, you sort of need something visible to put on in order to make some change. What was your experience like as an intern in the White House?

Rev. Yearwood: My experience was… I guess you call it an experience. I believe in life you go through a series of experiences that get you to where you are. So, you know, at the White House, I was like any other intern. You just go about and do intern stuff. But that gave me the opportunity to meet the President and I approached him on Lonnie Guinier, who was up for a position, but the Right was against her because she was “too radical” and he pulled her name out of the process even though most of the communities of color wanted her. So I kind of stood up then, and I guess I’ve been standing up ever since. Will you be backing Cindy Sheehan’s run in 2008 against Pelosi?

Rev. Yearwood: You know, it’s funny the caucus is in a position now… I’ll lead by this: Cindy Sheehan is my mother in the movement. And the caucus has backed the fact that we are not partisan. We are post-partisan. We push based upon issue. And so the issue there, as it simply boils down in San-Francisco, is about organized people versus organized money. So I will definitely back the candidate who is for organized people. Have you ever been down to Camp Casey before?

Rev. Yearwood: I have. I’ve been down to Camp Casey. We were there over Easter when we did our “Make Hip-Hop Not War” tour. That was one of our stops. It actually snowed in down there in Crawford, about three inches. It was amazing. It snowed in the heart of Texas and we were dancing for justice in the snow. It was also amazing because there were a lot of white anti-war activists and a lot of young urban black anti-war activists dancing together for justice. That’s the bottom line for what we really want to achieve. I call ourselves the “Dream Generation,” a generation where we are the sons and daughters of former slaves working together with descendants of some of our former slave owners, and that’s a dream generation. We believe that we can actually — and we will — end poverty, racism and war. The Dream Generation is a generation where it’s not about black or white, Asian or Latino, and even male or female. It’s really about Dr. King’s dream, about being judged by your content and not your color. So as this Dream Generation, we believe that we can end a lot of things the boomers refused to end. Tell me about the day-to-day functions of the Hip-Hop Caucus.

Rev. Yearwood: The caucus job is pretty simple. Our job is to make government transparent. I mean that’s pretty easy, and to inspire and motivate the young to be more involved in social change and politics. And so obviously we do that through electoral activism. We do that through the culture with hip-hop programs. You know, it’s really funny… the greatest thing the Caucus has brought so far… one of the things that we have now in the 21st century is this kiddy table mentality through which activism was created ’cause if you were under 30 you could only be involved with groups like campus organizations or with youth stuff. The Hip-Hop Caucus… it’s hard. I will admit it’s hard. We don’t have the infrastructure and the resources and all the people that other organizations have. But we do have influence and access, and we have our voice. Our voice is at the table, with the people. We’re speaking up for people who don’t normally get that chance. And so we’re really trying to just dismantle that kiddy table mentality. It was that march on the Pentagon when I first became aware of your movement and its mission. You were very recognizable up there with those “Make Hip-Hop Not War” shirts. What do you see as the difference between the hip-hop you grew up on, and fell in love with, and what we see today when we turn on BET, or hear when we turn on the radio?

Rev. Yearwood: Yeah, I mean the difference between the rap music — because hip-hop is a culture — of then and now is that back then the music was seen as unprofitable. So the trueness of the music came out. The trueness of the music was freedom music. Music is usually tied to that. Music comes from the people. It’s still that way. That’s one thing about it, if you go into other parts of the world like Brazil, France, and even in Africa, it’s being used as wake up music. Unfortunately in America, it was found to be profitable, and then it went from being profitable to being buffoonery and blackface. So you have those artists, but I don’t discount all my comrades. There are some artists I don’t listen to or some songs like that, but they still deserve credit for going through an experience, an experience that should be listened to. The caucus, being who we are, we work with all groups. I say that because one thing about it, we’re in this together, whether some artists see that or align with our message. Obviously there are some artists more in lined with our political thought. We just did a “Shut it Down, Stop the Torture!” concert with Mystic, Dead Prez and Wise Intelligent among others. Interesting you mention Wise Intelligent, he has been featured on as of late. The man is quite a wordsmith. What do you have to do to make the public more aware of that type of hip-hop as opposed to the corporate conceived commercial side that’s dominating right now?

Rev. Yearwood: I tell you this, and this is not a self-serving comment, I believe that organizations like the Hip-Hop Caucus… the stronger we get, the stronger they will get. If the people are not political, they’re not going to want to listen to political music. So the more that they get involved in politics and gain an understanding about impeachment, the war, healthcare, police brutality, and all the bigger problems that are affecting their community, once that happens then they’re going to want to hear the music along those lines. That was the power of 95 because they were listening to the Million Man March and they were dealing with Rodney King. They were dealing with police brutality at that point in time. They were dealing with problems with education and healthcare in their communities, and we still are. It was politically inspired, so they could hear it. I believe as Hip-Hop Caucus gets stronger, so does Wise Intelligent. As the caucus gets stronger, so will Immortal Technique.

When we get stronger, we will have greater influence and access to deal with media reform, and deal with getting people on radio. We’ll deal with the FCC. We’ll deal with the conglomerates who want to keep them off the air. We are a mechanism to organize, mobilize and energize the masses. We can then link with the artist to make change. Then as we get stronger, you’ll hear them on the radio, and they’ll become the face of hip-hop. And I think they’re getting that. I think that’s the reason Immortal Technique and my staff, Liz, and the other people on staff talk and are dealing with things because we recognize how important it is for us to work together. What do say to the leaders of the black community, and elsewhere, who are pushing to censor the hip-hop culture and rap music?

Rev. Yearwood: Well, I think it’s funny. I think what they’re doing now is falling into the game, into the hands of those who want to confuse the community. Those that recognize the power of the hip-hop generation recognize that we have a wonderful ability to think outside the box, that we are not falling inline with their train of thought. So obviously they want to cut that down, cut our influence and access. They want to link together those — the corporate, the ironic part, the corporate buffoonish blackface side with the side that is being much more political and calling for change. So you would think it’d be the same way when Dr. King was coming up with SCLC and SNCC, and you know the Hip-Hop Caucus has often been called the 21st century version of SNCC. When SNCC came up, it wasn’t popular to say black. It was a bad word. It was just like saying the “n” word now. It was bad. If you said that word, it was terrible. But they started saying “Black Power” and people got scared cause of that. There’s a famous story about that. Dr. King didn’t shut them down. He recognized this is the voice of the people. Instead of shutting them down, he said in the march, “Black Power.” They said it was so shocking that one guy who had a camera, filming, dropped his camera. That’s how it was.

I think that what would really happen if more of the people who really are ahead of us… we’re now finding out that we have a lot of superficial leadership in these positions who we call timecard activists because they’re career activists who are really more concerned with their paycheck than the people. The paycheck trumps people, and because of that they don’t care. We have that problem. I mean that’s where we are with that right now. I laugh too because buffoonery and blackface they come out now and act like its new, but I remember Pam Grier, “Superfly” and “Dolemite.” That was just blackface that was used to take away power from the Black Panthers at that point in time. It created another image of blackface in the 70s, so it’s not a new thing and they act like it’s new.

That’s why its so disheartening because our leaders themselves went through that when they were, back then, saying “Power to the People” only to be drowned out by things like “Superfly” or “Dolemite,” those things that were used to show that they were cool with the police. When they we’re talking about pigs in Oakland, they would come out with “Shaft” who was cool with the police, and all that kind of stuff. You know? So we’ve always had that as an influence on our community, so I’m just shocked that these same leaders would then fall into that. We’re not going to fall into that. We’re going to empower our community, inside and outside the academy. So do you feel that Sharpton and some of the other leaders should be focusing more time protesting what Bush is doing and less time thinking about the current state of rap music?

Rev. Yearwood: Oh most definitely. There’s no doubt about it. It should have been Iraq and not Imus. I mean yes, of course. That’s no doubt. They’re more worried about funding cycles than people. You are correct on that. That is clear… and they do. I will say this too: there are times when Jesse and Sharpton have spoken out on Bush. But the media is certainly not putting that out there. I’ve been at events and heard Jesse speak out on Bush, and the media won’t put that out there. They have been looking out. Is it enough? No. It would have been great beautiful moment to have Sharpton and Jesse Jackson with me in Conyers’ office. I think that would have put out a statement. That would have been wonderful. Certainly the whole Imus ordeal was a mess, and we here were pissed while it went down, because meanwhile in the nation’s capitol Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was preparing to testify before Congress and that got no attention. And the reason he’s in trouble right now is because he fired U.S. Attorneys, and the reason he fired them was because of voter suppression. And his purpose, the cause of Gonzalez, and Rove and that whole cabal is too suppress the minority vote in 2008. That is real racism. That isn’t on the news.

Rev. Yearwood: You hit it on the head. That’s the thing about it. You hit it on the head. I mean I’m more worried about someone treating me as the “n” word than calling me one. So that’s the reality. And so you’re right Gonzalez is out there doing this thing. I having this feeling that we’re going through a higher form of Jim Crow. And you’re right, Gonzalez has fired their attorneys — that’s what’s crazy. He fired his own people because they were not hard enough on trying to suppress the votes of convicted criminals or soldiers fighting overseas, most of all whom were black or Latino. So you’re right. I mean, it’s ridiculous that goes on at the same time as Imus. You know, it’s funny we were all in Chicago when they all came on Oprah, that was the same week that our “Make Hip-hop Not War” tour was in Chicago, on the same day they’re all on television talking about Imus and I’m thinking, “man.” This very moment there are black soldiers who are dying in Iraq. Studies show that it’s safer for a black man in Iraq than it is on the streets of Chicago. I was shocked she was even wasting her time talking about that. It was disheartening, but that’s the reason why there has to be new leadership and a new thrust of people. It makes sense for us to fight for our generation. At the same time though, if I’m 65 and blocking the way of other people coming up from behind then I’m wrong.

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