Kevin Powell

Powell hopes to engage students with his talks and create a more accepting and diverse community at JMU. 

Kevin Powell, a literary, cultural, hip-hop and political figure, visited JMU from October 7-12 and will be returning next semester one week at a time from January to April. While conducting classroom visits, Powell will serve as both a presenter and a consultant. He will also work on creating a more integrated campus through talking with classes about how to create a more accepting and diverse community.

Powell is the author of 13 books and is currently working on his 14th book, which is an anticipated biography of the late hip-hop phenomenon Tupac Shakur. Additionally, Powell has written for media outlets such asThe New York Times, CNN and Rolling Stone.

Powell is an activist and a speaker who travels internationally and domestically to bring attention to his causes. Some of the causes are: gender violence and discrimination, LGBTQ discrimination, racial discrimination, disability discrimination, mental health and political involvement. While growing up in Jersey City, New Jersey, Powell was raised by a single mother. Powell’s mother fought for her and her son to live the best life they could under the circumstances of extreme poverty and racial discrimination. Powell’s passion for activism bloomed when he was a student at Rutgers University and became a student leader of numerous organizations.

By treating people with empathy and compassion no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, health or religion, Powell believes we can create a better world for everyone. During his college years, Powell decided to dedicate his life to becoming an activist and speaker who would bring peace and equality to all people.

“I care about people,” Powell said. “I am an artist and a writer. I’m just really happy to be here. I do believe that your generation is brilliant, and I feel older people have to respect your generation, but I am a facilitator. That is how I would describe myself.”

Mike Davis, the executive adviser to JMU President Jonathan Alger, interacted with Powell last January when Powell was JMU’s Martin Luther King Day speaker. Davis was intrigued by Powell’s speech and wanted him to come back to JMU for a residency.

“Kevin is a taskforce for inclusion,” Davis said. “He was attracted to JMU because of the way JMU reaches out to the community.”

Powell felt similarly to Davis about his visit last winter. He was immediately drawn to JMU because of the atmosphere on campus and the spirit of the students and faculty.

“I’ve been to a lot of colleges and universities but I very rarely have encountered a college president who has stayed through the whole program,” Powell said. “I have done residencies before like at Stanford University and I just [thought] it’s time for another residency and I would love it to be here at JMU. I’m really excited about the possibilities”

Powell believes all causes he advocates for are equally important. According to Powell, raising awareness and understanding are key elements to create change.

“We have to be aware,” Powell said. “It’s not about trying to change people's minds. I want people to be more open minded about the world we live in, about the country we live in and be open to learning. I think that is critical especially with all the divisions we see in the country right now. That is what I am going to be pushing.”

After a few months of coordinating Powell’s return, another faculty member was excited for Powell to come back to JMU. Olivia Stephens, an engagement fellow in President Alger’s office, has been organizing Powell’s events at JMU and has worked closely with Powell these past few weeks.

“JMU needs more voices like his,” Stephens said. “I am happy JMU is bringing people to advocate for causes like his.”

Powell became passionate about racial discrimination as he experienced it throughout his life. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. are two of his biggest heroes. As Powell was reading  about the struggles of African-Americans in America, he also began to educate himself on the struggles of women and other minorities in his young adult life.

“He contributes his experience and expertise as an activist and as a speaker,” Stephens said. “He brings diversity, inclusion and his own advocacy issues that [JMU] could be better about. It is always great to have these voices working with upper administration.”

During his talks, Powell makes an effort to be interactive and engaging with students. In one of the classes he spoke to, Powell asked questions to the class and had everyone in the class answer them thoroughly. Afterward, Powell gave his thoughts on the questions and answers as well. Powell wants to continue to be interactive with students while he is at JMU next semester.

“I am not knocking any other educators, but I think it’s whack to just stand up there and talk the whole time and not listen to the voices of the students,” Powell said. “I think that education should be interactive. Just like social media is interactive, I think education should be interactive.”

Contact Carley Welch at welchcw@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.