The bravery of the youth has been at the heart of some of the nation’s most prominent organizations like the Black Power movement, civil rights movement, and Black Lives Matter, to name a few. The unparalleled courage of raw-minded young adults is uplifting, educational, and not to be ignored. One person paying attention to the shorties of the future is activist and professor, MK Asante.
Asante, author of Buck: A Memoir and It’s Bigger than Hip-Hop, joined forces with Snapchat for a ten-episode docuseries titled While Black with MK Asante, produced by Snap’s joint venture with NBCUniversal, Indigo Development and Entertainment Arts, along with Main Event Media. The program explores what it means to be young, gifted and black through the lens of several young men and women who are making a radical change within themselves and their communities
“On average, over 210 million people use Snapchat daily, and 90 percent of 13-24-year-olds in America are on Snapchat, so we want to create a series that dealt with some really important and impactful issues, and deal with it where the kids are,” MK Asante said during a phone conversation with VIBE. “We want to create a show that starts a conversation and empowers them on their phones. Snapchat has been a pioneer in mobile storytelling. And this series explores what it means to be young gifted and black in America.”
The professor of English and film at Morgan State University spoke to us about While Black With MK Asante, lessons gleaned from kids hosting the Snap Originals series, and more.
VIBE: The kid Nasir, who talked about being shot…the intelligence he has for being in tune with his emotions is inspiring. Many of today’s young rappers are in tune with their emotions like that.
Asante: That’s my nephew. He’s 19 years old, he’s been shot. He survived all of that and makes music. In his music he tells the story, it’s a very inspirational story. He’s 19 and he’s found his purpose. And he understands why he’s here now. But he also talks about his perspective on gun violence.
Nasir talked on his own. Those weren’t questions I asked him. He started on his own talking about PTSD, and what that’s like. The film crew observed that my nephew is very observant. In a way that’s noticeable. You’re dealing with someone who notices every single thing around him, behind him, in front of him, every car that rides by. Someone commented on that, and he said, “It’s PTSD. I’m aware of everything. I have to be.”
Can you tell me about one of the kids you spoke with who is doing amazing work in his/her community?
Thandiwe Abdullah, she’s a 16-year-old co-founder of the Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles Youth Vanguard. She helped organize, and lead a bunch of demonstrations, and a bunch of actions that ultimately lead to the overturning of racism in L.A. school policy in random police searches of kids’ bags and stuff like that. We talked to her about all of these issues. You have more hope for the future because you realize that there are young people like that who get it.
Speaking of random police searches, when they use language about high crime rates in these areas, how do you combat that?
It’s not an argument that we honestly heard while we were making the show, but it’s an argument that I have heard. When you look at the numbers, statistically, you realize that the great majority of African American kids are not criminals. I think the problem is that we’re really talking about perception, we’re not talking about reality. We’re talking about the perception that I’m going to do something, not that I’m doing something. How do you perceive someone, and why do you perceive someone the way that you do? Why does a cop throw a 12-year-old child down to the ground and punch them? Because they do not perceive that child as a child. And that’s what we talk about in one of the episodes. It’s not about any realities that are happening. It’s really about a distortion of media, and distortion in the media and distortion over time. This isn’t new.
What did you observe while working with these gifted black kids?
I observed that to be young, gifted and black in America means to remove the limitations. The young people that we feature in the show and the spirit that we want to capture is really a spirit of victory, a spirit of overcoming impossible circumstances. One of the things that I see the young people creating is a new language and with a new language comes a new reality.
The show also exposed me to lots of young people around the country, and their articulation of what they’ve been through and what they’re going through and even the system was amazing, powerful. They inspired me. That’s one of the things I love about documentary-based stuff. It’s real people. I always feel like I walk away with real information.
For MK Asante, what does it mean to be a black man in America?
Not having limitations. Create a new reality, a new language, and a new world. I know that sounds counterintuitive because we’re taught you can’t do this while black, you can’t do that while black. But that is not the totality of our experience.