Off the record: A$AP Ferg We catch up with Harlem’s newest legend just days before he releases his album

From Sammy Davis Jr. to Dapper Dan, Puff Daddy to Cam’ron — Harlem has long been a hot spot for the country’s tastemakers. And with the recent addition of the A$AP Mob, the tradition continues.

While the Mob represents a collection of uptown’s most talented youth, one stands out as especially remarkable: Darold Ferguson Jr., otherwise known as A$AP Ferg.

We met up with Ferg for lunch on a recent Saturday in the city, and what we found was somebody whose energy levels were much different from what you would expect from the man who has released legendary turn-up anthems like “Shabba” and “Work.” His demeanor was calm, his words thoughtful. Ferg took more time than most celebrities to think through a question and answer it in the most lucid way possible.

Even his drink consumption was deliberate; he may have been drinking some combination of lemonade and cranberry juice. But for the remainder of our time with the rapper, it was strictly water.

His crew — not what you might expect either. It was less of an entourage and more of a mobile family gathering, with Ferg flanked by his uncle/bodyguard and two of his cousins/best friends.

As the day wore on, Darold became the Ferg we have all come to know — and threw a short but undeniably epic show at the MoMa PS1 venue.

Watch the video, get to know the man.

More – Off the record: Joey Bada$$

‘Whose Streets?’ pushes back on what we think we know about Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri New documentary is a potent combination of social and media criticism

Deep into Whose Streets?, the new documentary about Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown, there’s footage of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Brown, giving an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

“You can’t perform the duties of a police officer and have racism in you,” Wilson tells him. At the screening I attended, there was an audible mix of gasps and laughter from the audience.

Directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis spent much of the film’s run time up to that point establishing just how much racism lurked within the Ferguson Police Department and the city government. A 2015 report from the Justice Department established that Ferguson provided about as clear an illustration of institutionalized racism as could possibly exist: The city not only targeted black residents for tickets and arrests they couldn’t afford, it was also using the revenue from such stops to fund the nearly all-white police force. The court clerk, police captain and police sergeant were all implicated in sending and receiving racist emails, including one that compared President Barack Obama to a monkey.

Protester Brittany Ferrell hoists a bullhorn as her daughter hugs her in a scene from ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

And yet here was Wilson telling a national television audience that racism was anathema to policing.

Whose Streets? arrives in theaters Aug. 11, marking the third anniversary of Brown’s death (Aug. 9, 2014) and the uprisings that followed it. It’s a deeply moving work, and the passion of both the filmmakers and their subjects is palpable. “FYI I was literally homeless throughout the first year of production. Worked as a canvasser and put money back into the film,” Folayan, an activist, theater geek and former advocate for prisoners at Rikers Island, tweeted recently. Davis is an interdisciplinary artist whose work is currently featured in the permanent collection at the Blacksonian (aka, the National Museum of African American History and Culture).

The focus of Whose Streets? is the residents of Ferguson and St. Louis who keep marching and screaming for justice till they’re hoarse, who keep agitating long after the national media has turned its attention elsewhere. It establishes the movement for black lives in Ferguson as one driven by young people such as rapper Tef Poe, who are fed up with being targeted by police, and others like organizer Brittany Ferrell and her partner, Alexis Templeton, as well as Copwatch recruiter David Whitt, who want better for their children.

Whose Streets? is likely to serve as a counterweight to Detroit, the new Kathryn Bigelow film about the 1967 Detroit riots and the police murder of three unarmed black people at the Algiers Hotel. It’s not necessarily fair to compare narrative films like Detroit to documentaries, but there’s a similarity in the dynamic between the two that existed with Nina and What Happened, Miss Simone? Both Whose Streets? and What Happened, Miss Simone? end up correcting, or at least augmenting, the record of ahistorical narrative films that struggle with details in which race is central.

Nina made the mistake of casting Zoe Saldana as Simone, then putting her in makeup to darken her skin and prosthetics to make her facial features more closely resemble Simone’s. Detroit fails to imbue its characters with any depth or humanity and devolves into a slog of racist white police officers terrorizing a group of people in the Algiers.

Bigelow’s herky-jerky camerawork and editing in Detroit deliberately create a sense of chaos. Whose Streets?, by contrast, presents real footage of Ferguson buildings in flames after Brown’s death, but the overall effect is far more nuanced. It’s much easier to get a sense of what happened in Ferguson as pockets of violence and property damage pockmarked peaceful, if emotional, protests. Whose Streets? refuses to equate property damage with the loss of human life.

Folayan and Davis offer a potent work of media criticism too. Folayan and Davis communicate just how much cable news, by repeatedly and selectively broadcasting the most violent, hectic footage, was responsible for making Ferguson seem like a war zone whose residents were animalistic and out of control. That narrative was furthered by a distant, largely white media corps accepting police reports as gospel. Whose Streets? challenges that by juxtaposing footage of Ferrell and her cohorts protesting to shut down a highway in Missouri with the official police account of what happened, in which the arresting officer accused Ferrell of yelling out “tribal chants.”

For a moment, we also see what it means to send black journalists into a situation like Ferguson, where police in tanks and armored vehicles are shooting rubber bullets, smoke grenades and tear gas (a chemical agent that the Geneva Convention prohibits in warfare) at the city’s black residents. There’s a clip of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ernie Suggs walking through Ferguson at night with his hands above his head as police bark orders at black protesters. The police draw no distinction. He’s black, so he might as well be one of them.

Brittany Ferrell leads a line of protesters as they face off with police in ‘Whose Streets?’

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The film gives voice to a community that’s reeling, mournful and frustrated. It has little faith in a government that’s failed it repeatedly. Spliced with footage of white public officials delivering statements that are often canned and worded to avoid legal liability, Whose Streets? brings the idea of two Americas, and two wholly different realities, to life. “Question normal,” it demands of its audience.

Despite the gravity of its subject matter, Whose Streets? has moments of dark levity. One interview follows a clip of President Obama giving a statement about Brown in his trademark style of measured reason.

“I’m waiting on me to have a black president. I still ain’t had me one,” a Ferguson resident named Tory says. “Wasn’t he a constitutional professor? Ain’t no constitution in Ferguson. Tell that n—- he need to teach a new class or bring his a– to Ferguson … and figure out why we ain’t got no constitution.”

Whose Streets? is understandably close in spirit to The Hate U Give, the best-selling young adult novel by Angie Thomas published earlier this year. The Hate U Give is told from the perspective of a teenage girl who is the sole witness as her unarmed best friend is shot and killed by a white police officer. The book, which is heavily influenced by Ferguson, is slated for a film adaptation starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby and Lamar Johnson. It’s early days yet, but I suspect that the film version of The Hate U Give and Whose Streets? will serve as cinematic bookends to understanding what black people went through in Ferguson before and after Brown’s death.

The documentary ends on a hopeful note, but no one in Whose Streets? is a Pollyanna, least of all Ferrell. She’s open about the fact that she’s taking prescription medication to treat anxiety and says she’s not sure the justice she and her partner are seeking will come in their lifetimes. They’re counting on another generation of troublemakers and revolutionaries to carry on. They’re raising one in their elementary-school-aged daughter McKenzie, seen in the film with her mothers leading a crowd and screaming as loud as she can, “WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS!”

13 documentaries to dive into this summer — on Netflix, PBS, or at the cinema A Baltimore step team. Dr. Dre. A woman wrestler. Freedom of the press. This summer’s docs aim to entertain — and educate.

If you’re looking for deep dives into real-life information to go alongside the usual summer offerings of massive explosions and budget-busting superhero fights, we’ve got just the thing. There’s Stanley Nelson’s latest project focusing on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Step, the film about a group of girls on a Baltimore step team that netted raves at Sundance. Debuting in theaters Aug. 11 is Whose Streets?, the film from artist-activists Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis about the killing of Ferguson, Missouri, teen Michael Brown and the aftermath of his death. If the date sounds familiar, it’s because the film is opening on the anniversary of Brown’s death.

There’s a wide range of subjects to peek at this summer, both unfamiliar and not, with edifying works that will leave you a little bit more knowledgeable about the world than you were when you walked into the auditorium to see them.


Unacknowledged | May 9

Director: Michael Mazzola

Remember the warm, fuzzy feeling of hope and intrigue that you felt after walking out of Arrival? Well, Unacknowledged is a film about aliens too, although it will likely leave you feeling uneasy, paranoid and maybe more than a little willing to don a tricornered hat made of Reynolds wrap. Unacknowledged bears a tenor not unlike Alex Gibney’s explosive 2016 documentary Zero Days — they both set about to reveal things the U.S. government purportedly doesn’t want you to know, and in the case of Unacknowledged, it’s the government’s apparently vast secret apparatus directed at all things extraterrestrial. Assuming you believe in that sort of thing, Unacknowledged boasts footage of UFOs and, in an effort to distance itself from the inventions of supermarket tabloids, interviews with government officials. At the center of the film is Steven Greer, founder of the Disclosure Movement, which agitates to get the government to release whatever information it has about aliens and their contact with humans. This movie is now available to stream on Google Play, iTunes and Amazon Video.

Dumb: The Story of Big Brother Magazine | June 3

Director: Patrick O’Dell

In every generation, there’s a group of maniacs who insist upon rule-breaking, not in the name of some sort of principled stand for freedom but simply because they’re a bunch of roustabout, devil-may-care libertines. And that’s basically the characterization of the skateboard fanatics behind Big Brother magazine. The ideological predecessor and inspiration for Jackass, Big Brother was a chronicle of all tricks great and stupid, instructing its readers in the art of hell-raising, interspersed with the usual NSFW sex stuff about Big Brother-certified hotties. In short, it was sought-after contraband for teenage boys before YouTube, or The Man Show, or Tosh.0. The movie will be available to stream on Hulu.

The Defiant Ones | July 9

Director: Allen Hughes

Hughes (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents) followed Dr. Dre and Interscope records co-founder Jimmy Iovine for three years, resulting in a four-part HBO documentary that shares a name with the 1958 film starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. Iovine was instrumental in the astronomical success of Beats by Dre headphones, and the two men’s professional partnership is one that’s netted many millions for both. Hughes’ look at their empire includes interviews with Dre’s protege Eminem, plus Nas, Ice Cube, Gwen Stefani, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Snoop Dogg, Iovine’s business partner David Geffen, and Bono. Promos for the documentary series have promised never-before-seen footage of recording sessions with N.W.A, J.J. Fad and Eazy-E.

City of Ghosts | July 14

Director: Matthew Heineman

One of the challenges of America-centered rhetoric about Syria and the Islamic State group: It’s generally framed as a discussion of how what’s going on there affects the interests of the United States. But City of Ghosts, the latest film from Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman, is a searing look at the people who are most directly victimized and terrorized by ISIS: other Muslims, particularly those who refuse to pledge allegiance to the group’s extremist ideology. Heineman’s film follows those who are risking their own lives to document and stop ISIS’s campaign of terror, and who risk the lives of their families to do so.

Step | Aug. 4

Director: Amanda Lipitz

If you liked The Fits, chances are you’ll enjoy Step, Amanda Lipitz’s look at a real-life step team providing hope, confidence and motivation to a group of impoverished Baltimore teen girls, which netted admirable buzz and even better reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. With a cast of compelling subjects, Step reels you in as the seniors on Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women strive to become the first individuals in their families to attend college.

Whose Streets? | Aug. 11

Directors: Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis

Even the release date of Whose Streets? — which coincides with the anniversary of the death of Mike Brown, the teen slain in 2014 by former Ferguson, Missouri, Police Officer Darren Wilson — makes a statement. Whose Streets is a story about not just Brown’s killing but also the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the violent reaction to news that Wilson would not be indicted for killing Brown. The story is told from the viewpoint of those who were on the ground in Ferguson — Folayan identifies herself as an activist — and serves as a counterweight to national media struggling to fairly and accurately cover the result of decades of injustice that came to define black life in Ferguson. After Whose Streets? premiered at Sundance this year, film critic Nick Allen declared it the documentary he’ll recommend when people ask about the Black Lives Matter movement in 50 years.

Wrestling With Chyna | release TBA

Director: Erik Angra

Even if you weren’t a consummate wrestling fan, it was nearly impossible during the late ’90s not to have encountered Joanie Laurer — although you likely knew her as Chyna, the muscular, 5-foot-10 star of the WWF, and wrestling’s “Ninth Wonder of the World.” Angra takes a look at the tumultuous life and career of Laurer, from her struggles to reconcile her career and physique with pressure to look and appear traditionally feminine, to the struggles with drugs that led to her 2016 death at age 46. Angra captures Laurer as a smart, self-aware, tortured figure, including footage of an interview with Laurer days before her death. Wrestling With Chyna is a sober look at one of pro wrestling’s most magnetic performers just as hype begins to surge for Glow, Netflix’s forthcoming dramedy series about female wrestlers.

Served Like A Girl | release TBA

Director: Lysa Heslov

In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about the specific challenges many female soldiers face, whether it’s a military structure not exactly conducive to identifying and punishing perpetrators of sexual assault or the debate over women serving in combat roles. But less attention is given to female veterans returning from war. In her debut feature, which premiered this year at SXSW, Heslov follows the lives of five female vets as they compete for the title of Ms. Veteran America. Yes, it’s a pageant, but it’s also more than Miss Congeniality with combat fatigues: The pageant serves as a fundraising event for homeless female vets.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities | release TBA

Directors: Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams

For so long, education has held a particular significance in the black American community: valued as an engine of freedom, social uplift and economic advancement. While recent studies show education is not a salve for the racial wealth gap, Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams take an in-depth look at the importance of HBCUs, historically and culturally, beginning with the rise of such schools during Reconstruction. Nelson is perhaps best known as the director responsible for Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution and here, with Williams, he delivers another chapter of black history on film, in the exact moment that chronically underfunded and undervalued HBCUs are facing new threats and uncertainty about their futures.

500 Years | release TBA

Director: Pamela Yates

Bursting with color and inspiration, 500 Years examines the aftermath of the conviction of former Guatemalan President José Efraín Ríos Montt, who stood trial in 2013 for genocide and crimes against humanity. The title draws its name from the five centuries of violent apartheid to which the indigenous Mayans of Guatemala have been subjected, a subject Yates examined in the 1983 film When Mountains Tremble and again in 2011 with Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. Now, the Mayans face new challenges as they assert their voice politically — namely, destruction of their homeland from multinational corporations seeking to mine the land and control their water with hydroelectric dams. Yates, a familiar and regular presence at Sundance, is an accomplished director when it comes to telling the stories of people living under repressive and unjust regimes. Besides her epic trilogy following Guatemala, she’s explored the subject in The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court, and in 2015 told the story of political documentary filmmaker Haskell Wexler.

Give Me Future | release TBA

Director: Austin Peters

Granted, a whole concert documentary about the electronic dance music group Major Lazer sounds, well, eye-roll-worthy, but Peters manages to sneak in more than a little bit of a look at Cuban youth culture and politics. Turns out Major Lazer was the biggest American name allowed to perform in Cuba in 2015, not long after President Barack Obama began normalizing relations with the country. Besides following Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire behind the scenes, Give Me Future offers a glimpse into what it’s like to live in a place that for so long has been largely immune to America’s most potent export of all: its pop culture.

40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic | release TBA

Director: Derek Wayne Johnson

Forty years after the release of the film that came to define Sylvester Stallone’s career, director Derek Wayne Johnson (Broken Blood, John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs) captures the actor and Rocky director John G. Avildsen discussing work on the most recognizable boxing movie of all time. Johnson brings a passion to the story of Rocky and Stallone that practically makes him the Ken Burns of the subject. Besides 40 Years, Johnson is also responsible for a biographical documentary about Avildsen and another yet-to-be completed project about singer-songwriter Frank Stallone, Sylvester’s younger brother.

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press | June 23

Director: Brian Knappenberger

The result of Hulk Hogan’s 2013 lawsuit against Gawker Media was a chilling one for journalists. Financially backed by venture capitalist and PayPal founder Peter Thiel, Hogan sued the Nick-Denton-founded media company for invasion of privacy. With a $140 million judgment hanging over the company’s head, Gawker was forced to declare bankruptcy, sell itself to Univision and settle with Hogan for $31 million. Knappenberger’s (We Are Legion, The Internet’s Own Boy) film, which will air on Netflix, seeks to put the lawsuit and its fallout in a broader context: Thiel’s involvement in the case set a dangerous precedent. Don’t like what a news organization says about you? Find someone rich enough to help you sue them out of existence.

Activist Brittany Packnett is woke, and she’s empowering others too Her journey of self-discovery fuels her passion to fight for education and black lives and against depression

Culture, education, social and racial activism have all been parts of Ferguson, Missouri, activist and educator Brittany Packnett’s life since she was a toddler. She remembers seeing pictures of herself with her parents at rallies. The photos were a foreshadowing that she wouldn’t escape kismet.

Some 20 years later, she just may be the face of modern-day wokeness.

Packnett, 32, said she doesn’t consider herself famous. She considers herself to be just visible.

“I know I’m more visible than I thought I would be. I didn’t set out for this. I didn’t seek fame or visibility. I’m not an entertainer. I’m not an athlete. I’m not someone who said, ‘I want to be a star.’ I really just love my people a lot. And I love black children a lot. And I want to see us live. I want to see us thrive. I want to see us enjoy the kind of life that our ancestors fought for. And that’s the way that I was raised. I feel like every time I’m able to access some of that joy, I try to hold on to it in my personal life. I just want to see us all be able to live lives of full humanity, ’cause that’s what we deserve. And then all of this other stuff happened. So yeah, it still is a shock for me.”

Packnett is a regular guest on fellow activist DeRay Mckesson’s podcast, Pod Save the People. The two formed a friendship because of their activism. She was recently named one of Essence’s 100 Woke Women. She rose to prominence after Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson at the hands of police. Packnett was outraged, so much so that she knew something needed to be done. So the educator set out to protest, serving as one of the leaders in the Ferguson protest movement. Along with other passionate activists, including Johnetta Elzie and Samuel Sinyangwe, she co-founded Campaign Zero, a campaign centered on police reform and an end to police violence. She was also a member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Influenced greatly by her father, who died in 1996 — the Rev. Ronald Packnett, pastor of Central Baptist Church, a large historically black congregation in St. Louis — and her mother, Gwendolyn Packnett, a social worker, she and her younger brother, Barrington, have a sense of community and sharing. Like their father, Barrington Packnett graduated from Yale Divinity school.

“It’s fascinating because when I was on the streets of Ferguson, especially in the first days, people would walk up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re Rev. Packnett’s daughter,’ or ‘You’re Dr. Packnett’s daughter.’ There are folks in St. Louis and still, if my dad were alive, that we wouldn’t actually have been in that kind of crisis, which is really humbling. And it makes me feel even more responsible, not just to our community but to his legacy, to my parents’ legacy, to do good with this platform.”

The St. Louis native earned her bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from Washington University in St. Louis and her master’s degree in elementary education from American University. Packnett is vice president for National Community Alliances at Teach For America. As an activist and change agent, she is a protester and organizer and co-founder of We The Protesters. From joining #BlackLivesMatter to sounding off on the #BlackWomenAtWork social media movements, Packnett is in the midst of activism and keeps the conversation about racial progress going.

She recently spoke to The Undefeated, where she opened up about self-preservation, social activism and her rise in visibility that have shaped her wokeness. For the first time, she speaks up about her battle with depression and a new endeavor.


What was your first moment of activism?

So I don’t think I can remember my first moment of activism. But I do remember the fact that there were no black Santas at any major mall in St. Louis. I had to be about 10 or 11. My father called one of his contacts at one of the local news stations. They came out to the mall and did a story on a rally that he hosted there, and the journalist turned to me and said, ‘Why do you think it’s important to have black Santas at the mall?’ And I didn’t know it at the time because I didn’t have language, but I was essentially talking about representation. I was like, ‘We shop in these stores, we celebrate Christmas too. It would be nice to go and talk to a Santa who looks like me.’ And I remember going to school later that week and some of my friends had seen it, and they were like, ‘I just don’t understand what the big deal is.’ I went to a majority-white school, and they were like, ‘I don’t understand. It’s Santa. It’s just Santa.’

But I was raised to know that in the small things and in the large things, the recognition of our community and humanity matters. Period, end of story. Whether or not other people want to acknowledge it or understand it doesn’t mean that it’s not important.

Were there any experiences in high school that shaped you into the activist you are today?

I feel like myself and a half-dozen other folks of all different races started a diversity organization, the very first one in the school’s history. And that meant that among other things, we would do awareness speeches in our morning assemblies. And this white upperclassman did not like the fact that we were doing that, and I ended up being the object of his ire for some reason. He used to follow me around after class … in between classes, rather, and harass me. He would say, ‘Is my whiteness oppressing you today?’ The irony of it is rich, though. You actually are being quite oppressive because you are harassing me and I’m just trying to go to school. But I just ignored him, and then one day I turned around and just told him it wasn’t OK for him to do this, and he spit at me, which was a trauma that I think I … not I think, I know I buried for years. I didn’t talk about it for years.

I ended up going back to my high school in the midst of Ferguson — I want to say about September, October of 2014 — and they asked me to talk about my experience on the streets. And that was the first time I told that story since 2000. It just came up and came out, and I realized that reclaiming my story in a place that could have broken me was a really important step for me to take. So, yeah, to answer your initial question, I kind of don’t remember a time that I wasn’t doing this.

What experiences of activism in college stick out?

You know, college was an interesting time because it was the first experience that I’ve had that I feel like was the intersection of what I really care about now. It was working on an institution that I cared about but it was deeply imperfect, engaging in the act of protest and activism and being unafraid to do so, and also going through my own journey as a black woman and learning to love myself and see my own power to be able to go and effect the kind of change that I wanted to see in the world. And I feel like that is what I do every day now, and college was the first place that I got to live in that intersection and really explore what it meant and take the hits and have the hard days, but also have the moments of triumph.

We also did a lot of work on labor. I was one of the co-founders of an organization called Student Worker Alliance. The group ended up shutting down the administration building. I was on the other side of campus because I was also charity and alumni chair for our junior honorary and our big carnival was that weekend, so I couldn’t shut down the building. So I would, like, run water to the building and come and make sure that people were good and then run back to the carnival and make sure that we were raising money for our charity and that people were enjoying themselves.

I also was really physically ill during a lot of college, so I wasn’t always making the best decisions for my personal health, but I always just wanted to see issues of justice win the day. I was constantly making that sacrifice.

I think my college activism taught me a lot about privilege, because in that instance I was not a member of the most affected. I was not a member of the group that was dealing with the injustice. I was the privileged student swiping my card every day to go get food. I was not going to be fired for my activism. I was not going to be fired for speaking up for this. I was not going to risk losing the ability to put food on my family’s table because I engaged in this. It was important for us to engage in a way that didn’t silence folks who did work on our campus, and people that we were fighting for but also fighting with.

Can you share the physical illness you experienced in college?

Yeah, I had bad ovarian cysts in college. I also really suffered from depression. And so the combination was toxic in a lot of ways. I lost a lot of weight my junior year. I was in a relationship that was not healthy for me. There were lots of classes that I just stopped going to. I think for a week straight, all I ate were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And I just think that it’s hard for people to imagine someone like me that they might see out speaking out about issues, dealing with something that’s very human. We don’t talk about mental illness a lot in the black community, but thankfully my mother is a social worker by trade, and so she knew the signs. And even when I wasn’t ready to talk about what I was feeling, she knew how to hold me up and make sure that I was cared for in the midst of that.

I ended up taking a leave of absence from school, first semester my senior year. It was a medical leave of absence, but I also needed to kind of remove myself from the surroundings that were weighing me down. I came here, to D.C. actually, and interned on the Hill for Congressman Lacy Clay, who’s our congressman from St. Louis. I did that for a semester, and it just felt like a whole new world opened up to me and that I opened up to myself for the first time in a long time. And this idea that social justice could be something I made a living at, I was reminded of the power of my family’s legacy and that I could carry on that mantle, that I didn’t have to wallow in the depths of what I was feeling, that I could actually live for something greater than myself. And that really helped pull me out of where I was.

And I know that depression is something you can’t say, ‘How’d you get over depression?’ It doesn’t happen like that.

Oh, no, I battle it every day. I battle it all the time. Therapy definitely helps. I also just had to make some decisions about who and what I would allow in my space. Managing depression … because that’s really what it is — you don’t get over depression, you can’t cure it, you manage it every single day. I would say that two points in my life where I was deepest in depression were during college: the second half of college or kind of the middle of college, really. I think I came out of it in my senior year. But also … gosh, I would say probably between 2012 and, like, last year. So when I talk about managing depression, it is purely from a place of lived experience. It’s not anything I read in a book or saw in a movie. It is what I have figured out for myself.

And the big difference between 2015, 2016 Brittany and 2017 Brittany is being intentional and deliberate about what I allow in. And so there are a lot of times that I will take a break from social media. I will take a break from watching the news. I had to give myself permission to not be at every protest. So, too, knowing full well that when I have mental instability, it shows up in me physically. Working on ensuring that those kind of triggers that I’ve identified for myself, I can stay away from as much as possible, which also just meant learning how to love people from afar and recognizing that I want everybody to win. I know that everybody is human. I also know what I need to be strong and what I need to feel like myself. And, so, yeah, making those choices has been really important. We talk about self-care all the time, the movement. I’m not an expert at it. I’m actually not very good at it.

Audre Lorde is one of my favorite writers. … I often think about Audre Lorde’s conversations about self-care, when she talks about how, ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it’s self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.’ It is still very hard for me to take care of myself intentionally and consistently. But when I am able to remember it, it is because I remember that me surviving all of this and me being here to fight on another day is an act of political warfare. It would be much easier for folks to be able to take out activists and for us to not be here to raise the truth, to sound the alarm. I don’t want to imagine a world where Bri is too tired to climb up the flagpole, or where we’re too tired to march down in Baton Rouge with the activists there.

How do you balance your work with activism and your work with education?

Thankfully, my organization is very supportive, but they also understand that the two aren’t separate. I think people ask me that question often, and for me, I don’t actually balance them because they inform one another. When Michael Brown Jr. was killed, he graduated from a high school where we placed teachers. So when I was running Teach for America in St. Louis, I had teachers that saw him walking down the hallway. And whether or not he was ever taught by one of my teachers isn’t the point, because all of these young people are ours. I think looking at them like they’re all our children would get us out of what we’re dealing with now. And so I stepped out on the streets of Ferguson for the same reason that I stepped into a classroom in 2007. I stepped out on the streets of Baltimore for the same reason that I have remained in education for the last eight years. I stepped out on the streets of Baton Rouge for the same reason that my parents stepped out on the streets that they did, because all of this is deeply interconnected and even if Michael Brown Jr. had lived, there was still so much more that we owed him. He graduated from an unaccredited school. He is someone for whom a diploma should have been a ticket up, but it ended up not being bulletproof in the way that we keep promising our children that it is.

I don’t find that they are separate. Justice work will always be necessary inside the classroom and outside of the classroom. And we educate children in the context of their community. I can’t claim to care about what happens in the four walls of a classroom and not be deeply and gravely concerned about what they deal with as soon as they leave that classroom. So it’s all one and the same for me. I know that I have to keep political conversations very separate, and I have to make sure that I’m doing that kind of stuff on my personal time. But whether it’s education or criminal justice reform or police violence or racial injustice, we are dealing fundamentally with people’s humanity and making sure that all of our systems and institutions fully recognize it. And that is the business that I’m in, shifting institutions and empowering people to be able to live full lives. That’s it. Period. Education or not.

What drives your passion for activism and all of the work you do?

In some ways, it’s from knowing what life can be without that. I remember I started finding a lot of my Twitter conversations, threads and tweets with a heart emoji and a fist emoji. And in my head, I was thinking love and power, right? I didn’t quite know where it was coming from, it just came up. … Then I found a quote from Dr. King where he actually talks about this, and he talks about the fact that we often don’t speak about love and power in combination with one another. We think that they’re oxymorons. We talk about love in a way that lacks power, and so it’s usually anemic and sentimental. We talk about power in ways that lack love, so we talk about power that is reckless and dangerous when wielded the wrong way. But the combination of love and power is actually what’s going to change the world. And that is the thing that I am most obsessed with.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

Truthfully, knowing that I was good enough for any of this. There are assumptions we make about people with a lot of visibility, that they’ve got it all together, that they’ve got all the answers, that they are not figuring this out along with everybody else. And I didn’t start to own that I was powerful enough, good enough, strong enough, worthy enough to do the kind of work that I’m doing right now, to have the kind of platform that I have right now until very recently, through very intentional hard work and self-reflection.

What’s been the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

This is such a millennial answer. The best piece of advice I received was from Instagram. This is so shameful! I want to tell you it was from President Obama or Valerie Jarrett; I got great advice from them. I want to tell you it was from all these cool people I got to meet over the last few years. There was great advice there. President Obama gave us a good talking-to about being in the work for the long haul, and Valerie and I had good conversations about what a strong pathway looks like and how you consistently increase your aperture and your ability to do more with every step.

But I was scrolling Instagram one day and there was this picture that said, ‘You had a purpose before anyone had an opinion.’

How did you meet DeRay Mckesson?

Oh, Lord. This story. So DeRay and I both taught through the same organization that I still work for, and DeRay was living in Minneapolis at the time. He was working for Minneapolis Public Schools. I wrote a post called Education Didn’t Save Mike Brown, mostly because I wanted people who were questioning my participation in this uprising, who were questioning our students’ participation, a lot of our teachers’ participation in this uprising, to understand why we couldn’t separate justice from teaching and why diplomas are wonderful, important, incredible things but until we fix the systems that are supposed to serve, protect and uplift our students, then those diplomas will never be bulletproof.

So I wrote this piece, and they were about to run it and they were like, ‘We need a picture to go with it.’ So I sent them a picture, I want to say maybe from my second or third night out in Ferguson on West Florissant Avenue. There was a gun line, a skirmish line right behind me, and the symbol we were all using was to hold our hands up. We chant the saying, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot.’ So I’m holding my hands up in front of this gun line. There’s an armored vehicle behind me, and there are police with rifles and all that stuff. DeRay was in the TFA [Teach for America] office when they were about to run the piece, and they were passing the picture back and forth, so DeRay saw the picture. And DeRay was like, ‘I think I need to go down there. I think I’m gonna go down there.’

And there’s a picture of myself, a bunch of our teachers and alums, a couple staff members who were out there of their own volition, and DeRay the first night he was down there. And, yeah, we just started to work together very quickly.

How is the podcast world for you?

So the podcast has been a lot of fun. I’m really thankful to people for listening to it. We called the first episode American Do-over because we were fantasizing about what would happen if everybody just left the White House and we had a whole new election. We just have a nice, American do-over. But I think the podcast represents one of the many ways that we are finding new and creative avenues to engage with folks.

Pod Save the People. So DeRay hosts it, and so DeRay, Sam and I do this segment called My Two Cents in the beginning of each episode. And I think what’s powerful about it is, we are not seasoned politicos, we are not reporters, we’re not official commentators on some network. We are regular people who care a lot about humanity, who care a lot about issues of justice, talking about news that affects us all. So we talk about everything from health care to Michelle Obama’s speaking fees and how Donald Trump was making $1.5 million for speaking fees, so I don’t want to hear about Michelle Obama’s speaking fees in the ways that, honestly, the three of us often talk about things just as friends, as people who care, as black folks who are trying to make a better day.

What’s new for you?

I’ve been very into fashion my whole life, and I taught myself Adobe Illustrator. Well, my boyfriend helped teach it to me. And I can design shirts. I was walking down the street and somebody was wearing my shirt, and I was like, ‘I cannot believe this.’ I’d love to continue figuring out what it looks like to outfit people in a conscious way that both allows people to express what they believe and wear things that they believe in. So I’d love to explore that. But really, I just want to help. … I really want to figure out this intersection of love and power. I really want to help people figure out what it means in their own lives, what it means in how we shift institutions, what it means for how we shift this education game, what it means for how we ensure that the truth is being told and protest on the streets translates into real policy change. I want to make sure that we are using our power, as Dr. King says, to correct everything that stands in love’s way. And so what that will look like, I’m not sure yet. I don’t know what title that would be, I don’t know what job that’ll be, I don’t know what city that’ll be, but I am open to whatever comes, as long as I can ground my feet in love and power.

Baltimore kid stunts on chess tournament in Nike slides Cahree Myrick is a gawd for this

When I grow up, I want to be like Cahree Myrick.

I didn’t know who he was until this morning when this crossed my desk. I have no context for this photo other than what’s tweeted. Alec Ross, by the way, is running for governor in Maryland. But his political career aside, let’s talk about the sport.

Chess, for years, was the purview of dudes on park benches and European dudes who took things extremely seriously. Over the past decade, it’s grown quite a bit in the black community, with after-school programs being the primary vehicle. Here’s a story about one in Ferguson, Missouri, for example. As a concept though, the effect of teaching black kids to play chess is such a marvel that it’s been the subject of pretty serious academic study, too. You might be familiar with Maurice Ashley, the first black chess grandmaster, who’s been at the forefront of this movement.

But let’s talk about this kid. I have a kid brother in middle school. He dresses exactly like this every day possible. When I was his age, I dressed exactly like this, every day possible. It was my outfit for walking to the gas station to get snacks, maybe hitting the mall with a friend or lounging at my cousin’s house. This young man decided to rock it to a chess championship. And he won.

I have no clue what any of his competitors wore, but I like to imagine that they wore the kind of stuff your parents forced you to wear to Sunday school — you know, just in case someone took a picture. My man Cahree rolled up in some slides, banged a couple of checkmates and walked away with a trophy.

This is black boy joy.

Daily Dose: 3/15/17 Snoop Dogg is taking figurative shots at the president

We taped another All Day Podcast this week, and this time we discussed the new video surfaced from Michael Brown’s final days alive in Ferguson, Missouri, and, of course, the life and legacy that is LaVar Ball and his family.

Snoop Dogg has upset the establishment. The longtime rapper, now entertainment icon, took part in a video in which the major premise involves a character, a clown, whose name is Donald Clump. There’s a scene in which Snoop uses a toy gun to shoot the clown and a flag comes out that says, “BANG.” Meanwhile, the president got wind of this and let the Twitter chopper fly, because that’s what he does. Also, his boy Sen. Marco Rubio decided to get involved, see, because he likes hip-hop and is thus the GOP’s rap culture critic in chief.

Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 league is picking up steam. Not only has he gotten a bunch of old-school NBA players to sign on, but now, he’s picked up another legend to coach: Dr. J. In all honestly, nobody is going to be tuning in for the actual basketball. The key will be using this as a vehicle for other entertainment acts, which will allow the demographic that listens to say, Backspin on SiriusXM, to spend their dollars. It’s a huge market. It’ll need to be more than the hoops since, you know, injury and fatigue will obviously be a factor.

Pi Day is awfully nerdy, but it’s fun. March 14, as identified as 3/14, is also obviously the numerical doppleganger to π, the mathematical constant. Some people take this little day more seriously than others. The pizza company &pizza decided to make a huge deal of this and set up a pop-up chapel, and folks actually showed up to get married in a fast-casual restaurant. But the Colorado Rockies took things a step further and we’re totally here for it. Check out how they decided to line up for the national anthem on Tuesday.

If you aren’t watching the World Baseball Classic, I feel sorry for you. The tournament has been tremendous so far, and Tuesday night’s tilt between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, well, you missed that incredible play above and you haven’t seen some side nations do pretty well. But when it comes to development in the baseball world, not everything is equal. For example, for Dominicans of Haitian descent, landing that scout’s eye is a much more difficult proposition.

Free Food

Coffee Break: As a kid, Gang Starr was one of my favorite groups. The group’s album, Daily Operation, is still a desert island choice for me. For people who don’t know, Primo is from Texas and Guru was from Boston. If you didn’t know that, this minidocumentary about them will certainly be something you enjoy.

Snack Time: Action Bronson might be enough to get me on Snapchat. The rapper-turned-television host has a new show out — a matchmaking one — being designed exclusively for the app. Sounds like fun.

Dessert: Just put #LilUziVertChallenge into your Twitter search and thank me later, fam.

Video calls Michael Brown ‘robbery’ in Ferguson into question Not that he deserved to die over the matter, anyway

What if I told you that the entire of the case against Ferguson, Missouri’s Mike Brown was built on a lie? Some of you would say that such a thing was obvious. Others would say that you needed proof. Probably even more of you would say that regardless of whether he committed a petty crime, he certainly didn’t deserve to be shot dead in the street by a police officer.

Now, we know what happened the day before Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson killed Brown. To review, in case you forgot about the shooting that sparked the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the entire situation started like this. Wilson was responding to a robbery call when he approached Brown. That exchange clearly ended with Brown dead and bleeding in the street, with Wilson stating that he feared for his life and thus had to kill him.

But as for the case, there’s new evidence from a movie by filmmaker Jason Pollock called Stranger Fruit, which shows the initial purpose of stopping Brown at all might be in question, thus leading to a couple different problems. No. 1: Why did the police call this a strong-arm robbery to begin with? And, secondly, how is it possible this video is just now coming to light?

This New York Times story explains the blow by blow, but the gist of it is that Brown returned the next day to pick up something that was his based on an arrangement made earlier. He didn’t just walk in cold off the street and decide to start arguing and pushing people to steal cigars. One can see how omitting that large part of the story would be critical in smearing someone’s name, which is exactly the tactic that leads grand juries to not charge officers in fatal shootings. The law enforcement official gets the benefit of the doubt, while the victim who can no longer speak for himself is painted as “no angel.”

Mind you, this is all predicated on the notion that even if he had done all this, would it have been reasonable to gun him down in the street? It was not. After the nation protested and people started whipping out cellphones everywhere in order to protect themselves, we see it happen with enough regularity to give major pause. Not that black folks haven’t been telling people this for years — but whatever.

Whether he robbed a store or not, Brown’s life was stolen from him. The fact that he didn’t rob it and everyone at an official level knew it and did their best to suppress it is only more heartbreaking in the context of the value of black life.