In This Episode
DeRay, De’Ara, Kaya, and Myles cover the underreported news of the week — including essential items invented by Black women, an end to SNAP emergency benefits, movement within the Biden administration, and an homage to ordinary Black life. DeRay interviews award-winning author and filmmaker Nick Brooks about his young adult mystery novel Promise Boys.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode it’s me, De’Ara, Myles, and Kaya talking about the news that you don’t know from the past week with regard to race, equity and justice. And it is Women’s History Month. Happy Women’s History Month. Then I sit down with award winning author Nick Brooks to talk about his new young adult novel Promise Boys. I loved it, been following Nick’s work for a while, I learned a lot in this conversation, and you have to read this book. It’s such a good young adult novel. Here we go.
De’Ara Balenger: Family. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on the Instagram at @dearabalenger
Myles E. Johnson My name is Myles E. Johnson. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @pharaohrapture
Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson at @HendersonKaya on Twitter.
DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay at @Deray on Twitter.
De’Ara Balenger: Well, evidently over the weekend a Mr. Chris Rock went on Netflix and said things that white people thought were funny.
Kaya Henderson: No. [laughing] Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Only white people thought they were funny?
De’Ara Balenger: I mean, isn’t that his audience? I’m confused.
Kaya Henderson: Oh.
De’Ara Balenger: But I want to [?]–
Myles E. Johnson I love everybody’s hate, everybody hates Chris.
De’Ara Balenger: I. Well, listen, I actually was going to take a stroll down memory lane back to when I really liked Chris Rock, but guess how far I had to stroll. Come with me to the nineteen nineties everybody. [laughter]
DeRay Mckesson: That was good. I’m a give you that one De’Ara.
De’Ara Balenger: Come to the nineteen–
DeRay Mckesson: That set up was excellent.
De’Ara Balenger: –nineties. Right when we had, I’m gonna git you sucka. When we had Chris Rock in films like Boomerang, remember, he was in iconic–
Kaya Henderson: Oh yeah.
De’Ara Balenger: Boomerang.
Kaya Henderson: Yeah, yeah. He was the–
De’Ara Balenger: Right.
Kaya Henderson: Like, mail mailroom dude or something.
De’Ara Balenger: The mail guy.
Kaya Henderson: Right?
De’Ara Balenger: He was in New Jack City because, you know, in the nineties, Chris Rock was our favorite crack head. We loved him for it.
Kaya Henderson: Pookie.
De’Ara Balenger: And then. And then, you know, late nineties, he started starring in stuff with Renée Zellweger and Greg Kinnear and I don’t really–
Kaya Henderson: Say what now?
De’Ara Balenger: –know what happened. I don’t even know what really happened after that.
DeRay Mckesson: De’ara is [?]–
Myles E. Johnson What was the, what was the–
Kaya Henderson: Can we– [banter] Can we come to the present day and talk about what happened–
De’Ara Balenger: Well.
Kaya Henderson: –this weekend cause–
De’Ara Balenger: I’m just trying to set it up just because now this whole departure, you know, it makes. I didn’t watch it because, again, if he if there had been an, you know, Boomerang playing over the weekend on Netflix, I would have watched that. But not not a Chris Rock special. But take it away, Kaya, since–
DeRay Mckesson: Wait. Let me just get my comment in first. Cause–
De’Ara Balenger: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: You know, it’s gonna be quick. [laughter] I watched the first 15 minutes and his rant about woke wokeism and da da was like delete–
Kaya Henderson: Terrible.
DeRay Mckesson: –delete, delete, delete.
Kaya Henderson: Terrible.
DeRay Mckesson: Delete, delete. So that I like I earnestly watched that and was like, okay, this is weak and flat. Don’t do it in Baltimore, do it somewhere else. And then I saw. Um. Oh, and then he was like, I watched Emancipation. The one funny thing was it who was the other rapper? It was like he was like, oh, I think I pissed off somebody. He’s like, I don’t need another rapper mad at me.
Myles E. Johnson Oh Snoop Dogg.
DeRay Mckesson: Snoop Dogg. [banter]
Kaya Henderson: I thought he said it for a couple people. Jay-Z, too, after he was talking about how beautiful Beyonce was. He was like, I’m not trying to make nobody man. I don’t even know the mad rapper.
DeRay Mckesson: I thought the–
Myles E. Johnson Word.
DeRay Mckesson: –mad rapper part like I thought the Snoop Dogg moment was funny. And then I was like uh the the woke stuff. He just kept doing it. And I was like, Chris, old joke, let it go. Not funny, not progressive, not interesting. So that’s my comment. But he I felt like was setting himself up to get hit again. But, you know, here we go.
Kaya Henderson: [laughing] Um I I I’m a let Miles have the last word on this because there’s going to be a word. But uh I thought lots of it was like the woke stuff. I thought his stuff on abortions was super wack, super inappropriate. Um. And then I thought there were, like, moments that literally made me laugh out loud. His jokes about Meghan Markle were hilarious um and about her not like, why would you not know that the monarchy would be racist? Like, anyway. Um. And then I thought the take down of Will and Jada was actually brilliant. I laughed out loud. I thought he had a, we said it a little earlier. He had a right to it. You knew it was gonna come. We’ve been waiting for it. And I thought it was fantastic. It made me laugh.
Myles E. Johnson Yeah, I I definitely agree. Um. I was having a conversation last night with a couple of friends and, you know, a couple of them were like, oh, we’re tired of it and we’ve heard so much about it. And I’m like, well, this is the person who was smacked. And I’m like, If I got smacked at the Oscars, I’m going to tell I’m going to every single time you hear me, I’m going to be like, you know, I got slapped at the Oscars, you know, I got slapped at the Oscars. Somebody’s going to look at me and be like, okay, but I actually do you want cheese with that? I’m telling every single person who I run into that I got smacked at the Oscars. [laughter] Everybody like, so I totally understood the need to address it. And getting this platform to address it makes so much sense to me. Um, I do think something that’s interesting about when Black people get money and Black people and then also kind of the stratification of like and sometimes when I look back at the nineties, I’m like, were we all doing this together because we had to? Because there was just no like, we had to be together? Because now sometimes I’ll hear him speak and I’m like, Oh, this is, this anti-Black. Or this is just these are just uh ideas, one that was specifically when he was touching on his daughter, when he was touching on um excuse me he was not touching on his daughter, child. [laughter] [banter] When he was speaking about his daughter and he was speaking about um even when he was speaking about rappers and and even when he was speaking about wokeness but I can’t believe that you took the right wing talking point and tried to make something out of it. If you were a little bit more in touch, you wouldn’t know how much of a non talking point that is for most Black Americans. Um. And yeah, it just felt it just felt like a lot of um anti-Blackness [?] And just not not very in touch but as far as like the Will and Jada take down you know, I I agree. I I think he had the right to talk about what he like, what he talked about. And I like that he got it out because child you’re gonna need a lot of therapy.
Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm.
DeRay Mckesson: He said, if you slap me. You gonna hear everybody. [laughter] [banter] Myles [?]
Myles E. Johnson I said your delivery was downstairs, but do you know that I got slapped at the Oscars? I’m telling every soul. [laughter] You don’t, you’ll never get over it. [laughter]
De’Ara Balenger: Who’s hosting the Oscars this time?
Myles E. Johnson Hopefully a referee. [laughter]
DeRay Mckesson: Ah! That was good. [laughter]
Myles E. Johnson [cymbal sound made with mouth] I’m getting my Netflix special. [laughter]
DeRay Mckesson: And they said they have, like a security team on standby now at the–
De’Ara Balenger: Oh, my God.
DeRay Mckesson: –at the Oscars. Because of what–
De’Ara Balenger: Get out of town.
DeRay Mckesson: It looks like–
Myles E. Johnson But you know–
DeRay Mckesson: –Jimmy Kimmel. Jimmy Kimmel is hosting this year.
Myles E. Johnson That’s the the you know what? In this essay I will, us, that’s part of our decolonial work, too, because I like that they turned the Oscars into the source awards because if you not gonna let us have fun in it. Then we gonna ruin it for you too. Now everybody’s scared. [laughter] I like that, I said it. I like it. I like it. [laughter] Nobody gets to have fun now. [laughter] And I think and I think that’s what we should do. We should go to every exceptional white event, that doesn’t want to award us, and we should just act [indistinct]–
De’Ara Balenger: Turn it out. Turn it out.
Myles E. Johnson That’s our new gig. We try too hard. It’s been–
De’Ara Balenger: I love it.
Myles E. Johnson –almost 100 years, now we got to try something new. [laughter]
De’Ara Balenger: I know that trick.
Kaya Henderson: I love it.
DeRay Mckesson: I love it.
Myles E. Johnson Um. My news is first. I am always really excited to talk about products and ideas that just I that come across my uh my eyes, my, my, my computer um screen page. And this week’s id– or idea or artwork was Black Archives. It is was found in 2015 by Renata um Cherlise. I hope I’m pronouncing her name right. Renet– Renetta Renata Cherlise. If if I’m not saying it right, please curse me out um Cherlise in my in my email. But this is such an interesting project because basically it’s a website and um an Instagram page that archives the ordinary lives of of Black people. So people submit things. Things are in the archives. And as somebody who comes from the prestigious Black bloodline of a of a lineage of people who got by, who were not, who were who were trying to [?] day by day, sometimes I’m like, well, if my mama wasn’t the first person, Black person to be in this or whatever, do I even matter? Or if my dad wasn’t you know, this type of person, it doesn’t even matter. And I feel like the Black Archives is really this homage to the ordinary Black life. And the reason why I want to bring it on the podcast this week is because just recently, not only do they have puzzles that I gifted everybody for Christmas, but now they just released their first book. I’m actually showing everybody on the podcast, their book. It’s it’s the light is a little bad child, but um I’ll I’ll send it to I’m a send it to y’all has um four beautiful Black women on the beach on the cover and it’s just this archive of like all Black people doing ordinary things and at cookouts and, and and stories about what made these pictures happen and why they’re important and what was happening historically during those times. And it really makes me think that even the ordinary life when you’re Black and in America, is a historical monumental moment, because we’re always doing [?] the the ordinary during extraordinarily trying times so that these pictures of barbecues and beach visits and all these other things that feel normal, feel special when you know that, oh, this is a segregated beach. Oh, this happened, you know, two weeks after Martin Luther King or Malcolm X died, like when you when you contextualize it in a in a certain way, it’s just beautiful. And then it goes from, of course, since photography started all the way up to like pretty much like last like in like the last ten years, like last ten years. So it’s a pretty good breadth of it. And I remember I was talking about The Black Book and Toni Morrison last year. I feel like this is definitely carrying on that legacy. You can get the Black Archives book at everywhere books are sold, including the uh Consumerist cult that is Amazon child. If you have to go there, I guess you can go there. But um [laugh] I would prefer you to go to a nice little Black book store that is selling this. And yeah, I want to bring it to the podcast and I want to talk about ordinary Black life and the importance of it, because I feel like sometimes we’re always digging for the exceptional one of one person who transcended. And I and I’m like, and I’m like, well, what about what about this? This is just beautiful. Look at the the can you see the little Black baby? This like little Black baby’s on top of a, on top of a beautiful car. And it’s just ugh [with joy] it’s just it’s my pride and joy. I got it for my boyfriend, but it’s really for me. He don’t know. [laughter]
Kaya Henderson: He knows now.
Myles E. Johnson He’s never seeing it again. [laughter]
DeRay Mckesson: I one of the things that I loved about this Myles, is a reminder that memory is a political act, like the act of remembering is always political. And one of the things that that whiteness did uh semi-effectively during slavery was like wipe out the memory of what Blackness looked like, like the writings the you know, not teaching, not allowing people who were enslaved to read and write, the the intense focus on being in control of the capturing of images of enslavement and what that looked like. And you look at this and you just like are uh reminded of the power and beauty and joy and range of Blackness in a way that we actually just don’t have a great historical context for because it was so intentionally wiped out. It’s one of the things I’ll never forget going to the Holocaust Museum in Germany. And it was one of the things I’ll never forget is that they just have so many first person accounts of that moment not curated by somebody, not narrated through somebody, but like first person writings, first person images, first person. And it’s a whole different way to think about it than what we have here, which is like all always these historical retellings because white supremacy worked so hard to destroy any first person accountings of the moment. So I’m going to buy this book uh for a friend, just like I got uh one of my friends, um the Black Book, after you introduced it on the pod last time. So boom.
De’Ara Balenger: Myles, I love this because in my family I’m the archivist on both the Black and Mexican sides, and I think I got the bug early on because my uncle Tino um worked at the Minnesota Historical Society in like the seventies. So I imagine he’s probably one of the first Mexicans be up in there. But um my uncle Tino led a project where they would go and record some of the migrant workers that had then created homes in Minnesota. So my great grandmother’s voice is recorded with the Minnesota Historical Society. It’s in Spanish. I don’t really know what she’s saying, but I’ve heard. [laughter] I’ve heard that it’s very, very compelling. Um. And then there’s also a book that they put together called Mexicans in Minnesota, which my family is prominently in. Um. So it all like I grew up feeling like I had like seeing your family’s name in a book um meant something very, very special to me given that I was going through so many identity things. And so with that, I started collecting everybody’s things. And so now family members have to call me for their marriage certificates, their diplomas. I keep every single thing. So I love this. It’s just like a collection of love letters and artifacts and just things that are ordinary, but just so beautiful in in their ordinariness. Um. And I think it’s also it also gave me reminded me very much of the work of Amy Sherald and Jordan Casteel and Shaniqua Jarvis, just all of those artists that capture Black folks doing what we do, but in a way um that yeah is just so beautiful and so powerful. So we will be getting this book.
Kaya Henderson: Um. DeRay similar to your line of thinking about what has been erased about our history and our culture. Like we’re never seen as normal and just doing normal everyday things. I’ve really realized this for the first time when I saw some um photos of Martin Luther King Junior and his family on vacation in Jamaica, and they were just a regular old family like reading the paper over breakfast and swimming in the pool and um and there’s an artist. Oh, man. I can’t remember his name. Derrick. Somebody or another um who has a whole series.
De’Ara Balenger: Adams.
Kaya Henderson: Derrick Adams. Thank you. Just Black people in pools swimming. Right. And I think the media has um excluded images of Black people and Black families doing regular things as an attempt to continue to, you know, help people think that we’re not normal. We don’t do the same things that other people do. And, you know, we and so seeing Black families recreating is powerful. Right. And so, Myles, I thank you for bringing this to the pod, I’m going to get the book too, um because, like, Black Life is beautiful and amazing in its ordinariness. And so we should celebrate that.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come.
De’Ara Balenger: My news. You know, I’m still just kind of carrying on with traditional old Black History Month, highlighting some of the histories that I know I had not known. Um. And also just kind of like. You know, the thoughtfulness of the pod, because there’s one person in this list of inventors of Black women inventors um that we’ve already covered. So, you know, we’re making we’re making our rounds here doing what we need to do around getting the word out about um Black history. So this first one’s a little troubling. So I want you all to just uh just bear with me. So. Marie Van Brittan. Marie Van Brittan Brown invented the first home security system in the 1960s. Hmm. Okay. See, but what happened was, is that Marie was working as a nurse and living in a high crime neighborhood. I always get very triggered by when I see high crime neighborhood, because that’s often on police reports, if they’re just around two black people. Um. So she invented the security system um so that she could get a view of her front door. The security system consisted of a sliding camera, television monitors, two way microphones and four peep holes, according to MIT. The sliding camera used the peep holes to capture images of people at different heights while the microphone allowed Brown to speak with the person outside. She also installed an emergency button that would alert the police and security if pressed. First of all, I also want to know where Marie got all these pieces. She’s a nurse, but then she fi– she got all these pieces somewhere to do all of this–
Kaya Henderson: Her husband is–
De’Ara Balenger: –technology.
Kaya Henderson: Her was an electric– electrician or something. And so he helped her. We also don’t hear about we also don’t hear about Black couples helping each other. [laughter]
Myles E. Johnson Okay. The original Mr. and Mrs. Smith. They were doing a thing.
De’Ara Balenger: Cause I’m like, I’m like as I’m reading this Kaya, I’m like, something ain’t adding up. Like was she–
Kaya Henderson: No.
De’Ara Balenger: –at the hardware store? I’m very confused. Um. But anyhow, so that that is Marie Van Brittan Brown’s invention, the security system. So. You know, I’ll I’ll leave the commentary to y’all. Um. So then I’m going to go on to Valerie Thomas, who was behind the Illusion transmitter, which NASA used for satellite technology. She was one of two women in her class at Morgan State University to major in physics, and she eventually landed a position at the Data and mathematic as a data and mathematical analyst at NASA. Um. Her, you know, she became a trailblazing scientist, her technology led to the development of 3-D imaging, among other things. Um. So just a cool I think I’m not sure she’s one of the uh women in the, the movie I’m forgetting the name of. Um.
Myles E. Johnson Hidden Figures?
De’Ara Balenger: Hidden Figures. I don’t think. I just there were so many women there that and sis went to Morgan State. Um. So this one is kind of my favorite. Sarah Boone. She invented and patented the first modern ironing board in 1892. Black women are just [laughing] she’s like, you know what we need? Not this. Let me figure–
Myles E. Johnson I am tired of y’all–
De’Ara Balenger: –something else out.
Myles E. Johnson –looking wrinkly and raggedy and I’m a do something about it.
De’Ara Balenger: Listen, so she this is in 1892. So she was born enslaved in North Carolina in 1832. She and her children had she and her husband had eight children when she moved to New Haven, Connecticut, in the 1850s. She was a dressmaker. And that’s when she came up with this idea for a better ironing board with collapsible legs.
Myles E. Johnson Okay.
De’Ara Balenger: She also she said, my improved device is not only adapted for pressing the inside and outside seams of sleeves of ladies waists and men’s coat, but will be found particularly convenient in pressing curve waist seams wherever they occur. So she also was a marketer. So, Sarah Boone, here’s to you. And thank you. I’ll think about you every time I collapse an ironing board. Um. And then I wanted to talk about, this is one I actually just heard of of a friend of mine who’s a painter, Elizabeth Colomba. And if y’all don’t know her, you should look her up because her work is insane and she paints historical Black figures. Um. And one of them is Bridget Biddy Mason. So in the mid 1800, hundreds, Mason was forced to walk more than 2000 miles with her enslavers to California while carrying her three young children. Um then she ended up winning her freedom through a landmark court case and went went on to become one of the first Black landowners in California and one of the richest women in Los Angeles. So she ended up having a fortune of $7.5 million dollars in today’s money. Y’all and she became a philanthropist in the area, she co-founded and financed the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is now the oldest church founded by African-Americans in Los Angeles. She established a daycare for working parents and opened an account where families who lost their homes um to floods could get supplies. Just incredible. Have you y’all ever have y’all heard of Bridget Biddy Mason? Biddy Mason?
Myles E. Johnson No.
DeRay Mckesson: No.
De’Ara Balenger: Miss Biddy?
Myles E. Johnson No, not until you.
De’Ara Balenger: It’s amazing. It’s amazing. Um. And the last one I’ll do, which really freaks me out, is Mary Beatrice Davidson Kinner, who invented the first sanitary belt because she has the same, one of the same names as Beatrice Dixon, who’s the co-founder of Honeypot. And if y’all don’t know what Honeypot is, you go check that out, too. Um. But after dropping out of Howard due to financial pressure, she went on to design and patent the first belt for a sanitary sanitary napkin, um which, thank you very, very much. [laughter] Um. And so, yeah, I just wanted, you know, go through those little, feel like a schoolteacher, um going through a little Black history, Black women inventors. Um. So I wanted to share that with the pod because I thought it was cute. And some of these gave me a little chuckle.
Myles E. Johnson Yeah. And and then this month, March is Women’s History Month already.
De’Ara Balenger: It is.
Kaya Henderson: It’s Women’s History Month.
Myles E. Johnson Yeah. So. So, yeah. So you you tied it in fantastically I think that there is it all it always amazes me because I always think that I know about all the inventors. And after watching a Pyer Moss show I feel like I know even more inventors. I feel like I’m like, okay, I know everything that’s happened and then you’ll come through and teach me about more stuff. And I’m like, Wow. And then I think what’s even more fascinating to me is that in the nucleus of it is that everybody was doing something out of necessity and everybody’s inventions and brilliance were really a reaction to the circumstances they were born into, you know, and, and I when when I hear people say like, oh, uh my ancestors built this uh whatever built this nation, built this White House, whatever. I think I always think about, I tend to think about like labor and literally like the agriculture and building architecture. But I think but these type of inventions make me remind me that the air that we breathe in America, the technology, the advancement, what we um what what what we find industry in. Like that was also built um you know, for like by Black people. And it’s just I don’t know it just gives me that warm fuzzy feeling inside like I feel like Beyonce’s freedom plays in my heart every single time I hear these stories. [laughter]
DeRay Mckesson: This makes me think of so much of it goes back into your story Myles is like all the things we didn’t know, all the images we didn’t see, all the the stories, like all of the things that people created and um and how important it is to remind people that that the legacy of Blackness is just so rich and complex and beautiful and nuanced. And that’s what this did for me. And shout out to Women’s History Month.
Kaya Henderson: I thought this was super cool. There I mean, first of all, it like, none of these ladies are like one trick ponies, right? I’m a nurse, but on the side, I’m creating the home security system, right? Like, I, I have a bunch of odd jobs, but I’m working on my inventions on the side, right? Like, everybody is super hustling and doing a bunch of different things because that’s what Black women do. And then I’m going to tell you that nothing gave me more joy than seeing this sister, Valerie Thomas, whose picture is in the article where her whole afro–
De’Ara Balenger: Whole afro.
Kaya Henderson: –whole entire afro standing in front of the blackboard at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, because she worked for NASA, honey, just afro shining. And like, these are pictures that we don’t see of ourselves. We don’t see the physics lady with the afro. Look at my T-shirt today y’all. Look at my T-shirt. What I got?
De’Ara Balenger: Aw.
Kaya Henderson: A Black lady–
DeRay Mckesson: C’mon afro.
Myles E. Johnson Afro.
Kaya Henderson: –with a big ol afro. Honey.
Myles E. Johnson Afro.
Kaya Henderson: Because that’s who we are. And so I just thought this was so wonderful. Even the the woman who helped build Los Angeles, she did that after she won a landmark case, freeing her whole family from slavery. Like, come on, y’all, we be out here doing all the things. And so this gave me joy. This is [?] yeah, you know this my stuff anyway, right? This is what I do all day, is teach people about the history and culture that they don’t teach us in schools. And so we gonna add this to our little Reconstruction stuff and do a little thing on women in history that you might not know about. Thank you, De’Ara. My news this week is for Women’s History Month, too, even though it probably doesn’t seem that way, because the title of my article is Biden’s Semi-Conductor Plan Flexes the Power of the Federal Government. What are you talking about Kaya? Well, I’m talking about um this new um subsidy program for um for semiconductor manufacturing and research. Um. The federal government passed the CHIPS Act, which is $52 billion dollars to expand U.S. semiconductor manufacturing and research to decrease our reliance on foreign suppliers for microchips. This is not interesting to me at all. Let me just tell you, however, the federal government is using its power to advance policies that are important to the administration. And so in order to get this $52 billion dollars, companies are going to have to do some things a little bit differently. Um. In fact, in order to access this federal money, um companies are going to have to guarantee affordable, high quality child care. Say what now? We have never asked people to do that before. Um. But as part of the application process, you have to talk about how you’re going to ensure that there is child care for the people who build your semiconductor plants and the people who work in it and operate them. This is going to help companies attract and retain women, and it’s going to regalvanize the childcare industry, which took one of the largest hits during the pandemic of of anything. It’s also requiring that you share your unanticipated profits with the federal government. So lots of times companies will underestimate their profits. And the federal government is saying you can’t do that, not with the money that we give you. And so if you have upside or unanticipated profits, you gonna get that money back to us. Say less. Um. They are also prohibiting companies from stock buybacks, which basically enrich shareholders and executives at the company. They’re encouraging companies and universities to offer more training. They are challenging folks to triple the number of engineers over the next decade, and they are challenging companies and universities to offer higher paying jobs to American workers without four year degrees. Why is this a Women’s History Month story to me? Because the person who is leading this effort is the U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary, Gina Raimondo. I love me some Gina Raimondo, former governor of Rhode Island. And she is a whole bad ass. I’m a read this one um paragraph directly from the story because it just says it all. When it became clear last year that sweeping plans to expand and subsidize childcare would not make it into the climate health and tax bill, the culmination of Mr. Biden’s economic efforts in Congress. Ms. Raimondo gathered aides around a conference table. She told them, she said, that if Congress wasn’t going to do what they should have done, we’re going to do it in the implementation of the bills that did pass. This is what happens when women lead. We find a way, you could block the front door. We gonna go through the backdoor. We gonna get it. We gonna do it. And this opportunity to stimulate our economy and at the same time bring women along um I think is an interesting piece of legislation. I think it’s a gangster way to lead. And, you know De’Ara we always talk about the fact that nobody really knows what the Biden administration is accomplishing. One, I think this is a tremendous accomplishment um because it was a bipartisan um group that passed the CHIPS Act and then the Commerce Department and others were like and we gonna slide in these policy things. And so I just think this is what happens when women lead. You get very different policy. And so shout out to the big homie, Gina Raimondo, U.S. secretary of commerce and Happy Women’s History Month while we make more semiconductor chips.
Myles E. Johnson Absolutely love this news. It makes me super. I mean, I probably do not have anything substantive to add to the um good news. But a critique that you kind of um talked about before is that like, I don’t I really need to talk to the people on the PR team. If they need [?] [laughter] any social media strategy, they need uh influencer packages, whatever they need to do. You need to talk to people about what’s happening. Because my fear is these great things are happening. Um uh. We’re moving in a positive way, but it’s not energizing people and people are not as aware they should be about these um strides. And then when it’s time to vote, those people might not be uh as inspired to vote because they don’t know what good things are happening and what good things are trying to and trying to happen. And by the time you are in that year or six months until voting day, it’s kind of it’s a little too late. It should be an ongoing, um an ongoing process. So I, you know, DeRay I know that, you know, all the fly rich, famous people of the world. Make Adele sing a song. Can we get Katy Perry, an Ice Spice verse? Whatever we need to do to get people to know. Know we’re in the going in the right direction. We we reversed the time on the uh on the Doomsday Clock a little bit during this Biden administration. So we should celebrate.
DeRay Mckesson: The thing I’d say and Kaya when you put this in, I was literally like what is I’m like what is Kaya’s [laughter] take on the semiconductors. Woo. Uh. You took me for a leap. I was like, maybe she sent this to the wrong group chat. Um. But what I loved about it was, [?] I know so many people who are like, I don’t do politics da da da. And it’s like politics is always doing you, which we always say. But to know that the department, like the department is using their function to get companies to offer childcare, it’s like people are going to benefit from this who never even imagined that the government had something to do with it or like didn’t know that a secretary in Washington is the reason why they are not sprinting across town at noon to pick up their kid from half day pre-K because they actually have to you know like, people I think the way that we tell the story about, like what uh how programs get implemented or where they came from or how they operate, I think people just don’t know and they think that their company is just a good company. You’re like, no the government made your company offer y’all health care and made your company offer childcare to people. It made your company do right by you like these companies were just going to milk profit and have you just suffer. But it was the government. It was somebody like Secretary Raimondo who said, no, you know, if you gonna get this big chunk of money from us, these are the this is the floor of what you have to offer people. And that’s, I think, what people don’t understand. And frankly, that’s what was missing from this last administration and from a lot of other administrations uh where there was they were not using the federal power or the the sheer amount of money to force people to do right by people.
De’Ara Balenger: I think that’s all right, DeRay and I, I think given Black folks are leaving jobs, corporate jobs, faster and faster every day, the landscape of the workforce looks completely different. I think you know folks are waiting on corporations to change a lot of these policies, not knowing that a lot of them can be changed by this by an administration. And this administration is figuring out how to do that. So, yes, definitely shout out um to this, what’s her name? Raimondo? Kaya?Secretary Raimondo?
Kaya Henderson: Gina Raimondo.
De’Ara Balenger: Um. We will know your name and spread the message. Also, just continuing on my Black history journey, Secretary Ron Brown, who is my all time favorite Secretary of the Department of Commerce. And if you don’t know who Ron Brown is, look it up people or go to Reconstruction US. Um.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom.
De’Ara Balenger: This was a good one.
DeRay Mckesson: Um. My news is about food stamps, and I desperately want to become an expert on food stamp policy. I know enough to be dangerous, but I’m not you know I spend most of my time in policing and mass incarceration. And um I’ve always been obsessed with food stamp policy so the the short version of what is happening is that there was a big emergency allotment to increase money uh put on food stamps, individual people’s food stamps uh during the pandemic. And that money runs out for 32 states in the beginning of March. So it started to run out already in 18 states already, rolled back the emergency allotments because the money ran out for them sooner. So uh I bring this here because for some families, this will result in anywhere from $80 to $300 less in money that they will get per month. It is coinciding with inflation, as you know. You’ve heard the news. You’ve seen eggs are costly like the price of things is going up. And, you know, we already don’t give people a whole lot of money already, you know, and there are 42 million people as of November 2022 um on food stamps, 6% higher than in 2020. And it’s one of those things um that it’s like if we don’t do the basics right, like make sure people have food. I don’t know how we do the rest of it. And, you know, Colorado had probably the sort of the wildest um tweet. They had they tweeted out some tips on how to cope um with the reality that they are cutting down on uh food stamps. And let me just go through some of the tips that they had so um they they literally said, if able to households can roll over their benefits to the next month, this may help cushion the impact of the reduction. You’re like, well, I think I probably need to spend a little bit of money on that I got this month on food. They said stock up on nonperishable items now, while you have the additional benefits, it’s like, okay. Stretch your ingredients and plan to use them in more than one meal. These are the official tips from the Colorado Department of Human Services. Um. And then consider freezing your produce to make fruit and vegetables last longer. And it’s like we actually have enough money to just give people money to feed them. Like we actually could do that. And there are other articles that talk about places like California will have the single biggest cliff because they have, you know, such a big state, a lot of people on it, um but a lot of states are gonna be dealing with this. And this is one of those things that, you know, I think people experienced an increase, didn’t necessarily realize that it was a temporary increase uh and now it’s going to go away and it’ll be sudden for so many people in a country that has the money to actually make sure this doesn’t happen like this. I wanted to bring it because it frustrated me. It surprised me, and we can do better by people.
Myles E. Johnson Just so so just having a vulnerable moment. Right. When you put this in the um group chat, I kind of was debating to myself. I was like, am I going to share this or not and I feel wrong not sharing it, but um like maybe a month ago, I and I get like, you know, my friends and people, you know, people know this, but like, I guess I haven’t said, who talks about this stuff publicly, but maybe a month ago I lost my job and I have, I did not come from money and I had to apply for food stamps because I have been in situations like this before. I’m like, okay, we know what to do when things like this happen financially. And it was one of the most strenuous uh exhausting experiences of my life. And more than the actual layoff, the process of getting support was what it was what really um made me anxious and brought and brought symptoms of depression back to like back to me. And then um when you’re calling and I was on the phone for 3 hours and I was calling and you hear every maybe minute and half them telling people your food stamp allotment is going to roll back and your food stamp allotment is going to roll back. And it was one of those moments where I was thinking, I cannot believe I’m really sitting here in the richest nation in the world and I want to be able to say I can feed myself for this month or because I just had an unexpected um economic turn. And I can’t do that because of greed, because of um policies that harm people. And then when you brought this to the podcast, I was then, you know. I was like, wow, this is um uh. I don’t have the worst of it. I don’t like [laugh] even even though my situation sucks. And and and that was and that was horrible. I was not even experiencing the worst of it. And I just don’t understand why, well, I do understand it, but I think that it should just be seen as a human rights, it’s should just disgust people that there’s any barring for people to have food and have sustenance. And if it was up to me and I and I feel like it should be. [laugh] Then if you want to eat and you want to buy food, buy it. And if we’re and we’re spending billions of here and billions there on um guns and on and on other programs, spend the same thing on food. Who cares? Stop. It it feels like, I I literally felt like the chess piece in a game and okay, you have to you have to suffer because I’m trying to make this bigger conservative political point or because um I’m trying to prove a point about uh productivity and welfare and etc., etc., etc.. And I’m like, I want to make a sandwich. Stop playing with me. Um. But yeah, I wanted to share that because I think that sometimes we could talk about things in theory and the abstract, and that’s something that I’ve really been dealing with. Um. And it’s and I’ve had countless conversations with friends and my partner about um about just how strenuous it’s been.
DeRay Mckesson: And Myles what was the? What was the wild part about the process for you? Like what was the cumbersome or like unnecessary part about the process of applying?
Myles E. Johnson Well, the wild thing about the process is if I’m applying for food stamps, DeRay and again, even in the in the in the element of having food and in the area of having food stamps, I am a privileged person, right? So I have access to a computer. I have access to wifi and etc. etc. But the amount of things I had to do to prove that I like that I that I needed it, was just to me, like wild. So it wasn’t just like show your income, show all these other things. I had to wait for this, I had to wait for a interview to to to basically be asked the same questions. So that took a, that took a week, even up to this um to this day, I applied. I got laid off three weeks ago, two weeks ago, um nothing still nothing submitted. So I so so I have no income from from my job and nothing has been greenlit for me to have like like to have food. And if I had a kid, if I had if I didn’t have friends, if I, if I was just in or a and didn’t have a partner, if I was just in another situation, that means that I would have had three weeks of not of of of no of no support. And it’s just a, that that’s really the time. So even the paperwork to me is just like, why do I need to give you all this information if I’m showing you that I’m if I’m applying and I show you that I got fired and I’ll show you that I live in New York, I feel like that should be it, there’s way more paperwork than um that that um they can ask for. But then double on top of that is just that once I did everything correctly and I had the interview and I waited on the phone for 4 hours, and I did all that other stuff. It’s three weeks later, I did it the day after everything happened and three weeks later and still nothing has happened. And that’s and I’m not and that’s not s– that’s how it is for um unemployment benefits and food stamp benefits.
Kaya Henderson: Myles, thank you for sharing that. Um. I think, you know, a little while ago there was a stat that came out, maybe I learned this from my participation with Robin Hood, but like most Americans are only $400 away from economic instability, like the unexpected medical bill or the unexpected car breakdown or the unexpected loss of some income. And more than a third of Americans are like operating in that um place of fragility. And I’m with you. I mean, like this is food, right? This is just food. And so I don’t know who we are as a country when we can have a heart for people in the Ukraine and provide them with more than $30 billion dollars in human- I’m not even talking about military aid. Right. Just more than $30 billion dollars in, you know, humanitarian and financial aid. But we don’t want to feed our own people in our country. Like I it is astounding to me. One of the things that came through in the article um that DeRay posted is that most working age people who receive food stamps are employed. So it’s not even that these people are sitting around not doing anything. And even if they were, they deserve to eat. Um. But these are people who are paying taxes in this country. These are people who are going to work every day and they cannot they cannot afford to eat. And as somebody else mentioned, grocery prices are bananas right now, up 11%. And we do not think that it is important to keep subsidies going for people to be able to eat like I hate this place sometimes. Really, I do.
De’Ara Balenger: I think the only thing that I will add and yes, Myles, thank you for sharing, is I guess what comes to mind is like COVID, right? And how we really haven’t. Kaya I think you you shared an article just on kind of like COVID impact over time as it relates to education, but like I remember at the height of of COVID, the Lower East Side Girls Club was providing meals to folks, right? Like when the city had seemed to be shut down. The girls club, the folks were there every day making sure that people could get meals. Um. But what happened is that, that has continued. So we’re still serving tens of thousands of meals, you know that a year, so it’s just it’s it’s an interesting it’s just it’s interesting in just the depths of what this country’s values are and how those are manifested. The responsibility that we all have, though, to make sure that local electeds and whoever else are pushed a little harder, making sure that corporations are doing their part. But yeah, I agree. I think it’s just a cycle of folks not giving a damn and folks wanting to remain as rich as possible. And it’s just where we are. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People’s coming.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, we welcome author and award winning filmmaker Nick Brooks on the pod to talk about his new book, Promise Boys. We don’t usually cover young adult books on the pod, but let me tell you, this book is amazing. I loved it. Me and my teacher friends have all read it. It’s so good. Promise Boys is set primarily at a prestigious urban charter school in D.C. in which the principal is murdered. You find that out in the first page. And three young boys of color are considered the primary suspects. It’s a mystery young adult book. It’s so good. Nick and I talk about his inspiration for the writings. We talk about why he chose to do it this way, what he learned, everything. Here we go.
DeRay Mckesson: Nick Brooks, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Nick Brooks: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
DeRay Mckesson: I think you might be maybe the first young adult like fiction author we’ve had on the podcast. We have a ton of authors, mostly nonfiction on the pod, uh but I’m excited to talk about young adult fiction. I used to teach sixth grade math. I I’m still on a group of teachers who like love sharing the best books. Can you talk about what got you to this journey of being a young adult author? Like, what’s your story? How did you get here?
Nick Brooks: Yeah, absolutely. Well, first, again, thank thank you for having me, uh having me. It’s uh always great to be the first [laugh] in anything. So, um you know, my story’s different. And I think a lot of the themes and a lot of the messages of Promise really lend itself to a platform like yours, right? And that’s why we get we get this intersection. But to tell you a little bit about me. Um. You know, I’m from Washington, D.C., born and raised, uh came into education through a nonprofit called Concerned Black Men that I worked with while I was at Howard in undergrad. And um and really just kind of found my passion for teaching, you know, found my passion for being around young kids that look like me, that they came from my community. Um. And from there, I kind of kind of built, you know, everything that I stand for on that. And so um when I jumped into the classroom back in 2012 through uh via Teach for America, which I know you’re familiar with, um one of the things that struck me immediately was that I didn’t have a ton of textbooks that I could use for my kids that featured characters that looked like them, that featured communities that we lived in. Um. And so I had always been a storyteller, you know, um just my whole life. I started writing probably like around 13, 14, started writing poetry and rap and all of these different things. And so I saw it as a way to like, contribute more than just being the classroom teacher you know, let me maybe start to write books that that had, that the things that I, that I was looking for, the things that could allow my students to make text and self connections. I was teaching kindergarten. So [laugh] not quite sixth grade math, you know, um but uh so I started writing children’s books at that time. Uh and uh my principal, you know, at the time, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was writing, you know, I see the dog, right? Like the shit that we see [laugh] on these all the kids books. And um, and my principal basically saw what I was doing because I was finding pictures online that matched the words, you know, pictures of Black kids that matched the words that I was writing down. And it had a tremendous impact. My kids started to use vocabulary that no other five year olds in the schools were using. Simply because I was doing what I was doing. And so um at the time uh I pitched this kind of whole curriculum idea, I had this whole thing called The Adventures of Yani that was like not just uh text for literacy, but also text for character development and um these this little Black girl would teach these young kids about what it meant to be, you know, prepared and attentive and thoughtful and hardworking. And again, my students were using these vocabularies more so than than any, than any other kids. And so um they saw what I was doing and they gave me some seed money to like self-publish, to get the books illustrated, to self-publish. And so I did that. And then it was kind of just a journey, you know, from there I actually was recruited to join staff for Teach for America, and that took me to Dallas, Texas, where I was working. And um I think actually where we first, did we first meet in Dallas? I think at the con– we had a there was some conference in Dallas. Um. You know what I’m talking about? I think we that’s when we first linked up and um and so uh so yeah, so I was in on staff there there in Dallas and I was kind of, you know, [laugh] I was working two jobs. I was a MTOD, which is a teacher coach, but also these schools I would like kind of sidebar with the principal and be like, look on the side, I got this this children’s curriculum [laugh] that I wrote back in the day, you know, what you try to do. Um. And so I was selling them and consulting with schools at the same time. And eventually that got me to a place where I was able to leave Teach for America and again think like, okay, what what is it that I want to do? Because I was doing Yani, it still wasn’t quite scratching that itch. That creative itch that I had. And so um it became filmmaking. I was in Dallas, I saw a film called Fruitvale Station uh by a guy, Ryan Coogler. We all know now as the as the director of Black Panther and Creed and so forth. And um and I kind of heard his story. You know, again, this is why representation matters, because I saw him, saw what he was doing, and he seemed like somebody I could relate to, you know, for one of the first times where I saw like a young Black Hollywood director doing his thing and it was somebody that I could relate to who spoke like me who dressed like me. And so I saw what he did, he went to the school USC. Cool. Come to find out it’s the best film school in the world. So I apply, you know, I make my first short film. Um. Apply to film school, ended up getting scholarships from George Lucas to go to this film school and that took me out here to L.A. I’ve been out here for about seven years now. And so uh, I’m in it, I get into USC, I think in 2017, graduate in 2020, and of course, we all know what happened in 2020. Pandemic hits everything shuts down. Hollywood shuts down. Everything’s going nuts and um and I didn’t know what I was going to do. And so I you know kind of just dove back into my old bag of tricks. I was like, well, I was. I was writing books, you know, I don’t really need anybody else to do that. Maybe that’s where I’ll turn my attention again. And um and so I started writing again, I mean, scripts as well, but also books. And I had a great team um, a lady uh her name is Dhonielle Clayton. She has a company, Cake Creative, that kind of saw some of my work, reached out and said, hey, we want to help you. We want to help you sell books, you know, because we think you have a voice, we think you have a perspective and let’s do it. And so um so yeah, that was a long winded answer, but, you know. Basically I’ve always been a creative, I worked in education, came out still wanting to figure out my place in it all um and how that tied to my passion of writing and storytelling. And so in 2020, I wrote, I started writing my first novels and and then boom you know, now here we are.
DeRay Mckesson: What happened to Yani? Is Yani still, cause Yani’s not a character in this book.
Nick Brooks: No, Yani. So Yani is actually something that I’m trying to I’m going to be taking out a new a new book for Yani. So, you know initially, Yani was only meant for classroom, right? It was something that it was a teacher tool and a parent tool, but it was a tool nonetheless. Um. Now that I’m in the trade space, um I actually want to do a new character or a new uh picture book series with Yani. And so I have a book. I have the first book written that I’m really excited about. And um yeah, yeah, I’m going to be taking that out, it’s a story about uh basically it’s about show and tell. Yani is trying to figure out what she’s going to bring to show and tell to show up her, you know, the number one frenemy in class. Her mom has this amulet that’s been passed down from generation to generation to generation, a Diamond Amulet. And she’s asked her mom if she could take that amulet to share a little bit of her heritage. Her mom’s, of course, like, you’re not taking this. [laugh] You’re not taking my priceless thing that your grandmother gave me to [laugh] to your second grade show and tell. And so, Yani, what does Yani do? She uh she plans a heist and she’s going to steal that amulet, and she’s going to take it to school. And chaos ensues. So it’s a great book I’m really excited about, but that’s that that’s one that I’m taking out and hoping and hoping we can get, get some publishers to help me uh get it into stores later this year.
DeRay Mckesson: I love that. Now–
Nick Brooks: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: –Promise Boys, I’ve read a lot of young adult and shout out to you being a teacher. I you know, if I go back to the classroom, I want to do elementary. Like sixth grade was if you teach middle school, sixth grade is truly the best grade to teach, but I’ve seen some of the most creative teachers I’ve ever seen be elementary school teachers like lower grades. And it makes sense that you, like, made up a whole character and book like that is. Yes it’s so elementary school teacher. Um.
Nick Brooks: Yeah. [laugh]
DeRay Mckesson: This is a this is a mystery, though I didn’t realize it. I had not read a young adult mystery until I read Promise Boys. Was it always a mystery? Was it going to be like just sort of traditional, straight up fiction?
Nick Brooks: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: And then you switch to mystery. How does that work?
Nick Brooks: Yeah, it was always a mystery, you know? And it’s the thing I write most. And that was one of one of the scripts that kind of was getting passed around that that led me to the opportunity to write Promise was a mystery script. It was a mystery script set in uh sixties Inglewood, and um but that’s primarily what I do. You know, the thing I say, I was a I was a pretty big reader like early, early on. But the thing that really got me into like storytelling was rap. Like I would print out songs and read lyrics like a lot of us would. And that’s the thing that got me oriented around words, how we use words to get to make somebody feel an emotion, right? Um. And but when I did really get into reading, the thing that got me reading was this author Walter Mosley, who um was really known for um Devil in a Blue Dress, which was a movie adaptation featuring um or starring Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle. But I always loved mysteries, you know, Hardy Boys, uh Baby-sitters Club, um Sidney Sheldon, like all of these these mysteries I loved because it kept my mind working, you know, it kept me trying to stay ahead of the author and figure out what was happening in the story. So anyway, that’s what I that’s what I kind of was always drawn to. Um. And it was no different with Promise. And so when Promise came came about the the idea was always that it would be a mystery um because again, that’s just kind of what I, what I think I have a knack for.
DeRay Mckesson: Now I can’t give it away because, you know, people need to read the book, but in the very first pages, somebody dies and the quest becomes um, how did it happen? But one of the characters in the book that is not a traditional character is charter schools.
Nick Brooks: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: Or a Charter school. Um. What were you, what are you trying to say about public education or our commitment to kids uh in this book?
Nick Brooks: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: Or what are you trying to get us to wrestle with? Maybe is the better question.
Nick Brooks: Yeah, well, yeah, I think both are great questions. I mean, trying to get us to wrestle with how how are we educating our kids, particularly kids that look like you and me, black kids and Black and Brown kids in uh underserved communities? I think for me, coming up through DCPS, uh going back in to teach in public school and in public charter schools, and then also venturing out and making my way in the rest of the world, I’m like, whoa, there’s some some differences here [laugh] between how school, how kids are being handled and treated and and and uh guided in my community versus some of these other communities. Um. And we all know what the difference is. It’s it’s a it’s it’s money and it’s race. Um. And so for me, I’m just trying to get us to start to examine that. Right, because I think there’s a lot of conversations, tons of conversations going on, whether it’s the political climate or the social climate or the cultural climate, like there’s all these conversations happening. And I don’t think I hear enough uh talk around how we educate our kids, because ultimately I think that is what shapes the world, right? Like these kids grow up, they become adults, they become the changemakers, the influencers. The decision makers. And we don’t talk about enough how our kids are being so left behind. You know um, we constantly say yeah, we want to close the achievement gap, but, you know, it starts to feel like a buzz word after a while. Um. I think the other thing for me was working with Teach for America, quite, quite honestly, because again, I got to see the other side of it. I got to see how this is supposed to be like one of, you know, if not the one of the biggest uh education nonprofits in in our country. And even then, um I saw decisions being made by certain people that weren’t serving kids. And initially, I thought the whole purpose of Teach for America was to serve kids. And then I realized that the mission is actually to create leaders for tomorrow and whatever that means, right? Is that the choices that are being made are a lot around professional development for the adults that are going through the program, not always about the kids. And so time after time and after time, after time, I constantly see choices being made that don’t necessarily serve kids. And so for Promise, I think one of the big themes is, is getting us to grapple with that. Like, you know, how are we examining that? How are we holding schools accountable? You know, how are we holding our our government accountable and and our public school systems and how they educate our kids? Um. And if we’re not, how can we at least start to have conversations like this that can, you know, point us towards some solutions or some things that we should be doing?
DeRay Mckesson: And how did you being a dad, influence uh this book?
Nick Brooks: The honest answer is that it really lit a fire in me to know that like, hey, I have to. I have to produce, right? Like, again, when we talk about pandemic, in the time period when I was writing this and everythings, we don’t nobody know what was going on. For me, a lot of people asked me like, what was when it’s like comes to the motivation or how did you get this done? Or how did you know? A lot of it was that alright I had found out that I’m having not one but two kids, um and all of a sudden I become extremely motivated to to to complete this book and to get it out into the world and and try to, you know, be successful. But the other thing is, again, for me. It was really my experiences with the kids in my in my classroom. You know what I mean? Like, that’s what I kept coming back to. The kids in my classroom or the kids that I coached in Little League football or the boys that I mentored when I was in Concerned Black Men, um those kids not necessarily my own kids, but those are the kids that I kept seeing their faces as I was writing these pages. You know, the the three boys in the book, uh J.B., Trey, Ramón. They’re all amalgamations of the boys that I worked with in my time, in my tenure as an educator. Um. So it it definitely was like kids for sure. It’s just it’s crazy because I’m and you know, because you were an educator, you become so close with these with your kids, you know, the kids in your classroom. And I’m just like you. I have so many tough, tough stories. Because the other thing is that like the kids that I taught, they’re not just up against this education system that seemingly doesn’t really care, but they’re up against all the other systemic issues in the community. You know, food deserts, opportunity gaps, like they’re up against so many things. Um, that for me it’s, I just felt really called to shine a light there and say, yo, how can we turn our attention to young Black boys in underserved communities? Like they need more. Basically, how can we get the conversation going around? And it’s not, you know, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know all the things. Um. But what I do know is that I want us to start having conversations around that because I felt like there was a void and that, you know, these particular boys don’t often get a time, a chance to see themselves the same way I felt like I probably didn’t get a chance to see myself a lot growing up in in media.
DeRay Mckesson: One of the things that I loved about the book is that because the characters are all Black and Brown for the most part. Yes.
Nick Brooks: Yeah. Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: I’m like wooo I am like, there was a white guy. Um.
Nick Brooks: Yeah [laugh].
DeRay Mckesson: Ah there was a love story, there’s a love story here.
Nick Brooks: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: What made you include, it was also one of the first times I’d seen, like, Black teenagers, like, deal with and discuss, like, romantic love, like young love. You know, like, I think I see a lot of Black and Brown books where it’s like family love, right? It’s like cousins and aunties. And this book also has that beautifully done.
Nick Brooks: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: I was surprised to see and I was surprised that I was surprised about the presence of romantic teenage love. Why did why was that important to you to include?
Nick Brooks: Yeah. Well, one reason you really pointed out is the the lack of it. Right. Like, we don’t we don’t get to see it often. And again, these boys being reflections of not just the boys that I taught, but also me. There’s a piece of me in each one of these boys. And J.B. was the first character I wrote. And um, you know, when I think back to me and what was most important in highschool or one of the things that was constantly on my mind, it was [laugh] my relationship with my my high school girlfriend, you know what I mean? Um, that was big for me. That was big in my life. And um so that was one of the the things that pushed me to to make sure that that was present. The other thing is like and again, it’s something you kind of touched on, but like just reversing that expectation, I think a lot of times when we see particularly like these tough, hardened boys in the city, you know, we get the the BMFs and we get the, we get those and we get the power and we get that. But these boys, we were being introduced to them as suspects in a murder. So for me, it was really important to reverse that, um reverse our expectations when we actually meet them and see what’s the thing that they care most about and what each of them, like you pointed out, is all love, whether it’s a family dynamic or other and with J.B. it happens to be his love interest Kiana and so with that, J.B.’s painted as this big aggressive, you know, kind of bully and you meet him and all he wants to do is write a poem for the girl that he has a crush on. You know what I mean? And it just completely reverses that, that expectation, which I think is important because, again, a lot of times we only see our Black boys in one way. And I wanted to just push back against that.
DeRay Mckesson: I love that we got you after the book has come out. Normally I talk to people. I only get to talk to them before the books come out and then and which is fine and interesting, but you’ve gotten to see your book in the world. How has that been?
Nick Brooks: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: What has it been to you know, you spend all this time on a thing and then it’s no longer just yours. It’s like something you share with the world. What has that been like?
Nick Brooks: That has been amazing. It has been the best part, like getting in front of the kids. I was just in Cleveland uh last weekend at an all boy conference called Met the Man Up Conference. And I’m telling you, when you out there on the stage and just I’m just looking into a sea of Black boys [laugh], it’s beautiful, man. It’s so beautiful. And their response is crazy. Like, I was at a when I was in D.C., I was at a, where was I? I was in southeast D.C. I forget which school. And there was one kid. Uh. I asked a question to the crowd. I was like, I talk about like what I like to do, what the boys in a book like to do, like what are you what do you all like to do? One of the kids, big, big kid, he raises his hand. He’s like, I like to smoke and play video games. [laughing] And so I was like, you know, of course there’s some snickers. I don’t re–, I don’t really trip about it. Teachers, you hear some groans. Um. But that kid, as soon as he said that, I knew I had an idea of like the type of kid, you know, he was. And um and I was like, perfect. I know, but I but it’s just crazy because his hand was the first one to go up. And I had him. He was locked in. And after the event, some teachers brought him to me and said, you know, uh Mr. Brooks, we’ve never we’ve never seen him this engaged. You know what I’m saying? And it’s like stuff like that being out in the world, meeting with the students, seeing these boys faces when they pick up this book and it’s them on the front cover, you know, it’s like it just it just feels really good. Um. I can’t wait to, like, get back out into schools after kids have also read the book and get their questions. Because these, one thing, too, that I’m that I’m realizing as I’m going out I was in uh I was in Chicago and I noticed this. These kids are so smart. They’re so, so smart. And a lot of the questions I get being a, [clap] a Black author, a lot of questions I get is around like they’re looking for guidance on how to change the system. And so they’re asking me all of these really deep questions like how do you deal with whiteness and how do you, you know, show up as your authentic self in white spaces, Like they’re asking all of these crazy, deep questions for high schoolers, which tells me too that when they read it, I think it’s going to resonate because and the book is all about again like your question like would do I what do I hope people take away from this is all about pushing back against the system. And I’m hoping that this book will be able to give them some vocabulary, some inspiration on how to do that, because those are the type, types of questions that I’m getting when I’m out in these spaces. So it’s been really amazing to see. And then of course, you get the which I’m sure you get all the time because you’re you know, you’re a celebrity. [laugh] But like I [laughing], you know, I mean, I was in the airport uh when I was coming back from uh Cleveland, and I was uh my book was in the airport. Right? So I’m like I’m checking all these airports as I’m going through just to see and so I take like a little picture of it and–
DeRay Mckesson: Congratulations, by the way, flex flex flex.
Nick Brooks: Yeah yeah yeah [indistinct] a little small flex. Um but like the lady the lady behind the counter uh older Black woman. She’s like, is that is that you? Um. And I showed her my picture on the back of the book and she just lights up, shes like oh my God. Like, and then, you know, it’s just a [?] personable like, you know, I’m just I’m just I’m just a guy. I’m just a kid from D.C. So, like, it’s just that being getting out and, like, touching my people and seeing them as they see me, and see like, oh, a Black author and then it’s a Black man, you know what I’m saying they don’t see that all the time. It’s been really cool to experience and so uh yeah, man, I can, I can talk about that all day. But it’s been, long story short it has been it has been. It’s been feeling good. [laugh]
DeRay Mckesson: Congratulations. That is cool to be in the–
Nick Brooks: Thank you man.
DeRay Mckesson: –airport and be like I wrote that. [laughter] That’s my book! That’s really fun.
Nick Brooks: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: Um. I’d love to know too, like how you how you grew as a writer. You know, I think about writing a book is no simple task. It is hard.
Nick Brooks: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: And it is, you know, you start one way and often end something else. I’d love to know, like, what what lessons did you take away from the process itself? Or like, how did you grow in that process?
Nick Brooks: You know, writing is definitely rewriting. And I got to continue, I think for me, not just a process of Promise, but like. This whole journey like these last three years after like leaving USC and becoming a bona fide writer. Like I think I used to shy away from not just rewriting, but like like what I used to see as criticism, right? Or, like, I might even I didn’t even realize, but I might even be afraid to let people read my stuff because I really don’t want them to poke a bunch of holes in it and me have to go back and read, you know what I mean? I was afraid of the I was afraid of the process. I was afraid of doing the work. Um. And something I’ve really come to embrace is getting notes, getting a feedback, making the story better, strengthening characters like just continuing to build. I’ve become like, that stuff is fun for me now. You know, I love, there’s nothing I enjoy more. I’m exaggerating, obviously there’s things I enjoy more, but and then [?] there’s nothing I enjoy more. [laughter] But then getting back some really like meaty like notes, things that are going to help me think as a as a creative, think as a writer and push the story forward. So that’s something that I’ve that I’ve seen in my development. I’m way more. I used to be really defensive, you know what I’m saying? Like really defensive about stuff like that. I’m way less defensive. I’m like, okay, let me you know, especially if you know what you’re talking about, maybe I get something back and it doesn’t really doesn’t really jive. And then that’s a different conversation. But if I’m getting some really good notes back, Oh, I love that. Um. So that’s why that’s definitely one way I’ve grown. I guess along those same lines, it’s just like collaboration, you know what I mean? Um. This process was really interesting because before this writing on my own, being an independent again, I’m doing a lot of it. I’m carrying the load, right? The all by myself. And you know, with like working with editors and stuff is way different. They’re pitching you ideas and they’re, you know, they’re telling, they’re suggesting ways the story could go. Um and so learning how to collaborate and lean on that instead, again, instead of shying away from that, you should use that as an advantage because it takes the load off. I don’t have to think about every solution I can now I’m okay with that. Well, Brian, who was my edito at McMillan, what do you think? Like, what’s the what’s the solution here? I’m okay with asking that question then and again, as again as I’m sure you know, as your time as your time starts to get, as you it becomes more and more occupied by all the things you have to do, you don’t sometimes don’t have time to come up with every single solution and every answer to every question. So it becomes a really collaborative process. Um and so that’s helped my writing, has helped me grow because now I’m getting suggestions and ideas from other people and things that I may not have thought of. Um. Part of that, you see, with like Kiana’s uh character and how she grew. She grew tremendously because a lot of the people on my team were women, and I’m getting all of this feedback on how to position her to make sure she’s not just a prop for J.B. and how she has her own world and her own life. And it made the character way more dynamic than I ever could just on my own. So I’ve grown in a lot of ways. I think um also confidence. I think confidence is a big one, right? Because again, going back to like being afraid to share it or being kind of overthinking the words that I’m putting down. So you just end up with a blank page for three weeks because you don’t want to, you know what I mean? Just confidence that this is the process, that it’s okay to uh, you know, write bad [laugh] at first, you know, write something bad, just get it down. But have the confidence in the process that it’ll it’ll continue to grow and it’ll get better. So in many ways I think I’ve I’ve grown as a writer for sure.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Look at that, shout out to–
Nick Brooks: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: Shout out to growth. Uh last book process question is um what part of the process surprised you? So, like I will tell you, the copy editing part almost killed me. I was like, nobody prepared like awful, brutal, not enough time. I was like, this is crazy.
Nick Brooks: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: But what um what part of the process was like, you’re like, wow, I would have never known this if I hadn’t gone through it.
Nick Brooks: Yeah, it’s definitely not necessarily the copy edit, but but somewhere in there I would say yeah, maybe like maybe also along those lines, because I think the I guess for me the thing that I didn’t realize that was that this process was so collaborative, you know, because when you when you’re when you, Hollywood and entertainment and all of this stuff is such a such an opaque like business. They don’t you don’t really know what’s going on behind the closed doors. Much like uh you know, you think everything is real that you see or you think you just kind of take it for what it is. And so when somebody comes out with a book and they go on tour and are talking about the book, you just think oh well that person just sat down in their office and they typed up the book. But it’s like behind that is like a madhouse of people. Like, you know what I mean? Like, is just in my mind the way I imag– the way I see it in my head is like literally a madhouse of people running all over, you know, which way and stuff is caught on fire it’s like so much going on behind the scenes. To you to the audience and to the and to the readers and everybody comes out just polished book. It’s oh, this is, you know, this is the thing. But man, the process behind that is there’s so many hands and voices and I just never knew that existed. You know, I had like three or four editors, and then you got executives at the company chiming in and and [?] you know, is all of these voices kind of start to chime in and it becomes a village, a community of people. Um. And ultimately, at the end of the day, I’m responsible. And it’s my you know, it’s my voice. And it’s like and they tell you, they say, like, you know, feel free to disagree with anything. [laugh] But I don’t know. It doesn’t always feel like I could just disagree with anything. You know, they kind of just, they kind of just tell you that. Um. But no, I mean, I think that was the biggest surprise for me it was like, whoa. Like, you know, it was like opening a door and it’s like a whole a whole new world. Um. And I was really surprised just to see, see how it the just the process of how a book is made. There’s a lot of hands, a lot of people, um a lot of opinions. And um and luckily, you know, what was really good for me? I think if this were if this would have happened for me, everything happens when it’s supposed to. Because if this would have happened for me, you know, even just five years ago, like before school, I think I would have been probably overwhelmed. I don’t think I may not have had I think I have pretty high emotional intelligence. But like there’s a learning curve when it comes to like working with such, you know, such big groups of people on projects like this and going through film school before or kind of in the midst of writing the book. I was also working on a TV show where I was working kind of in a similar environment. But all of those things helped me like get the tools of how to collaborate with all these people. Because in general, um before this, I was again just very reluctant. Like I didn’t like working with a lot of people. You know, it was sticky for me. I just I don’t know. It’s hard. It is a little hard to explain, but um I’ve opened up my horizons and and through this process, I think I’ve become a better uh collaborator, a better communicator. Um. So I’m kind of kind of rambling at this point. But to get back to your question, um the thing that surprised me most was just the amount of like [laugh] the amount of time and energy from all the folks behind the behind the curtain that goes into producing the book.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Last question. Question that we ask um–
Nick Brooks: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: –everybody is what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that’s stuck with you?
Nick Brooks: Piece of advice I’ve gotten over the years. Um. That’s interesting. Um. Well outside of the context of like writing a book. Uh. When I first got to film school and I was telling I had a professor/mentor and I was telling him like I wanted to be a director, um you know, I want to be this big, this big director, and kind of call the shots or whatever I thought a director did. And what he told me was. You’re in order to be a director, you have to be a writer. And essentially what he was saying was like, nobody’s going to let you tell their story. Um. You have to be prepared to tell your own story. You have to be prepared to write your own story. And so that’s always stuck with me. Like when I even going through film school and after film school, I put a lot of stock in, like making sure that I’m, you know, it gives me control if if I’m a writer, it gives me a little bit of control as far as my destiny as a filmmaker. Um and so that’s something I’m always thinking about, making sure that I’m telling stories, telling my story. And I guess another part of that. It wasn’t really advice I received directly, but it was something I heard said also by by Ryan Coogler um when he talked about for him, he always makes sure that the stories he’s telling, he has a strong proximity to. Um. And for me, what that means is like not just telling a story like authentically, but like telling a story that only you can tell. You know what I mean? Because either is your lived experience or that, you know, the lived experience of someone very close to you. But so any time I’m thinking around a story or something, I want to say, the way, like the way into that story, I’m always trying to think of the thing that feels most real to me because, uh you know, if it feels real to me, I can assure that it feels real to other people.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom, tell people how they can stay up to date with what you’re doing. Is it Twitter? Is it a website? What’s up?
Nick Brooks: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you can go to my website it’s just uh theNickBrooks.com so t-he-N-I-C-K-B-R-O-O-K-S dot com and catch me on Twitter as uh @whoisNickBrooks. Um. Instagram is where I probably like try to keep people up to date the most um that’s just @officialNickBrooks. Um. So yeah Instagram, Twitter, go to my website. You can find me everywhere. Links to everything. Um. But I’m I’m pretty, you know, I’m searchable. [laugh] I’m searchable.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Well, Nick, we consider you a friend of the pod and can’t wait to have you back. [music break] Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out and make sure you rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple podcasts or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Evan Sutton, executive produced by me. And special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Myles E. Johnson.