Cultured Election Coverage & Don Graves on Biden's Economic Impact | Crooked Media
January 23, 2024
Pod Save The People
Cultured Election Coverage & Don Graves on Biden's Economic Impact

In This Episode

Ron Desantis, Nikki Haley, Donald Trump, oh my! Republicans scramble for their chosen candidate, crime and inflation on a quiet decline, an uncanny publication merger, a timely inquiry into Watts Happening Cultural Center, and a historic donation to Atlanta’s Spelman College. DeRay interviews U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves on the advancing  economic initiatives within the Biden administration.


Trump mocks Nikki Haley’s first name. It’s his latest example of attacking rivals based on race

The Great Normalization

Condé Nast Is Folding Pitchfork Into GQ, With Layoffs
A Trailblazing Campaign to Celebrate and Conserve Black Modernism
Atlanta’s Spelman College receives historic $100 million donation






DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode it’s me, Myles, De’Ara, and Kaya talking about the underreported news from the past week. The news with regards to race, justice and equity that you probably didn’t hear about but should have. And then I sat down with Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves to talk about some of the new initiatives coming from the Biden administration in commerce. What do you know about the Commerce Department? I didn’t know much. Here we go. [music break]


De’Ara Balenger: Family. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger you can find me on Instagram at @dearabalenger.


Myles E. Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson. You can find me on Instagram and X at @pharaohrapture 


Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson. You can find me on Twitter at @HendersonKaya. 


DeRay Mckesson: This is DeRay at @deray on Twitter. 


De’Ara Balenger: Well, folks, lots of political tea happening over the weekend. Uh. Ron DeSantis is out. Um. Which leaves us with Donald Trump and Nikki Haley. Um. And things are heating up. Uh. Donald Trump has gotten into the, you know, very, very special part of his campaign where he really gets into the renaming name calling of his opponent. So, um you know, we’ll see how Nikki does against the Trump campaign machine. Um. But so far, so far, it’s gotten pretty rowdy, pretty [laugh] pretty quickly. And as we know, the New Hampshire primary is coming up. Uh. When is it? I think it’s is it Thursday? Is it Wednesday? I feel like it was four days from yesterday. That’s the last time. Well, I watch the news every day. That was the count from from yesterday’s news watching. But it’s heating up, y’all. 


DeRay Mckesson: I will say this, 2020, um this 2024 race has been interesting in the past week because there’s a lot going on. So DeSantis drops out. Trump refuses to call Nikki Haley Nikki Haley, he calls her instead Nimbra, which is none [laughter] of her names that she goes by. Her name is Nimarata. Uh. Who else said something? Oh and then Tim Scott’s girlfriend becomes his fiancée magically overnight. 


Kaya Henderson: Oh my gosh. 


DeRay Mckesson: In a really interesting twist. And the Republican side is is really interesting. I will say this morning, I’m going to the gym, I’m in a in a Lyft and I’m like, listening to the radio that the Black driver has on. And I’m like, okay, I’m not really paying attention. And then I realize it’s, uh it’s right wing talk radio. And I’m like, what are we doing? And the way that that side has just normalized Trump as just like a, like literally the dissonance for me was, you know, how do we keep, the guy  goes, how do we keep our city’s safe? Lock up all the criminals. And then he starts talking about Trump, and you’re like, but this man is the criminal. Like, what is what is what? So I’m interested in what everybody has to say about uh, this, this Republican phase, because Trump did better in Iowa this time than it seems like he did last time. And still the Republican side is a mess. 


Myles E. Johnson: Y’all, I’m just preparing. I think that’s the phase that I’m like going into because I don’t want this to be true, but it looks a little imminent that there might be a Trump presidency. I’ve literally been reading, Trump The Art of the deal, trying to figure that out. [laughing] I’ve been like trying to understand him, understand the appeal, because I wasn’t I wasn’t I wasn’t popping and alive when Trump was at his most powerful. So I’m really trying to understand what is going through. Like DeRay said, assumingly a middle aged Black man’s head that they’re aligning themselves with Trump politically, really trying to understand it and also trying to wrap my head around that this we might have another four years with with this man. Um. It’s it’s wild. 


Kaya Henderson: First of all, I love all of the political gamesmanship happening. Literally until yesterday, we forgot all about Tim Scott’s make up girlfriend because we, made up girlfriend because we hadn’t seen or heard from her ever since he was like, oh, yeah, I got a girlfriend. Here she is. Here’s a picture, want to see her? And now all of a sudden there’s the picture on the beach with them uh, you know, with him proposing to her. And he made me the happiest man in the, America. And it’s all very clear that he is gunning for the vice presidential slot. Um. Which will be fascinating, actually, Myles, because if Tim Scott is the is the vice presidential um pick for Trump. It is that is a clear way to shore up the Black man base, I think. Um. But I think this is all and it’s also interesting to watch. I would not like DeSantis pulling out at this point was not on my bingo card for 2024. I thought it was really early, personally I mean, I don’t think Nikki Haley stands a chance, but even if she shows up in New Hampshire, I could be wrong. Of course, we’re all just, you know, speculating at this point. Um. But I feel like I feel like maybe what could happen. This is the optimist in me is it has to all coalesce around Trump, right? Because when he falls apart, then there’s no other option but to, you know, but to for Biden to win and to uh, regain the opportunity to do as much for America as he has done, which we will learn a little bit more about later on today. But that’s my–


Myles E. Johnson: Wait what do you mean? 


Kaya Henderson: –like, uh what do I mean about what Biden has done? 


Myles E. Johnson: No coalescing around Trump like– 


Kaya Henderson: So I feel I feel like, you know, there if like, maybe Nikki Haley would have been a decent candidate, right? Like if she really had a chance to get up there, maybe Ron DeSantis, maybe not. Okay, maybe Nikki Haley would have been a decent candidate. Who knows? Could have attracted people. Centrists, moderates, Democrats who know independents? Who knows? But I think she’s going to be dispensed with because all of the air, Trump takes up all the air. The whole Republican Party has aligned themselves around Trump. And so like, basically, there’s nobody else to bet on but Trump. If any of these prosecutions go well or if anything happens between now and November, which anything could happen that imperils the Trump presidency, then that’s it. That’s the bet. There’s no there’s nowhere else to go. Right. So you are putting all your chips on this man. And if it goes south, it’s going way, way south. And the rest of us just slide into another Democratic presidency. 


Myles E. Johnson: Wait, so my my my lawyer. You know, I just got my, um my law degree, so I need a refresher from De’Ara. So when you’re running for president and you also got the feds on you. [laughing] Does that pause or does that just happen at the same time? And maybe the day if it like. Are are– 


De’Ara Balenger: It happens at the same time. 


Myles E. Johnson: Is there a possibility that he could be in the middle of his election, in the middle of everything in the middle of his campaign, rather. And then he still get indicted and go to jail like that can happen at the same time? So everything’s not paused? 


De’Ara Balenger: Absolutely. No, the only thing that has been interesting–


Myles E. Johnson: Whoa. 


De’Ara Balenger: Because I do feel like it signals a pause is and we’ve covered this where in some states, um oh, and I’m going to forget the states now. Where they basically have said that since he incited a riot January 6th, that he has actually in um, that he is, you know– 


Kaya Henderson: Ineligible. 


De’Ara Balenger: Un un, ineligible. 


Kaya Henderson: For the ballot. Colorado–


De’Ara Balenger: Now to be on the ballot. Colorado. And there’s another one too, Maine. I feel like, um. 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah. Mm hmm yup.


De’Ara Balenger: And that’s and so that is the thing that actually I feel like has had some impact, because if he’s not on the ballot, that is that is a pause. Um. In some respects, in terms of, um it’s it does slow him down. But all of these cases, they just going to keep going because it’s unprecedented. It’s unprecedented that somebody running for national office or any kind of office would have um would have you know, these these types of criminal matters, uh ahead of him. But I also I have a theory, a Nikki Haley theory, um that I’ve been thinking about and, you know, just going back to ’16 and how one of the, you know, major reasons, um just technically why Hillary didn’t win is because a lot of white women did not vote for her. I think that white women are going to come together and support Nikki Haley. I really do. I think Kaya she will appeal to a lot of centrist voters, but I think just–


Kaya Henderson: But here’s my question–


De’Ara Balenger: –there are interesting. 


Kaya Henderson: Do you think her–


De’Ara Balenger: They’re an interesting bunch. 


Kaya Henderson: But I hear you, I hear you, I I totally hear you. And I think she could be viable, but she came in third in Iowa, way, way behind. And it stands to reason if she gets trounced in New Hampshire. Um. Which is what everybody is still predicting. I mean, she’ll stay in because she wants to be a foil to Trump, but she only got a couple more primaries to lose before she’s got to drop out, even if she does appeal to white women. 


De’Ara Balenger: Right. But she also has South Carolina coming up. So I think I suspect that she wouldn’t drop out until after South Carolina. 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah totally. Totally.


De’Ara Balenger: Um. In Iowa, you know, if you look at how much money DeSantis spent and how much time he spent there, and the fact that she did a small portion of that and still was only a couple percentage points below DeSantis, I mean. 


Kaya Henderson: She did more than him, she did more than him in, in um, in Iowa. I thought, I did a–


De’Ara Balenger: The spend. Not the not the spend, not the spend. 


Kaya Henderson: Mm okay. 


De’Ara Balenger: Not the spend. Um. So I don’t I don’t know if I see the results in Iowa as like, a failure on failure on her part. I think it, it it is part of let’s see how far I need to stretch this money. Let’s see where I can have the most, the most impact. Um. I don’t know, I just have I just have an odd feeling about Nikki Haley. I really, really do. And it’s terrifying. 


DeRay Mckesson: De’Ara, I hadn’t heard anybody float this Nikki Haley thing with white women, but that is interesting because, frankly, they’re the only people who might support her. So you’re right. If there’s a demographic because the white men are like, no, they like, this woman is Indian. No matter how much she keep trying to say she white, they are like, no, thank you. And as much as they hated Barack, they definitely don’t want Nimarata. So there’s that. But you’re right, I could see white women, it is really interesting for her, though, to try to navigate the like racism never existed talking point. And I just don’t know how long that lasts. But I I think your I am intrigued by this idea that white women could swing towards her. So um, that’s interesting. 


Myles E. Johnson: Isn’t that odd, DeRay? Like simultaneously she’s saying that America isn’t racist and that very historic systemic racism is being weaponized against her to disqualify her. Like she’s experiencing it [laugh] and losing because of it. As she’s saying it doesn’t exist. Just it’s–


Kaya Henderson: Good for her. Good for her. I love it. 


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come. 




DeRay Mckesson: So my news is actually Trump adjacent, but it’s really about storytelling, organizing in the political climate. There’s a fascinating article that’s in the Atlantic, and it’s called The Great Normalization. And what it essentially talks about that the punchline is that things are better today than they have been in a long time, but that is not what people believe. So you probably remember the great spike in crime. Homicides are up everywhere, like that whole narrative coming out of the pandemic. It is true there are about 66 cities that we collect crime data in, in about 60 of them crime spiked at one point as we were coming out of the pandemic. And and that is what everybody talked about. I will say this is a small aside. I am fascinated by how normalized we have become to the language of 2020, like how people talk about 2020 without talking about the police. People are like are like DEI spiked in 2020. Black art changed everything in 2020. Like people talk about the changes that happened in 2020 and refuse to talk about what led to the and maybe people say George Floyd’s name but will not talk about the police. And I think that is fascinating to me. But back to this article. People also are like, you know, the rate of inflation, everything’s more expensive. Police are dropping out of the force like that is a narrative. And in reality, what is really interesting is that violent crime rates have plummeted to their lowest level since the 1960s. The rate of inflation is exactly essentially where it was before the pandemic. So things are a little more expensive, but the rate is the same. It is true that officers did leave the force in a way that is measurable, and what happened when they did? Violent crime decreased. And what the writer does really well is talk about what Trump’s talking point is. Trump’s talking point is that and I’m going to take you back to what was before the pandemic. I’m going to make cities safe. You know, all this conversation about justice and what not, let more criminals out. And he’s going to fix inflation, da da da this has given him a lot of credit because he barely has complete sentences. But what is really interesting uh is that 77% of Americans think that crime is more than it was a year ago. It’s not. A Wall Street Journal survey found that voters overwhelmingly believe that Trump will do a better job than Biden when it comes to the economy, inflation and crime. But again, the true story is that Biden has already done a better job than Trump on all of those areas. Now, I disagree with the Biden presidency on issues around Palestine and some other things. What is true is that the biggest issues that have been issues for voters across election cycles, crime, money, those are better today than they were. Those are historically low. Crime is at historically low levels. And when you ask people, they disagree. Now, what I would offer is that, you know, one of the downsides to a commercial, fully commercial media industry is that they need clicks. And when you have an industry that is dominated by needing clicks, the one murder that does happen, the one crime that does happen, takes up so much air that people believe that this is happening everywhere. What’s really interesting, too, is that when you poll people and say, have you do have you been a victim of crime? Or do you know somebody that’s been a victim of crime, it is always low. That has historically been low but when you ask people, is crime bad? They say yes, because they’ve seen it essentially in the media. And I’m fascinated by this. And this I do think is the organizer’s dilemma. How do we tell stories about what is true in the world without discounting the negative things, but also being honest about like, y’all this is you don’t know what bad was, this is better. And you might not feel it in the same way, uh but it matters in terms of what we get long term. Because I can tell you, Trump is not going to make it better than you know, the Trump era was a hard era. And I, last thing I’ll say, I should not laugh about this, but I definitely had a good guffaw on Twitter because there was a story about, uh there was a white woman who was married to somebody who was undocumented, voted for Trump, her husband gets deported. And her quote was, I thought he was only going to deport the criminals, and I just couldn’t. I’m like, you know what? Play silly games. 


Kaya Henderson: Lord today. 


DeRay Mckesson: Win silly prizes. 


Kaya Henderson: Win silly prizes. Mmm.


Myles E. Johnson: What? This was such a fascinating article DeRay, like thank you for bringing it in. Because I’ve read it like three times. [laugh] Um. I think the first thing that comes to my mind and I hopefully I’m making a little bit of a logic jump, but I’m thinking about all the times we think about illiteracy and we talk about um, media literacy actual like, like illiteracy in um, in schools and how the media is going to become just more powerful because essentially through this article, it’s saying, and and I think that you touched on this, it’s saying that media literally is able to morph how people are experiencing and how what they think is going on and not stats. And I think if we have even more people who are not equipped with reading and media literacy, and knowing that there’s a commercial incentive of why they’re getting what they’re getting, um that it’s only going to intensify, which makes commercial storytelling and the storytelling that we’re telling people in media just as important as the real facts, which is scary. It’s it’s it’s scary that you can’t just look at a sheet of paper and say, this is better and that be enough. But now you have to know how to creatively sensationalize the good news. Like, that’s a horrifying space to be in. And I don’t see it getting any better with what we’ve been talking about as far as it goes to literacy and media literacy, um in this nation. 


Kaya Henderson: I thought this was. I mean, I literally again, thank you DeRay because it doesn’t feel this way. Right? It feels like inflation is out of control. It feels like crime is out of control. I happen to live in the one city where crime is actually up, but I’m so glad of every place else in the country, crime is low. Um. And it is really, I mean, literally, I just had the same thought as you did, which was what is the media’s incentive to report this good news? There is none because bad news sells newspapers or clicks or whatever. And this is part of the problem. This is the reason why the Trump center of gravity is so strong. And on this podcast, we continually talk about how the current administration does not tell its own stories, does not pump the things that it has done, doesn’t take credit for the hard won policy issues. And this is the like this is the prime example. Like if you just went out with this, if they just took this and, you know, beat this thing all over the place, you could easily have a shift in people’s thinking and perception. Except people have to feel something different. Right. And and I do think that like, you know, prices are up, they’ve gone back down, but they still feel more expensive than they felt. Um. What was interesting a little bit was how wages are up. It was interesting to learn that wages are up, that unemployment is down, like people actually have more money. It was also interesting to note that this set of political, um policy decisions that we made in the United States actually put us in a better position than Europe, which is experiencing tremendous inflation and, and issues, um that like we won we won the political we won the policy bet on what it was going to take to come back from the pandemic. And people don’t know that. And so um, who is like I wonder who who is the right messenger for this? Right. Like, because Biden is not the right messenger, you need some external validators who will say, wait a minute, stop friends. Like, are you checking out what is happening? If you were the king of the world and could create whatever kind of a media campaign you thought would be effective, how would we get this message to the people? 


Myles E. Johnson: Was that specifically to DeRay? 


Kaya Henderson: Do y’all– Yes. To every, to everybody, king or queen of the world. 


Myles E. Johnson: I think specifically for my point of view, it’s not even just about the messenger. It’s how the message is being told. So and and and hold on to your wigs. I think the impact of the bad news still needs to happen. So the impact of the bad news still needs to happen and the relief needs to be there too. So meaning that headline, that feeling that, oh, crime and then baked into that needs to be the relief of and and President Biden actually solved it. So I think that you can’t outsmart human psychology in how we want to engage with news and what gets our attention, but we can be smart enough to actually bake in into those headlines, into those articles, into that news story, and into the how we’re giving these narratives out. The actual relief and the hero of that relief. So it’s not a, am I making sense? I think sometimes it’s like, oh, Biden did this good, this good, this good, this good. No, it’s this was horrible. This is horrible, this is horrible, this is horrible. And and here’s the relief for it. And this is what’s a solve because I don’t I don’t think that we’re going to overnight not be attracted to bad news and catastrophes. 


DeRay Mckesson: You probably all heard the like retail everybody’s stealing from Target and they got to close CVS’s because of all the retail theft. So it recently came out that those stories were not real. Overinflated, didn’t happen. They were closing the stores for other reasons. They just used retail theft as like the as the background. And why do I bring it up? New York State released a $40 million dollar plan to deal with retail theft as a result of the media. $40 million dollars. So 25 million of it goes to funding state police. 10 million goes to funding district attorneys and 5 million to local law enforcement. For an issue that was made up in the media. [laugh] So you’ll like of all the things, so if inflation is a big deal, we should be giving people more money to buy groceries. That is a real thing. You know, like $40 million dollars to deal with retail theft. And it was not an issue. It was made up. It was a lie. That’s wild. 


Myles E. Johnson: So do we think that those people. I’m just gonna say Eric Adams as an umbrella term, [laugh] but do we think that Eric Adams believes those stories? Or do we think that Eric Adams just needed an excuse to give more money to the police, and he used this as an excuse because he already knew that the public is um convinced of this? 


Kaya Henderson: Is this a city issue or a state issue, DeRay? 


DeRay Mckesson: This was a–


Kaya Henderson: Is it at the state level?


DeRay Mckesson: The state yeah. Eric Adams supported it with Hochul because the shoplifting happens in New York City. But it was a state allocation. 


Myles E. Johnson: Got it. 


Kaya Henderson: Which means which means that there are a bunch of people, a bunch of state legislators all across the state who are hearing this media and who have internalized this and voted yes to $40 million dollars for more law enforcement. 


Myles E. Johnson: Got it. 


De’Ara Balenger: But but it is. It is how like the cycle of like, political operations works. It’s like something isn’t isn’t a success until the media has covered it. And then what the media is covering, everyone tries to quickly, you know, come up with policy solutions too, so that they can get credit for addressing something the media has sensationalized. And so, for example, like when you work for a political person or on a campaign every day, you get what the news was the day before. And what the news is that morning. And so principally, how you’re orienting yourself for that day and what you’re focused on is based on the news cycle. What’s also funny is just like having worked on campaigns when even the polling people will say, well, Black people think this. And I’m like, how much did you spend on a poll to find out that Black people watch BET? You know what I’m saying? So I think it is like some of it– 


DeRay Mckesson: De’Ara, what did it look like every day? What was what was I’m curious, I didn’t know. We’ve never talked about this. What what was the like daily, daily download of the news. Like how did it did it come in an email? And y’all sat around and had a meeting about it? 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. No. 


DeRay Mckesson: Like what did, I’m curious. 


De’Ara Balenger: It comes it comes through. It comes on ea– so it’s their clip, their called clips. So I’m sure other people in other industries get clips. But your day starts with I mean, I still have Google alerts for Hillary Clinton on my on my Google news. So it’s like it starts with clips. So all the news from the previous, you know, previous days that was like, you know, national news or news in really big cities. That would be a it would be a focus in terms of okay, what [pause] first of all, flagging this like what in these things are true or not true? And then how can we go back to those reporters to to course correct. But the other thing is the comms team, when a comms team gets together, that’s what they look at. They look at what what was in the news cycle? Where there needs to be pushback, what surrogates need to go out this day and say, okay, yesterday Donald Trump said this, now we need to send out all our surrogates to say X, Y, and Z. So every day it’s like a daily a, you know, kind of a, you know, a daily reaction. Um. On what’s been going on in the news like, you know, in political in campaigns have huge, um rapid response teams and the rapid response team response team’s job is to just respond to things that are true and not true in the media. When you’re watching a debate, there’s a rapid response team that is in that moment tweeting back against whatever that your opponent is saying during that debate. So all that to say, like so much of how the infrastructure is set up, is to be responsive to the news cycle. Or to get ahead of the news cycle. 


DeRay Mckesson: Last thing I’ll say is that what I do think is um to your question, Myles, like, what is the what here? I think that it is simpler to me, is that people really do not challenge what the police say, like, if the police say it is true, it is like an uphill battle. People talk about data informed and da da da. But the moment the police say like you might get killed or something like that. All logic goes out the window. And we, you know, I think about what we have to do in our work to justify things. I gotta have 15 studies, three experts, you know, video footage, uh you know, documentary about it. The police literally walk in and they are like, people are shoplifting and everybody’s like, pass the law. You’re like what? It can’t be that, or like in DC, in Philadelphia, and Atlanta, they’re like, we’re going to ban ski masks. 


Kaya Henderson: Ski masks. 


DeRay Mckesson: The law actually says we’re banning hoods. Nobody nobody read it because the police just said, it’s a ski mask ban, you’re like, that is wild that they the police can just, like go around being like, I think that’s a ski mask, fine. That’s nuts. 


De’Ara Balenger: But I don’t even think I think DeRay, there’s a step before that where it’s like Black and Brown folks are dehumanized already. So by the time police are speaking about it, there’s already a disregard for all of those human beings. So I think the media also plays a role just in terms of like narrative around what our communities are. And when you look at, you know, one of the things that I was I’ve been obsessed with American Fiction and listened to um, a podcast with Cord Jefferson, who’s the director and writer, well adapted the the, um adapted the script for American Fiction. And he was a journalist. And one of the reasons he wanted to move from journalism to entertainment was because he thought that there would be more imagination put to use around how you know, how stories are told around Black people. But it was the same. [laugh] It was the same once he got out of journalism. And when he got into entertainment, it was just it was always bang, bang, shoot ’em up. It was always, we’re in complete despair. There’s no joy. There’s no, so I think part of it is that the media on all sides is doing such a good job of, you know, dehumanizing Black and Brown people and women and trans folks, etc., etc.. 


Kaya Henderson: I think in addition to that, we can’t underestimate how basic public safety is as a need. And so part of the reason why, I mean, public safety is like on the low end of Maslow’s hierarchy, right? People need to feel safe. This is why, for large parts of the Black community, defunding the police or reducing investments in police was not an option. And so I think you get a different response when you say public safety and people feeling like they can move around in the world without being robbed or shot or whatever. And I think that’s also the reason why it’s very easy for people to believe whatever the police say. 


Myles E. Johnson: I know we have to move on. But the other thing that I do want to add to that is the I think the good work that you’re doing, DeRay, is I think a lot of people don’t see police as a entity with a political bend. You know, I think it’s been the since the work you’ve been doing, to show no there’s political incentives. And I think that a lot of people still have, um that I’m, that I’m coining as we speak, like the firefighter syndrome with police people. Whereas it’s like, oh, these are just the heroes of the ground, you know? And they wouldn’t lie to us, and they’re just protecting us and stuff. And I think that that’s a really hard narrative to break through and to transform. 


De’Ara Balenger: So my news today I’ve found in Architectural Digest, um because I love interiors and designs, I, I’m just obsessed. And so and I particularly love those things when they intersect with my world of Blackness. Um. And so we’ve covered, you know, different stories on Black architecture before, um you know, Black place making. And this always takes me um, to one of my favorite books, which is Black Interiors, where Elizabeth Alexander talks a lot about Black spaces and Black interiority. Um. But this story is about the Watts. Um. Let me get it right now. Let me get it right. Um. Watts Happening. [laugh] The Watts Happening center. And so what I didn’t know is, you know, you know, you hear a lot about the the Watts towers, um in Watts and in Los Angeles. Um. But in 1965, two months after the Watts uprising, a group of citizens converted an abandoned furniture store in an arts center, um and named it the Watts Happening Coffee House. And so in 1967, a collective of collective of artists, musicians and writers, um formed within this within this space, um and it it it is it survived there for, for years and years. Um. And so how this relates to this Architectural Digest piece, um is that um is that Brent Leggs, who is senior vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, wants to see Watts Happen with the 1970 Watts Happening Cultural center, um be a hub for community members and artists, etc. again, um so in two in the fall of 2022, the center became one of eight grant recipients from the new Conserving Black Modernism program, which is a part of the National Trust for Historical Preservation. And it also the other things that, of course, went down a rabbit hole when it comes to Brent Leggs. But the other thing that he helped to put together was the African-American Cultural Heritage Act– Action Fund. And what I learned about that fund is they also put a ton of money into preserving Black churches across across the country. Um. But anyhow, this part, this part of the work is really focused on the modernism movement. Um. And it it comes with a $3.1 million dollar gift from the Getty Foundation. And, and Getty, I guess is a partner in this, in this program. But I just found this to be so fascinating and and also just in context of the conversation we were just having because I think especially for me growing up in Washington, D.C., where there were so many Black places and spaces. Um. To be saved, to be heard, to explore, etc. I just find a lack of those places today, and even more of a lack a lack of um or not a lack of but just is not as many Black owned businesses or Black owned restaurants as there used to be when I was growing up. And so I found this one to be so interesting. And so the idea is to bring the the cultural center back, the coffee shop back, and the coffee shop is so cool because it still has a ton of the Black memorabilia, um that it had when it opened in the 1960s. So I’m excited to see, um fundraising continue for this center. Um. And also to get to be able to visit and to figure out how we can be more helpful because it just seems like it can be such a beautiful, um and impactful place for Black folks to be able to convene, learn, grow, and explore. 


Myles E. Johnson: I absolutely loved this article. It um, the specific thing that like, really touched me was the connection to the swimming pools and what was happening with uh desegregation during some of the buildings of this um, of of these things. And I think that so um maybe like a couple of weeks ago, I went to go look at the first um basically uh mass timber mansion made in um New York City. And it made me and it was in the middle of um Brooklyn [laugh] and and it was like it’s such a kind of a odd thing to witness. And it was cool. And I’ve been like just I just love architecture. So I it was cool to see something like that in person. And it did make me think in that moment because, you know, a white family occupies it right now and it’s and it’s and it’s kind of in mainstream architectural, uh commercial world of of importance, and it made and it made me think about how important it is to preserve things that were made by Black people, and specifically things that are still being occupied in Black communities. And I just, I don’t know, like reading this just warmed me because I think it’s so there it just every single thing when it comes to architecture, where they decided to put the light, what they decided to do as far as design. But yeah, I think that having and preserving what Black people, Black architects, what Black housing, um Black homes looked like is so important because it tells you so much about what we thought was important, what we um, where the lights going? How we how uh uh what the trends were, what spaces we knew we were going to occupy more of and less of. And that just tells you so much about how Black life was, and there’s just not a whole bunch of the preserving of that. And now that architecture is um, you know, gratefully integrated, but there’s not necessarily a whole bunch of artifacts from the past to kind of specifically hone in on Black life and the Black home. And I just love that people are seeing how important it is to um preserve this. Another thing that I wanted to mention is um, hood mid-century, which is a Instagram that I follow. And of course, because De’Ara um knows everybody, she knows the people who run that as well. But um, it’s such a cool Instagram page and it shows how um, mid-century is existing in um predominantly Black neighborhoods and how Black people have too uh participated in mid-century decor. And um, I think that’s a really important cool Instagram page to follow if this article interests you. Thank you so much, De’Ara, for bringing this to the podcast. This is just my sweet spot, child, I love this. 


DeRay Mckesson: I’ll say I didn’t know. I don’t have much to add to this. This was all new to me, so I’m in super learner mode. But I didn’t know that Morgan State University, that buildings at Morgan and my wonderful hometown of Baltimore were designed by Black architects. I also didn’t know that other architects refused to design building HBCU’s at some point in time, but it was cool to see that build– I know that building at Morgan. I mean, we all do because Baltimore is a small place and I’m like, whoa, look at that. So I’m excited to I can’t wait for there to be like a or for me to find a very easy database or of all the buildings like this, it’s cool to celebrate. I think about, the resurgence of people doing tours of Black art and thinking about these Black buildings, especially because architect, they’re like, no Black architects. It’s like such a small number even today. So the idea that, as they say in the article, that uh these institutional, these intentional buildings were built not sort of like random homes, but building buildings, you know, like I love that. And even and, you know um, what’s his face who did, David Adjaye who did the museum and uh the national, the Smithsonian. He also did a high school in the Bronx. And I love going to that school. Like, it’s so cool that he did it because you’re like, you got a Black architect to make a high school. And this isn’t like a, you know, it’s not like a world famous high school. It’s not. It’s sort of a relatively new it’s actually K-8. It’s just high school is in there right now, but gorgeous building. And I’m like, whew it’s so few Black architects. 


Kaya Henderson: He almost did a high school in DC when I was leading. Um. But alas, we weren’t able to make it happen. Um. But I love that he is intentional about not just doing big, fancy things, but doing things that hit regular people. Thanks, De’Ara, this was super refreshing. It was nice to learn some of these things. I looked at that building at Morgan, DeRay, and I was like my high school, which was built in like, I don’t know, probably the late ’60s, early ’70s has a facade that looks exactly like that. And so I was trying to do some research, but could not figure out who the um, who the architect was. But as I looked at some of the the pictures in the article, some of them look strangely familiar. And so my guess is there are many more buildings that we pass every day that were designed by Black people that we just don’t know about. So um, one of the things that I think is an interesting byproduct of an attack on our history and our culture is it heightens our our commitment to preserving our history and our culture. And so um, I want to shout out Brent Leggs, who for whom also, leadership and representation matter. When you have Black people leading in architectural spaces, then Black people preserve Black people’s architects architecture. And so um and so one, you know, I think at some point in the article, Brent Leggs, um who is the person who is leading this work at the trust um talked about being the first African-American to graduate from his architecture program. And, and a couple people have alluded to how few architects there are. But when we get into leadership in spaces, we look out for our history and our culture. And so I just thought this was um, a huge, um homage to not only Black architecture, but Black leadership and representation and preservation of history and culture and all the things. So thanks De’ara. And speaking of preserving Black history and culture, I got some good news [clapping] today friends. Um. You might have already heard, but um, I am sharing with you today that um this week, Spelman College announced a $100 million dollar historic gift, which is the largest single donation ever to a historically Black college or university. Woop woop woop. Um. This is exciting. This is transformative. And um, I just wanted to make sure that everybody knew about it. The $100 million dollars was donated by Ronda Stryker, who is on the board of trustees at Spelman, and her husband, William Johnston. $75 million dollars of the gift will go towards endowed scholarships, which will help Spelman to attract the best and brightest um students, and it will remove financial barriers. They are moving to being um, a need blind institution, which means no matter what your financial situation, they will make sure that the resources are available for you to go. Um. And then 25 million will go towards an academic focus on public policy and democracy. Um. Which, of course, especially at this particular moment, we need more, I will say, Black women leading in the public policy and democracy space. Um. It will also go to improve student housing, and it will provide Spelman with flexible funding for critical needs. Um I want to shout out Miss Ronda, Mrs. Ms. Ronda Stryker um who is the director of Stryker Corporation. Um. It’s a medical equipment company that was founded by her grandfather. Um. She her net worth is $7.4 billion dollars. And she has used her philanthropy in the education space um in some pretty significant ways. She gave $100 million dollars to create the Homer Stryker, that’s her grandpa, Medical School at Western Michigan University. She gave 20 million to Harvard Medical School to support equitable health care. And in 2018, she gave $30 million dollars to Spelman, which at the time was the largest gift from living donors in Spelman’s history. Um. Little known fact she also started her career as a special ed teacher in Kalamazoo, Michigan public schools. Shout out to our public school teachers. Woop woop! Um. Spelman, as many people know, is the number one historically Black college and university in the country for the second year in a row, according to U.S. News and World Reports. Best college ranking um and Spelman and Bennett colleges produce over half of the nation’s African-American women who go on to earn doctorates in all science fields, which is more than is produced by the Ivy League seven sister schools combined. Um. There’s been a big boom in interest in HBCU’s over the past few years. Applications are up 30%. Enrollment is soaring at HBCUs while general college enrollment is declining nationally. Um. And it is because of two things. One is because of the tremendous track record of success at HBCUs. 40% of all Black engineers graduated from HBCUs. 50% of all Black lawyers, 70% of all Black doctors, and 80% of all Black judges graduated from HBCUs. But it’s also because um, I think in this particular moment in history, people are recognizing especially talented, um families of talented young people who are looking at colleges and universities. Um. They understand that at HBCUs, our young people are getting a different experience than they are at a predominantly white institution. They get attention to their identity development, their culture, their history, their well-being. They find community in ways that they um have not. And so, I’m I didn’t go to an HBCU, but I am here for it all. My mom was a HBCU alum. Many people in my circle, friends, family are HBCU alums, and I’m excited that HBCUs are getting their due, that they are being recognized for the contributions that they make to the United States. Um I appreciate that families are flocking to universities that were built for us and by us. Um. And I’m excited that people see them as a huge investment opportunity, the investments that are going to be made at the um, with the women at Spelman are going to return on us nationally ten or twenty fold. And so thanks, Rhonda and your husband. Um. Thank you to President Helene Gayle, who is a friend, um and is doing amazing work as the president of Spelman. Thank you to the Spelman women who show up everywhere. They are unapologetically as leaders, as as, um thinkers, as contributors. And this just warmed my heart. So I wanted to bring it to the podcast so that we had something to celebrate. 


Myles E. Johnson: I am celebrating. That is such good news. And of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t add a little bit of lemon to it. We should be having a lot more we have a [laugh] we have um too many multimillionaires. We don’t got that many Black billionaires, but we have a lot of Black multi-millionaires, more than we’ve ever had before. This actually should be happening regularly, if not the $100 million dollar donation. I know you got 100 people who can give a million. 


Kaya Henderson: Say it Myles, say it. 


Myles E. Johnson: And and make it and make it like that. So I think that the more um and and just hearing her story and how um important and how she, how she literally puts her money where her mouth is, I think that um, the, the Harvard donation really struck home to me because we talk so much about Black women and um, and and and when they go to hospitals and in mortality rates of Black women with at being pregnant and stuff. And I love that she’s actually putting her money where, um where her politics are. And I think that a lot of wealthy Black people should be following her suit in, in, in, you know, even if it takes, you know, making 99 more friends and, and and giving it to these um, HBCUs I think. Yeah. This just warmed my heart. Thank you, Auntie Kaya. 


De’Ara Balenger: Well, being the daughter of a Morehouse grad and my both my brothers went to Morehouse and my uncle, and yet somehow my mom convinced me to go to Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. [laughter] No disrespect Macalester. You know. Me, me and my colleagues had to develop our Black studies program there. But, you know, it’s okay. No love lost. But it is one of my big regrets, not going to Spelman. I made up for it. I feel like with my HBCU experience at Texas Southern University in Houston. Um. But when I, you know, I’m so excited by this gift. And and and Myles, to your point, there’s so much work that needs to be done across HBCUs. Um. TSU was one of those that’s like, rarely on the list of places to receive these big gifts. It is usually like Morehouse, Spelman, um Howard. Um. So, you know, super, super excited for this. But yes, but hopefully it builds momentum for more fundraising. I’m fundraising right now for FAMU. I didn’t go to FAMU. I act like I did, but my my friends who are 25 years from the entry from ’99 from the entry of FAM, FAM does it from the time you came in, not the time you came out, because some people take longer than others. Um. But but big fundraising campaign there that um I’m excited to get, get rolling for, for 2024. So thank you for bringing this Kaya. I love to see it for so many reasons. 


Kaya Henderson: Myles, I am with you that there are many, many more people who could be donating, especially ones that look like us and come from these schools. And until they do, I want to shout out a couple of other folks who have given quite a bit. Um. Last, a week before, uh the Lilly Endowment gave $100 million dollars to the United Negro College Fund, which represents a number of historically Black colleges and universities, 37 million. Um 37 historically Black colleges and universities. Um. They are trying to raise a 300 and they’re trying to raise $370 million dollars for a shared endowment for all HBCUs. And so giving to the United Negro College Fund is also a way to support. Um 560 million was donated by Mackenzie Scott, uh to 22 historically Black colleges, the United Negro College Fund and the Thurgood Marshall Fund. Um. Netflix founder Reed Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, split 120 million among the United Negro College Fund, Spelman and Morehouse. And former New York City mayor and entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg pledged $100 million dollars for student aid at the four historically Black medical schools. Um. And so there are people who recognize that an investment in historically Black colleges and universities is a good investment. And Myles, together we are going to challenge more rich Black folks to understand if you don’t do nothing else, rich Black folks follow rich white people, right? So follow these rich white people and give your money to HBCUs. 


Myles E. Johnson: Okay, okay. 


DeRay Mckesson: Um. The only thing I’ll say is that uh I think I have three quick things. One is that shout out to the donors and we’re fundraising at Campaign Zero. So if any billionaires are listening, please call me and let me know. We’re doing good work and making an impact. [laughter] And shout out to you know, we love Spelman and the Black medical schools and all the things. Please donate. The second thing is that the disparity in extreme wealth is greater than it has probably ever been since, you know, there’s a class of people who had literally no money because they were property. And it is still criminal that those people don’t really pay taxes. And while the donors are good, it is really hard when you’re like, people are making more money than I will probably ever even know how to write on a piece of paper. And it is untaxed. That is wild. 


Myles E. Johnson: That’s right DeRay. Yeah. We can’t just we can’t just hope billionaires become nice. 


Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm.


DeRay Mckesson: And the third thing is that when I think about um the Black rich people, the richest Black people, not sort of just the Black financially secure people. Because I feel like when people say rich, sometimes they really mean financially secure. I think when we talk about white people and we say rich, we mean, you can buy an island and it is a afterthought, um you know. There is I want to put all the Black rich people together and remind them that if the structural don’t change, it don’t matter. It matters less. And like, you know, I just have met some incred– all of us have met some incredibly powerful Black people who are moving mountains, who know the right people. And y’all know half the battle is getting in the room. But get, when you in the room, you can do a lot. Getting in the room is hard, and I see some people who have just who have intentionally not made choices to change structures in ways that just boggle my mind. I think about all the Black people who, like, won’t do anything with education here in America, but are building schools in Africa. It really at my heart gets it sort of because like, everybody deserves education. But I just like, don’t I don’t really get it. You know, like there’s a whole set of people who make some choices, um that I which is why I love people like LeBron. Say what you will about LeBron and that school. It is a commitment to community. It is a wrap around model. Is it a community, it’s a community school. It intentionally targets the kids who were left behind and who are not like. You might not love LeBron’s work around race and whatever, but that school is actually like, if you are rich and want to do something at the school level, I’m like, this to me is like at least an attempt to do it right. Um. And I respect that. So I’ll just leave it there. 


De’Ara Balenger: But I will also say, because I think part of this just from my interaction of going to very private schools and then the liberal arts college and the folks of color, particularly Black folks that don’t have an HBCU experience or don’t understand the HBCU experience and oftentimes think it is actually better to have gone to elite white schools. Like there is dis– there is some dissonance between Black folks actually understanding what the HBCU experience and construct is. Now, I’m not going to say most of those people spend their summers in Martha’s Vineyard. But– [laughter]


Kaya Henderson: And so–[?] 


De’Ara Balenger: You know what I’m saying so it’s. There you go. So I think from going to school, like I went to a HBCU in Texas. Right. And then I met kids that went to Bethune, Tuskegee, like those schools and folks, you know, kind of, you know, staying in the South or going so as far as Atlanta, it’s like that that is different from, you know, sort of the Black Wall Street mentality. I will say Robert Smith did what he did, and that was the year my my baby brother graduated and he forgave all those loans. And those my brother’s friends are able to do whatever they can teach. They can do whatever they want to do. So that is incredible. Um.


Kaya Henderson: That was also interestingly timed right, because he was he had the feds on his back and he was about to go down. And voilà–


De’Ara Balenger: Ooo Kaya, I didn’t know [clap] that tea. 


Kaya Henderson: Girl. Listen, the Robert Smith thing is like one of the biggest financial scandals in American history.


DeRay Mckesson: Wait, [?] I wish you all had seen De’Ara’s face. I wish y’all had seen De’ara’s lean in to ooh I didn’t know that tea. [laugh] Okay, Kaya. Sorry. Go ahead. What were you saying? 


Kaya Henderson: The Robert Smith financial tax scandal is like I think if I remember reading correctly, it is like the biggest tax evasion case in the history of tax evasion. And uh, and yeah, we’ll have to talk about that on another thing. I’ll send you some articles, girl, it’s a lot. And right before it all went down, he was like, here’s the money Morehouse. [?] Absorbed everybody’s loans. Yes. And so um I’m not saying the two are related. I’m just saying it’s a coincidence. 


Myles E. Johnson: Um DeRay you have me thinking what with what you just commented, as you always do. But um, over the weekend, I went to um the Guggenheim with um somebody who works at the Mellon Foundation, and that was actually the basis of the conversation. But it was around art about how what what is the psychology that you’d have to have as a Black person to get into certain types of art spaces because it’s, it’s it’s you go to Yale and then you go here, and this is how you get into the galleries, how you get into the museums. So what do you have to put down psychologically in order to even um, get into these spaces? And I think of the same thing about any industry, specifically industries like this like who well who do you have to pretend not to be, what do you have to ignore? What do you have to kind of put down to get inside of the room? I think LeBron, to your point, is a really interesting case of somebody who didn’t necessarily have to do the the bleaching of the mind in order to survive in those spaces. So when there they do have the access, when they do have the money, they have um, a pro-Black way of thinking about it. They have they have, a more expansive way of thinking about it. Whereas a lot of other people, I don’t want to say nobody’s name, but other people had to put down and pick up some of [?] much respectability in order to um, get into those spaces by the time they have any power to do anything, they’re kind of ran useless. So music, music writing is just the foundation of why I even am in media in any capacity. Um. I love it. I grew up on it, and I just had to close my eyes and think to myself, if I was just writing about this little indie band, maybe they have 10,000 followers, maybe 5000, but they’re making really cool music. And I work at Pitchfork, and then all of a sudden I see Bob in some sunglasses, come in. Um. Bob wig, Anna Wintour, come in, and she got sunglasses on, and she’s telling us that Pitchfork is now going to be um, a part of GQ. I would be horrified. And that’s exactly what happened for a lot of people um this past week, uh it was announced that now Pitchfork will be a part of GQ. Here’s here, here it is. A couple of reasons. Pitchfork is specifically one of the last, last, last, last publications that care about indie music. If you have not noticed, music has changed. They are not being subtle about what some music is for. There are chicken wings and and product placements in some music videos. And they’re not being subtle about yes, we’re selling vitamin waters, we’re selling chicken and we’re selling um, any other product. And that’s what we’re interest– and we’re interested in music that is going to get us to sell this product. That is the industry that you’re in. Um. And Pitchfork would censor people who were musicians first, people who were experimenting with music first, people who were, um interesting, elevating and expanding um our ears, which is what music is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a relay race of sorts of to like um, excellence in artistic expansion, um which a lot of times commercialism can blunt and destroy um in silence. So it’s scary to think that Pitchfork is going to be part of GQ. And because now the motivations behind what gets covered and what music is getting written about is now going to be changing, we can’t be silly about that. So it’s going to be like, if Harry Styles decides to do something interesting, it will be covered. But if this band, who is 15K followers, is deciding to do something interesting, it may not be able to get that spot in Pitchfork, which was again one of the last places that um, really was censoring that indie, that indie musician. I don’t want to just hyper focus on Pitchfork, even though I do, because, you know that that’s just a big deal to me. But also um, when I look at Okayplayer and what happened to them early, um late last year and how that is um, being, uh being reshaped, that scares me as well. Um. Okayplayer is shaping out to be another Essence, so another Black platform that is really centering the mainstream Black um experience, which is okay, but Okayplayer was the only place that if you needed to know what was happening musically with, um artists like Goapele, Amel Larrieux, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, The Roots, this was the place that you’d that you would go to. And now that Okayplayer has shifted, it’s like, where do you go? And this is just a bigger this is just a just another um uh peg on like, kind of media being destroyed, uh publication by publication. I’m not gonna pretend to know a lot about it, but Sports Illustrated, [laughing] um got got some bad news last week as well, and it’s it’s just it’s just scary, you know, because now, even if it appears that media is is um, is not monolithic, it’s hard to it’s hard to ignore that no, these publications are becoming more and more monolithic. It’s really going to become whoever has the attention of the pop mainstream TikTok audience. That is the music that is going to be centered and pushed, and all the other people who are doing music for other reasons, all the um, like, because do y’all remember, like watching stuff in, you know, I’m thinking about the era of, like, Fiona Apple and even going back to the era of Aretha Franklin, how that was just so not about certain types of commercial um incentives and how that music just pierced through and became big because it became big, or even how some people know about Bjork. And it’s interesting that so many people know about Bjork, but we wouldn’t be able to have a Bjork in 2024 because she’s not willing to sell Vitamin water in her commercials, and her music is not formulaic, and it might not do well on TikTok. That just really scares me. And I think because this is based in music, it feels extra personal. As somebody who makes music, as somebody who studies music, as somebody who writes about music, but I think it’s dangerous for everybody because now we’re we’re experiencing media in a in a vacuum, and it’s very, very clear what’s being centered, what’s being pushed and what’s being hidden and what’s being disregarded. And that shapes our imaginations, that shapes um our conversations, that shapes uh what we end up um experiencing with other people and and the kind of art that we get. And if we want the art to reflect the times, we can’t we we just cannot silence the people who are willing to reflect the times and and and heighten the people who are willing to reflect um, you know, product and commercial mass appeal. [pause] What y’all think, how y’all feel? Was it, you know. And could you have you done the thought experiment of if Nina Simone wanted to come out in 2023, 2024, that she wouldn’t be able to be successful, that so many people that we love and honor wouldn’t be able to survive in today’s marketplace? 


DeRay Mckesson: I’ll tell you. I looked up and I thought it was a joke that Sports Illustrated laid off the entire staff. So it is, you know, Pitchfork, Sports Illustrated, and what I think about it. So I obviously have not followed sports my whole life, but I know Sports Illustrated because randomly, the writer who broke the LeBron cover story followed me on Twitter and I followed him. And he, you know, he passed away recently. And I think about people like LeBron who like that story was a defining story in his career. That was a huge deal. It was a cover story. He’s a high school student, but that is just one of many. You know, Serena on the cover, like, all, there are so many people whose Sports Illustrated was just a seminal moment in shaping the public understanding of their incredible abilities. And not that they were laying off people, but they laid off the entire staffs? Pitchfork being, Pitchfork doing layoffs wasn’t surprising. Pitchfork being absorbed in a men’s magazine was like, what? You know, so I am we are in the dark days especially because what’s left is social media. And the incentive structure of social media is a lot of things. It is not truth. It is there are a whole lot of things are incentivized. Truth is not one of them. 


Myles E. Johnson: I think what is also incentivized as well, when it particularly when it comes to music is sensationalism. And I think there’s the you know, we’ve always had very um, sexual, flamboyant artists. And and, you know, I was just listen to the Macarena the other day [laugh] and then having a little nostalgic moment. So I don’t want to catastrophize anything. But I do think that if it’s all about who can get the most clicks and get the most views, then we’re going to end up in a place where there’s way more Sexyy Reds. Then insert another type of artist and another type of perspective. 


Kaya Henderson: I mean, for me, this ultimately is all about money, right? Um. This is the magazine industry is shifting radically and people just are not buying magazines the way they used to buy magazines. Some magazines have been successful in shifting to a digital platform. Others have not. Sports Illustrated has been struggling. Um. But underneath it all is the sort of bottom line piece. And in the I don’t know much about Pitchfork, but I can imagine that, you know, costs are cut they are you know, going to GQ and there’s a whole financial incentive around that later on for the cultural like impact. I think that the financial thing is probably what is driving that. Sports Illustrated, um they were acquired by a firm, how about this, they were acquired by the dude who made five hour energy drinks, like in a $50 million dollar deal, like a 45, $50 million dollar deal a couple of years ago. And, uh his name is Manoj Bhargava, the founder of Five Hour Energy. And he’s been the new leader of the Arena Group, which has run Sports Illustrated, apparently not the best new leader. And, they missed a payment to their big overseer. Um. And it has triggered a whole thing where they’re laying everybody off, and maybe they’ll start all over. But it also, I think there’s a lot of these sort of big back back channel deals happening where hedge funds and private equity are buying things like the magazine industry are buying things like the nursing home industry are buying things like not just commercial real estate, but residential real estate and setting crazy prices and crazy. I mean, the Sports Illustrated thing was triggered because they missed a payment to somebody. And so the whole thing goes up in arms and they’ve created these crazy financial incentives to dismantle industries that we aren’t even paying attention to. And so when you wake up and you aren’t able to not just not see the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue anymore or not see you’re breaking, you know, new sports icon or not able to get your indie music when you are not able to put your grandma in a nursing home, or when you’re not able to buy a house because the private equity establishment has literally purchased the whole thing, only then are we going to be able to look back and connect these dots. But this is a much more insidious thing– 


Myles E. Johnson: Wow. 


Kaya Henderson: –than a couple of, you know, magazines going bad because digital and social media, there is a a huge financial uprising that’s happening in this country around who owns industries and that wealth. You think the wealth is concentrated now? That wealth is getting more and more concentrated. And so. Yikes. Um. Thanks for bringing this. This is the canary in the coal mine, as far as I’m concerned. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. And the only thing I’ll say is, you know. You know, I am married to a journalist and a journalist who was a correspondent for Vice News. And so, you know, I think we’ve been impacted just in terms of, you know. This individual who I love and respect and who puts herself in very difficult circumstances, um to tell stories that are important to her, that the opportunity for that actually isn’t. It’s such a sliver of an opportunity that without Vice News existing, there are actually so few other platforms where she can do the work that she loves to do and tell the stories that, um otherwise will go untold. So I think that’s what that’s what I, I mean, Myles, to your point, it’s like, how will we know? How will we know? But for um you know, and obviously Vice is not perfect. We can have a whole podcast on that. But [laughter] how um [laugh], you know, without some of these really intentional voices, like, how would we how would we know? How would we know? 


Myles E. Johnson: The last thing that I’ll say is watching the Cindy Adams gossip documentary has been so illuminating for me because Cindy Adams, um she was in she, she worked at New York Post and she still works at New York Post. But inside of that documentary, it talks about how Republicans and conservatives saw the value, the Post saw the value of media. And when those things and when and when it wasn’t making any profit, they were like, we’re not selling. We’re keeping these on because it and and we’re going to figure this thing out and I’m going to keep it, even if it’s costing me money, because they knew that the value of being influential was just bigger than it being profitable. So I actually come out of my money per year to keep this thing going, if that’s what it takes. And I think that um, I just wish that more people who were the on the left of things, on the independent of things, on the more radical of things, had the same um, had the same spirit, specifically people with means, you know, people who are are wealthy, um could think in the same way instead of just letting everything be absorbed by the the commercial monster, um automatically. 


DeRay Mckesson: Don’t go anywhere, more Pod Save the People is coming. 




DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, we welcome Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves on the pod to talk about some of the initiatives that are making developments through the Biden administration. I learned a ton, had met nobody in the Commerce Department before, and you will too. Here we go. 


DeRay Mckesson: Don Graves, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People. 


Don Graves: DeRay, it is so good to be with you, brother. 


DeRay Mckesson: Now, we don’t have a lot of politicians on anymore or people who work in the government. Um. So this is a rare experience. We have a lot of authors on on recently. Um. Can you talk about how you got to public service? You’ve worked in a range of roles. You currently are in a very cool role, which we’ll talk about, but how did you did you know you always wanted to be in public service? Did you like, did you join a board one day? And then all of a sudden, just like spiraled into public service, how’d this happen? 


DeRay Mckesson: Well DeRay, I, I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and East Cleveland and uh, and then back and forth between Cleveland and and DC. And I saw what we all see in our communities. And that’s, the cycle of poverty, the lack of investment, the decades of disinvestment and persistent, uh uh systemic discrimination. And it got me to thinking that there had to be a better solution, because what was working in other communities wasn’t working in our communities. Um. So, you know, I got interested in this work sort of out of, I fell into it. Uh. I was, in law school here in DC at Georgetown, and I got a job working at a civil rights organization uh for the summer. And we were focusing on economic empowerment issues and uh, making sure that people had the financial literacy and access uh, to, to economic opportunities that they were missing. And that showed it sort of opened up my eyes to some of the systemic issues and the challenges that we face, like the redlining that, has gone on in so many of our communities. And it made me think, well, there’s more that I could do than just making money perhaps. I could actually devote my life and my career to trying to find ways to create opportunity. Because people have hopes and they have dreams, but they aren’t always provided the opportunity to turn those hopes and dreams into lives of dignity. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Now, as the deputy secretary of Commerce, I think most of our listeners will be like, I don’t know what the Department of Commerce does. [laughter] What is the Department of Commerce doing and why does it matter to people? 


Don Graves: Well, I am very fortunate to work, in a department. Most people, if they do know anything about it, they think that it’s the Department of Business. And we certainly work with businesses, but we’re really what I call America’s hall closet. And the thing about your hall closet is no matter what you need, you can always find what you need in your hall closet. So. 


DeRay Mckesson: Okay. 


Don Graves: That’s the great part about the Department of Commerce. We touch almost every aspect of people’s lives uh and the economy. We have 13 different bureaus, uh everything from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Weather Service, which handles climate issues and things like environmental justice. To the Minority Business Development Agency, the sole agency in the federal government. And I know a lot of folks in our community don’t realize this. It’s the sole agency devoted towards ensuring the long term health success of uh entrepreneurs who are socially and economically disadvantaged. So we touch all of that international trade, uh standards, manufacturing, uh telecommunications, you name it. And the Department of Commerce touches it. 


DeRay Mckesson: Also, the census is in your department. 


Don Graves: That’s right. Census Bureau and the Patent and Trademark Office, the Bureau of Economic Analysis. We are a statistical agency, a science agency, as well as a policy and program department. And it’s important the Census Bureau is the one agency that’s called out in the Constitution. The census is critically important for us to determine how resources are going to be used, because every federal program, if it’s based on, uh on what we call formula grants, it means that they give resources based on the population. And if you don’t know what your population is, if you can’t count who lives in which community, then you’re not going to be able to equitably uh deliver those resources to the communities. 


DeRay Mckesson: Now, one of the Biden initiatives, if I got this correctly and I’m going to screw it up. So please fix it for me is the Chips and Science Act of 2022. Um. That is supposed to help with access around technology and [?] communities. But can you help us understand, like why it matters? Like, is this a, is this a continuation of work that has been happening for a long time? Is this a new thing that the Biden administration put out? Is this going to target a range of communities? How do we how do we think about it? 


Don Graves: So I think it’s important for folks to take a step back and fully appreciate what, what semiconductors or chips actually are. And then I’ll get to your question. Semiconductors. Microchips are in everything that we use in modern life. They are in our telephones. They’re in our computers, our cars, our appliances. They’re certainly in advanced technologies and some of our, our military technology. But really, they are in everything that we use every single day. And the way to think about them is that they’re the brains that allow our technologies to operate. So at one point, we were the leaders in, chip technology in the production of chips. That’s why Silicon Valley is named the way it is, because semiconductors, by and large, are made of silicon. And so Silicon Valley was the place where the chips were developed. And really, uh uh we advanced and led the world in its production. But over the course of a number of decades, we’ve lost all of that manufacturing capacity in the United States, especially for the most advanced chips. Now, we only account for about 10% of the worldwide production of semiconductors. 


DeRay Mckesson: Oh wow. 


Don Graves: Why is that important? Well, remember, in the pandemic, when supply chains were shutting down all over the globe and the big three automakers, for instance, they had real challenges getting a range of different components. But the biggest challenge that they had was getting the chips that they needed to control their vehicles. So we ended up producing 8 million cars. They came off the assembly lines, but they sat there at the manufacturing plants. They couldn’t go anywhere because they didn’t have the chips to be able to drive them anywhere. So you couldn’t get them to the dealership. 


DeRay Mckesson: That’s what happened? 


Don Graves: That was it was it was a huge driver of of–


DeRay Mckesson: Wow. 


Don Graves: –inflation back in ’21. It was basically one third of the rise of inflation in 2021. So you see what the, the, the supply chain challenges can do if especially as it relates to chips, which is in everything. When you when you have those things break down, then it means that we don’t have what we need to produce. So now you you fast forward and you see why chips production is so important. It’s not just about the the companies that make the chips. It’s about the all the companies that use the chips and of course, all the companies that provide the supplies and the equipment to the chip companies. It has a huge ramifications for our economy. But what the president knew from day one was that we had to move uh more production back to the United States, and that’s why he, working with Congress, was able to pass the Chips and Science Act. It’s giving us more than $50 billion dollars to invest in chipmaking in all of the the facilities around the country and the ecosystem, all the suppliers and manufacturers of equipment that support uh the chip makers. What we’re doing is beginning to make those investments. But what we’re seeing is that it’s not just about our $50 billion dollars, which is a is a lot of money, but it’s not nearly enough of what we need. The private sector is coming in and making huge investments. So they’ve already made more than $200 billion dollars of investments on top of the investments that we’re making. So what that means is that we’re going to create about 100,000 new construction jobs across the country. We’re going to create 90,000 other, directly related jobs in the ecosystem. That means that our companies all across the country, and it’s not just about Silicon Valley, it’s about every community in the country can participate uh in some way in the broader chips ecosystem. That means good jobs, family sustaining jobs. And it means that we can’t be held hostage to other countries because they’re the ones who are producing the chips. 


DeRay Mckesson: Now will there be like, baby Silicon Valley’s that pop up across the country? Is that how this is going to work? 


Don Graves: So you already see some major uh hubs of semiconductor leadership all across the country. Uh.  We know that places like uh, Arizona, Texas, New York State, even uh Ohio near Columbus, there’s major investments in semiconductor production. We also know that there are a whole bunch of different uh uh industries that feed into the semiconductor industry. So when you invest in these hubs of activity, uh for semiconductors, it means that all the manufacturing plants. So let’s take, uh I’m from Ohio, so let’s take the the Intel investment in Columbus, that’s going to create a whole ecosystem across Ohio and in the region where companies are providing the manufacturing components, the equipment, the supplies. That means that there’s a whole downstream impact on communities. But the most important piece of this I know this is something that you care a lot about, is that we’ve been very focused on making sure that this was done in an equitable way, that it was done in an inclusive way, because you and I both have seen for too long that as industries develop, they end up missing, uh communities of color in particular, but a whole range of underserved communities. So it was important for us to make sure that as we make these transformative investments in communities, we do it in a way that is absolutely equitable and inclusive, that we’re bringing in a range of other companies, that we’re creating workforce pathways so that folks in the Black and Brown community can participate in this. It’s about, you know, someone has said recently, back in the day, it was about moving from the back of the bus to driving the bus. What I’m saying is we can’t think about just driving the bus anymore. We have to own the bus company. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom, now I see that Baltimore is on the list as one of the cities. 


Don Graves: It is. 


DeRay Mckesson: Which is dope. How did the city did the cities choose? Or like, did they apply? Did you all choose the cities? Did you recruit the cities? Like how’d that work? 


Don Graves: So what you’re talking about is this program called the Tech Hubs program. So our Tech Hubs program aligns directly with our uh, with our chips program efforts. The tech hubs are  are basically meant to focus on, uh these transformative investments that can take a community that has some leadership in a particular industry and can make it globally competitive. So it’s not just about– 


DeRay Mckesson: Ahh. 


Don Graves: –Baltimore being successful on, predictive health care technologies, just for Baltimore or even in the region. It’s about making sure that Baltimore is now this leader around the world bringing more, investment, more uh activities. But also and this is why Baltimore uh was so intriguing. We can deal with the challenges that a community like that faces. 20% difference in uh, in, uh in health care outcomes in uh life spans as a result of where you live. So predictive health care technologies are critically important for a community like Baltimore. 


DeRay Mckesson: Now, there’s a question that I was waiting to ask you because I’m, I’m like, I don’t I’m curious is what can what does the federal government and commerce, um you have the minority business department. What does that even mean? Like what? You know, because when I think about minority business, I’ll tell you, I think about the SBA, for instance, I’m like, oh, the small administration probably does small businesses or I think that the agencies all have like a minority business percentage or whatever that they. So but when I realize that your, your department has like a whole office, I’m like how, what do they do? What does it what does that mean? 


Don Graves: Well, we have known that the challenge that socially and economically disadvantaged people have had in participating successfully in the economy. That’s especially true for people of color and African Americans. I think uh have had the hardest times. You know, I think about my, my ancestors, my four times great grandparents who uh started they were formerly enslaved. They started a horse and buggy taxi business. They were able to buy land. That is actually the land that the Department of Commerce now sits on. They grew that business and they– 


Don Graves: Helped helped their son not only take over the business, but expand his business. And he ran the, the most prestigious, and exclusive hotel, not just in Washington, DC, but in the entire United States. He was friends with uh with Charles Sumner, the abolitionist senator from Massachusetts. They used to take people uh up the rivers from the south, helping them escape from slavery. He had a successful business. But the challenge is not just for him. And this isn’t about me. The challenge is that um, even when you have the opportunity to um to develop long term intergenerational wealth, which is a really hard thing to do in this country, it’s also really easy for uh someone to lose that, that, that wealth. And for too long the, the, the brothers and sisters who have good ideas, who want to take their idea and turn it into something haven’t had a, anyone who’s in their corner. And that’s really what this is all about. It’s about opening doors and keeping them open. It’s about making sure that, uh that that the entrepreneur who has this great idea, uh that doesn’t know where to go, can go to someone and get their help, that they can get access to credit and capital, that they have advisors on things like how to run their business, how to manage their business, how to uh get their accounting done, get their the legal support that they need. That’s what the Minority Business Development Agency is all about. It’s about meeting people where they are. We have centers all across the country and making sure that we’re helping them get to a place where they can be very successful. And the important thing to know about MBDA and why I’m so proud to serve in this administration. The president has been a very big supporter of of equity, and he knew that MBDA, which was actually created under Nixon, was not made uh it was done by a, by executive order. It was not a permanent part of the Department of Commerce. And so the president pushed, and as a part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, it the Minority Business Development Agency is now a permanent part of the federal government, meaning–


DeRay Mckesson: Ah dope. 


Don Graves: –that no president can come in and by executive order, do away with the Minority Business Development Agency. 


DeRay Mckesson: That’s cool. I’m interested too, because you have worked in the federal government at the highest levels, sort of before Covid happened and then after Covid and, you know, Treasury in the White House now Commerce. How would you describe the change? Like, I have to imagine that you’ve seen whether it’s jobs or like need around business help or around like, I feel like you because you’ve been able to see it like across the country and not just in, you know, I’ve seen it in cities, but you’ve seen it at a larger scale, just like what it means to make decisions before and after. How would you describe that? 


Don Graves: So there’s there’s a couple things in in your question. Let me, let me uh just say that um the the pandemic, the first part of this, the pandemic changed our country, changed our world. And I think there’s we’re still dealing with uh recovering from the impacts of the pandemic. People still, uh uh economically are not feeling, uh what we’re actually seeing in the numbers. But setting that aside, you know, this is my third administration in which I’ve served. And the most visible change in the administration is the people who are in these jobs. What I think people may not realize is that the president has both more power and less power than people think he does. People think that he can with a, you know, signature of of his pen or snap of his fingers he can change wholesale uh uh everyone’s living conditions. They can he can change the economy. He can’t do that. He can take big actions to pass major pieces of legislation. But the most important thing that he can do is to make sure that the people who are in jobs like mine have the lived experience of Americans, that that they reflect who we are as a country. Our country’s greatest strength is our diversity, and it’s why we’ve been able to be successful for so long, because new people come in with new ideas. They can take their ideas and uh, and uh turn them into something that, that fixes the challenges that we’re facing in ways that no one else before them had seen, because they have a very different perspective. And so the president’s, perhaps his greatest strength is knowing that he needed to put in position people who reflected the country. It’s why he’s, uh he selected the secretary uh and myself for these roles because we reflect America. It’s why he has been so focused on making sure that we had more African-American women in uh positions uh in judgeships across the country than any other president has combined. Because people who are in these positions, if they reflect a life experience, the lived experiences of what we face in our communities, it means that they’re going to make decisions that will reflect those, uh that, that that life experience and may be able to get at those challenges in ways that other people who came before hadn’t. So that’s the biggest change that I’ve seen over the course of these three different administrations. It’s a vastly different makeup of the leadership in the federal government. 


DeRay Mckesson: Now there are two questions that we ask everybody. One of them is, what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that’s stuck with you? 


Don Graves: This one is an easy one because it’s basically how I live uh my day. So uh, back uh during the Clinton administration, Ron Brown was the secretary of commerce. And back then, I didn’t really know what what Commerce did either. Um. But he was friends with uh the head of the civil rights organization that I was working for. And we got talking about going on this trip, with the Secretary Brown to uh France and then on to Croatia. We were going to join him on the trip. And then at the last minute, we had to pull out of the trip. Lo and behold, a few days later we get word that his plane has crashed and all the folks on the plane had perished with him. All of the the great uh uh commerce colleagues and others from across the administration. The the head of my organization, Reverend Charles Stith, uh was about to give a speech, and he stopped his speech cold. And when he got word and he said, I’m going to deliver a different speech. And he told the audience, I was set to say something, but Ron Brown just died, and I have to tell this to you. And he gave an emotional speech. But the thing that stuck with me was, he said, you have to have a sense of urgency about that which you’re called to do, because life and times are tenuous. And what that told me is we don’t have time to wait. We have to act now. You have to focus on your North Star and the things that you believe in, and do everything that you can to get that across the finish line. Because if you think that you’ll get back to it in a decade, you never know if you’re actually going to be around to to tackle it. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom. And the second question is, what do you say to people whose hope is challenged? Who are like, you know, they stood in the street? They voted, they called, they testified, they read the book, they went to the panel, they saw the movie. And they’re sort of like, it doesn’t feel like anything changed. What do you say to those people? 


Don Graves: I’d say there is a vast difference between what this administration has done and this president has done then what we had uh, in uh before he took office. Um. You look at the numbers, and I know this doesn’t always feel like it out in the community, but the unemployment numbers for, Black and Brown communities are at historic lows. The Black unemployment, we just saw the number last week. The for it’s it’s the lowest that it’s ever been at for an annual basis. So the entire year of 2023, Black unemployment was uh was as close as it’s ever been to white unemployment, that is, you know, that that is stunning. Uh. And what it’s been able what it what it means for the country. But we also have to recognize that, uh people don’t always feel all of that. I and so I would say that we’re working on continuing to bring down inflation. It’s something that that, uh we’ve seen come down for more than a year. It’s still higher than it needs to be. But we’re continuing to work on that. And part of it is that goes back to those supply chain issues that I was talking about. We also are making sure that we’re uh, tackling, price gouging by companies. Companies are making historic revenues, and these profits are through the roof and they’re paying their CEOs uh exorbitant amounts. But that means that that someone has to pay for it, and it’s not as a result of inflation, it’s that they’re charging customers too much. So the president has a whole effort focused on bringing down prices by making sure that companies can’t price gouge. But we’re also making historic investments, things like we talked about the Chips act, but investments in high speed internet, it’s it’s just crazy to me in this day and age that in the United States of America, during the pandemic, we had people who were trying to decide which of their kids got to go to school one day because they only had enough bandwidth for one of their kids who was homeschooling remotely to be able to do it. We’re making historic investments so that every American has access to affordable, to low cost high speed internet, every household, every business, every street across the country. We’re investing in reorienting our entire economy so that we can be built for the future, so that we can create jobs that will last, that are good paying jobs, high quality jobs, family sustaining jobs. So that’s what the president and the rest of us are so focused on every day. But it’s so important for me and others to actually show up in the community, because you can’t just do the work and then not show up. And so that’s part of the reason that I’m getting out around the country to talk to people about their fears, the challenges they’re facing, and make sure that uh, that I’m taking back the [?] issues that they’re uh they’re encountering and trying to access uh some of these programs and some of the resources that are going out across the country. It’s why the president is so focused on investing in America. 


DeRay Mckesson: Well, we’re wrapping up. Where do people go to stay in touch with you? Do they is it Instagram? Is it Twitter? Is it Facebook? 


Don Graves: You, we’re all over, uh social. So you can go to uh first off you can go to, to the website. I know no one goes to the website, but just, [laugh] uh go to, or you can Google us. Um. But you can also go to Twitter. We also will make sure DeRay that you get the, all the information on how folks can access these resources because like I said, we have centers all across the country. We don’t want people to have to search around and try and figure out how to navigate the complexity of the the federal bureaucracy. That’s crazy. We want people to be able to go to one stop places where they can get all the resources that they need at any point. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Well, we consider you a friend of the pod and can’t wait to have you back. 


Don Graves: Absolutely. Thanks DeRay. Good to be with you. [music break]


DeRay Mckesson: Well that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to 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. [music break]