Find a Book (with Kevin Hazzard) | Crooked Media
Jon, Jon & Tommy's first ever book is here - Order Democracy or Else NOW! Jon, Jon & Tommy's first ever book is here - Order Democracy or Else NOW!
November 15, 2022
Pod Save The People
Find a Book (with Kevin Hazzard)

In This Episode

DeRay, Myles, De’Ara and Kaya  cover the underreported news of the week— including the newest additions to the national portrait gallery, youth voters turn back midterm red wave, an out of touch Broadway play, and a UK law that will make you do the time even if you were not present for the crime. DeRay interviews Kevin Hazzard about his newest book American Sirens: The Incredible Story of the Black Men Who Became America’s First Paramedics.











DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay. And welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode it’s me, De’Ara, Myles and Kaya talking about the underreported news of the week, the news that you didn’t know with regard to race, justice and equity that you should know. Then I sit down and talk to journalist and former paramedic Kevin Hazzard about his new book, American Sirens: The Incredible Story of the Black Men Who Became America’s First Paramedics. I loved it. I hit Kevin up on Twitter. I saw an article about this book and I was like, Oh, my goodness, we got to get him on. Loved learning about what he wrote about in the book and am a dedicated fan of Kevin Hazzard. I’m excited for you to learn from him and to hear about his new book. Here we go. [music break] And my advice for this week is to get a book and read it. Read a book. I will not shout out the book that I am reading yet because I’m done yet. But when I’m finished, if it is amazing, I’ll let you know. But it has been so good to just like, get back in a fictive world. I read so much nonfiction for the podcast and for my work that I haven’t read a piece of fiction in so long so find a book to read. 


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 Johnson: I am Myles E. Johnson. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @Pharaohrapture 


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


DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay at @deray on Twitter as it currently exists, praying that Twitter is here for the long haul. [laughter]


De’Ara Balenger: Are you really? Cause. 


Myles Johnson: It’s so hard. 


Kaya Henderson: Do you know? Do you know somebody, can you put in a call? 


DeRay Mckesson: I don’t I don’t. The people I knew have just–


De’Ara Balenger: Gone. 


DeRay Mckesson: –watched Twitter go down like all of us. 


Kaya Henderson: Hmm. 


De’Ara Balenger: Well, another thing that’s gone is the 2022 midterm elections. 


Kaya Henderson: Woo woo woo woo woo woo woo! 


De’Ara Balenger: Thank–


Kaya Henderson: Can I just say one thing? 


De’Ara Balenger: –God. 


Kaya Henderson: Can I say one thing before we even get into it? Like, I am so glad that I don’t have to deal with the onslaught of campaign commercials on my television anymore–


De’Ara Balenger:  Text messages. 


Kaya Henderson: –child. Ooo Jesus.


De’Ara Balenger: How y’all get my phone number. 


Kaya Henderson: All of my phone numbers. Exactly. [laughter]. 


De’Ara Balenger: And you feel bad saying stop because I’m like, are they keeping a list of the people that they stop to getting the text messages? 


Myles Johnson: No. You got to–


De’Ara Balenger: I don’t want to be on that list. 


Myles Johnson: You’ve got to build that muscle. Once you say no to like certain charities at retail spots. [laughter] You can you can definitely say no to a candidate. [laughter]


De’Ara Balenger: Midterm elections. Can you believe it? The Democrats retain control of the Senate. Amazing. 


Kaya Henderson: Amazing. 


De’Ara Balenger: Now, the caveat is there are no Black women now in the Senate. I’m just going to let–


Kaya Henderson: Well– 


De’Ara Balenger: –That one just. I mean, there usually aren’t. You know what I’m saying?


Kaya Henderson: I was going to say, it’s not like we had a whole bunch of [indistinct] who just lost.


De’Ara Balenger: Of all the of the 800 and so. [laughter]. 


Kaya Henderson: Have we only had. Wait, let me refresh my memory. You would know this, right? Carol Moseley Braun was the first one. And then–


De’Ara Balenger: Kamala. 


Kaya Henderson: Kamala. And that’s all? 


De’Ara Balenger: That’s all. 


Kaya Henderson: Oh, sweet baby Jesus. Well, I mean, we gave it up when we went with the vice presidency. So we’ve been down Black women for a little while now. Seems like in the next go round, maybe we could fix that. But despite the fact that we don’t have Black women, we have the Senate, we successfully beat back the red wave [cheers] or whatever the people said that was supposed to be coming. 


De’Ara Balenger: Listen. 


Kaya Henderson: And and the the house stuff seems like it’s still up for grabs. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. And there and you I think part of that too was there was so many redistricting changes that like the map just looks so differently. And so I think that’s why everything’s still so up in the air. I’m just trying to find, like, the latest and greatest. 


Kaya Henderson: I was going to say there were great highlights, like the fact that all of the election deniers who ran for secretary of state, which is the really important–


De’Ara Balenger: That’s right. 


Kaya Henderson: –position that nobody was paying attention to until–


De’Ara Balenger: Including a sister. 


Kaya Henderson: –uh Georgia. 


De’Ara Balenger: Wasn’t a sister running somewhere? 


Kaya Henderson: Yes. Oh yes.


De’Ara Balenger: For secretary of state, talking crazy. 


Kaya Henderson: Yes. But all of the election deniers were uh defeated for a secretary of state positions. And I think most election deniers for a high level statewide office were also defeated. 


De’Ara Balenger: Mm hmm. 


Kaya Henderson: And so that restored some faith in the American populace for me. Um. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. I was also really, really excited to see that Max Frost um won in Florida. 


Kaya Henderson: Woop woop. 


De’Ara Balenger: And I think he is the youngest. He will be the youngest member of um of Congress like ever.


DeRay Mckesson: 25 years old. Yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: And they, they’re already asking him to go to Georgia to campaign for Warnock. I just saw that this morning and the like how how wild is it that Warnock and Walker are that, were that close? So I hope that I hope that uh Warnock wipes him out in the runoff. 


Kaya Henderson: Don’t we all? I mean, and and we are acting like the difference that like that Georgia doesn’t matter, really, because we have control of the Senate. But it matters a lot because a majority then means that we can helm committees. It means that our ability to pass legislation to get legislation moving is like, it’s the difference between having control and having a majority. Right. Having control because we have the vice presidential, you know, vote um versus having a majority because we actually have 51 or 51 senators. 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. And importantly, if we get if we get Georgia, we won’t be beholden to both Sinema and um what’s his name? 


Kaya Henderson: Manchin. Praise God. 


DeRay Mckesson: Manchin. Woo. 


Kaya Henderson: Go home not don’t go home. Stay here Democratic senators. But get in your lane. Get in your lane. Yes, for sure. So Georgia is still still important. And they are you know, the Republicans want to shut down early voting on the Saturday before and all of this jazz. I mean, come on, y’all. 


Myles Johnson: Yeah you can’t just ignore places like that because there’s such a big Black Black population. And just, you know, being from Georgia, I my heart always goes out so I’m like, don’t forget about us. Just because we got to we got we got to live like this. We got to live with this um. But my question my question that I had a little bit earlier was, do you all think that? So there was like a lot of rhetoric around what the American people thought about, like Trump. And and essentially it felt like a lot of people were saying, you know, a big amount of of Americans just think that just don’t got no sense and are going to vote for these people like vote for these people. Do you think this is going to like change the what we see as far as like presidency and who has control and like what like what we ended up seeing when the presidential election comes in because like nobody who Trump endorsed was uh won. Like do you think this is going to like change how politics are happening and then the speech around how much power Trump has? 


De’Ara Balenger: I mean, I feel like here’s my take on this whole thing, is that and I’m a big Democrat, obviously lifelong, from a family of lifelong Democrats. And I think the problem is that we run the campaigns in the same way every single time. And I think the exception to that is Stacey Abrams, because Stacey Abrams, even though she lost, Stacey Abrams, has been trying to reengage the entire state of Georgia around voting and voter protection rights in a way that is so smart. But it also is like the long road, right? But I think it’s important work and the work that Stacey Abrams has done in Georgia is actually going to help Georgia continue to become blue over generations to come. I think even though we pulled out Nevada, we pulled out Arizona. You know what happened in Florida, them people voted for Ron DeSantis like nobody’s business. I mean, he I always miss this man’s name up, not Chris Christie. 


Kaya Henderson: Charlie Crist. 


De’Ara Balenger: Charlie Crist. See I don’t even know, can’t even say, know the man’s name. He got clobbered. Right. So I think part and everybody like down the ticket in Florida and I think part of it was that–


Kaya Henderson: But was– was he the right? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know enough about Florida politics. Was he the right canidate? 


De’Ara Balenger: But I think for the Dems, it always has to come to it always comes down to like this right candidate, right. Like we unless it’s Barack Obama, people aren’t walking on hot coals to like go vote for a candidate. You know what I’m saying? I just feel like if we’re not cautious and thoughtful and introspective around what is happening in the States over time. I feel like these states will go more like Florida than the ot– than the other way because if we’re saying–


Kaya Henderson: But they didn’t they didn’t just go more like like Florida didn’t just go right. Republicans have had a concerted investment– 


De’Ara Balenger: Exactly, but that’s–


Kaya Henderson: And like–


De’Ara Balenger: Yup, but that’s my point Kaya. And that’s what’s happening across the country. Right. And in some places, more successful than others. But they’re not going to they’re not going to let up. Where I feel like the Dems are like we won the midterms. Okay. 


Kaya Henderson: We’re out. See you soon. See you in two years.


De’Ara Balenger: So you soon. Like what okay but we need to–


DeRay Mckesson: I was surprised in Florida though, Uvalde. I was surprised that Uvalde voted for DeSantis that made me sad. I was just like, oh, no. 


De’Ara Balenger: That’s what I’m saying, y’all. This is some deep rooted stuff, and we need to be super thoughtful about how we’re engaging these voters still. And we can’t, you know, and it’s always last minute engaging Black voters, engaging Latino voters. And I mean, forget the rest of other minority populations. We barely scratched the surface with those folks. 


Kaya Henderson: So Myles I think–


De’Ara Balenger: I’m excited. I’m excited about our wins. But I just would like just some new juice and strategy around how we’re engaging folks. 


Myles Johnson: Right. 


Kaya Henderson: I thought, I I thought Myles, that one of the things that this midterm election cycle taught us about politics is doesn’t matter what the pundits are saying or what the what the news people are saying, because they got it all wrong. Right. Nobody really predicted exactly what was going to happen. And that for me, the message in that is the power is in the vote. Right. Like people, you don’t know what people are going to do. 


De’Ara Balenger: Mm hmm. 


Kaya Henderson: You can predict, you can prognosticate. You can try to control the narrative about what you think people are going to do. But people get in that vote and that booth and they well no booth. People, you know, whatever punched your little computer screens or circle their little circles and they do whatever they are going to do. And I think this was, you know, whatever they tell us about where the country is, the the election results tell us actually where the country is. It tells us that we don’t want people to attack the Democratic voting process. And that’s why all the election election deniers got sent home. I think, you know, people sent a strong message around bipartisanship and a willingness to work to get things done. We’ve been stalled. Right. And and I think it sent a real message around power. Like the Republicans were like, let me just unbuckle it all and tell you what I’m here for. I’m here for power, raw power, the end nothing else about it. And people were like, Huh? Is that really what I want? Maybe not. And so I thought it was a really interesting referendum on how you can’t believe everything that you hear on the news about what the electorate is going to be. 


De’Ara Balenger: Well, I think there’s one group of people we typically know what they’re going to do and that is– 


Myles Johnson: Hold on. 


De’Ara Balenger: That is white women. [laughter]. 


Kaya Henderson: What they going to do, De’Ara? What they going to do? 


De’Ara Balenger: 72% of white women voted for Kemp over Abrams. Y’all please somebody. Maybe this Billie Jean King, are you listening? Can you get all the white women together, please, for a conference? I’ll see if I can get Hillary there, too. And we can just have a conference with all these white women so we can get this figured out. Why?


Myles Johnson: I think that might be that might need be the opposite of what happens. I think the the strategy needs to be uh divide and conquer. 


Kaya Henderson: Oh girl. [laughter]


De’Ara Balenger: Because together it does not make [indistinct].


Myles Johnson: That’s ridiculous. And again, this you know, I always do a little preface when it’s just just me, me and my thoughts and vibes and absolutely no data behind this. But I wonder how much of those voting trends with with white women have to do with these cultural tropes, like, is it like just impossible for the majority of white women in the South, or the white majority of white women to like want to empower a Black woman because of the trouble like the dynami– the historical dynamic of where a Black woman is in and in society. Um. Even if you’re not an affluent white woman, but maybe in your head you’re like this person is supposed to be taking care of, you know, my home. You know. 


De’Ara Balenger: I think that’s–


Myles Johnson: And and yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: –absolutely right. I think so much of this is like steeped in the legacy of slavery and white supremacy. Like I mean, I remember in in 2007 campaigning for Hillary and I was on the phone with somebody and um and well, this is more to just like how how the how it then plays into like misogyny. Right. And this voter said to me, I’d rather vote for that N then vote for that C, [pause] U, N, T. 


Myles Johnson: Oh, wow. 


De’Ara Balenger: And I think and just thinking about history, Myles to your point in seeing that like Black men got to vote before white women. Like, I think there is and not to say that like Black men have like more power in American society, but I do think misogyny plays a huge, huge role–


Myles Johnson: Yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: –Obviously in our culture around how these elections play out. And I think for somebody like Stacey Abrams, who looks like Stacey Abrams, doesn’t have a husband. I think people are like they’re just they don’t they don’t want that. They don’t


Myles Johnson: Yeah, I think that’s right. Moya Bailey coined misogynoir which like the specific misogyny against Black women for a reason because I think there is something there about how Black women get treated. 


Kaya Henderson: Continuing on this election theme. Like I wanted to stop for a minute. We have lots of complaints, criticisms, things we could do differently in all of this jazz. But I as a one of my I’m Gen-X, as a Gen Xer, as an auntie, as somebody who is perpetually worried about can I continue to live in this country? Um. I wanted to take a moment to send a love letter to Generation Z, thanking the young people for saving our democracy in these midterm elections. Um. [cheers] That’s my news this week. It is all love for the young people, um young, diverse voters, Black and Latino. That is specifically what this statistic is about. Young, diverse voters between the ages of 18 and 29 had the second highest youth voter turnout in almost 30 years. Um and this is particularly important because all I heard again, Myles, to the thing about, you know, what the news was saying was that the young people weren’t going to turn out. That young people especially weren’t going to turn out for the Dems because their issues weren’t being reflected in Biden’s agenda. They were disenfranchized. They didn’t get enough on the student loan um piece, blah, blah, blah. And in fact, youth voter turnout was at 31% in the nine battleground states Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Um 89% of Black youth and 68% of Latino youth voted for a Democratic U.S. House House candidate. And in Wisconsin, where the incumbent Democratic governor, Tony Evers, um just barely held on to his uh bid for reelection and held on to his seat. Um. The youth vote is the thing that made the difference. And so I want to shout out Gen Z, the most diverse generation with more than half of the folks um in that generation being people of color, 20% identifying as LGBTQ. This is this is the vanguard baby. This is the new America. And I think these young people are showing up and showing out to tell you that you are not going to make them apathetic. You’re not going to make them you’re not going to silence their voice and their votes. And I think um this has incredible impact implications for everything coming down the pike. Um Latinos, for example, are the second largest voting bloc, 30% of Latinos are 18 to 29. So whatever your polit– however you’ve thought about Latino politics. It has to change because not only are 30% of them, 18 to 29, but um 30% of of Latinos are under 18. So this is a wave that is coming and their politics are very different from their grandma’s and their grandpa’s politics. Um in Georgia, 63% of young voters backed Warnock compared to 36% uh of young voters backing Walker. That has huge implications for this runoff. If those young people show up in a runoff, the way they showed up in the election, it’s a wrap. And so I want to uh tip my hat to the young organizers who are out here every single day knocking it down. I got two little ladybugs who I love. Mary Pat Hector in Georgia um and Shelley in Arizona who are out there on the front lines every single day organizing young people to vote um and to all. I mean, there’s a zillion organizers like this is the thing, right? Like there are so many people who are making sure that young people vote. And I just wanted to make a little space on the pod to say thank you um that we support you, that like you are the hope. Like, you know, the thing that people always would say to me when I was leading schools is what makes you hopeful? And I’m like, it’s the young people. Like, the young people are super clear about what it’s going to take to deliver the kind of world that I want to live in. And so I want to thank the young people for showing up in this election cycle. 


DeRay Mckesson: The thing that stuck out to me is something that you said that you mentioned before in another conversation, is that uh the pundits got it wrong, is that people didn’t project that that young people were disengaged. People didn’t believe that young people would be engaged and vote, people didn’t you know like there are all these myths. And I think about uh the other thing as an organizer is that every little bit counts that like all the tiktoks, all those Instagram posts, all the like, people were learning and people were paying attention. And people understood. Young people understood what was on the line. It wasn’t just like parents and homeowners and people who owned a ton of property who were like, Wow, something’s at stake here. The youngest people were like, okay, I got to do something and it is cool. I think about what what comes after the protest. There’s this question about like, will people be engaged in this election? I think was a reminder that they are engaged and understanding election as just one of the many things to do. 


Myles Johnson: Yeah. And I think there was so much political rhetoric around specifically Gen Gen Z and younger millennials about us being so like to the left and extreme and just wanted to. I’m misquoting it, but not too far off about um us only wanting uh to to have free drugs and and stuff like that. And there’s like weird rhetoric around where our policies were and what we get excited about. And I love that this has proven that we’re also pragmatic. I’m taking a position as a resident young people, but [laughter] but this also proves that um we’re pragmatic. And I think that there was such a dismissive way that people would talk about um uh millennials, my whole generation, but then also now Gen Z about what we wanted politically. And it’s proven that no. Yeah. We might have these ideals and this idealism in our head that’s very left leaning, but also we are pragmatic and we can also do what’s right today in order to accomplish uh the fantasy of the political tomorrow we have. 


De’Ara Balenger: And I, I think. I think this is always it’s just so hard for me to wrap my mind around this um because I feel like even with insights like this, I don’t know how much resources and institutional change will happen within the DNC to cultivate this. Right. So I actually feel like Kaya, the organize– or people who are doing things on the ground outside of Washington, D.C. don’t get the support, the resources, the upliftment from our party that they need to. And even if you look at the DNC committee, there’s not one person who represents this demographic of young people. 


Kaya Henderson: But this is what I mean or even I mean, clearly also or anybody who’s on the vanguard of like organizing differently. Right. My, I thought that after Stacey–


De’Ara Balenger: 100%. 


Kaya Henderson: –Abrams flipped Georgia in the presidential thing, that, of course, she should be the head of the DNC because she should engineer a whole new approach to, you know, galvanizing Democratic voting. But that wasn’t the case. Maybe we’ll think about that now. But I think we also have to be vigilant, because whether we have the infrastructure or not, the Republicans are already at this. They are floating proposals to raise the the voting age from 18 to 21. Right. Which is like a continued onslaught against like voting rights. Right. Like they got it in every single format, every way that you could violate people’s voting rights. Let’s try it. So es– that’s going to I am worried that that is going to be an especially salient call since the young people turned out so much. We’re going to now we’re going to be debating whether or not the voting age should go up to 21 um because the young people are such a powerful bloc. 


De’Ara Balenger: I mean, the young it’s like if I were in the White House right now, which I missed my chance, but I feel like people need to be identifying all these organizers, every single one of them. Joe Biden needs to get on a call with all these young people and say thank you. 


Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm. 


De’Ara Balenger: And figuring out how the DNC can funnel more resources to these folks is a, the problem is, is that midterms is over, and now we’re going to basically start all over again acting like we don’t have systems or or case studies in place to put to work for the presidential. Like, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. 


Kaya Henderson: Let’s hope not. Let’s hope this time it’s going to be different. That’s all we can do. That’s all we got. 


De’Ara Balenger: Blessings. 


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




Myles Johnson: My news is about theater because I am cultured and um–


De’Ara Balenger: Yes. 


Myles Johnson: –and Brilliant. 


De’Ara Balenger: Bring it. [laughter]


Kaya Henderson: If you should say so yourself. [laughter]


Myles Johnson: Yes. It’s about the [?]. It’s about the you know, being come in question. But, yeah, my news is about theater. So a couple of weeks ago, I went to go see, Take me out. I have not mentioned it because it was not mentionable, in my opinion. Read between the lines.


Kaya Henderson: Don’t you want to say– 


De’Ara Balenger: What about your company? 


Kaya Henderson: Don’t you want to say we, we went to see?


De’Ara Balenger: What about your company?


Kaya Henderson: Right c’mon. 


De’Ara Balenger: Is your company mentionable?


Myles Johnson: Y’all don’t know what I was going to say so I didn’t know– 


De’Ara Balenger: Oh okay. 


Myles Johnson: –if y’all wanted to ride this ride with me.


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah leave me out of that. [laughter] Myles went to go see it. Leave me out of this. [laughter]


Myles Johnson: I’m taking a very specific [?] I’m implementing myself because I’m a I’m a little worried. [indistinct] 


DeRay Mckesson: Thank you. 


Myles Johnson: Um. But um yeah so um I want to go see [laughing] I want to go see Take me out a couple of weeks ago um and I didn’t necessarily enjoy it. But um last week a friend of mine and then also just an accomplished actress she just uh Black trans actress thing says she is actually currently on America’s Horror Story, but she was also on um the national run of Oklahoma. Um. And she’s just an amazing thinker. She wanted to go see Take Me Out. And she kind of caused a stir because she had some thoughts about the N-word being used in the jokes that were in Take me out and also there being no um content advisory about the use of the N-word. And after seeing that, I felt I felt really pushed. And, you know, I just felt like it was the right thing to do after I saw the play. And I thought that, oh, wow, I needed I needed to actually give like my commentary on it and bring this up to the podcast so we can maybe share some thoughts too, if brave enough. Um. I think that it’s interesting that it seems as though so excuse me, the play Take Me Out is about baseball child and it’s starring Jesse Williams and it’s written by um Richard Greenberg, I believe um it’s actually it first got to Broadway in 2002, so this was 20 years ago. So it gives a little dated, you know, no matter how you cut it, it gives dated because we have in just in racial consciousness and in I think in gender and sexuality consciousness we just have evolved. And it just seems as though the play it just it does feel like this artifact of just before complicated conversation started happening. Um. That’s what it feels like but there is this scene there’s just that a lot of ableist tropes. There’s a lot of tropes around of race and where you use where you use the N-word and you use uh just kind of like bigotry as a way to talk about mental health in around and trying attempting to talk about patriarchy. And Jesse Williams character plays this really weird, biracial brute character who is gay but is closeted and doesn’t matter. And it just is weird. And it really comes off as a um popular white, gay playwright’s wet dream of what he was, what happened to him. And it does not necessarily feel like it advances anything. And my whole and the bigger conversation that I wanted to bring here and or the bigger commentary I want to bring here, is that we really have evolved out of this space. I’m not somebody who’s easily offended, but we have evolved out of the space of just using um tropes and using language to be subversive or to or to sort of say the thing or try to be the critical darling. Without it being, but without it uh doing anything. It felt so empty and out and it felt disrespectful to employ that word, not to say employ that word, but to employ that word and it for it to do absolutely nothing for the play. The play is still bad. It’s still flat, the characters are still flat. And and the storytelling was still poor. But now you use this is this this this poisonous word in order to wake us up. And it felt just disrespectful and there is you know, you know, there’s a lot of nudity in the play, which was that was something I think was done right, that I think was done right [laughter] if you’re going to make a bad play [indistinct] lots and lots of penises. But— 


De’Ara Balenger: Wait–


Myles Johnson: I think that what was successful for it was that like here you have Jesse Williams and he’s showing his like big his BBC and then and the same and this is a Black person showing his big member on stage to a group of white people on a stage. Um I’m getting a little bit of [?] you know, memory. And then you also have this person using the N-word and it to me equalized it like I if I if this doesn’t get your attention and get you to be seduced into this play. Then this N this N would be the use of this N word is. And it’s and and speaking of Generation Z, uh Sis is definitely thick in Generation Z in her early mid twenties but speaking of generation Z, certain tropes are just so disrespectful and so outdated. And yeah, I don’t have, you know, everything else I have to say is pretty much it’s vibes. But I don’t know when this is going to stop. What we’re, where we’re using these like shock factors in art, and, and Black women or Black folks or Black queer people have to be the the the carriers of the of the controversies to make a not interesting story interesting like we’re not our history in our in tropes and our stereotypes are not just sprinkled on top. You know, that’s not that’s not what those words are. So I’m not advocating for controversial language or bigoted language or uh hard, dark things never to be depicted. But I am advocating for it to be depicted with some intelligent and not try to save a bad play from being bad. That is my opinion of the play, Take Me Out that I saw alone by myself. Alone. [laughter]


Kaya Henderson: Don’t be out in these streets lying. [laughter] We all went to see the play together. It was the first time that the four of us were together in person and we had a delightful time together because it’s the company you keep, not necessarily the things that you do. And I think, [laughter] you know, I mean, Myles, just picking up on on your I mean, you went in on a you started with the N-word as the like, you know, the problem. But I feel like the nudity was equally like that that I mean, no, nobody said to me, go see, Take Me Out it’s such a great play. People said, go see, take me out, because the nudity was the thing. And I think, um first of all, I, I don’t know, I don’t know the writer um in some respects, I feel sorry for the actors because they were really objectified. I mean, there’s like the use of ah ah like I feel you on a there is like artistic license where like the N-word is the only thing you can say right here to make it authentic or something or whatever. Or there’s a piece of nudity that just has to like it makes the thing go. This felt gratuitous, um both the nudity and the use of the N-word and whatever. And I feel like I feel sorry for the artists because I feel like people are co– people are not coming because it’s a great play. People are coming to see, you know, full frontal male nudity, which is like I thought it was, I knew I was going to see it, but it was, like overdone, too. Um. And so and I was thinking as we sat there, they were like, this is the third run. And I was like, really? The like the third run on Broadway usually means the play is spectacular, but I think that the playwright is just trading in shock value, trading in the celebrity of, you know, the, the star actor. And um, and it was not the best play. And so I’m really looking forward to uh my Pod Save the People castmates going to another Broadway outing where we see something that we love. 


Myles Johnson: Lion King always hits. [laughter]


De’Ara Balenger: We should go, we should see the piano lesson or Top Dog Underdog. [banter] 


DeRay Mckesson: Or Ain’t no mo’, Ain’t no mo’, ain’t no mo’ is a–


De’Ara Balenger: Ain’t no mo’, yes yes yes yes yes yes.


DeRay Mckesson: I heard ain’t no mo’ is great too. I didn’t see I didn’t get to see it off-Broadway. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yes. 


Kaya Henderson: Ain’t no mo’ is the one that was at the um public–


De’Ara Balenger: It was at the public. 


Kaya Henderson: Oh yeah– 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah at the public. 


Kaya Henderson: –I saw that. That was fascinating. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. 


Kaya Henderson: That will give us a lot to talk about. De’Ara, can you get us some tickets? 


De’Ara Balenger: Yes, I’m on it. I’m on it. Um. I agree with everything that’s been said. And I think I mean it also just kind of took me just given like my my work in film and doc, it just took me to the the Hollywood space of it all too, because it Kaya to your point, it’s like. Of all the stories to tell. Why do we keep telling these same stories? Like why is it that this is on its third run when it’s just less than okay. And I think the other my other perspective on it is that it also was a very elitist portrayal of poor white people. And I thought. And I don’t know it also just took me to the politics of it all because I feel like that is some of the argument of the right, right is that, you know, liberals are elite and they have certain perspectives when it comes to white poor people um and they’re not inclusive um of economic diversity within the white community. So it took me there as well. Um. So yeah, so it was a I think it was an all around thumbs down. But we had a great time together. 


Myles Johnson: Together. Yes, yeah. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: Um. I don’t have much to add, but what I will say is that I think that a decade ago this probably was really I think the play might have moved a conversation differently, definitely 15 or 20 years ago. I do echo the the notion that like the space has just moved much further than so much art has. And I think that uh this play is inclusive of it that. 


De’Ara Balenger: Well, my news, because I’m also cultured. [laughter] 


Kaya Henderson: Even if you have to say it yourself. 


De’Ara Balenger: I I am a cultured– 


DeRay Mckesson: Right. 


De’Ara Balenger: –Person that is sometimes in proximity to wealth and sometimes I enjoy it. 


DeRay Mckesson: Oh, God. Here we go. This is taking a turn, everybody. Where is De’Ara? 


Myles Johnson: The conservatives have entered the room. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: Right. And sometimes I enjoy it. 


De’Ara Balenger: And sometimes, no, in all seriousness, I um my good friends, Joe and Edo. DeRay I think, you know, Joe and Edo, who are amazing. But Joe is um on the board of the National Portrait Gallery and does an incredible job and has been on this board for a very long time. Um. But I was invited to go to the National Portrait Gallery gala, which happens every two years. This is my second time going and it’s always like it’s just incredible because it is the most extraordinary American national treasures in one room who then get they so basically they’re presented with a portrait that then goes up in the National Portrait Gallery. Right. So for those of you that don’t know, the National Portrait Gallery is the third oldest federal building in the United States. So it’s like the White House, the Capitol, then the National Portrait Gallery. And it houses portraits of um, you know, some of our nation’s you know most cherished and celebrated people. So beyond presidents, there’s writers and activists and and um and creators, etc., etc.. Um. So it’s a big deal um to be asked to have your portrait in the National Portrait Gallery. And the other extraordinarily cool thing about this is that it’s commissioned art that then goes that that then your portrait is done. So like uh Serena’s portrait was done by Toyin, who is amazing and, you know, all these, you know, really incredible um contemporary artists. And these are people that don’t typically do commissions. So Clive Davis, his portrait was done by David Hockney. Ava DuVernay’s was done by David Pruitt. No, Serena’s was done by David Pruitt, who’s another one of my absolute favorite Black contemporary artists. But yeah, so it was y’all in one room, Venus and Serena, Ava DuVernay. Clive Davis who was presented his what was most exciting about Clive Davis is that Alicia Keys was there to honor him, so she looked fabulous. She looked like she had just come from seeing Black Panther. She looked beautiful. Who else? Um José Andrés, which was amazing. And he was presented his kind of hon– He was honored by um Laurene Powell Jobs, who helps to um fund a lot of the work that World Central Kitchen does. And José Andrés, I didn’t even know this y’all, he went to he was in Ukraine for like months. So that was a beautiful, beautiful portrait um that reflects both José. But also, like the so many people that he um has helped to give, you know, just delicious food to that, you know, kind of is a reflection of like the dignity that we all need, even when we’re in our most challenging moments. Oh, Dr. Fauci, there was this beautiful. So Dr. Fauci’s portrait is actually an animation. So it takes you through his early career. It takes you through the AIDS, the AIDS epidemic. It takes you through COVID. It takes it, you know, kind of takes you through like the backlash that he has has had to endure. Um. So it just was beautiful. It was a beautiful evening and I was so honored to be able to participate. But yeah, so if you all have time and if you all have time, please visit the National Portrait Gallery in D.C. And the Obama portraits are back home at the National Portrait Gallery. They were on tour all around the country for about a year and a half and now they’re back. But yeah, go check out these portraits. They are absolutely incredible and so in depth. And the other thing I did while I’ve been here in D.C., Pao’s probably gonna get nervous I want to move back home is I went to Robert Glasper–


Kaya Henderson: Come on, girl. Come on. Mmm. 


De’Ara Balenger: I went to Robert Glasper’s 10th anniversary of Black Radio at the Kennedy Center. 


Kaya Henderson: Woop woop. 


De’Ara Balenger: So it just was amazing. Robert Glasper was there um Bilal was there. Meshell N’degeocello was there. Um Lalah Hathaway was there. And then they also had like an all Black orchestra, like 26 piece orchestra that was there. So this was just a celebration of Black excellence. 


Kaya Henderson: We did it all for you, this is the welcome–


De’Ara Balenger: And those white people that were there, too, on on– 


Kaya Henderson: –this the welcome back committee. 


De’Ara Balenger: –Saturday night. 


Kaya Henderson: Welcome back. [laughter]


Myles Johnson: I must have must have lost my invitation. [laughter] So interesting. You know, gotta check my mailbox next time cause’ I’m sure my invitation is in the mail. 


Kaya Henderson: Myles, we would love to have you in Washington, D.C.. Um-


Myles Johnson: Um. Yeah, I love D.C.


Kaya Henderson: We have great events. Um I went to Glasper last night, too. It was absolutely amazing. Um the the National Portrait Gallery is, uh thanks for bringing this. I didn’t know about this De’Ara, uh but the Portrait Gallery is a great museum. One of the amazing things about living in Washington is you can go to all of these museums for free and see great art um and like it is literally a great thing to do on a Saturday afternoon. And you see, I mean, the Portrait Gallery has standing exhibits, but they also have rotational exhibits. And so there’s always something cool to see and it’s right in the middle of downtown and like it is one of our national treasures. And so thanks for bringing it. I’m super excited that my my guess is they probably haven’t had a slate of candidates this diverse. Right. Like Ava, José like–


De’Ara Balenger: It’s it’s actually pretty because the when I went the year before, it was like Spike Lee and it is and I think this is very intentional with the portrait gallery right what we do need more of is Latino Indige– you know whatever we’re going to get there. 


Kaya Henderson: Yes. Well, but it was very– 


De’Ara Balenger: We’re on our way. We’re on our way.


Kaya Henderson: –very, very, very diverse. 


DeRay Mckesson: So, you know, we don’t talk as much about the U.K. because we talk about what’s going on in the USA. But uh the important part about this story that I’m going to talk about is that it’s a reminder that what the United States does around race and incarceration is often exported all across the world, even if it is involuntarily exported. So, you know, we we have helped ruin other countries, but then sometimes we innovate in the most dastardly ways. And that is what I’m talking about in the UK. So in the UK, the highest court delivered um a big victory in 2016, which people thought was going to help a lot of people because there is an opportunity in the UK legal system to send people to prison for life or for really long periods of time for crimes that they did not necessarily commit themselves but that they have proximity to. And um so there are a set of people who have been sent to prison who like were potentially around a crime or sort of part of a crime, but didn’t actually do it. And it’s called joint enterprise. That is like the legal principle that gives the prosecutors the power to charge multiple people with a single crime. So some of the examples that they talk about is that there’s a teenager who was in prison and then deported for a murder he didn’t even witness, let alone carry out. There was a 16 year old, partly blind kid uh who couldn’t even see his friends attacking somebody but received a license for murder and um there were 11 teenagers from Manchester, England, who were sent to prison for a stabbing, even though the judge acknowledged that he did not know if they had all participated in the attack. A young man with autism received a life sentence for a stabbing carried out by someone else while he said he sat in a car watching a music video. And I bring this up because in the United States, we have something that’s called felony murder that essentially allows the prosecutor to charge somebody uh with a crime that they sort of have proximity to. But what the article does really well is they talk about how this practice of joint enterprising in the UK is an offshoot of what we did in the United States around the war on drugs and the legal apparatus that we sort of created that allowed for just the mass criminalization of Black and Brown people. And you see that exported to the UK. And I’ll tell you, I don’t feel like I hear or read as many of these stories and then I’ve read this and I was like, Oh my goodness, this is wild. And even though the Supreme Court sort of intervened in 2016, the article goes on to say that there’s like still a lot of work to be done and that the prosecutors have not been as thoughtful about reining this back in as one would want. So I wanted to bring this here because um because I was interested in it and thankful for the activists who have not let it go and the Supreme Court in the UK who has pushed to change the practice and just mindful of all the people whose lives we’ve upended with practices like this. 


De’Ara Balenger: No DeRay this is super interesting to me um because during my time in the Obama administration at the State Department, I worked in a bureau called International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. And this is a bureau within the State Department that basically works with governments around the world to fight like organized crime, like international organized crime, and like international trafficking of drugs and people, etc., etc.. But what doesn’t get a lot of attention is that for many, many countries. The United States gives like capacity assistance to a lot of countries. So we basically like you know, basically like exporting our legal system to other countries and countries that don’t even have like the same structural systems as we do. Right. So like in some countries, there’s common law. We have common law because of England, those who were colonized by England, like South Asia, most places in Africa have common law. A lot of Europe has civil law systems. Right. And it’s a completely different system. And like, it’s not an adversarial system like we have. But even with those very extreme differences, the United States government still gives assistance in forms of helping people draft their laws, helping people think about how their laws will be instituted. Thinking about sentencing, thinking about recidivism. Like all of the different aspects that we need to work on, the United States are then exported to other places. Now I will say that some positive um aspects of the system are also exported, right? So like in Liberia, I helped to set up a public defender system because they obviously didn’t have that there. So I don’t know. It just it’s I feel like it’s something that doesn’t get a lot of attention and something that’s like really deep in our like, workings of like how our how countries interact. But the United States government both actively gives advice and counsel on how people should set up their their systems and jails and prisons and also are an example to countries to, you know, to to do the same thing, which is wild considering we have two 2.2 million people incarcerated. So I’ll stop there. Thanks for bringing this one DeRay. 


Kaya Henderson: What was interesting about this to me is, first of all, it’s horrible. Like, this is like this is my wildest nightmare for anybody who really, really knows me, you know that I’m deathly afraid of all things jail and like my worst nightmare is being, like, wrongfully convicted and ended up spending time in jail and like this because my friends did something and I was miles away or whatever, like, totally out of control. So this is like my worst nightmare. But the thing that this raised from me is this idea of how policy change we over rely on policy change. There are so many of us that think that real change happens because you change a law or because a court case happened. And that’s not actually how real life works. In fact, what was supposed to be a major decision stopping this from happening has actually made the people who want it to happen work through every loophole or every whatever to continue doing it and in fact, to do it more. Um. I think there was one part in here which said that the number of these prosecutions has gone up since 2016 and that the amount of people who’ve been exonerated through the appeals process based on this new law, like one, only one person got out. And I think it happens positively and negatively. Last week or a couple of weeks ago, I talked about how the fact that, you know, the Supreme Court um abolished the Roe decision. There’s a whole bunch of people working on the ground to, like, make abortion safe and and available to people. And this is an example of the other way. So what the policy changed or or a court case happened. People who want to do stuff are going to do stuff. And I think, you know, real transformation happens in the execution and implementation phase. And implementation is hard and it is you got to stay at it because people are always trying to subvert. And I think this is just an example. It shows when you’re when you think you won on the policy front, like that’s when the work just begins because now you have to work along every single point of the journey to make sure that the intended implementation of that policy is correct. And this is a case where that’s not happening. 


Myles Johnson: Yeah not much to add, but that, you know, this is just more incentive for us to organize and to talk globally because obviously white supremacy is happening globally. And sometimes we can get so caught up in what’s happening just in your nation or your town, which is good, but just it’s good to also see what’s happening globally as well and connect those dots. 


DeRay Mckesson: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come. 




DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, we welcome critically acclaimed journalist and former paramedic Kevin Hazzard about his new book, American Sirens: The Incredible Story of the Black Men Who Became America’s First Paramedics. I learned so much. Did you know that until the 1970s? If you were having a medical emergency, 911 would just sort of bring the police or a local funeral home, not necessarily somebody skilled to help save your life. But that all changed because of Black people. Kevin Hazzard is going to help us understand what happened. Here we go. 


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


Kevin Hazzard: Thanks for having me. 


DeRay Mckesson: So I stumbled across your latest book on Twitter. I was like, okay, this looks interesting. And I was like, let me read this art–. And then I was like, oh, my goodness, my mind is blown. So much so that I was at dinner the other night talking to a friend who is an actor about it. He was like, that’s not true. And he to fact check me. He googled it, during our conversation, I was like, I told you I was right. And then I was like, let me see if we can get him on the podcast so honored that you’re here. But before we start talking about the book and the latest book, uh talk to you about how you, have you always been a journalist and a writer? Did you, like, do something in third grade? And you were like, I’m gonna find the truth. Or like, what was what was your path to journalism? 


Kevin Hazzard: It’s funny you say third grade. Um. That’s actually how old I was when I wrote my first short story, which was [clears throat] it was like the– 


DeRay Mckesson: I’m psychic. 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah, it was a crazy story. I think I probably heard it had heard it somewhere, but it said you know the story of like the kid who goes past the graveyard and picks up the girl who is trying to get home from prom and he gives her a ride. And when he goes to drop her off, the parents are like, oh, she’s been dead for 20 years and you realize there’s nobody in his car. I thought I was original when I wrote it, just totally not. Um. But so I go to college. I was a history major and I graduated with kind of no idea what I was going to do and sort of accidentally stumbled upon journalism uh you know with my first year or so out of school. Then 9/11 happened so I was about two years out of college. And, you know, the world’s changing. And I have some friends who were in the military and they’re kind of off, you know, I never wanted to join the military necessarily. But when you’re 20 something and you see your friends off doing this, you know this crazy world changing thing, and you’re back home covering city council meetings or writing articles about speed bumps, you realize that like, man, I’m not really doing much. And so I needed some kind of thing. And uh I covered one night a story about this tunnel collapse in uh northwest Atlanta. And there were uh a number of workers, like six, seven workers that were on the scaffolding, this huge uh wastewater project that was going on in the city. And they just, scaffolding collapsed and these guys just disappeared into the earth. So I went down there to cover what very quickly was becoming clear it was simply a recovery mission. And the family members were there and it was this you know incredibly grave moment. And then the first people to come up out of the hole are the firefighters who were involved in the technical rescue team. And sort of in that moment, watching the way they carried themselves, watching the way that they dealt with the family and seemed to know how to handle the situation that was so incredibly extreme from my perspective. I thought, all right, well, here’s this is something I can do. This is a way that I can be part of the world that is otherwise seems to be passing me by. And so that’s how I became a paramedic, did that for ten years, and then sort of realized this is kind of a young person’s game. You know, you’re out in the street in the middle of the night chasing people around and you know doing crazy stuff. And I said, I need to get out of this night. I made my way back to the world of uh of journalism and that sort of one thing led to another. And here we are. 


DeRay Mckesson: Do you ever miss being a paramedic? Like do you and are you do you still raise your hand if they’re like, is there a doctor on the flight? Like a do you feel it still feel like you can, you know, aid in those wild moments? 


Kevin Hazzard: Yeah, I’ve done that a couple of times, actually. On our way, my wife and I were like on our way to an anniversary trip and I got called to the front of the plane, this woman that was having heart attack so I’ve done that a number of times. I sort of found myself accidental witness to fairly you know mundane emergencies. Nothing crazy. Um I do I miss aspects of it. I mean, it’s a weird job. It’s not an easy job. I don’t miss being out in the rain or, you know, in the middle of a highway for this huge accident. But there’s something about being in the city on you know as the sun is setting and you’re working with this person that you get along with really well. And you [electronic sound in backround] can kind of feel the energy. You can kind of feel the energy of the city rising up around you and you realize like man like this is going to be a great night. And then, you know, you’re just you’re in the middle of it. There’s an energy to it that you know, that part of it I really miss. 


DeRay Mckesson: And did you, these are all the questions I wanted to ask a paramedic but didn’t know one, so here you here we are as we talk about the book. But uh did you have the same partner for most of it, or did does that change often? Like how does that how did that work? Are you still friends with those people? 


Kevin Hazzard: Yeah, we’re all still friends. Um. A really weird bond gets set up between these people, you know, I mean, not to sound overly dramatic, but to a certain degree, you’re kind of placing your safety into their hands. You know, you don’t know what’s going to happen on these particular calls. It can be very difficult. Plus, it’s just sort of stressful, you know when when somebody turns you and hands you, their child who’s not breathing, that’s a high stress moment. And so the person who’s with you, who you’re counting on, you guys form a really close bond. So I still talk to a lot of the people that I worked with. Um. If you’re lucky, you work with them for a long period of time. But, you know, people come and go, shifts change and you know, somebody has a kid who just went into middle school and suddenly has to be available for track practice. And so they move to a new shift and you’re with somebody else. So I kind of bounced around with a bunch of different partners. 


DeRay Mckesson: So let’s jump into the book. Uh. So the articles about the book were fascinating and then the book, as you would have it, is even better. So one of things I want to ask you is when did you what made you start to look into the history of of paramedics? Like I think about like there are so many things that I learned, but uh sort of I’m in the 53 or 54 page part of the book where you talk about ambulance medicine and 1918. And then like I had no clue about the relationship between wartime, the wartime era and sort of the leaps in emergency medicine with ambulances. And the thing that fascinated me was uh the paragraph about hospitals were the first link in the chain to break, I’m like reading this, I’m like, why do I not know any of this stuff? But what made you interested in the history of it, or when did you start studying the history and what was what was something you learned that even surprised you? 


Kevin Hazzard: I mean, I was I was not necessarily all that interested in the history of it until I realized how little I knew. You know um, when somebody first mentioned Freedom House to me, I had no idea what it was. And when I realized that like I had done this job for ten years and it had such a profound effect on my life and I’d never heard of this situation. I knew that said to me, one, how little I knew about the origins of EMS but two, how little I probably knew about the greater story. So I started researching it for this. And the first thing that occurred to me when I was trying to figure out, all right, how do you tell the history of something that didn’t really exist but always kind of the hope for always existed, but the reality of it never did. And then somehow I sort of remembered the story of the good Samaritan, which is like this biblical story, you know, thousands of years old, about this guy who’s sort of wandering down the street, happens upon someone who’s been beaten up, you know, tends to his wounds, tosses him over the back of a donkey and brings them to a hotel where he can improve. Like that’s literally the world’s first paramedic. So from there, I just kind of started trying to piece it together of how did nothing happen from sometime in the biblical era, somebody had done this job and then all the way through to 1967 when these guys appeared nothing had really formed. So I just kind of started digging around and I knew that, you know, I knew the Ernest Hemingway thing, you know, that he had been a medic in World War One. I didn’t know that you know cholera played such a huge role. I mean, you kind of assume maybe wars move things forward but you don’t think about how much disease moves things forward. And you know cholera was such a feared epidemic because nobody knew where it came from or what it did or how to stop it. So, you know, these various cholera epidemics that would pop up throughout history played a part. But then, you know, because it’s people involved, I really became fascinated as you move toward the 20th century by who was allowed to do these sort of things. And there’s, you know, a number of women who fought really hard to be included in medicine um and you know didn’t quite have their turn, which I thought was a great prelude to the story of you know Freedom House. 


DeRay Mckesson: So I’ll leave the thunder to you. But can you tell everybody who hasn’t had the privilege of reading the book yet? What is Freedom House? 


Kevin Hazzard: Yeah so Freedom House was an organization in uh the Hill District of Pittsburgh, which the Hill District is the south side of Chicago. It is Watts, it is Harlem um probably more than anything. It is Harlem. It is you know, was this place in the mid to early 20th century that was famous for jazz clubs, had the world’s or the nation’s largest Black newspaper, had two Negro League Baseball teams. Satchel Paige played there. Um. You know, it was everybody who was anybody would would pass through the Hill District you know Lena Horne. I mean, you name it like everybody. Joe Louis. They’re all they all go through there. Urban renewal comes along um as it did in so many cities across America and wiped it right down to the dirt, um you know, in order to put it in a highway and a civic center, they just they displaced thousands, literally thousands of residents with no plan for where, where, where they would go and what was left uh and to no one’s surprise in the wake of that was this neighborhood that had lost its soul, that had lost its economic engine, um that found itself completely reliant on slumlords. And so it it falls into hopelessness, complete hopelessness. So there’s there’s a guy um by the name of McCoy who who comes along and he says, okay, he was a civil rights activist in the city. He had been a union leader. And he knew that what we need here in this neighborhood is an opportunity for people to do something more than just hang out. So he creates this jobs training program and he calls it Freedom House. But he doesn’t that’s that’s sort of the beginning of his idea, but he’s not really sure where to take it. I mean, he’s you know, they’re moving um towards like teaching people how to be a landscaper, teaching people how to clean houses. There’s not like a real, you know, dynamic idea. And this uh there’s another activist, a guy who runs the Falk medical fund named Phil Hallen, who realized that the Hill District was sort of a health care desert. That the people living in that neighborhood, did not have quality access to health care. And Hallen thought, okay, well, this might be a good opportunity. Maybe this organization, Freedom House, can create a very lo-fi ambulance system, or it can just bring people to and from appointments. So they come together and they take this idea across town to Peter Safar. Peter Safar. You could, you could write five books on Peter Safar alone. Um. I mean, the man was nominated three different times for the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Uh he’s an unbelievable mind. But Safar’s the father of CPR quite literally invented CPR in the 1950s um through this extraordinary set of experiments and this incredible leap of faith. And he changed forever how people are saved throughout the world. So Safar moves to Pittsburgh to start an anesthesiology program, which at that point is sort of new and experimental medicine. And he very quickly realizes that, hey, there’s nothing to save a life between where an injury or an illness happens and a doctor. So that time period, when you’re hit by a car before you arrive at a doctor, there’s nobody there to take care of you. He knows this very personally because his own daughter died of an asthma attack and he was at the hospital, took over her care, but was unable to save her because that time between the onset of the asthma attack and when she arrived at his hospital was too long and she was brain dead. So he was well aware of of the hole in the health care system. So he devises out of whole cloth a paramedic system like and literally, I’m sure this is 1966, something like this quite literally does not exist. He has to design the ambulance. He has to design the training program. The name paramedic does not even exist. I mean, up until that point, if you were sick or injured, you might have the police show up in a paddy wagon type vehicle. You might have volunteer firefighters show up. Neither of those groups have any kind of training or you might have undertakers in a hearse show up because at least that’s a car that’s capable of transporting a body. I mean this is what’s available to you in 1966 in America. So Safar devises this entire training program and it’s you know this sort of stroke of genius and promise. He’s got this great idea with no people. Across town there’s this group that has great people, but no great idea. You know, through this sort of wonderful bit of kismet, they come together and create the world’s first paramedic training program. 


DeRay Mckesson: I love it. I love it. I love it. I love it. And your shout out to being a great storyteller both in speech and in writing. The thing that I you know, I read this and I was like, who knew? I’m from Baltimore. I was like, this man did some of his original stuff at Baltimore, which you write. And I was like, Shout out to the city. Did he ever win the Nobel or no? 


Kevin Hazzard: No. Uh. Three different nominations. Not a win, which is surprising. Um. But, yeah, his his work in Baltimore is I mean, it’s so fascinating. It’s the the courage it would take to do what he did. I mean, you know, he basically he’s looking around there’s this what we did for CPR prior to him up through the 1950s is like you would lay someone face down, think about that for a second, someone’s not breathing and you lay them face down on the ground and you flap their arms like a turkey. And then you sort of press on the back of their shoulder blades and you hope something happens. Well, Safar looks at that, he’s like nothing happens when you do this. So [laughter] he comes up with this test and he’s like, All right, we’re going to, you know, I’m going to do mouth to mouth, which at that point people were convinced could kill you because you you expire, you know, carbon dioxide. And so people are like, oh, no, if you do that, they’ll die. So he’s like, no, I’ll prove it won’t work, or I’ll proove it works. So he gets these doctors and residents to uh volunteer for him and he tells them, I’m going to sedate you and then I’m going to paralyze you for 8 hours at a time for 42 separate experiments. And then I’m going to use in order to keep you alive, I’m going to use the method that we already know doesn’t work. And when you start to die, which you will start to die, I’m going to bring in a boy scout. I’m going to bring in a kid who’s 11 years old, who has zero training, doesn’t know what he’s doing, and I’m going to explain mouth to mouth to him. And that kid’s going to keep you alive for 8 hours and he gets people to buy into this. And he does it. And you know he takes it out to the world and shows the whole world like, hey, this is this is how you save lives. And it you know and he couples that with chest compressions and boom, you have CPR. Uh. But yeah, it all started right there in Baltimore. 


DeRay Mckesson: And I and I read too you right that he like hadn’t even done studies before. This was like his first foray into, like, legitimate study. 


Kevin Hazzard: Yeah. He’s in his mid thirties. He was he was a trained surgeon, uh you know, came to the U.S. at the end of World War Two. At that point, anesthesiology is brand new and he’s kind of like this rogue genius kind of guy. And he looks around, and he’s like, well, everybody knows how to do surgery, but nobody knows how to do anesthesiology. So I’m just going to go and do that. And it’s while he’s there again that this new field that he just says, ah the hell with it, I’m gonna in my spare time, I’ll just invent CPR. 


DeRay Mckesson: So if we if we think about Freedom House, the first paramedics being this group of Black men who built an infrastructure to do something else but then get trained to do this. Did it work? Was it successful? Like, how did it go? What do we what did we learn from that? And while Safar was alive? 


Kevin Hazzard: It was unbelievably successful right from the get go. So they they start training in ’67. They come out in ’68. So they’re technically not done with all their training yet. They’re still I don’t know, a couple of weeks to go and what Safar wanted to do. When they finished their training class, he wanted to send them down to Baltimore to ride with the Baltimore City Fire Department. They go down as soon as they arrive. They arrive in April of 1968. As soon as they arrive, Martin Luther King Jr. is shot, you know cities across America are immediately up in flames, including Pittsburgh. So they get called back, so their first call to duty is during the uprising following the assassination of Dr. King. All through that summer and through the next year, they run calls nonstop, thousands of calls. So somebody says, you know, we ought to make sure that this thing is actually working. So they do a study and they study Freedom House. They study the volunteer fire department. And they study the police department. Again, the police are what prior to Freedom House had been handling ambulance calls in the city. And they wanted to know during critical calls, how effective were these various providers? And so the volunteer fire department provides the wrong care 87 or excuse me 80% of the time, the police department provides the wrong care 60% of the time. Bear in mind these are in critical patients where where every second counts. And then over that same period of time, Freedom House provided the correct care 78% of the time. So you have 78% versus 20% versus 40%. And that is from day one. They’re off and running. So immediately, doctors and administrators around the country begin coming to Pittsburgh to see what they’re doing. They travel all over the country. They travel around the world. At one point, they go to Mainz, Germany, for a conference where they sort of put on a demonstration of both their training and their ability and the doctors, these are physicians from around the world, and they evaluate the work and training that Freedom House does. And what they conclude at the end of that conference is okay, as practiced by the as these as practiced by these guys with their training and their equipment. There is no drop off in the field for a critical patient when they’re being treated by either a physician or a paramedic. That’s how effective these guys were. That the first group to ever do it quite literally, inventing the job every day when they show up to work are as effective in a in emergency on the street as a physician would be. Um you know, it’s it’s an unmitigated success. And I would say like almost an unparalleled success. Where is something this difficult that you can put your finger on that this quickly was so obviously the right thing to do. Um. So right from the beginning, it’s quite clear that these guys are setting an international trend in in emergency medicine. 


DeRay Mckesson: You then talk about and there’s like a whole section on the money that, you know, a good idea wasn’t enough. They had to fund it. What was that like? Were they able to sustain it? How long did Freedom House last? Like what happened? Because it clearly worked. It wasn’t a question of did it work? 


Kevin Hazzard: Yeah. So, I mean, they they sort of, you know, they fund this thing by any means necessary. They they they raise nonprofit money from nonprofits. Um. They get you know money from foundations. They, they initially had money from the city, but their operating budget of $100,000 gets cut in half to $50,000 um without warning or without justification, the city said, Yeah, like look, we think these guys are doing a fine job. They’re just going to have to do it now with half the money. Um. And for frame of reference, the city at that point was still paying their dog catching department $100,000. So, you know, they’re they’re willing to to pay Freedom House half of what they will pay a dog catcher. Um. That becomes only a single stumbling block for them. There was a new mayor who had come in in 1979, Peter Flaherty, uh who initially, you know, had the backing of the city’s Black population. He did away with the tactical squads, which were very um unpopular in neighborhoods like the Hill District. You know, these guys came in with sort of very heavy fist. Um. He tried to integrate street patrols. And you know, he did a number and he got rid of a very unpopular among the population, a very unpopular police commissioner who happened to be very popular among the police. These actions really tick off the police department, which you know in any city is a huge voting bloc and very powerful political group. And so Flaherty kind of realizes he’s got to change what he’s doing and he sort of spins the dial. And you know everything he does from there on is very much against Freedom House. And he begins to doubt publicly whether, you know, you can practice medicine in the back of an ambulance. He begins to doubt whether other cities of his size are bothering to do this. He begins to doubt whether he has the legal right to do this or whether they should even be doing this. And all these things, you know as I point out in the book, all were very easily shot down as specious arguments at best, but then these rumors begin to percolate about what’s happening in back of Freedom House ambulances and who is it that’s really doing this. And you know we don’t we don’t really like these guys anyway. Remember, they’re from the Hill district and we don’t you know our vision of the Hill, our view of the Hill District is criminals and poor and indigent. And we don’t want any part of these guys and that it becomes such a steady drumbeat of but these guys are bad, even though the international community is saying these guys are fantastic. It becomes difficult for all the people involved to deny at some point that the motives behind this thing are racial. You know, if you look at cities of similar size at the same time period, Jacksonville, Columbus, Ohio, they both had very robust EMS systems that were inspired, if not in whole, at least in part by Freedom House. Um. And they had no trouble. And, you know, the only real difference between Freedom House and the Jacksonville and Columbus EMS departments is Freedom House was the only one that was almost entirely Black. So, you know, they from 1970 on, it’s an uphill battle, even though different parts of the city are beginning to see what’s happening. And in wealthier, whiter areas, people are saying, well, wait a minute, why? Why is all that great health care happening there? What about here? And, you know, so the city is kind of finally forced to say, okay, yes, you’re right, this is a thing. This can be done. This is something that we should be doing. And so they just say, fine, we’ll do it, but we just won’t do it with these guys. So, you know, they create an entirely white paramedic corps. 


DeRay Mckesson: You know, I’m always surprised too, one of the things that you highlight in the book that, you know, I’m like, this is a part of all these stories is police violence that you know, on the backdrop of getting rid of Freedom House, it was protests about the police killing a man. It was uh racial tension rooted in the overpolicing of Black communities. So what happens to Safar, is he does he go out quietly in the night? Does he continue to fight Pittsburgh? Uh. Yeah. 


Kevin Hazzard: Um. Yeah. I mean, yeah you’re right. The whole the entirety of Freedom House’s tenure takes place over a backdrop of growing racial tensions. I mean, it’s worth noting that Pittsburgh is the first city to operate under a consent decree. Um. There’s numerous instances of police brutality that made it all the way to federal courts in which the courts ruled against the police department. Um. There are a number of incidents that happened throughout their time where you know it was clear the acrimony between the city and the department was very bad and this is what they were looking at it you know in terms of what will come back should Freedom House disappear. It’ll be an ambulance system run by the very people that we’re having so much trouble with. So you know the stakes were always very high for the people involved when it when the city takes over, Safar in terms of ambulance and EMS work. You know, it’s over for him. The city decides, okay, we are um we’re going to have this thing, but we’re we’re not going to use any of the experts at this point you know Safar has been tapped by the president of the United States, to be on this EMS council. He’s on the state EMS council. He’s his opinion is sought by other services around the country, around the world. Yet in his home city, they don’t want any of his knowledge. Um. You know the father of CPR, the guy who quite literally invented paramedics, um the guy who designed the modern ambulance, he’s cast to the side and they bring in some new people who have zero experience. You know, Safar being Safar, he just sort of dusts himself off and move on moves on and he begins from there um working on resuscitative medicine, which you know if you sort of have heard of of people, hospitals, trying to cool down people when they’re in cardiac arrests, reserve organs. That’s work that began with Safar in Pittsburgh in the 1970s. So that’s what he does at the end of Freedom House. Um the paramedics themselves, the so they had a medical director named Nancy Caroline, who’s a young doctor. She was in her very early 50 or excuse me very early thirties. Um. And she was incredibly passionate about Freedom House and the people who work there. She believed, you know, she’d had a personal tragedy right when she arrived. And she believed that the people at Freedom House saved her as much as she may have saved them. Um. And so when the city kind of realizes that they’re in over their head on creating a new ambulance service and need some sort of help, they turn to her and she says, Yeah, I’ll come over and help you, but you’ve got to hire all of my people. Everyone who’s here needs to get a job, so the city accepts them. But, you know, one of the paramedics, John Moon, always says they were forced to take us, but they weren’t forced to keep us. And so from day one, the city begins this you know, a systematic weeding out of the people who had come over from Freedom House. And so they alone are forced to take test after test after test. Each of these tests is a pass fail. If you fail, you’re gone. Um. These are people who had been working for a decade, um had been trained under the strictest paramedic regimen or training program uh created till that day. And every week they would show up to a different test um and you know be be uh chased out if they didn’t pass that test. They were separated as crews. They were sent to different parts of the city. None of them worked in the hill. None of them worked with each other. They were sort of scattered between different times of day and different different parts of town. And, you know, within a year, 50% of the people who joined the city after leaving Freedom House were gone. Um. Some did remain, and many of them went on to you know have illustrious careers, whether it was for the city of Pittsburgh or other cities, other states. You know there were doctors, there were PhDs. There were masters that came out of that. There were people that went on to do great things. But, you know, this was a group of pioneers um whose own city, you know, cast them aside. 


DeRay Mckesson: Were you going to talk to any of the Freedom House people? 


Kevin Hazzard: Yeah, I spoke with uh three, four, five of the medics um and a couple of the people who were involved with um setting up the program. You know, when you when you talk to these guys, they’re all. You know, all of them will will sort of say the same thing in one way or another. And it’s essentially that you know they came from this area that that the world thought very little of. And they realized in this very, very strange job um that this was something that the world would not be able to ignore. Somehow they saw in it an ability to make a mark. And so they held on. And so for them, Freedom House was their chance to prove themselves to the world. And they all believe they’ve done that. And you know I mean I think the record stands for itself. They clearly have. And so the pride that they have in the work that they did um and sort of the lessons they took from that entire experience propelled them forward in life. And you know ultimately, that is the legacy of of Freedom House. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Well, everybody definitely read the book now there are a couple of questions that we ask everybody on the podcast. But before I ask you those, I’ll say I love the old photos on your website. Your like, old EMS photos are great. I was like, look at him. 


Kevin Hazzard: Um. Yeah.


DeRay Mckesson: That’s cool. So everybody well, well you’ll shout out the website at the end, but two questions. One is, what do you say to people who feel like they’ve done everything. They call, they email, they stood in the street, they read your book, listened to the podcast, they read my book, da da da. And they feel like the world is not changing in the way they want it to. What do you say to those people? 


Kevin Hazzard: Say the last part one more time. They feel the world is what?


DeRay Mckesson: Not changing that it’s sort of still the same, right? That like it’s all for naught. What do you say to those people? 


Kevin Hazzard: I mean, when I was going through this book, one of the startling facts that I kept coming across was the idea that all the things that they were dealing with in the 1960s and 1960s, we’re still still dealing with today. But there is you know, if nothing else, humanity is always on a march forward and you know nothing is ever done in a day. And incredibly frustrating days are always ahead for anyone who’s looking to change the world. But the world is always on the march forward. And the only thing standing between where we want to be and where we are is, you know, our degree of determination to get there. You know, um so there it can be incredibly frustrating to see progress either be slow, halting or nonexistent. Um. But it ends when we quit. So we can’t quit. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom um the second question is, what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that stuck with you? 


Kevin Hazzard: There’s an incredibly long quote. I believe it’s a Calvin Coolidge quote um and I’ll paraphrase it and it’s that you know that, don’t rely on genius, the world is is full of um you know unrecognized geniuses and and don’t rely on a fast start. The world is full of people who started out fast and petered out. You know. The people who get there are the people who persevere. And the most important thing that you can do is to persevere. Um. And I think that’s that’s true. Everything that you do is incredibly difficult. And if you listen to people who you admire, who have succeeded in life, um if you listen to them being interviewed, they’ll always sort of laugh at having been called an overnight success. They’ll say, yeah, well, nobody has because nobody was there in the 15 years it took me to do the one thing that the world finally noticed. Um. So for me, that is always the thing that stands in my mind that the most important thing you can be is uh one who perseveres. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom. So give us a shout out for the book and tell people where they can go to stay in touch with you and to make sure that they know what your next project is keep keep posted with what you’re doing. 


Kevin Hazzard: Yeah yeah. So the book is American Sirens. It’s out now from Hachette. It’s everywhere that you get books, whether uh you know there’s a there’s an audio book out there. It’s you know Kindle, Hardcover, Amazon, any bookstore, Barnes & Noble, um any local bookstore that you use. Uh. I’ve got a website, um and I’m on uh Twitter and Instagram always talking about what’s going on now and what’s coming next. 


DeRay Mckesson: Boom. [music break] Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts. Whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we will see you next week. Pod Save the People was a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Executive produced by me and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles Johnson.