Political Weaponry (with Nicole Tucker-Smith) | 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!
March 28, 2023
Pod Save The People
Political Weaponry (with Nicole Tucker-Smith)

In This Episode

DeRay, De’Ara, Kaya, and Myles cover the underreported news of the week — including Dollar Store’s predatory tactics in urban communities, a NYC park built on top of a dark history, Stacey Abrams’ depart from campaign politics, and the end of a partnership with Beyoncé and Adidas. DeRay interviews author and educator Nicole Tucker-Smith about teacher shortages, book banning, and the evolution of learning.



DeRay New Report: The Dollar Store Invasion

Dollar Tree CEO–Who Made Over $10 Million Last Year–Blames Inflation for Price Hike to $1.25


Kaya Power move: Stacey Abrams’ next act is the electrification of the US


Myles Beyoncé and Adidas Reportedly End Partnership, Will No Longer Collaborate on Ivy Park

Renaissance Couture By Beyoncé x Balmain 


De’Ara A Million Bodies Are Buried Here. Now It’s Becoming a Park






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 all the news that you don’t know from the past week with regard to race, justice, and equity. The news that you should have been talking about but just didn’t know about. You’ll know about it here. Then I sit down with author and educator Nicole Tucker-Smith to talk about teacher shortages, book banning, and DeSantis’s war on Black education. We’ve talked about these a little bit in our conversations, but haven’t had an expert on a long time to focus on education. 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 at @dearabalenger on Instagram. 


Myles E. Johnson: I’m 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. 


De’Ara Balenger: Well, everyone. We are slowly becoming a going from a social justice podcast to a celebrity news podcast. But you know what? [laughter] It’s for the culture. It’s okay. It’s okay. 


Kaya Henderson: If the celebs are in the news, we can talk about them, right? 


De’Ara Balenger: Well. 


DeRay Mckesson: Absolutely. Stop being shady uh Deora. 


Kaya Henderson: De’ara, right. 


Myles E. Johnson: I like that you said it with a with with a um question mark. [?] real name? 


DeRay Mckesson: Mm hmm. That’s Baltimore. Deora.


De’Ara Balenger: That’s DeRay, DeRay has a Baltimore name for me. 


DeRay Mckesson: Deora. 


De’Ara Balenger: Um uh. So as friends and podcast hosts, we are on a very lively text chain where thank goodness for people on the Twitter, obviously DeRay and Myles, so that we get moment to moment updates on what was going on with Jonathan Majors from the arrest to the accusations to the denial to leaving the courtroom, having a freedom hat on. Someone said it was giving us a Jussie Smollett moment. So–


Myles E. Johnson: You know what, I resent I resent that. And as our as our um podcast litigator, I’m surprised that you were just so flagrant with that mischaracterization. Because I gave one update and a commentary. There was no there was no moment to moment update. And I cannot believe that–


De’Ara Balenger: It was a moment. Yes there was. We have several tweets. [banter]


Kaya Henderson: Wait. It absolutely was because and I’ll tell you why, so in my other– 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh, counselor, oh god. [laughing]


Kaya Henderson: In my other life, in my other life, I’m on the auntie podcast, right? And so the aunties were like, did you see this thing about Jonathan Majors? And I’m like, Girl, I got the tea, let me tell you what the Twitter is saying. Bloop bloop. And so everything that y’all tweeted or posted then I just sent over to the auntie podcast and so the aunties feel very up to date. 


DeRay Mckesson: You mean the auntie group chat. 


Myles E. Johnson: Group chat. 


DeRay Mckesson: Auntie group chat.


Kaya Henderson: Auntie text thread and sorry the auntie text thread.


DeRay Mckesson: Not you being on another podcast. 


Kaya Henderson: No, no, not podcast. Sorry. And and the aunties feel very up to date with this situation. So. 


Myles E. Johnson: Well. 


DeRay Mckesson: Okay Myles, what Myles, tell us what you got on this. 


Myles E. Johnson: Well, [?] Okay. So any who, um so everything’s like still coming out. So if you don’t know, we record on, we record on Mondays. So we’re figuring out things as uh you are too. So at this moment it’s coming out that um she’s going to make a statement. There’s going to they’re going to release videotape and it’s going to reverse what we all feel about it. So assuming that that really happens, then um just know that my my commentary’s shaped by the the maybe that that might happen. So what I will say is, no matter what ends up happening, as far as evidence happens, I think that the explosion of commentary around Jonathan Majors is, if not totally damning is is is is career molding shifting enough. So I think that people who felt okay with commenting on Jonathan Majors and calling him a sociopath and abusive and how um like there’s other victims and stuff like that, it kind of almost doesn’t matter if this wasn’t something, that this is something that he can either cover up or if this was something that ended up not happening or is if he’s able to, like, wheel his way out of that. I kind of feel like the bell has been rung around his character. And I think that you can’t really unring it. 


De’Ara Balenger: And you know what it reminds me of too, sort of remember– 


Myles E. Johnson: What? 


De’Ara Balenger: –Nate Parker? 


Kaya Henderson: Oh, yes, honey. The remember– 


De’Ara Balenger: Fine fine– 


Kaya Henderson: –is the right– 


De’Ara Balenger: Nate Parker. 


Kaya Henderson: Remember is the right question because [?]– 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh cause he was in um. He was in Nate. 


Kaya Henderson: No, he was– 


Myles E. Johnson: Uh Nat. 


Kaya Henderson: He did the um– 


Myles E. Johnson: Nat Turner. 


De’Ara Balenger: He was Nat Turner. 


Kaya Henderson: Yes, mm hmm. 


De’Ara Balenger: He was in the the other one with the the Great Debaters. 


Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm. 


De’Ara Balenger: He I mean, brilliant. And then again, remember? I’m just. This is too much. It’s too much. 


DeRay Mckesson: Kaya. I want to know what you got. 


Kaya Henderson: [laugh] So [clears throat] here’s the thing. Um. Remember a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about Jonathan Majors in his, you know, gender bending um cover of Ebony or whatever and how people were, you know, not okay with him in pink and blah, blah, blah and all this jazz. 


Myles E. Johnson: I do recall that, counselor. 


Kaya Henderson: And we’ve gone from defending his ability to be whoever he was, because that was my stance, Right? I’d be whoever you are, to but don’t be an abuser. Right. [laugh] And so, I mean, I think it’s been fascinating to watch how quickly this has all gone from, you know, the allegations to she’s crazy like there like the most professional gaslighting I’ve ever seen. She’s in an emotional crisis. Like, wow, whoever this poor young lady is right, wrong or otherwise like she is over to now other directors and people saying, you know, we’re surprised that it took this long to to to surface. Um. I mean, you know, one of the things that I say all the time is nobody’s ever like, oh, have you heard about De’Ara being a child molester? No, because De’Ara hasn’t done anything to be accused of being a child molester for. Right. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Kaya Henderson: And so so I think there is something here. Right. And I’d like to believe you know, I like to believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. And we just live in a in a media culture where, like, there is no time for that because in 30 seconds, the story shifts from one thing to another. I think um, you know, whatever this dude’s truth is, it is likely to come out because there are people who are going to dig and dig and dig until we find what is actually going on. And I just am spectating on this one. 


Myles E. Johnson: The caffeine God did just give me something really smart to say. Is if we do, if we if it just comes out and it is accepted that he is an abuser, the that’s a sophisticated cover up to almost use intimacy. Right. Like that pho– that photograph that was that’s circling with um Michael B. Jordan. I forgot the um photographer who took who took it, it was the black and white photograph. Um.


DeRay Mckesson: Giancarlo. 


Myles E. Johnson: Okay. So, yes. Um uh. And it’s like really beautiful. And then the Ebony cover. So it’s almost like he used this, like very current climate of Black masculine softness and um almost like Black queer aestethic in order to make himself feel safe. And he’s actually wheeling in his professional personal life, the most traditional, abusive patriarchal things and you big as hell. So that I mean big as HE double hockey sticks. PG rated show. [laughter] And that, that to me is what is like the most will be the most fascinating thing is that some other abuser was able to actually absorb those things, use it in order to manipulate his public perception. Um that scary and fascinating. 


DeRay Mckesson: I will say I think the comment that I saw that I was like, okay, I rock with this is Megan Thee Stallion said, you know what? I’m not going back and forth with you. I’ll see you in court. She like it was just it was like she didn’t play the back and forth. Like, at a point she stopped and was like the facts are the facts are the facts. I thought that, you know, regardless of what is true, I thought that his statement did not support him at all. Like it, whoever put that statement out for him, thinking that that was going to help clear it up and da da da. Trashing her was not it, that was just like the wrong whoever told him that was the move. That wasn’t it. And then to say, you know, the video evidence will da da da it’s like y’all if that is the case, you should’ve just waited for like, you know, the story is going to live on its own no matter what. You should just release the video and let that be the statement, because all of the that the statement was not helpful. And then the freedom hat was the was the moment that I was lost, I was like, okay, this is a this feels like a performance. And it it like validates everybody who believes what Myles just said about the like, this whole thing has been a performance because I’m thinking like, well, where’d you get? Somebody had to buy, you didn’t. It’s not like you always wear a freedom hat– 


Kaya Henderson: In less than– 


DeRay Mckesson: Then I’d be like okay whatever.


Kaya Henderson: –24 hours in less than 24 hours. 


DeRay Mckesson: It’s like somebody got you a freedom hat, you made the decision to wear it. You made sure it was angled for the cam– it’s like this just doesn’t and you lost your core you know, Black women were your riders. And baby, it is you did not. No matter what is true at this point, you really didn’t help yourself. 


Myles E. Johnson: And yeah, that’s a little Jesse. That was when that Jussie Smollett energy for me came into play where I was like, mm, this is feeling a little bit. There’s just no way that I can like explain how it feels without just sounding terribly ablest, but it just feels like somebody just was is not all the way with reality when certain things like that happen. That’s my most PG way of saying that. Don’t look at me confused, Miss Kaya. Auntie Kaya.


DeRay Mckesson: We’ll see, you know I’m interested to see. They made a whole stink about this video. And it’s like y’all, let’s see. 


Myles E. Johnson: And it better be not be that one skip. No, don’t. No fuzz. No. I want it in HD. 4K. No skips no no. Smooth sailing. No hopping from one to the other. Nothing. 


Kaya Henderson: Okay. And in other celebrity news, [laughter] Gwyneth Paltrow is [laugh] Gwyneth Paltrow has taken the stand in her ski accident um which [?] ski accident court case where uh the man who she was engaged in an accident with on the ski slopes um is suing her for, I don’t know, a ton of cash. First of all, like the the the thing is so crazy. Like, when have you ever heard of people crashing into each other on a mountain and then suing each other? That was new for me. Um. But her testimony about what actually happened. Right. It was fascinating also because she says this dude literally skied up in between her skis. If you know how to ski, that’s kind of hard to do. Right. Skied in between her skis, basically humped her back and was grunting, making sounds. And I was like, say, what now? And this dude, according to him, has suffered, you know, irreparable damage and broken his ribs and blah, blah, blah, blah, and all of these things. And they got the scientists on saying from a physics perspective, this couldn’t have happened, it must have happened and blah, blah, blah. This whole thing is bananas. But to watch Gwyneth on the stand doing her thing is fascinating. 


DeRay Mckesson: Can I just tell you that because I’m fascinated by this and the hashtag Gwynethsent is top tier Black Twitter. Uh. But so I was reading up on it and I’m like, you know, let’s see, what were his damages? And he said that one of his main injuries is that he can no longer enjoy wine. And I said, if this is not the whitest trial I’ve ever seen in my life of all the things happening in the world. He said that the injury took away his ability to enjoy wine, he is like 70 plus years old. 


Kaya Henderson: How much? How much? How much do you think that’s worth? How much do you think that’s worth? 


DeRay Mckesson: Well, he– [banter]


Kaya Henderson: –[?] to enjoy wine. 


DeRay Mckesson: He’s suing her for $300,000 and she is countersuing for $1. 


Myles E. Johnson: I I I’m not going to hold you if you take out my ability to enjoy wine, assuming that it’s true. [laughter] I mean, I just had some Italian food yesterday with a nice red. I like a nice I like a nice rosé with everything. If you take my enjoyment from that, that’s that’s worth we we in we in six seven figures land. If you take out my ability to um to enjoy wine. 


DeRay Mckesson: Goodbye. 


Myles E. Johnson: But what I thought. What I think it’s so interesting and me and my um partner are watching this on was what we’re watching this on Court TV. And I think the reason for me and I and I’m and I’m assuming maybe for a lot of other people who are witnessing the trial and um is that Gwyneth Paltrow is often seen as somebody who’s a little bit like aloof or distant or not relatable. And so I think seeing her in a in hyper relatable situation is really like interesting for people. But I think more than anything, I think we all dream of being under maybe immense pressure or being in a in a conflict and kind of comporting in the way that we’re seeing her comport. Because [laugh] when I tell you, she kind of like remains in power with and does not become destabilized. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I was just like, oh, this is a masterclass in some things. So even the lawyer who was cross-examining her felt more nervous at times that Gwyneth did. And I was like, oh, that’s how you do a thing. That’s how you know, that’s how you get people scared. And I was like, I want some of that to rub off on me. So I watched it for two and a half hours. 


Kaya Henderson: Here’s my question for you. So do do– 


De’Ara Balenger: [laughing] Not two and a half hours.


Myles E. Johnson: And that’s how long it was. 


Kaya Henderson: That’s a lot. 


Myles E. Johnson: It was. 


Kaya Henderson: Um. 


Myles E. Johnson: It was it was fascinating. 


Kaya Henderson: But actors also have the ability to become who they are not. Right. And so when you talk about relatable and and whatnot, the question that comes to mind is like, is this the real Gwyneth or is this not the real Gwyneth? 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh, that’s the public. I mean, we just talked about Jonathan Majors, so I’m like, everything is performance. But I think the reason why this has resonated with a with with people and with Black people and with the general public is because I think usually when we see like she just I mean, we didn’t talk about it in the podcast, but she just talked about the bone broth and the walking and everybody being like, what are you talking about? Like, we’re not doing that. And then, you know, another time that I’ve seen her in the news was with the Yoni egg, which is like this spiritual crystal. But she, use [?] used it for like all these different things that kind of reinforce that Gwyneth is not necessarily the most in-touch person. So in this court situation, she performed in touch person. So I don’t I don’t know her. So but I felt like, oh, no, she was with her two kids, she was trying to see if this new baby daddy with her two kids, we’re going to get along. And then all of a sudden this man flies in my back and I cursed him out. And I’m like, yeah, me too. Me too. And I’m like and the [laughter] and the and the fact that she’s over here drilling this drilling this lawyer and be and being just as on top dog as his lawyer was being, I was like, you know what, Gwyneth, I have not related to you in no other circumstances, but right here I see how you getting down and it could be a performance she might have she might have turned on BET films and and got and said we need to figure out how to win me over with the public and might be the performance of a lifetime. But let me tell you something. She won the the the the Myles Stone uh award. That’s my personal award. 


DeRay Mckesson: Yes Myles Stone. 


Kaya Henderson: Myles Stone award. Yes! [clapping] Yes. [banter] [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: My favorite part of the entire trial and what a boss move is when the lawyer asks her that really long question as she goes, what’s your name again? Not what’s your name. You know, the lawyer name, girl. What? [?] [laughter]


Myles E. Johnson: That’s so destabilizing. That’s so like–


DeRay Mckesson: Yes it’s smooth. 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh she doesn’t care. [laughing]


DeRay Mckesson: Smooth. Like and the outfits, too. I’m like, that’s when I saw Gwynethscent and I was like, Gwynethscent is it. I am enthralled and him saying that his damages were wine. I’m like, sir, if you wanted sympathy, give me more than not being able to enjoy wine. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


De’Ara Balenger: Well, and I think that’s what I’m having the question mark for me is how did this how did a judge how did this filing get to a judge? And the judge was like. This guy’s got a case. You know, so I think but not for her being Gwyneth Paltrow this guy even thought he had a chance to win, win, or at least bring a case against her. And then whoever this judge is also thought, oh, well, I’ll have her in my courtroom. And so we’ll proceed how we proceed. But it’s like when you get to the facts of it and actually how you bring a civil case against someone and how you have to prove negligence. It just I don’t even understand how this made the the light of day. And it also, just is a question, it’s just I dont know it’s just foolishness to me. I don’t know what’s going on in Utah. I mean, yeah, we do. We know what’s going on in Utah, foolishness. But I just feel like it’s just it makes no sense to me that this is actually in a courtroom. 


Myles E. Johnson: Well, she’s my little soft life icon. I I I love the I love the creams. 


DeRay Mckesson: Get out. 


Myles E. Johnson: I love the I love the barely there makeup, a little concealer. And I’m in the courtroom and I have places to go. [?] calling. 


De’Ara Balenger: And well you know, listen. 


Myles E. Johnson: I like the vibe. 


De’Ara Balenger: If this is if this is a way to make her relatable, so be it. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. She’s–


De’Ara Balenger: Because you know. 


Myles E. Johnson: –[?] a little. A little [?]. 


De’Ara Balenger: I’ve been on I’ve been on this train a very long time. 


Myles E. Johnson: A little [?] um uh uh scene. And she’s she has a whole new market. A whole new market. [laughing] So my news is, I know for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been, you know, I’ve been taking y’all to the slums and Beyoncé has [laughing] Beyonce has taken me out of the garbage pails that I’ve been searching for these newses the news for and has put me back where I belong. You know Beyonce in love lifts me up right back where I belong. So my original news has morphed. So my first news was the big news was Beyoncé left Adidas. I was extremely happy about this because although I think that Ivy Park um has created some cool clothes, some some clothes that I like some clothes that I’m not that excited about. I just will always think that that is one will be in the class of Beyoncé, one of her most genius marketing strategies. When people were receiving those boxes, people knew what you meant when you said a Beyonce box. People and it became a status symbol symbol. It became a social media event. And she literally created this moment of her uh digging into becoming content. You know, it’s really interesting to me that more artists like The Savage Fentys um and Doja Cat does like something that’s more personal. Nicki Minaj is it’s more it’s interesting to me that more artists haven’t mimiced that um protocol um and that like blueprint of like becoming a social media event I think it’s genius. But the clothes didn’t resonate to me. I thought Beyonce was getting a little bit too glamorous and it didn’t really feel like something that she will wear. She was into more sparkly couture stuff and the stuff that she was selling us, just didn’t seem to be aligned with the even if it’s what she will wear to the gym. I’m like, I don’t know if I believe you. I don’t know if I believe you anymore. And I think that she felt it. And I think the deal was up. And then before I even had the chance to talk about that news, which I did, which I just did, the announcement that she’s done this um this collaboration with um Balmain came out and this feels so much more like, tonally, it feels so much uh more in line with where I would see Beyoncé going. It’s a limited collection. The clothes are some are avant garde, a lot of them feel like they’re taking um taking kind of like a camp take on glamor. So some of the things literally look like they’re um like a chandelier top and some things are just like rhinestones out so it’s just kind of compromising of that Texas uh kind of like low taste that she comes from, the eighties and nineties ballroom and then also making it couture and just like putting it in a blender and seeing what comes out. And I have a taste for Lomi Thai so I really do love all of it. But I can totally see it not being everybody’s taste, but I feel like more than anything, this is a bridge for Beyonce to start creating stuff that feels a little bit more artful and a little bit uh less consumerist uh lowest denomination uh products and things that feel a little bit more artful and sophisticated. And maybe it doesn’t sell 1 million, but it aligns with where I see her going as an artist. Where I see her going as an artist both musically and visually. Um. And I and I just think it’s like interesting, you know, I think that she is it’s to do a, a line with a designer and have each art um article of clothing and each design resonate with the song. It really kind of positions Beyonce as a multimedia artist and she’s always talked about, like when I do songs, I see the videos and I see the clothes and how music is a visual uh 6D experience for her. And I think that this really coincides with that and it feels like an interesting move. And again, when Beyonce does anything, I think that she’s one of the artists that I’m most interested in how it echoes and reverberates throughout the industry. So how this changes, how other people do things, too. I think her and Solange really change how other people do their art, and I almost become more interested in the echoes of those type of moves. Then sometimes even the product itself like that can like wear off. But I’m like, so what is what is Rihanna going to do now? What is Doja Cat going to do now? What is Nicki Minaj going to do now? What is the newest artist who, Lady Gaga going to do now? What is the newest artist we have never heard of? How are they going to change how they release music or how they um interact with their art because of these type of decisions and these types of moves? What do you all think now that we’re back in the in the ivory tower of fashion and I’m bringing you all tasteful cultured news. 


DeRay Mckesson: Somebody said this on Twitter about Beyoncé and the Ivy Park collection. I thought this was I, it resonated with me, is that people experience Beyonce as like an artistic goddess. They don’t experience her as a peer, as a friend as an auntie, as a like she be she has become this untouchable thing. So trying to sell consumerist clothes, it’s like, well, it’s like, well, you actually have to sell them and you’re not going to do that like that nobody even expects you to like be, you know, Rihanna’s putting on makeup in the Instagram live. Beyonce is not putting on these Ivy Park shoes on nobody’s live. We only get one ad campaign, you know, like that she’s going to sort of be in the pictures in, sort of not be in the pictures in. And I do think that if if the experience will be as a goddess and that is just a whole different that’s a different way to market. And sometimes I felt like Ivy Park didn’t quite understand that part of it that, like people just don’t experience her as a peer, as a you like you said Myles, people don’t think you’re wearing that to go work out. People do think Rihanna is wearing Fenty makeup and da da da. Uh now with that said I loved so much of the, the Fenty shoes, I mean, the the I have every color of the Ivy Park ultraboost I’m like I wear them to the gym, You know, like I was actually thought a lot of the clothes and certainly the shoes were like very, very cool. Um. I don’t know if any if they figured out how to hit the [?] who are who make it actually cool, um like those sort of things. Like, I don’t know if they figured that out. So I’m interested to see what she does next. I thought it was an interesting moment and I don’t know what Adidas is going to do because they you know, Pharrell is Pharrell’s at Chanel. Um. Kanye is– 


Myles E. Johnson: No no Pharell’s at Louis Vuitton.


Kaya Henderson: Louis Vuitton. 


DeRay Mckesson: I mean, Louis Vuitton. Sorry. [laugh] Chanel. I mean, woo. Pharell’s at Louis Vuitton, um Kanye’s Kanye, and I feel like somebody else. Oh, and then Beyonce just left so so we’ll see what happens to Adidas. 


Kaya Henderson: So I think um [cough] so uh first of all, I was talking to some I’m not an Ivy Park connoisseur, as you could probably imagine, but I know lots of people who are far more people than I really knew. And and most of them are like regular Black girls. And what’s interesting is they were like, they’re not your people. You know, they they don’t they are not fancy fashion people. But for them this made Beyoncé accessible to them. They could actually touch and feel a piece of Beyonce and feel like they were part of the the Beyoncé culture right besides just listening to her songs this this was accessible to some group of people and um I talked with some women this weekend who were bemoaning the fact that like, they won’t be able to afford whatever she does with with Balmain. Is that how you say that? Because–


Myles E. Johnson: Well it’s not even well, it’s not even being um released. 


Kaya Henderson: Well, so so I think there is like the couture stuff, right. Which is one thing. And couture is not what regular people are wearing, as you can see from the designs cause where am I going in the puffball thing or where am I going to I mean I’m stabbing people in the bustier right like those designs are, you know, art. Right. But I do think that um I mean, I don’t think she’s going to miss the opportunity to sell some clothes. Right. And we are in a we are in a a super high end fashion thing. Everybody’s wearing Alexander McQueen’s or Versace sneakers, or blah, blah, blah. Right. Like we’re at high fashion meets street in a very different like beyond, I think, um places where we’ve been before. And so I can’t imagine that she would only do couture, um but I guess we’ll see. I think the question is who who is she designing for and how do you keep I mean, her base is is a mix of high end and low end. And how do you keep all of that? How do you keep that variety satisfied? 


De’Ara Balenger: I just feel like if Beyonce is having to go through the motions of I’m the first Black woman to wear this big diamond from Tiffany. I’m the first now the first Black woman to oversee the couture design of a Parisian house. The first Black person to do a thing combined with the values of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I think that’s what always misses the mark for me. Like if we’re always trying to achieve against getting into or being seen by massive white institutions. 


Myles E. Johnson: But I feel like that that’s the answ– 


De’Ara Balenger: I don’t care. Like it’s just– 


Myles E. Johnson: That’s y’alls era. That’s. Y’all. [laughter] 


De’Ara Balenger: But I just but is it though? Is it though? I just feel like part of part of me being an entrepreneur is, is so that I can create as much independence as wealth as possible so I don’t have to rely on white people or white institutions or white corporations. Like, that’s my purpose. And if you’re Beyoncé and you have all that wealth. And you still it’s still like, what does it for you is collaborations with white Parisian houses? 


Myles E. Johnson: Well it’s the Black designer who’s who’s there, but I– 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: I I– 


De’Ara Balenger: But you know– 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, De’Ara I’m not feeling this. I mean, we can critique– 


De’Ara Balenger: I mean yeah because y’all– 


DeRay Mckesson: –Beyonce.


De’Ara Balenger: Listen.


DeRay Mckesson: But this is not– 


De’Ara Balenger: And this is it’s going to be controversial, but it’s like I, I, you know, I work with luxury brands and I have a great deal of respect for luxury brands and all of that and couture and high fashion and all of that. But when we’re talking about the achievement and elevation of Black culture and Black wealth. To me, in a perfect world that is independent of white validation. 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, I just don’t know how we re– this is not the, if there’s a place to critique Beyonce for that, I’m not sure this is that one. Tiffany I’ll give you like– 


De’Ara Balenger: It’s not I’m not a critique I’m not this isn’t a critique of Beyoncé. This is little old Black entrepreneurship me being like– 


Myles E. Johnson: Not little old Black. 


De’Ara Balenger: Am I always am I always going to have to like for me to be successful in business, in fashion, in whatever. Am I going to always have to rely on white institutions? And to me, that’s what this is saying to me. 


Kaya Henderson: Rocko stop! [shouting to some pet or person outside of the podcast]


Myles E. Johnson: What I will say– 


De’Ara Balenger: It’s not a critique on her. It is. It is. It is literally is saying shit like I’m trying to do these things and am I always going to have to rely on these people? 


Myles E. Johnson: And I’m not a Beyoncé apolo– I’m not a Beyoncé apologist so I’m, I love it when people have transgressive things to say about Beyoncé. I think it’s refreshing. But what I will say is she to me has proven to be somebody who morphs and also has a long game. So I don’t know if so taking it out of her being Beyoncé, to me it makes sense where if you have a game where you’re like, Oh when I’m 52, she’s 42 or 41 right now. So when I’m 51 or whatever I want to be able to start. I want to be able to revisit the house of Dereon thing, and I need to accumulate as much um osmosis from these other things that already exist. So when I do do that, I actually have a launching pad. Because the thing about it is when she tried to do it 20 years ago, it’s it’s kind of called the most ghetto thing ever and stuff like that, and some of it’s because it was it was tacky, but another lot of it was just because she was a Black woman from the South trying to do a thing. So now that she has all these Parisian fashion houses and the Tiffany’s and stuff like that, now you’ll be esteemed. Same thing kind of happened with um not kind of, the exact same thing happened with Rihanna and Fenty, even though Fenty as a clothing brand ended up failing feeling she was being absorbed into LVMH what because she was in um Alexandra Vauthier and she was um doing things with Puma, and she kind of by osmosis, soaked up all this prestige of what she was collaborating with. So she was able to go into her own venture and then and then get absorbed into into that. So Fenty was the first fashion house. So I’m I don’t think that Beyonce doesn’t, she might have a bigger game plan. And I think that sometimes– 


De’Ara Balenger: 100%. 100%.


Myles E. Johnson: –we we we count that too soon. Um. And if if Beyoncé takes this. She took she took it from here right here and I’m going to upload it but I always have said Beyoncé should go into to DeRay’s point about goddess and home and stuff like that. Like I always said Beyoncé should go into home goods and it sounds like a little funny, but I’m like, no I think that when you talk about things that people can feel accessible with when it comes to vases, pillows, yoga mats, yoga cushions, I think that that is such a space that is A.) is empty, not oversaturated when it comes to people. But I think that a rug or things that kind of feel like, oh, I got a piece of the palatial Beyoncé palace in my home and I can incorporate it how I want to. I think that is such a good would be such a good market for her, so she could do all the avant garde, high fashion things that you can’t afford, but then do something a little bit closer to you. Yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: And I think– 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: I guess and I love that idea of Miles, and I think from my perspective, it really is it’s just ownership. Right. I see her as one of the most creative people that has ever lived, and I just want her to own all her stuff. All of it. I don’t want it to belong to anybody else. I don’t want anybody else to make money off of it. Like I think that she just has incredible potential to be a like a literal example of how we can gain Black independence. And I think that’s maybe that’s too much for me to put on her. I just–


Myles E. Johnson: It might be because if what if white terror if white terror gets gets you have Donald Trump didn’t reach his zenith until he was in his seventies. We thought he was as terrible as he was gonna get. And he said, no, no, no, I’m just getting started. So let’s, if white terror gets into their seventies to be a terrible as they want to be. Let’s let Black excellence take until their seventies to be like, let’s review it and be like, okay, now you’re at the twilight of your life. What did you do? We don’t know. 


De’Ara Balenger: Right. 


Myles E. Johnson: She’s 40. She’s 40. She might she might be president. 


De’Ara Balenger: Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself, too. [laughter] How about that? 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, how okay. 


Kaya Henderson: And wait and you said, you said you’re a not a Beyonce apologist, right? That was that was the thing earlier? Okay, got it. Got it. 


Myles E. Johnson: Counselor, I’m not. I’m not on the stand. Where’s Gwyneth? 


Kaya Henderson: I love it. 


Myles E. Johnson: [banter] class, [laughter] [?] I am not a crook. 


DeRay Mckesson: [?] quitting.


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




Kaya Henderson: My news I mean on a sort of similar vein, um my news is about Black excellence and Black women defining themselves. Um. My news is about Stacey Abrams, who we all know as a um as an electoral politician. She ran twice for governor of Georgia, unsuccessfully. Um. And she uh but she helped to turn red Georgia purple, at least, and elect two Democrats for Senate or elected Democrat for Senate twice. And, you know, literally like changed the like presidential election in whatever the last one we had, 2020, I guess. Um. And she is leaving electoral politics, leaving campaign politics. And she just took a job as senior counsel for a nonprofit called Rewiring America. Her focus will be on helping um people across America move from fossil fuels to electricity in an effort to stave off climbing change climate change. Now, um to her credit, um or important to know, like her college senior thesis was on environmental justice. She interned with the EPA when she was in the Georgia House of Representatives. She helped pass a bill that included the state’s biggest influx of cash for public transportation. So climate issues are not new to her. They are clearly an area of passion and concern for her. But I must admit that this made me incredibly sad. Um. You know, good for you, Stacey. If the next battlefront is fighting climate change and I’m sure these folks are paying you more then you know, then a whole lot of folks uh might be paying you. And I’m sure that this is far less stressful and less controversial and all that jazz. But this woman has been able to do things in politics that other people have not been able to do. And the impact on Black people has been significant. The impact on our country has been significant. And so it makes me sad, frankly. And I’m I’m all for like I want to admit, like I could have expectations and they don’t have to do that you know that my expectations don’t really matter. But I do have to say out loud that I am deeply disappointed. I feel like Stacey Abrams, if she was in charge of the Democratic Party, we’d be in a completely different place. Um. I feel like if she was still applying her pressure and her intellect and her talents to reshaping the political map of America, I would maintain hope. Um. And this just makes me sad. And yup she should could do whatever she wants to. I firmly believe in that. Um. But I am worried about and I and let me also say, I noticed Stacey Abrams did not do Georgia by herself. Shout out to all of the other Black women, to all of the other non-Black women, to all the people who helped to organize and keep going and whatnot. But leadership matters. Um. Visible leadership matters. And I came across this. And while I want everybody to have, you know, non-fossil fuel household stuff, [laugh] I really want a different set of politics in this country. And so you can read more about rewiring America and all of this jazz. It’s really important. But I am sad that Stacey Abrams is no longer playing in the world of campaign politics. So I brought this to the pod. Help me, friends. 


Myles E. Johnson: I thought this was it’s interesting we had like two different. No, I guess is we have two different takes because I thought this was such again I guess the long game is just in my head. I thought millennials and Gen Z really care about the environment. It makes sense because we will be the ones inheriting the disasters of it. And I think that this might just be me being optimist, Black excellent overload. But I think that these are the kind of stints in a career that if somebody wants to be president or somebody wants to have more power in this nation, these are the kind of things and histories and jobs and and and where your cares were. This is what we will want to see. And I thought this was I I think, staying in campaign politics with how racist it is might have felt more like a vanity move than really getting things done. And I feel like her saying, you know what? I’m going to put this down because we’ll be seeing where we are when it comes to white supremacy and when it comes to campaign politics. And I’m actually going to pivot to making sure we have a world to have campaign politics on. I think that it’s going to look really great on her. And if she does have future ambitions for other roles, I think that that will only increase her chances of winning. And this is just me being like, I want to vote for Stacey Abrams for president one day. [laughing]


Kaya Henderson: Thank thank you, Myles. This is this is why I’m bringing it to the pod, because I need some help on this one. 


De’Ara Balenger: I think–


DeRay Mckesson: I also I would push too that um I think that she, you know, needs to make money. I think that people will never, ever forget the work in Geor– like that will. That will be how we remember her forever. So this as long as you don’t do something that is morally wrong or that is not in line with your values, I think that she deserves sort of a breather to be like, go make money, Keep fighting for the people. Like, learn some new skills. Learn a new industry. Like do something different. Right? You are young and then like come back with a with an even greater skill set to like or and a bigger coalition like, you know, meet new people. Like, that’s what I see in this. And I’m actually, like, excited that this is not a goodbye. This is a let me go let me go dance somewhere else for a little bit. I like that. 


Kaya Henderson: This is good. Phew keep it coming. 


De’Ara Balenger: First of all, we’re talking about a best selling author many times over. A screen–


Kaya Henderson: Uh oh De’Ara about to say she don’t need to make no money. Ahh!


De’Ara Balenger: A screen. No, she does. But I’m saying it’s not like she’s going to do this because she’s like trying to rub two pennies together. Like, Stacy is doing great. She’s she’s she’s working on a movie like she does many things. And I think yes, I think it was smart for them to put her in this role. I’m sure she’s not going to be reporting for duty every single day from 9 to 6 at this organization. Like, that’s just not a thing. What I will say about this, again, back to Black folks accessing wealth is that the Inflation Reduction Act has put aside $369 billion dollars. And Stacey’s job is to help Black folks access that money. So I think partly, yes, for the environment, we going to do all these things and get safe and, you know, and help with climate change. But part of it also is just like, again, like we are so oftentimes particu– particularly like Black contractors and Black firms always get left out of these big monumental like federal government contracting opportunities. So I when I read this, I was like, Oh. How else are people going to get those coins? And she is such an amazing mobilizer of people that she’ll make sure folks get, get, get situated. So I kind of I saw it as one of many things she’s doing and I kind of saw an and then for me, I was like, Oh, I get it. I get why she would do this. And also I get why you would leave Democratic politics as somebody who has left Democratic politics. I mean. What? Where is the place for Black women? Unclear. Very unclear. 


Kaya Henderson: Thank you, friends. Super helpful. 


De’Ara Balenger: I guess it’s my turn. So I was, you know, reading the Sunday New York Times, flipping through. And saw this, have you all heard of Potter’s Field? Well, Kaya, you have. Because you’re like a– 


Kaya Henderson: Yes. 


De’Ara Balenger: –real New Yorker. [laughter] I–


Kaya Henderson: I am. I am a real New Yorker. 


De’Ara Balenger: You’re a real New Yorker. 


Kaya Henderson: Despite the fact that I’m the only person on this podcast who does not currently live in New York. 


De’Ara Balenger: Live in New York! I’m only real– 


Myles E. Johnson: I’m a real I’m a New Yorker, too. I was born in Stony Brook Hospital. 


Kaya Henderson: Okay. I– 


De’Ara Balenger: There you go. 


Myles E. Johnson: I just had an extended vacation in Atlanta. [laughter]


De’Ara Balenger: Well, I had not heard of Hart Island, which is owned by New York City. It is the place of many, many, many, many, many graves. It’s a public cemetery. Um. The island once was a penal colony and has been run by New York’s jail system sounds like for a century. Um. And up until 2021, were using incarcerated folks to dig the graves of unknown people, poor people um who are left in the city’s care. [pause] Y’all. What? Like what? I just had no idea. So this article is basically– 


Kaya Henderson: Because you never because you never thought of where they put dead inmates whose people never come to claim them, or bodies in the morgue where people– 


De’Ara Balenger: Or– 


Kaya Henderson: –never come to claim them or. 


De’Ara Balenger: But it’s but– 


Kaya Henderson: This is. This is what it is. This is– 


De’Ara Balenger: This is– 


Kaya Henderson: –what it has been. 


De’Ara Balenger: This is what it is. But New York seems like New York’s the only state that for better or worse, I don’t know the answer to that. That has a public cemetery. Um. And the deal now is that they’re opening it to the public. Um. And so now it’ll be transferred to New York City parks. And so now the parks are trying to figure out how it’s going to be oriented, still paying attention very much to the fact that it’s a cemetery and a mighty one at that. But then trying to figure out, you know, it’s not going to be like other cemeteries in the Bronx that are like highly manicured and this and that and actually, like, you know, who the people are. So I just found this to be absolutely fascinating. And just also curious what this Parks Department planner is going to end up doing. And this is an this is like an island y’all. It’s like a whole island. And so they’re also trying to figure out how folks will even get there. There’s no parking lot. You’d have to take a ferry to get there. Um. But it’s also just this conversation around you know, just the the have and the have nots and the gap in that and how even to your last if you are a poor person, there’s so little dignity around how you are remembered. And then on top of that, to have incarcerated people digging these graves. Like in a forced way. I just it all kind of blew my mind. And, I don’t know. I just expect New York not to be Mississippi. No disrespect Mississippi, but this one was one that I just did not expect to see in my Sunday New York reading. 


Myles E. Johnson: No it’s what’s to me most interesting is that it’s not unprecedented because that’s how Central Park is, Central Park is on top of Seneca Village. Um.


De’Ara Balenger: You’re right, Myles. That’s right. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: That’s right. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah so I feel like we’re seeing maybe a tradition that has happened before and we’re just seeing it in real time, we’re like, oh, how can this happen? Like, because that’s what we do. [laugh]. 


De’Ara Balenger: Right. 


Myles E. Johnson: And it’s almost like after like a certain cycle. So maybe the people who would have cared about the people or the people, like once those people are dead, then it’s like, what are we going now going to do with this um, this land? Um. But yeah, this is this is almost traditional when it comes to um there’s other like even Lake Lanier in um Georgia, where I’m from, that is a manmade lake that was on top of a Black vil that’s on top of a Black village. Um I forgot the I think it was Oscarville was the name of that Black village that Seneca that um that um Lake Lanier is um on top of. So it’s just a it’s it’s a regular practice to um repurpose something that was either a Black community or a gravesite. And yeah, I think that you’re absolutely right. There should be some type of coinciding, how can we still dignify the people who have passed away and still repurpose this land, or do we do that like there should be more humanity and dignity thought about what we do with these things than just like, well, that’s over. Let’s start something new. 


DeRay Mckesson: I will say um I definitely also De’Ara you’re the shadiest, not shady. You’re like, no shade to Mississippi. It’s like, well, that was shady. Okay. [laughter] Um. But all I could think about was what the public policy conversation was in the room, because I actually was fascinated they didn’t cremate all these bodies. I was like, it was really impressive to me, actually, that way back then, they even made the commitment to bury them. That was, you know, I was frankly shocked by that. That like– 


Myles E. Johnson: But doesn’t, but doesn’t cremation cost money? 


De’Ara Balenger: But it’s expensive. It costs money. And these people are in pine boxes, DeRay. 


Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, I don’t think that it was a– 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah but I’m just saying is–


De’Ara Balenger: This is wild. 


DeRay Mckesson: No, I think there’s a way to do cremation that does not cost money. You know. 


Kaya Henderson: Oh yeah yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: They can you know– 


Kaya Henderson: Cremation’s super cheap. 


DeRay Mckesson: They could figure that out. But so I actually was interested in the in the conversation that happened at the time to say we will actually bury the bodies. That was actually really interesting to me, what they do now you know, I’m happy I’m not in the government because I would not want to be at any meeting having to figure out how to turn a gravesite into a park or even how to get people to a grave on an island. Or have to think about how to reclaim a body that was unclaimed like, I’m sure those bodies are. I’m sure that gravesite is marked questionably. So like, that just feels like a logistical and public policy nightmare. But I was actually really floored that they did not cremate these bodies, especially back then. That’s really all I have to add. Everything else people said I agree with. 


Kaya Henderson: So, I mean, for me there is the indignity of, you know, just mass graves. And and I applaud the people who there’s an advocacy group that has developed a navigation and augmented reality tool that allows visitors to navigate the island and search burial records. Right. And so you can imagine it as a historical park. Um. There’s all kinds of different things that were happening on Hart Island at different times. And so you could imagine, you know, amateur historians or the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts going for their history badge and, you know, sort of looking up stuff and whatever. But like, they also are talking about this being part of the Weekend Adventures series [laughing] for the Parks Department with like canoeing and nature tours and stuff. And that feels bananas to me um either it is like hallowed sacred ground where millions of people are buried or it is something different. And I like what I hear people saying is in this article is we want it to be both like we don’t you know, we want to honor the dead. You know, there’s one lady who goes and visits her dad there, and I could imagine that um it might be disconcerting to see people on nature walks around the place where millions of people are buried. Um. And so there seems to be some schizophrenia around this for me. Around like, what is this thing going to be like? Are we going to honor the memory of the millions of people who are there, who are who are buried there and the things that happened there? Um. The island was a prison, a sanatorium, a psychiatric hospital, and a haven for bare knuckle boxing bouts like, huh? It was during the Civil War, it was a prison for Confederate soldiers and a training ground for a regiment of Black Union Army troops. Like there’s all kinds of stuff that is happening there. And if we want to preserve it for historical purposes, that’s one thing. If we want to make it, you know, the city’s next playground, that is a completely different thing. 


DeRay Mckesson: A long time ago, we talked about the impact of dollar store stores. Um. I think at the time the research had talked about how dollar stores are one of the biggest displacers of mom and pop shops in the country and that it wasn’t Wal-Mart. And I remember it because I was fascinated by it. I hadn’t even thought of that. I hadn’t that just wasn’t what I would have thought. I would have thought that a Wal-Mart comes in, that eats up the market for mom and pop shops da da da and I was wrong. There’s a new um article out, a new study, a new report out about dollar stores, and it talks about the tactics they use to actually shut down grocery stores. And I just brought it here because it blew my mind. And as you can imagine, dollar stores like the two biggest dollar store chains are General Dollar, Dollar General and Family Dollar. As you can imagine, they’re heavily in low income communities and Black communities so like that’s the relevance to our work. But uh what the article talks about is three big things that they do is the first is that they open a lot of stores together. So dozens of stores concentrated in particular areas. So they have maps of communities like in the south. Uh. They will they like have this map that shows like you can see two to three dollars stores at an intersection. And like, I just didn’t I guess that makes sense that like when growing up I’m like I actually did see a lot of dollar store family general like around each other but I didn’t understand that as a part of the strategy. And what that does to grocery stores is that it literally just like siphons um sales from the processed foods that leave grocery stores struggling and the concentration creates enough, enough, um enough supply so that people can go there instead of going to the grocery store. So like, that was interesting to me. The second thing they do and I thought this was like brilliant and predatory, is that the dollar stores don’t compete with the grocery stores en masse, but what they do is that they take a set of products that are most frequently bought and they sell them at a cheaper price than the grocery store. So at a point, the grocery store just cannot compete with the dollar store on a set of products. They’re not trying to sell everything. They’re trying to sell the right things. And the third that is the thing that actually kills the grocery stores um is that because they’re so many dollar stores is that they can force suppliers to give them just a cheaper price than the grocery stores. And again, it’s a cheaper price on a smaller set of items. So then people really are just making a different choice and they’re going to the dollar store instead of going to the big grocery stores. And that is how they’re actually um bankrupting the or like putting grocery stores out of business. Um. And I thought that was. I don’t know, I just like didn’t I literally just hadn’t understood. I like didn’t not that I didn’t think the dollar store strategy was that brilliant. Like, I don’t know if I thought there was that much intention, but they did it and I had no clue. And the article talks about like people trying to think about reforms and zoning laws and stuff like that. But I was really just fascinated because this is something that I had no visibility into uh before this article. 


Myles E. Johnson: This was really interesting to me. And then the first thing that I thought about after um after reading the article was how so I’m in. I’m in Brooklyn, New York. So a lot of the grocery stores that are still mom and pops are not ran by um Black people. So I was wondering how this is um how how this is affecting Black people. And of course, the first thing I thought about was like, health, and just how a lot of the mom and pops grocery stores are selling fresh food. And this is the the type of products that are being sold are different. So we need to think about high blood pressure and diabetes and um all these different things that of being in a food desert helps the dollar stores and the dollar generals help inflate that. Where as the mom and pop store can help deflate that. And then I came across this article that I probably should have put in um put in the group chat earlier. But this um is basically this movement of like Black owned grocers and how um in Chicago, New York, Atlanta, L.A., there’s this like movement of like Black owned grocers. And I’m and I’m curious if there’s any if there’s any um ideas about how to combat that, you know, and how to uh because I feel like we support when we know to consciously do something as Black people, we go to the store, we we we bypass that or we spread the word that this is where you need to go so I wondered if there’s any type of for lack of better words marketing to let people know that, hey, this is your Black owned grocer and go there. Cause I feel like even that could be a good motivation if the health and the food desert stuff doesn’t motivate somebody just knowing that like, hey, this is by us by us for us. Go here instead of going to these other um, you know, Goliath corporations in the neighborhood. 


De’Ara Balenger: Well, y’all know, I love to take a deep dive into executive leadership and board of directors at organizations such as these. 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh, hold on now. [laugh]. 


De’Ara Balenger: And what is– 


Myles E. Johnson: Take the stand. 


De’Ara Balenger: –wildly surprising. Our our brothers that are on the executive leadership team in the board. So–. 


Kaya Henderson: Uh oh. 


De’Ara Balenger: First of all, for it’s so it’s Dollar Store and Dollar Tree. There’s like, there’s a bunch of them under one umbrella. So Dollar Tree Inc, it’s Dollar Tree and Family Dollar. The CFO is Jeff Davis, Black man. He was at Walmart, he was at HSN, QVC, but he’s the CFO. So very much in the know in in the strategic vision around how Family Tree, Family Dollar are going to continue to make loads and loads of money by elbowing out mom and pops grocers. The other fascinating thing is a Mr. Terry Goodes, who’s their chief diversity officer. What? What are you all doing around diversity at the Family tree and fam–? What? What are y’all doing? And then the board, as you imagine, also white, white, white. But there is a man by the name of Bertram Davis, who’s on a few boards, but he um also I mean, I just I guess partly like, why? Why am I surprised? I don’t know. I guess I’m partly surprised because I just feel like if something is so viser–, visibly systemically racist and oppressive. And if a Black person’s in the room isn’t somebody been like, hmmm ah can we uh maybe we can tweak it a little like anything, raising your hand to say anything. Several hands, in fact, that the Family Dollar has in the room to potentially do this. And maybe they are. Maybe it’s an incremental thing like, you know, Beyonce and we got to wait till she’s seventy– 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh, Jesus. 


De’Ara Balenger: You know? 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh Jesus. Oh God. Oh, goodness. Counselor. 


Kaya Henderson: I love it. 


De’Ara Balenger: But– 


Myles E. Johnson: I object. 


De’Ara Balenger: I just but I’m just I guess that it surprises me. It surprises me that they have so much Black participation in and in this [?]. 


Myles E. Johnson: Well that is why I brought up the disconnect, because I was like, I know of [?] thing. I don’t know the stats behind it, but I know the the cultural consensus– 


De’Ara Balenger: Right. 


Myles E. Johnson: –is Asian people and it’s certain in uh own this stuff. Uh uh. Middle Eastern people own this stuff and Black people in in the white corporations own this stuff and Black people don’t any of it. So who cares? I’m going to [?] it’s cheaper. So like, that’s that’s is one of the reasons why I brought up my perspective. Jesus, I’m never gonna live that Beyonce thing down. [laughter]. 


Kaya Henderson: Um. 


De’Ara Balenger: I also just think that there’s something I was listening to this, and this was a while ago, like one of and I’m not going to get it right, so I’m not even going to name names, but I know that one of the big grocery store chain conglomerates was looking to buy another one. And so if that were to happen, literally all the country’s grocery stores would be owned by two big businesses. So I think there’s also just a larger conversation around food and access to food in this country and how food has become so capitalized. And obviously that doesn’t you know, the folks that are disserviced most are are, you know, poor folks and folks of color. So I think this is just all around scary to me in general, just people not being able to sustain themselves. It’s just wild. 


Kaya Henderson: Um. This was fascinating, thank you for bringing it back up. DeRay. Um. I was looking at the the their report website. And as they explain it, what it says is, as this report shows, in small towns and urban neighborhoods alike, dollar stores drive grocery stores and other retailers out of business, leave more people without access to fresh food, extract wealth from local economies, sew crime and violence, and further erode the prospects of the communities they target. Basically saying when dollar trees and dollar generals and family dollars or whatever are in a community, other other things cannot come into that community, that that is actually a harbinger of the downward spiral of a community. Um. And I think about the intention having been in local government for a while, I think about the intentionality that policymakers, you know, try to um that that policymakers have when they try to approach urban planning. So, for example, in Washington, D.C., some years back, um people lobbied to get Wal-Mart to come to D.C. and to put up X number of stores in certain neighborhoods that were food deserts and blah, blah, blah. Right. They were trying with intentionality to use Wal-Mart to help revitalize neighborhoods. And in fact, what my guess is nobody is paying attention to how many dollar stores and family dollars are going into neighborhoods. Most people are probably happy. Most politicians are probably happy that retail is coming in to these places. But this is actually like this is the canary in the coal mine that your neighborhood is about to go even more ghetto than whatever you thought it was because of the predatory nature of of these stores. And they are growing. In fact, at the start of 2022, Dollar General and Dollar Tree together operated more stores than McDonald’s, Starbucks, Target, and Wal-Mart combined. Combined. And they are on track to grow from 34,000 to more than 51,000 in the coming years. And so what does this say? I mean, I feel like politicians need to be on the defensive and stop the growth of of these stores if they actually precipitate the decline of communities that are already I mean, these are communities that are already impoverished, already in health jeopardy and environmental jeopardy because of, you know, who lives there or the low tax base or whatever. And this just seemed really, really alarming to me. Um. And uh I wonder how we get folks to pay attention to this. 


De’Ara Balenger: Y’all, I just sent an article into the the group chat said Dollar Tree is this $1,000,000,000? I don’t even know what this much money even looks like. But it looks like. Is that many zeros? Is that a billion dollars? 


Kaya Henderson: Uh. Looks to me like yes.


De’Ara Balenger: Because if so, that’s what they made– 


Kaya Henderson: Yes. 


De’Ara Balenger: In 2021. 


Kaya Henderson: $1.2 billion dollars in profits is what it made. Not not like that’s not their whole thing. That is, after you take out expenses, 1.2 billion in profits, they gave their CEO 11 million in total compensation. And the workers make $8.32 an hour. 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh, God. Oh, goodness. You know what’s even sadder about it? In ten years, you know who’s going to fix this? Jeff Be– Jeff Bezos and we going to have Amazon trees everywhere. [laughter] And Amazon fresh trees everywhere. 


De’Ara Balenger: Fresh trees [laughing]


Kaya Henderson: President Stacey, President Stacey Abrams could fix it. [laughing]


Myles E. Johnson: I know. 


De’Ara Balenger: She could. 


Myles E. Johnson:  Come on. Save– 


De’Ara Balenger: She could. 


Myles E. Johnson: –save the trees. Save the trees and save the trees. President Abrams. 


Kaya Henderson: Amazon trees. Oh gosh. 


Myles E. Johnson: Uh uh.


DeRay Mckesson: It is such a phenomenal example of like the thing you don’t know. 


De’Ara Balenger: Corporate greed. 


DeRay Mckesson: Like the fact that they’ve run that more stores than all those things combined. If you polled the average, nobody would get that right. Nobody [banter] if you said tell me. Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: I was gonna say and everybody knows it because when I was with you when I got the news and I thought about it, I was like, Oh, yeah, that’s right. Like, if I just go around Brooklyn, or if I go around Atlanta like, that is right. I do see it’s just, it’s just a part of the air. Liquor stores, dollar trres. Like churches. 


DeRay Mckesson: I also didn’t. This is also like the psychology of the dollar store thing is that because it’s a dollar store I like just never thought the profits would be like that. Like I was like, Oh, it’s like they probably make a profit, right? I was like, they make a profit. It’s only in poor communities. It’s only, you know, like you have to buy a lot of dollar items to make a billion dollars. And it’s like, whoa, hoo I was wrong. People are buying them. [laughing]


Myles E. Johnson: Mm hmm. But that’s why a lot of– 


De’Ara Balenger: No. I mean, my auntie in Alabama, they that’s like one of that’s like. And they closed– 


Kaya Henderson: The main store. 


De’Ara Balenger: –the whole they closed the Whole Foods in Montgomery. 


Myles E. Johnson: And that’s why– 


De’Ara Balenger: That closed, they’re gone. 


Myles E. Johnson: Cause a lot of that stuff is frozen food, canned food and stuff like that. That’s why I was saying a lot of the– 


Kaya Henderson: Processed foods. 


Myles E. Johnson:  Yeah, processed foods. That’s why a lot of the um that that’s to me, the first place that I went when I be like that’s so dangerous because if you’re getting all your groceries there, you’re like, you’ve got to end up with something. Like–


Kaya Henderson: Diabetes, hypertension, heart problems.


Myles E. Johnson: Like it has to happen like. 


Kaya Henderson: But but because of the [?] and DeRay raised this right, because of the pricing, that becomes the option for you to get food or– 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Kaya Henderson: –because they’ve run your grocery store out of town. What a thing, honey. Who would have thought that we would be facing I mean, this is like food as an economic weapon. 


DeRay Mckesson: I will say people ask me about the podcast often and I’m like, the only reason I know half the things going on in the world outside of like my organizing work is because we talk about it every week here I’m like hoo I’d have never known that I’d be in meetings, people be like you so smart. I’m like, I am and [laughter] it really is. And I just had a conversation with three brilliant people about this. And I remember it, you know what I mean? 


Kaya Henderson: Mm hmm. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: 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 author and educator Nicole Tucker-Smith to talk about teacher shortages, book banning and Desantis’s war on Black education. Nicole and I, both have experience in education, specifically around Baltimore. Her organization, Lessoncast, focuses on adult education and PD. Helping school leaders and other staff to evolve with the ever changing education system. We talk about education used as a political weapon, the inevitable cost on young people. I learned a lot. It was such a good conversation. And now it’s ours. Here we go. 


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


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Hi. Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor. I’m really excited for our conversation. 


DeRay Mckesson: I’m excited to talk to you. You know, we talk about education so much on the pod and have not had a ton of guests or are experts in education outside of, you know, me and Kaya both worked in school systems. Um. But I’d love to start with with how you what was your story? How did you start in education? I know you’re from or you’ve worked in Baltimore. I don’t know where you’re from, but– 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: –worked in Baltimore. I went to Catonsville um middle and high, so also Baltimore County and the city. So, yeah, I’d love to– 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yes. 


DeRay Mckesson: –know how you got to this work. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yeah. So we definitely both have that Baltimore connection. I also worked in the city and in the county, but the way I got into education is actually a kind of roundabout. Uh. So well actually many people get there go there a roundabout way. But uh I originally wanted to major in communications. I attended the University of Virginia, and when I got to UVA in the fall of 1995, I found out that the communications department had been nixed. So even though it was on the brochure, they didn’t have a communications department. 


DeRay Mckesson: Shut up. [laughter] Not nixed!


Nicole Tucker-Smith: It was just gone. And there went all my plans for being the next Oprah. I was like, man, what am I going to do? So I was walking through the grounds of UVA and there’s this one bridge. It’s kind of a well known bridge down there. And there was this sign. It was this little eight and a half by 11 flier asking, it was an interest meeting for African-Americans to learn more about the Curry School. So it was at the Office of African-American Affairs at the Curry– but they were it was hosted by the Curry School of Education, and they were trying to recruit more Black teachers. Uh. There were like maybe nine of us at this meeting, uh and a handful of us ended up majoring in education at the Curry School. But that’s how I was wandering across a bridge and I decided to go to an interest meeting. But look, recruitment efforts work because now I’m in education and have been for the last 20 plus years. 


DeRay Mckesson: I love it. I that’s a that’s a story. Now, how did you get to your current work? 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yes. So currently I am the founder and CEO of Lessoncast, where our organization works with schools to implement equity related initiatives, um working with students, making sure we’re including students with disabilities, and also thinking about how is our curriculum and instructional practices, how are they more equitable, bringing about more equitable outcomes? How did I get to this work? I realized uh about probably about 12 years ago that I have expertise in adult learning. So in addition to being a K-12 educator. I’m very skilled in helping adult learners do their work differently, and I realized that a lot of professional development for teachers is the worst. As it is a lot of professional development and training is boring and it doesn’t help people actually do things differently. And so there’s a whole science behind it. There’s some art to it. And that’s really where I gained a lot of expertise and um eventually wrote a book, Supercharge Your Professional Learning, because my goal was for professional development not to be the worst for teachers. I want them to say, yay, we get a PD day, not, oh my gosh, I have to go to this training. Um. And so that starts, so the my book came out in 2020, but you know, that was probably the worst timing for a book about face to face professional development to come out. [laughter] In fact it was literally came–


DeRay Mckesson: Understatement.


Nicole Tucker-Smith: –literally came out February 14, 2020. And I said, Oh my goodness, I cannot believe this. Um. I remember the last day that I did in-person on March 14th, so we did a two day session, and on it was like March 14th was day one. And then overnight, Tom Hanks got COVID, the NBA shut down. I said, well, this is it. We’re done. Um. But interestingly enough, uh I in January of 2020, I was diagnosed with cancer, breast cancer. And uh I was like, man, this really is messed up. 2020 was going to be my year. I was going to be traveling. I had a book tour. I mean, I had a whole slate of travel planned out. Uh. So I said, well, I don’t know what my treatment is going to look like because it takes a while, well at least for me, it took a while for them to figure out what treatment course would be the best way to go. So I said, well, let me create a way to stay connected. So in January, I already started crafting a network called the Jumpstart PD Network, where we could come together, where it was for other educators who are doing this equity work to lift each other up, to share tips. I did not know that the whole world wasn’t going to be able to travel. And what happened was, as the world was looking at with a more equity related eye to things, I was like, you know what? This is a whole lot of effort that just is an illusion of making a difference. And I started publishing about how you actually help people change practice. Awareness is great, but a lot of these efforts were just bringing about awareness and not looking at the spaces and systems that people operate in and what we’re incentivizing. And so really a lot of our work is focused on how do you actually bring about a change that has a lasting impact. And also because I felt very protective of my time when I was going through cancer treatment, I got like laser focus on this is, you know, we can do a whole lot of things, but this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to focus on cultivating spaces for dialog across differences. We’re going to focus on making sure that the curriculum that students engage with is more representative of the world and themselves. And we’re going to focus on educator wellness because you can’t do any of this work if you are empty. So that that’s how we got here. 


DeRay Mckesson: Now, before we talk about the landscape of public education today, why do you think um all the adult PD is a mess? You know, I was always so interested in school systems because we spent so much time making sure that you’re a great teacher to kids. And it’s like all this feedback and then you go to PD, you’re like, this is the worst thing– 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: It is the worst, 


DeRay Mckesson: –I’ve ever sat in, in my entire life or your like who thought you could do PD to 400 teachers at once? You’re like, who thought that was a, we would never do that with kids. Where do you think– 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Never. 


DeRay Mckesson: –that comes from? 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Well, part of it is the we’ve doing things, the way we’ve always done them right. Part of it is thinking that, well, it’s just also just not paying attention. We learn pedagogy, but no one ever teaches leaders andragogy. The science behind teaching adults. Here’s the thing about adults. One of the great things about adults is that we have a lot of background experience. One of the worst thing about of adults is that we have a lot of background experience, and so you really have to be in tune with what do people already know? How does this new thing, the why, why do I need to know this? Why is it relevant? And that’s the first step. And most PD doesn’t even address that. Like, why is this related to what I need to know? And second, they’re always trying to create buy in. As a buy in is you’re selling something like stop trying to have buy in. What you need to do is create believe in help people see there’s a reason to believe that this would actually make a difference for what I’m trying to do in the classroom. You have to create believe in. The other thing is, is that people think that if you lecture that you can absorb everything and then be able to go do it. I don’t know why that I mean, it’s scientifically that just does not work. It just doesn’t work. Right. But they we feel like we have this itty bitty amount of time. So because I have a little bit amount of time, I’m going to do this in the most efficient way, which is just to talk at everybody I’m just gonna get it all out. I got so much content, I’m just going to get it all out. Well when you do that people retain very, very, very little of it. It’d be better to boil down the essentials, have people engage with it. Also, you have to have people bring themselves to it, add what they know to what you’re trying to share with them, and that takes time. And so we have not invested the time in professional development. And because it is so terrible, people are not asking for more of it uh in order to do it well. So when I work with um the other, the other thing that makes uh professional development really terrible uh is that we haven’t changed the spaces and systems that we’re asking teachers to go back to. So you can even have an amazing professional development session. But if the leaders don’t know how to do things differently, if your schedule isn’t set up differently, if you don’t have time to work together, even if you want to do something differently, the system will make you revert every time. And um you know, those are just a few of the reasons I actually have six common pitfalls. [laughing] For professional development yeah–


DeRay Mckesson: I love it. Teach us! There we go. Hallelujah amen come on. You know we need it. And I you know I’m interested to know, as somebody who worked in schools and now works outside of schools, you know, COVID comes and distance learning and virtual learning becomes a thing that was sort of niche. It was like, you know like, some schools had computers, did it sort of a little bit, but it was like a luxury. It definitely wasn’t a commonplace thing. And then all of a sudden that it’s it is a thing, right? 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Mm hmm. 


DeRay Mckesson: I’d love to know how you think these last three years sort of shifted the way we think about public education or should should have shifted the way that we think about public education? 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yeah, welll it was a what, a couple of things with these last three years. As people are trying to come back to something that they recognize as schools, the biggest thing they say is well these students aren’t engaged and we’re having an attendance issue. Those are the biggest things. And what I explain to them is that’s because you’re trying to do everything the old way. What the last three years did was it really shifted power. When students were learning at home to whatever version of the of home learning they were doing. 


DeRay Mckesson: That’s true because there were many. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Whatever version of it, it shifted the power. And so even though even the best, you know, online, when they got bored, they could hit that little red leave button. They’re like, I’m out. And so if you want to teach them in a way where they don’t have choice, they don’t have autonomy, they don’t have a say. They don’t see the relevance. Their choice is to do or not do. So they gonna choose ah they don’t want to. They don’t do it. And um so one thing we have to recognize is that one, there’s a shift in power, students need to see the relevance in order to engage with it. Um two, we keep doing things the way we learned them. If you look at a syllabus, for most students, it’s the same as when you went to school. It’s the same from when your parents went to school. It has not shifted. And so we have to take this time. What the pandemic has done is expose things right, um that the students aren’t engaging with it because they don’t they realize they don’t have to. We just sucked it up and listened, I guess, or put our head down. I don’t know. But these kids are like, I’m out. They’ll come to school because they want to connect with each other. But if they don’t connect with the teacher in the classroom, they’re out. The other thing that it’s exposed is the, you know, the teacher shortage. There was already going to be a teacher shortage. We just didn’t pay attention to it or some people did. Other people didn’t. But it really exposed like you’re asking teachers to do an impossible thing. You’re asking one person to be you know this amazing instructional designer and an academic coach and a wellness support and a parent communicator, and you have limited resources and your pay is not equivalent to those of other professions. And so it’s exposing those gaps. And what my hope is that we can take what we learned about remote instruction and still create classrooms and spaces that are warm and caring and students could come up as their come in, as their authentic selves and find a sense of belonging, but also think more broadly about how can we build teams without thinking about distance as being a barrier so the teachers aren’t doing all this work themselves. 


DeRay Mckesson: Now, one of the one of the things that’s sort of been hard about publication public education for as long as we’ve had it is that you’ve been to a great classroom. And you’ve probably been to a great school. The hardest thing is how do we make a system of great schools, right? We’ve nailed a great classroom. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Uh exactly. 


DeRay Mckesson: I’ve been in that great classroom. I’ve been in a school that is delivering on the promise. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yup.


DeRay Mckesson: Have I seen a system, ehh I don’t know. Right. So how do we uh what are your thoughts on how do we how do we think through a system of schools– 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yes. 


DeRay Mckesson: –that deliver on the promise? 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yes. And so I had to eventually I had to come up with a metaphor for our approach for developing a great system of schools, because I would go in and the principals and the superintendent are like, I need you to work with my teachers. I need you to change mindsets. I need them to do this differently. And I said err. And so I told them before we work with the teachers, we’re going to work with the leadership. And they would say they would kind of fight me on it. So I said, okay, all right, let me tell you something. You can’t change anybody’s mind. The minute you try to do that, they’re like, Oooh, don’t change me. People have to change their mind for themselves. And so you have to cultivate spaces that invite change to take place. And so I said, okay, take a tree. If a tree is not producing the fruit that you want, you don’t blame the tree. You look at how you’re treating the tree. And so I said, our school system is like this. Here’s our school system. At the roots are our values and the soil is our culture. If you want to change a system, you first have to say, what are our values and are we attending to our culture? Are we paying are we mindful of our culture. And when you look at your values, you have to say, hmm, are there some shadow values at work here? Like we’ll say, you know, we believe that all students can achieve this, that and the other. But are you promoting connection or are you valuing conformity? You know are you valuing agency or are you valuing assimilation? And a lot of our schools were set up to promote assimilation, conformity, compliance, and that is not going to work. We have to shift values to thinking about um agency, connection first. So that’s first is what values are we actually promoting? What is our culture? Are we attending to that? That’s the roots in the soil. Then the trunk are our spaces and systems. So once you’ve attended to your mission, your vision, what you actually are valuing, then what is the trunk of the tree? Those are your spaces, your systems, your policies, your protocols, how you schedule your time. You need to attend to all of those things. And that’s with the leadership. Then you think about your branches and leaves. Those are your habits and practices. Your spaces and systems shape your habits and practices. Right? And so what are we incentivizing? Sometimes we make it so hard for people to do the right things. And so when you see a school, one school that’s excelling, it’s because somebody in that one school figured out how to make it not so hard to do all the right things. But then that leader leaves and that school goes down the toilet, right? But then at the end of our tree, we have our, our, our flowers, right? So on our branches and leaves. Then we have our flowers. The flowers are our hearts and minds. And you can open that flower by paying attention to the roots. You don’t yell at the flower, right? You have to feed the roots and then make sure the trunk is stable. That’s your foundation to make sure the branches and leaves are there because the leaves help bring in the energy. Same way our daily actions feed our results. But every flower is going to open on its own time and you don’t do it by focusing on the flower. You start at the roots. And then when you think about a school system, the fruit are student outcomes and opportunities, and eventually that fruit falls from the tree and it plants its own seeds. But the way you get a strong system is starting with the values you culture. And then the second thing that’s most important, the spaces and systems. How are we repeating our results? Because every system and this is not me, this is W. Edwards Deming. Every system is perfectly designed to get the result that it gets. And so if a school system is getting consistently poor results, it’s designed for that. It’s set up for that, and we’re yelling at the teachers, but they’re in the system that is designed for that. 


DeRay Mckesson: Now, what would you say at the system level is the hardest part of the tree? 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Mm hmm. So I think the hardest part of the tree is rethinking time. Rethinking how we allocate time. So, first of all. We set ourselves up for failure in thinking that every student is going to be at the same place at the same time. That is impossible.


DeRay Mckesson: You sound just like my sister. My sister is an elementary school principal. And you ah I can’t wait to call TeRay. [laughter] You sound just like her right now. She’s like DeRay who made this up? Okay, keep going. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: No, that’s the truth like we are setting ourselves up for Mission Impossible. Why do we think every student should be at the same place at the same time? It does not work that way. And so one that’s probably the biggest thing. But how we think about time, we have to think about it more flexibly. We can’t blame the student for not being in a certain place. Everybody starts from a different place and you may be doing great one day, but you’re not. You had a bad day or you have a headache. We expect people to be the same way all the time and for all the students to be in the same place. And so one is how we rethink time, um how we allocate it, our expectations for how students get there. And I’ll tell you, part of the issue is that we have not confronted the initial purpose of American schools. And so when schools were founded in the 1800s with the common school movement, the way Horace Mann sold public education to the country is that public schools would be the best way to um civilize unruly American children. And that one room schoolhouse is how a lot of classrooms still look. And underneath it, that shadow value is about I want to civilize these children to behave the way I think they should be, which is usually aligned with middle class white norms. And so um part of it is just shifting how we do our space, you know rethinking that one school classroom because it had a different motive then I hope what we’re trying to do um and then, you know, shifting our expectations around time, people say, oh, our biggest issue is time, our biggest barrier is time. I’m like guess what? You get 24 hours. Everybody gets 24 hours. It’s how you spend it. If you feel like you don’t have enough time it’s because you’re trying to do too many things. Focus. 


DeRay Mckesson: And what about um what about the book bans? Or you know, DeSantis would not– 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Oh, yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: He would say he’s not engaging in book bans, but but do you do you think that this has always been happening and now it’s just like really popular it’s like the public has gotten aware of it? Do you think that this is a PR stunt from the right? Do you think that this is a real threat? Like, what’s your take? 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: So the the real issue is that what’s different now is that education has become a political weapon. So everything that’s happening in Florida, like know that this is not about kids. This is about, oh, I can get people excited about, you know, critical race theory in schools and I can excite them. And it is about getting elected. It is always about power. The issue is, is that there’s a real cost. And that’s our kids. Um. Interesting enough, the one way to get students to read a book is to ban it. So [laughing] that’s funny but when you think about it, though, when you think about let’s take, for example, what’s happening with the AP African-American studies course. So many things went awry there. One, it took the college board, so I wrote an article uh saying, psst College Board, we see you not standing up for AP African-American studies because they weren’t. Um and it took them like a week or two weeks to finally say, yes, this course actually has value and actually rebut some of the things um that were being said about it. There’s two things at play here. One is they’re able to play on people’s fears. Right. And then that’s how they’re able to get votes. The other thing is that curriculum really is a way to communicate to people what we value. And so to say, as you know, Ron DeSantis said that this course, this AP African-American studies course has no value. That is that is a signal you’re communicating that this has no value. Now, here’s what I really one of my biggest things, though, about it is the changes that were made by the College Board were whitewashing it. So not only were they whitewashing AP African-American studies, I took a look at their AP history curriculum. That’s completely whitewashed and it’ll take things like uh I pulled out, I have an article where I pulled out an example question. There’s a question about the Great Migration, and within the question, it embeds the idea that the reason behind the Great Migration was because the mechanical cotton picker had been invented and Black people were looking for work up north. The driving force behind the Great Migration was lynchings. But people don’t want to face that. They don’t want to do that. But we’re literally teaching kids a false narrative. And so on one hand, it’s being used to gather votes. But two, education really is a way to teach a false narrative about this country. And so there is a lot at stake here. And we have to hold the fragments of education, college boards accountable for teaching real history, real truth. 


DeRay Mckesson: So I want to this is a this is a not push or challenge, sort of a push to understand better is that–


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yeah yeah no please. 


DeRay Mckesson: –because I follow I follow the College Board stuff closely and or not I don’t US history, I don’t know. So I, you know, I hear you and I’m like telling teach the Great Migration right. Um. With the AP African-American studies is that what I what I what I thought I saw was was an experimental attempt to do what we all believe is right. Right? Like have the intersectionality, put [?] in it, da da da da da like which would have been new for the College Board to like require secondary sources in that way. Right. 


DeRay Mckesson: Mm hmm. 


DeRay Mckesson: And then for whatever reason, they decided not to do that and with an acknowledgment that to do the secondary sources that way would have been outside of the norm from the normal AP from the rest of the courses. But like, this was the this was a bet that we should at least entertain. Right? Um.


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Mm hmm so wait. So real quick so one is, all AP courses have a textbook. That is a secondary source. And one of the biggest ones in the AP history one is– 


DeRay Mckesson: Okay. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: –the American pageant. And when you read the American pageant, it is gross. Like it is a gross description of America– so all AP courses have secondary sources. 


DeRay Mckesson: So you’re not sold on the the way they told the story out there? 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Oh absolutely not. Absolutely not. 


DeRay Mckesson: Okay. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: And you don’t have to exclude topics even if you say we’re going to include more primary sources. They excluded topics. Right. They excluded intersectionality. They excluded Black feminism. They excluded all the queer experiences. They excluded. You don’t have to exclude or they made them um what do they call it uh optional. 


DeRay Mckesson: Optional. Yeah.


Nicole Tucker-Smith: They made it optional. But if it’s an AP course you on–, AP courses are the one– the biggest place that is taught to the test. So if it ain’t on the test, it ain’t getting taught. And for example, Black Lives Matter movement is optional. Excuse me. How is that optional in a course about African American studies? 


DeRay Mckesson: Now it seems so I asked that because it seems like you thought it was a at least not bad move, maybe neutral or a good move by them to finally defend the course. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yes. 


DeRay Mckesson: Explain that to me in context of what we just talked about. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yeah. So at best at best, if somebody says your product is terrible. You should respond and say, no it’s not. [laughter] Like if somebody says no, it has no value. Why did it take you a week plus to say anything? Right. And I, it may have been two weeks. I can’t remember. It was in the article in The Washington Post and it came out on a Saturday. Like I, if somebody says that you are doing something that is of no value and you’ve spent all this time on it and the change is here’s another reason why I don’t buy this is a little bit off of what you said. But here’s another reason why I don’t buy the rationale behind the changes, because all of their changes addressed the critiques by politicians who’ve never taken the course. I’ll believe it when they show me the feedback from the pilots place, from the pilot schools, show me the show me the schools that said. And they said that there was something about the resources were too dense, that the readings were too dense. I’m sorry, it’s an AP course. It’s an AP high school course. You about to go to college, get ready for some dense reading. Can we teach close reading skills? I taught my sixth graders close reading skills. Can we work on that? Right. Um. That’s just that’s not a good that’s not a, they did not give appropriate reasons. 


DeRay Mckesson: So you’re saying if the pilot if if the schools were like, hey– 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: –this is then you’re like, not what I would have liked. But I get it. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Right, but I get it. But the schools didn’t say that. [?]


DeRay Mckesson: Oh we don’t know what the school said. It’s probably more true. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: That is true. 


DeRay Mckesson: I mean we we believe the schools didn’t say it, we just don’t know. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: But you’re like, show me the good like, put it all on the table. That’s what you’re push is. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yeah, whow me where the schools said the Black Lives Matter movement should be optional. Show me that. 


DeRay Mckesson: Right? Or that like it was too complicated or that like schools could not grapple with the content. That’s what you’re saying. That’s a fair push. I think– 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: I get it. That makes sense. Okay. Just trying to understand. Okay.


Nicole Tucker-Smith: No, no, I love it. Look, I always tell people, ask me the questions because then I really clarify for myself. [laughing]


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah I’m like I, um number of questions about that? I did want to ask about, you know, you look at Houston, right? They’re about to take over the school system. Even if we believe that this is like for votes and you said, right, this is for votes, it’s not about kids. It’s certainly not about education. But the collateral damage becomes our kids in the in the in the moment. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Mm hmm. 


DeRay Mckesson: What do we do? Like when you think about, you know, Houston is a big school, one of the biggest school systems–


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Huge. 


DeRay Mckesson: –in the country. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Mm hmm. 


DeRay Mckesson: And the idea that this might be the beginning of a wave, is sort of frightening because their kids aren’t going to the Houston pub– you know, like, their kids are going to be fine when– 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Right. 


DeRay Mckesson: –somebody comes in and just takes it over. So I’d love to know how you think about the Houston take over. Or do you think this is a one off or the beginning of a wave or? 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Um. I am concerned. Right. I am concerned, I. Unfortunately, I do think that politi– is this a word, politicalization? [laughing]


DeRay Mckesson: Politicization. Politicization.


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yeah yeah politicization. I do think [laughter] I do think that the you know weaponizing of schools for votes is a trend. Um. I think that we have to recognize where we have power. And exercise it. Um. You know, the taking over the school system didn’t happen overnight. There are places to intervene. I think we I think every other city school system needs to be on alert and needs to pay attention. Um. I think there’s a lot of money that goes into schools and people see it as an opportunity. Um. What I what I think back to is you know what happened to the school systems in New New Orleans after Katrina. And how we had all these, you know. I hope I don’t offend oh I might offend somebody, But you have all these charter schools that essentially experimented on children who couldn’t afford to leave. And I worry that you have people in who are making decisions who don’t know what they’re doing and are willing to experiment on children because they’re not their children. 


DeRay Mckesson: Now, here’s my push to you. I’m interested in this because the critiques of charters, you know, we’ve heard we’ve heard before, are not new. Uh. But I’ve heard people say about New Orleans specifically that like the public school systems are experimenting too. You know like if you look at places like Baltimore, right? Where like and like I love Baltimore City and I love the superintendent today and she inherited a school system that had a lot of challenges, but it came out– 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yeah and a–


DeRay Mckesson: –that there were like– 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: –good friend of mine. [laugh]


DeRay Mckesson: –20 schools. Right. And I was I was the chief [?]– You know, I believe. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yup yup yup. 


DeRay Mckesson: And there were 20 schools where 1% of the kids are proficient. Right. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yeah, yes, yes. 


DeRay Mckesson: So people are saying, well, the districts haven’t proven scaled learning either. Right. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Mm hmm mm hm. 


DeRay Mckesson: So we can at least take our bet on giving Nicole the school because, can’t be worse than 1%. You know what I mean? 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: You know what? 


DeRay Mckesson: What– 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: That is fair. 


DeRay Mckesson: –do you say to that? 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: No, that is fair. I think what we have to look at, what is the system for vetting? What is the system for vetting who gets to take over a school? Do you know what I’m saying? Like I that. And that’s that’s what it all boils down to systems. Right. And so if you are letting people take over a school because you right. The track record is not good in most of these spaces, I will say it has a lot to do with funding. Maryland is, I think, the first state where now the the funding for individual districts is not going to be based on the district. But in Maryland it’s now uh because of the Kirwan Commission and the Thornton bill. Now, if you’re a child of Maryland, it doesn’t matter what district you’re in. They’re going to fund each system appropriately, which means giving that system what they need based on the needs of the students, not based on the income that that city or county can actually generate. So part of it is been there’s been a huge underfunding um of school systems. 


DeRay Mckesson: Yes. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: But I think that when you look at how you decide who gets to take over a school, there are some charters that are awesome. There are some charters that are amazing, but they usually get little. I mean, I have folks, friends who are on the boards. I don’t have anything against charter schools. It’s how they are, how it’s determined who gets to start one. Right. And then how they are, what kind of oversight they’re given. 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, that makes sense. I’m just trying to figure out because I’ve heard, you know, and I’m a system school system guy, like I have worked in multiple school systems. I believe in the scale solution. I think that public school systems are probably the best thing for all kids, right? To be successful. So like I’m sold and I am sensitive to the critique, you’re like, you right. You know, like we we have figured out in in most districts, especially big ones, we have a a lot a couple bright star. I like a lot of bright stars, you know. And then we have some schools with our kids like Baltimore County is a great example. The best schools in the county are world class. They are very good schools, you know what I mean. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yes, yes. 


DeRay Mckesson: And the schools that are not that great are the schools where our kids go. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Well, here let me tell you something else. Here’s why. Let me tell you something. 


DeRay Mckesson: Come on. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: If we do nothing to intervene from an equity standpoint, who how would you describe most teachers? What how would you describe them? 


DeRay Mckesson: Solid. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Well, no what race. What race?


DeRay Mckesson: Oh, white. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: White women. 


DeRay Mckesson: Yes. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Right. Most of them are white women. Most grew up middle class or higher. Right because who can afford to be a teacher in most cases? You be getting support from somewhere else? We had it’s great. If we do not intervene from an equity standpoint. Just from the and this is this is purely scientific from the human nature of bias. On average, what will happen when you look at trend data? You can predict who will do the least well. By how different they are from the teacher. Because often what happens, the human nature, we see a difference as a deficit. And if we aren’t mindful of that, if we don’t actually intervene and override that bias, then Black and Brown students. Students who speak languages other than English. As in terms of trend data will perform the worst because they’re the most different from the teacher. Now, that said, I worked in you know in places where there was a lot of Black teachers, too, right? So that’s not the only thing. But that’s one of the factors. And it’s also it’s not just race, but it’s also um it’s the language, but it’s also, you know, whatever socioeconomic status you grew up in, your background, whatevers seen as a difference, sometimes in our mind, we’re like, oh, that’s a deficit. When it’s just a difference. 


DeRay Mckesson: Two questions we ask everybody. The first is uh what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that’s stuck with you? 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Hmm. Oh yeah. So a piece of advice uh that’s gotten that’s stuck with me over the years. And so I don’t know if my father actually said this to me or not, um but one thing that stuck with me is I would watch him. And what I learned is that when you have a vision and somebody tells you no, go ask somebody else. Like so many times people get stuck. And I’m like, na uh. Oh, they just told you no. That’s okay, I’m just going to ask somebody else. [laughter]


DeRay Mckesson: Ask somebody else. Okay. And then um what do you say to people who have read your book, , grabbed mine, they they worked inside the system, worked outside the system, stood in the street, stood in the boardrooms, and the world hasn’t changed in the way they wanted it to, what do you say to those people? 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yeah, and I got um what I would say to them and this is something that I got from Isabel Wilkerson’s book, Caste. And um it was you know tough getting through that book but the end made me hopeful in that humans built these walls, humans built these divisions. We can break them down. We can break them down. It’s about, you know, being intentional. Recognizing where the real game is what’s, you know, recognizing that a lot of the issues are a fight over power. Um. And just when we get tired, rest, just don’t quit. 


DeRay Mckesson: When we get tired rest, boom. Um. Where can people go to stay up to date with you? Is it a is it Twitter is it Facebook. Is it they should email you what’s the what? 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Yeah. Okay. So all the best ways to reach me. So I just started a new uh IG account where I share a lot of this stuff. It’s called Schooled by Nicole um because it was getting mixed in with my personal stuff. But @schooledbyNicole [laughing] on Instagram. 


DeRay Mckesson: No pun intended. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Right. And then on Twitter, Ms. @MsTuckerSmith, um we actually have a store to support classrooms that are, you know, where we have posters like this. [gesturing to something unlistenable] We have educator wellness cards. It’s called Diversedecor.store. Where we’re really focused on representation in the classroom. I have a podcast called Did We Learn Anything? And then for my educators, you can join for Free JumpstartPD.com and we have free webinars, tips, resources that we share there. We’re launching a new series called Curriculum Representation design certification. It’s not too late to join. Check it out on JumpstartPD.com  


DeRay Mckesson: Boom well Nicole, we consider you a friend of the pod and it was great to have you. 


Nicole Tucker-Smith: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure. [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 podcast 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.