In This Episode
DeRay, Sam, Kaya, and De’Ara dive into the underreported news of the week, including LA Sheriffs, GardnerGlobal, school reopenings, and Flint’s water crisis. DeRay sits down with author Mahogany L. Browne, to discuss her debut YA novel “Chlorine Sky”.
DeRay [00:00:01] Hey, this is DeRay. And welcome to Pod Save the People on this episode, it’s me, Sam, Kaya and De’Ara, as usual, talking about the underreported news that you might not have heard in the past week. And then I have the distinct pleasure of sitting down with author Mahogany L. Browne to discuss her debut young adult novel, Chlorine Sky. I loved it. I loved it. I loved it. My advice for this week is remember that you don’t always have to be right, that sometimes we feel strongly about something. We give feedback and you can change your mind. You don’t have to dig your heels in. You don’t have to always be right. You don’t like that. You don’t have to do that, you know. So just remember that, like, there are times when you are not right, you should be able to say ‘I was not right. I’ve grown. I apologize. That makes sense to me that you thought that. And I thought this. And now I’ve taken the feedback. And I think something different’ like those are healthy responses to feedback. Let’s go.
De’Ara [00:00:57] All right. Welcome, family. Twenty, twenty one. We here we are again. Another episode of Pod Save the People.
De’Ara [00:01:07] So happy you’re joining us again. I’m De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @dearabalenger.
Sam [00:01:15] I’m Sam Sinyangwe @samswey on Twitter.
Kaya [00:01:17] I’m Kaya Henderson @hendersonkaya on Twitter.
DeRay [00:01:21] I’m DeRay @deray on Twitter.
De’Ara [00:01:23] We’re coming to you so excited. Still holding our breath. We have a new president, officially who would have thought finally came.
De’Ara [00:01:35] There wasn’t an uprising, there wasn’t an insurrection. There was just, somebody needed to pull JLo off the stage. We have President Joseph R. Biden, kamala Harris inaugurated. It’s happened. Here we are.
De’Ara [00:01:55] You know, I thought the inauguration was quite beautiful. I did. I’m not even going to lie. I watched the entire thing. My favorite part, obviously, was Howard’s marching band taking Kamal a into the White House. That’s when I was getting the chills, like, oh, it’s about to pop off again.
De’Ara [00:02:10] We bought to had his White House back, but, you know, just wanted to know how we’re feeling.
De’Ara [00:02:15] I think first time ever, obviously, it’s covid y’all still obviously there are no balls there, no happenings and no things.
De’Ara [00:02:23] These folks went right to work, right to work. I also was so thrilled and happy to see that. What did you think? What were some reactions here? What’s going on, Fam?
Kaya [00:02:35] I wasn’t even ready for it. Like, I was just kinda moving along.
Kaya [00:02:41] And that morning I started watching TV and I got totally overwhelmed. One, It felt like we got our country back just seeing the normal, you know, ceremonies and rituals and stuff.
Kaya [00:02:55] And then we got hit with a super fantastic dose of colorful girl magic all over the place. I just have to say my forever First Lady slayed down the whole entire place.
Kaya [00:03:08] Good golly. Like, who looks that good ever?
Kaya [00:03:12] She just OK anyway. And then just I mean, to see all of the folks participating. Amanda Gorman tore down the place too, goodness gracious. I felt proud. I felt happy to be an American again. I felt like we got a fighting chance. We could get some of this back. It just felt so normal. And I cried tears all throughout.
Sam [00:03:34] It almost seems like a different universe or like a different time, like the before time and like the after time of the Trump administration. Right. This is the night before the inauguration was there was so much anxiety and I just felt like stressed. I was up all night, like didn’t know what to expect into the wee hours of the morning. Then you remember there was that period where they were sort of waiting on Trump to leave, but he hadn’t left yet. And I was like, is he really going to walk to the helicopter and leave or like something else going to go on entirely? Finally, like, he left. I was like, all right, good. And then on CNN, they were like, well, you know, the actual transfer of power when they transfer over the nuclear football doesn’t happen until noon. So we still have until noon. This is like 9:00 in the morning. I’m like, OK, so we got like three more hours. I’m just going to wait until, like, the clock reaches zero, right? Like like not a second. You don’t have who knows what could happen. And then we saw the inauguration. We saw, you know, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris. And it was it just feels like we’re in a different world, like it’s a different environment. We still have all of the same challenges and problems and covid and inequities. All of that still exists. But it feels like, you know, like what you said, Kaya, like we have a fighting chance. So definitely some part of that weight has been lifted and now it’s time to get to work.
DeRay [00:04:54] It reminds me of the Malcolm X quote, “The media is the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent.” It’s like not having Trump bombard you every day with him being the only news story. Every minute it’s like another iteration of the same Trump thing over and over. It’s just refreshing. Like all of a sudden, you know, we knew he was wild, but like there is there’s a power in the media just talking about him so much.
DeRay [00:05:22] And when that just like goes away, it actually is like, you know, that first press conference, I’m like, wow, she can speak. She knows what she’s talking about. She’s not defensive. Fauci is like a happy person. You’re like.
Kaya [00:05:34] He feels free.
DeRay [00:05:35] Yeah. Yeah.
DeRay [00:05:36] He’s like, I can go on Maddow. Maddow, I’m happy to be here now. Dr. Birx , I don’t have a lot of grace for Dr. Birx so she can go. She’s on her redemption tour is like, man, pack it up out of you. But it is comforting. And the other thing is, I think that we you know, it was cool when the Obama people, especially my age, our age, who were in the White House and like they were junior staffers.
DeRay [00:05:58] And now it’s like I see people going to the White House and I’m like, I know you. You know, like you.
DeRay [00:06:02] I know what you were doing for four years. We were all surviving because you weren’t working in the administration. But now it’s people that we know and trust in these really senior roles, people who, you know, I will say people who weren’t ride-or-die with us about the protests, you know, in 2014, but they’ve had a racial awakening of their own. And they get some of this stuff now. And I’m hopeful that that translates into something real when we think about administration. So I’m happy that they’ve been off to running. Now, I know I don’t think any of our news is about this this week, but the filibuster and Mitch, we got to get Mitch out of here by we got to you know, the filibuster has to go and we need to make sure that these four years we are rocking and rolling.
DeRay [00:06:41] I mean, we need to, like, take back over the postal service, get these Trump people out of here. I know everybody keeps telling me that we can’t get the Trump judges out of here, but I just I’m not ready to accept the no on that. I feel like there’s just some rule from seventeen ninety two that like, we haven’t figured out how to get rid of that judges, but we got to work.
De’Ara [00:07:00] Yeah. Yeah. Lots, lots, lots of work ahead.
De’Ara [00:07:05] But I’m also just hoping that like the Senate confirmation hearings come quickly and swiftly and people get confirmed immediately. I know they were the first the five first Senate hearings happened on Thursday. So I think that was secretary of state, CIA, Secretary of Defense. People are watching more closely than I am. But there are some very important confirmations that came through that second day. But yeah, DeRay, to your point, I am excited about seeing some of the talent that is in this White House and that will move through this administration and excited that they want to do this job, because this is a lot it’s a lot of work.
De’Ara [00:07:44] It is a lot of work.
De’Ara [00:07:47] So just, you know, people you know, people like Symone Sanders and Ashley Williams and Ashley, I like there so many sisters, first of all, that are in this White House that I’m so excited to see and to support, because this is it’s not it’s not an easy road ahead at all.
Kaya [00:08:04] My news this week comes from ProPublica, and it’s an article entitled The Unfinished Business of Flint’s Water Crisis. And I thought it was important to return to Flint because two things have happened recently. In mid-January, nine public officials were indicted on 42 counts of wrongdoing involving their roles in the water crisis, including Governor Snyder of Michigan.
Kaya [00:08:32] And that is pretty significant because the governor is the first governor to face misdemeanor charges over decisions made while leading the state. He and a cast of other characters that were involved in leadership face a bunch of charges, including involuntary manslaughter, extortion, willful neglect of duty, perjury, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice and more. And this is one of the first times that we’ve seen this kind of movement against leadership who’ve made these decisions.
Kaya [00:09:05] And then last week, a federal judge granted preliminary approval of a 641 million dollar class action settlement, which would provide for every person who was exposed while they were a minor child, every adult exposed with a resulting injury, every residential property owner, renter or payer of water bills and certain business owners, which sounds like a lot a lot of people.
Kaya [00:09:29] And those two things taken together sound incredibly promising. Rarely do you see this kind of movement, both indictment of officials and a big class action settlement that happen when these kinds of cases like the Flint case happen. But this reporter goes on to sort of say, well, all of that looks pretty good. There’s a whole lot of unfinished business, including the policies that enabled. the Flint water crisis to happen that are still in place, so they highlight a number of policies that I found really interesting. First, this whole thing started because an emergency manager, which is a person who is designated to run a school district or a city when it is in trouble, usually financial trouble. The emergency manager is the person who made the decision to pull out of the Detroit water system and to rely on Flint’s old water system, which caused all of the problems. The emergency manager law still remains on the books. In fact, a civil rights attorney at Wayne State says that the provisions of the emergency manager law have disproportionately affected the democratic rights of black communities. So having these people who get to make these decisions by themselves, unilaterally, that provision still is there and that provision is affecting black communities. And so something needs to happen there. Michigan is also one of only two states that exempts the governor and the legislature from open records requests.
Kaya [00:11:11] And so it was really hard for people to figure out what was going on in Flint, who was responsible, who had anything to do with what, because you couldn’t use the Freedom of Information Act to extract information. There are also new EPA Federal Environmental Protection Agency’s lead and copper rule, which call for a three percent annual replacement rate for water systems with extremely high levels of lead instead of the previous seven percent requirement. So I’m sure this is a throw over from your previous Presidents administration. But effectively, when you find a community that has high levels of lead, you are required to replace the pipes at a particular rate. The previous federal mandate was seven percent replacement a year, and the new lead and copper rule calls for a three percent annual replacement, which means it just happens slower, more slowly. And, you know, when you find high levels of lead, you want people to move quickly. There have been a number of of pieces of good news. Michigan has strengthened its water testing above the federal minimum. It mandates now the replacement of lead service lines. Community members are engaged in developing and executing on research proposals by academics, which means community members are actually deciding what things get examined in their communities. They’ve created a water lab in a refurbished school with a community consensus on drinking water. It is an environmental justice movement and on and on and on. But at the end of the day, these indictments might or might not hold up. At the end of the day, this 641 million dollars is probably going to mean very little to individual people. And so, you know, for a city where toxic water was delivered to 100,000 people for 18 months before anybody decided to do anything about it, this crisis is far from over. So we’re excited about the positive indicators, but there’s still a lot more work to do in Flint.
Sam [00:13:18] You know, when I read this article, the first thing that I thought was, OK, wow, they actually indicted a governor, an ex governor. He is charged with an actual crime for his role? He’s charged with willful neglect of duty, which I think is a charge that I could think of.
Kaya [00:13:37] Lots of.
Sam [00:13:38] Other elected officials who definitely willfully neglected duty. But, you know, it is a misdemeanor. It faces up to a year in jail. And again, I think about how surprising it is to just see a governor charged at all by the criminal justice system for anything that they could have ever done. And yet, like, we’re talking about poisoning an entire community, as you said, Kyra, you know, hundreds of thousands of people, people were poisoned. There are people who died. I don’t think that the approach taken towards Governor Snyder is necessarily in line with how the criminal justice system treats black communities, certainly treats a whole host of other communities of people who are not in power trying to weigh that with my surprise that he got charged at all and how little accountability there is functionally within the system, that that’s even surprising.
De’Ara [00:14:30] Kaya, this story reminds me like when I was reading it, I was thinking so much about Catherine Flowers, who I’ve talked about on the pod before, but she’s an environmental justice activist out of Loudoun County and Montgomery and Catherine wrote a book called Waste. So for y’all that haven’t gotten it, you need to get it. But one of the stories she talks about is the story of this woman, this black woman, incredible woman named Pamela Rush. And Pamela Rush was essentially she and her family were living in waste. Just like so many others living in rural Alabama, I just want to read a little bit from Catherine’s book just because I feel like just to personalize like some of these environmental stories around black folks. But Catherine writes, “It began to feel like a series of trapdoors. Each time one was open, another one would emerge. Then came the virus, stopping us in our tracks, delaying our efforts to find a solution as the state bureaucracy essentially shut down. And then the virus came for Pam.” So Catherine and a team of other folks were trying to find her alternative housing, trying to build housing for her. “In the end, it didn’t matter that Pam had opened her life and had shown the world what inequality looks like, or that some of the most influential Americans had walked through her home and left in disbelief. Billionaires had crossed her threshold. Alabama State Senator Doug Jones climbed her rickety front steps. Senator Bernie Sanders told her story in a video shown across the nation. He promised to work on policies to address her problems. But that would take time that Pam didn’t have. It didn’t even matter that Pam had testified before Congress or that she’d become a face of the New Poor People’s Campaign. The forces of structural poverty were too strong.” Miss Pam Rush ended up passing to covid before she could move into the home that Catherine and so many others had gotten for her and her family.
Kaya [00:16:25] So I think it’s just one of those things where it’s structural poverty. It’s like some of these we don’t think about the environment and how our folks are living and breathing and what they’re eating and what they’re drinking. But this is also what is essentially, obviously killing us. So, Kaya, to your point, thankfully, like there’s a process in place where, like some justice will occur. But I think there’s just a greater conversation in terms of what so many people are living in and living through and just our lack of visibility around that.
DeRay [00:16:57] One of the things that I hadn’t thought about was there’s an NBC article that is titled “Scars from Flint’s Water Crisis Shakes City’s Faith in Covid Vaccine.” That there are a host of people who are like the government told us the water was good to drink and it wasn’t.
DeRay [00:17:11] Why would I take this vaccine that the government is also telling me is going to protect me from another crisis? And you’re like,.
Kaya [00:17:18] That’s reasonable.
DeRay [00:17:19] I get it right. Like, that is. And what somebody said that I thought was actually really interesting is a quote someone in the article by saying that he became even more skeptical of the vaccines when the national media had the black nurse get vaccinated by a black woman. And I was like, why would he be more? And he goes on to say, in this country, we know that African-Americans have always been targeted as test dummies. And you’re like, right, OK, what do you say to him? Right. That like, literally they got they were told to drink the water that was poisoning them and their kids. There is the you know, the doctor who helped expose this, who was on the pot a while ago, Dr. Mona. She’s encouraging people to go to the registry so that people are registered. They can get people care, they can make sure people have access to resources. But like we said, it’s like part of this is to make sure how do we structurally make sure that this is impossible to happen again, that the mechanisms don’t even exist. And the emergency manager thing, you know, a lot of those laws, the idea is that, you know, sometimes city government screws up so bad or blah, blah, blah, that like somebody has to come in and take it over. And for people who are worried about that, there are compromises. the in the article, even talks about that. You can make it a three person board. You can make it a fight like you can. You can do it. So it’s not just one person. And yet they still have not done that.
DeRay [00:18:38] So you can imagine if this happened in a white, affluent community, it would be a whole different we wouldn’t even be talking about emergency. Nothing. It would be think it’d be a whole different structure to like. They totally they probably make new water, you know, maybe some new technology around water that we didn’t even know about. But when it’s like people, it’s sort of like, well, that happened. Let us apologize and move on.
DeRay [00:18:59] And I think that what people are rightly saying is, how do you move on or you have poisoned us.
Sam [00:19:03] So my news is about California, where the state’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who recently, by the way, got picked to be Biden’s HHS secretary, although that has yet to be confirmed. He opened up an investigation, a civil rights investigation into the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. So this is important for a couple of reasons. One, you may be familiar with some of the big high profile investigations that the US Department of Justice initiated during the Obama administration into cities like Chicago and Baltimore and Ferguson. But what you might not know is that state attorneys general can also open up investigations like that, especially in states that explicitly authorize this in law, like in California. And so A.G. Becerra has just announced its investigation into the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, which has followed a series of high profile police shootings and other incidents of police violence most recently the shooting of on Andres Guardado in Compton and allegations that units within the L.A. Sheriff’s Department were wearing tattoos and were were essentially gangs within the department. So those are some of the things that will initially be investigated by the California Department of Justice. Once the California Department of Justice completes its investigation, if they find that there is a pattern or practice of systemic discriminatory policing, they can then require the L.A. Sheriff’s Department to implement a set of policy and systemic changes to address those issues. So this is this is an example of the power that state attorney generals have to actually not only investigate, but require local police departments to implement changes. So we’ll see how this investigation unfolds. But this is the first of only a handful of investigations that have actually been initiated at the state level so far and is a strategy that hopefully we can see more states emulate.
DeRay [00:20:59] So a couple of things about the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. Most recently, there was an L.A. County sheriff’s deputy who admitted to being at the Capitol during the attempted coup on the government. The other thing is that and y’all should just go read it. It’s called “50 Years of Deputies, gangs in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. Identifying root causes and effects to advocate for meaningful reforms.” It’s a report that was put out by Loyola Marymount University’s Law School. But what they highlight in some sort of touches on this is just the sheer number of gangs that are there operating. And they they list them all. So they break it up into gangs that are believed to be active and then unknown if they’re active or previously active. But let me just read you some of them.
Kaya [00:21:45] This is bizarre.
DeRay [00:21:46] This is the Banditos are in the East L.A. station. There’s a tattoo that depicts a skeleton with the bushy mustache wearing a sombrero and bandoleer and holding a pistol, according to the report, quote, “They regularly use gang slang, such as referring to longtime members as Og’s and passing on information that they, quote, heard on the yard. Bandidos leaders refer to themselves as shock collars, a term borrowed from the leaders of prison gangs.” There’s another gang within the sheriff’s department called the Cowboys. They operate out of Century, Palmdale and other stations. In twenty eighteen, a deputy in the Palmdale station claimed the Cowboys tattoo signify, quote, “that no person has less rights than any other person and that, quote, you treat the public equally without bias.” It’s just weird, there’s another group called the Executioners. There’s another group called the Grim Reapers. There’s another gang called the Rattlesnakes. And then there’s the Regulators and the Spartans are the ones that are believed to be true. And it’s just like wild. But when you read the report, you’re like they are operating gangs. They have pictures of the tattoos. They have pictures of like the like the Grim Reaper logo and sort of bandages that people get. I mean, it’s sort of wild what is happening in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. And remember, one of the problems the sheriff’s is that they’re elected. So even when you realize that they’re bad, you know, it’s hard to just go and do something. Whereas like when the mayor you know, you put pressure on the mayor of American by the police chief, you can’t just fire the sheriff, which is why this is actually a pretty big deal. I’m hoping that something comes out of this and the person that replaces the AG as he goes to the administration actually follows through.
De’Ara [00:23:25] OK, y’all, my news is from the South Seattle Emerald. That’s right. Check it out. My new favorite digital publication. But so I came across this because, you know, I was in Tulsa last week and I’m still having lots of feels around my first time being in North Tulsa, Greenwood, understanding the very complex and very present history around the Greenwood massacre and thinking a lot about just black economic power, black wealth, and just trying to figure out what that looks like today and, you know, kind of looking under every stone, trying to find it. So what I did find was in Seattle. There is a young man, also Blaxican, like myself, Jebediah Gardner, who is founder and CEO of Gardner Global, and he’s essentially like trying to reshape the narrative around black folks and our relationship to wealth.
De’Ara [00:24:30] And he’s doing that in Seattle. Also, something to have in common since my folks are from Minneapolis. It’s one of those places where people are like they’re black people there? And you’re like, yes, there are quite a significant number. And so Jebediah is doing what he can in terms of real estate development to salvage central Seattle, where that used to be, you know, kind of the bastion of where the black community was. It’s been so gentrified today and a lot of black folks have been pushed to south Seattle. Now, even as south as Tacoma.
De’Ara [00:25:03] But what I found interesting about him is that, you know, he grew up from humble beginnings and is trying to figure out how to navigate, you know, just the you know, the environment of, you know, Seattle’s land owning elite and trying to do that while, you know, being true to values in terms of like making sure that the developments are actually like significantly mixed income living and so that people can afford to live in these places and stay in their communities. I think it’s critically important to be personally as well. Like I am a black business owner and sometimes I take for granted what that means and what that means to employ other black folks and to do work for our community. And I think since the Tulsa trip, I’ve been looking more and more into black entrepreneurship and understanding from its very inception in this country, black entrepreneurship has been nothing but challenged. I’m reading this book actually called Black Wall Street 100, and it’s written by a Greenwood historian. His name is Hannibal Johnson. I mean, he talks about in 1892, the people’s grocery store that was in Memphis, Tennessee, was owned by three black businessmen, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, William Stewart, and they competed with the local white grocer. And what ended up happening was there was a mob of white men that came to their grocery store. These three gentlemen shot back. One of the white men was injured. These white men were ultimately taken by the police in Memphis, held at the Memphis police station where a white mob came and told the sheriff to give them up. They gave him up and they were all hanged. LYNCHED So.
De’Ara [00:26:55] All this to say this is this this is the deep hole I’ve been in for for a week now, just like really understanding any time our folks have tried to get well, this is what they were met with.
De’Ara [00:27:08] And, you know, that’s not the repercussion of the challenge that exists today. However, there are so many challenges. And I think the question of how do we build wealth as a community? What does that look like for those of us that can buy property? Where do we do that? You know, really thinking about what we can do with the time that we have on Earth to do the things that we should and can do for our communities. What does that look like?
De’Ara [00:27:41] So all that to say I was given some hope by Mr. Jebediah Gardner and I’m going to go on searching for those other folks who are doing similar like minded work, because I think it’s critical.
De’Ara [00:27:54] I grew up in D.C. with my dad owning a business, a law firm on 11th and U Street industrial bank was there and still there. Black owned bank, Lee’s Flower Shop, black owned still there. Like I grew up with that and I think took it for granted completely.
De’Ara [00:28:11] And now the U Street corridor is nothing like I grew up with D.C. Chocolate City is no longer that chocolate. So I don’t know, just bringing it to y’all because I think it’s something that I’m in deep thought about and processing and trying to figure out like what my place in space is in this.
De’Ara [00:28:28] Yeah.
Kaya [00:28:28] I thought it was interesting because we know that real estate, it’s not just any kind of entrepreneurship. It holds a particular place of value in the United States.
Kaya [00:28:42] Right. Land is money. Land is power. And I’m lucky to live in D.C. where there are a number of young black real estate developers who are out here buying up parts of town, creating affordable housing, doing interesting cultural and creative things in neighborhoods. And, you know, many of these young developers come from D.C. They live here. They are intent on remaking this city into something or another. But I think, you know, when this is a city that has been where real estate development plays a significant role and so to see young African-Americans at the table is really interesting.
Kaya [00:29:24] And so I’m pulling for the brother in Seattle. I happened to pull up an article from an old article from five years ago from Urban Trendsetters, which lays out the top eight black owned real estate companies making billions. And some of the folks are people that I recognize. The Peebles Corporation, Don Peebles is one of the most successful black real estate developers in the country, originally from DC, but also people like RJ Development, which is Bob Johnson, the former chairman of BET and Emmitt Smith Enterprises, which is owned by a former NFL player, Emmitt Smith. The development game is fascinating and there’s a lot of people playing in it. And so I think, you know, I think it’s promising. And I think this is a case where I didn’t know what a developer was until I was a grown up. And so we had to start hipping our young people to the fact that these are careers that they can aspire to, that they can have, that will allow them to not just be determinants of what’s happening in the places that they live and in other places, but that also create generational wealth for our people.
Sam [00:30:36] You know, it’s always incredible to read these stories because there are so many pitfalls and traps and hoops that you have to jump through to build any sort of wealth whatsoever as a black person in America. I’m just looking at the data, looking at the racial wealth gap. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars between the average black and white family. Hundred and fifty thousand dollars in wealth difference. These stories are inspiring. They are necessary, given all of the challenges that need to be overcome. But at the same time, the more that I read sort of these individual like heroic anecdotes, the more that I am reminded that, like, policy created this mess. Right now that we have a new administration in power and Democrats hold the Senate, we need to see a serious down payment on closing that racial wealth gap. And it can’t be bringing us back to where we were before Covid hit because things were really bad that in fact, one hundred fifty thousand dollar figure is pre-Covid. We don’t even know what the figure is now, but it’s probably even more so. We have to think about canceling student loans, which we know disproportionately impact black people and contribute to the racial wealth gap. We need to be thinking about housing and how we’re making sure on a policy level that we’re making it possible for black and brown families to own a home and that we’re addressing the differences in the valuation of those loans over time. When you look at white communities that have their home values increasing at a different rate, at a higher rate than black and brown communities. So there are policies that can be implemented to correct for some of those inequities, too, intentionally and specifically invest in black communities and close those gaps. But it has to be intentional. It has to be something that is racially conscious and that is implemented at the scale of the problem. And I think that we do need to deal with the immediacy of the crisis, of Covid and restarting the economy. But ultimately, like this is the fundamental inequity. Like the sum total of all of these other inequities compounded to create this racial wealth gap that we have to see closed in our lifetime, because the projections have us going towards zero wealth by 2050 as a black community. And so we have to only disrupt that trend, but affirmatively close that gap close one hundred fifty thousand dollar gap for family at a policy level to even make the American dream a possibility.
DeRay [00:33:05] We’ve had a lot of guests on to talk about the racial wealth gap over time. And and when I saw your article, De’Ara I was thinking about what is something I don’t know. And I stumbled across somebody writing about life insurance and thinking about life insurance as an investment tool, not only a end of life tool. And that was really interesting. But one of the things they do when they start this article is that they start by reminding us that the racism just is baked into so much. So I didn’t know that there’s a 2016 study that shows that 40 percent of first and second year medical students believe that black people skin is thicker than white people’s. You’re like, oh, my goodness, like what is going on? And when I think about life insurance, it’s interesting.
DeRay [00:33:44] It’s one of the few things that I remember my grandmother being like I remember them talking about it. I remember them paying the bills, or paying the life insurance. Like I remember I didn’t know what life insurance was.
DeRay [00:33:52] But I remember this conversation and always thought about life insurance as paying the funeral bills like that was the way that I thought about life insurance and then preparing for your news. De’Ara I didn’t realize that Master P started his rap label from ten thousand dollars that his grandfather left him from his life insurance policy, you know, like it just hadn’t even thought about. So they go on and on to talk about life insurance as like one of the wealth building tools that isn’t only about covering burial costs. And I was like, wow, we should have we should bring an expert on on the pod. So this is obviously in addition to just giving people money, access to banks, those sort of things. But while the system is systeming, we should make it give to the people, you know, like let us do that. So I’m excited.
DeRay [00:34:37] I’m excited that this might open up more in the next administration. So my news is about my news is about school reopenings. We’ve talked about school reopenings a ton. But there’s a new article that came out in The New York Times titled “surge of student suicides pushes Las Vegas schools to reopen.” Now, you know, I’ve talked about this to some people on education. I’m interested to see what you say, Kaya. So the thrust is that Clark County, which is the fifth largest school district, the United States, one of the reasons why they are pushing to come back so quickly in person is because of a rise in suicides.
DeRay [00:35:08] They don’t attribute the rise in suicides among the student population solely to Covid, but they acknowledge it is an exacerbating circumstance. Now, while I’m sure there are other things happening in Clark County and it would be hard to believe that this is the sole reason or like the best reason to bring kids back or that there, you know, is there a direct relationship? I don’t know. But what is true is we’re getting to a point where there is a risk on both sides that there are real risks to keeping kids at home. We think about the rise in depression, domestic violence, suicide, like this whole thing. And there is a risk, there seems to be a risk about coming back to school. And I don’t know what the breaking point is going to be where we make the tough calls. So what’s interesting about this, when when the article talks about Clark County, they note that in Clark County, 18 suicides over nine months of closure is double the nine the district had the previous year. Six students die by suicide between March 16th and June 30th. 12 students die by suicide between July 1st and December 31st. Right. So that is as as somebody who was working in schools and one of my students died by suicide, a sixth grader, he was in sixth grade, I have seen I have lived through how that impacts families forever, how that changes communities forever, how teachers are forever changed, how kids and their relationship to death like I have seen it. So I don’t even, numbers in the teens, 18 suicides over nine months is that is intense. And as much as we’ve talked about, like people getting covid, I don’t think we’ve talked enough about depression, isolation, like all of those factors that are impacting our kids. And like nobody’s equipped, like parents aren’t equipped for this. Schools want to quit. Like nobody was equipped for this moment. And I’m interested in, like, how we continue this conversation about what do we do. So I’ve heard all that. I heard the teachers union talk about the nervousness about coming back. I’ve heard the principals talk about wanting to come back here. People talk about learning loss, like I’ve seen all of that. But the mental health part of this that will be just deep by the time anybody goes back. I worry that we’ve not lifted enough.
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DeRay [00:42:21] And now a great conversation with poet and author Mahagonny L. Browne, who just released her debut novel, Chlorine Sky. Chlorine Sky is a narrative that attempts to engage young people on a number of topics, including blackness, mass incarceration, the power of finding yourself, love, friendship, all of it. It’s incredible. You should definitely buy for a kid in your life or buy just for yourself, because it’s a book and a poem, too, which is gorgeous. Here’s our discussion and how you introduce a younger audience to these concepts. Here we go. Mahogany, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:42:52] Thank you for having me.
DeRay [00:42:53] Now, I’ve known you for a while on the interwebs on Twitter, but it is great to finally meet you now. I’d love to know. You know, I’m always interested in poets and people who write as, like work. How did you stumble into poetry? How did you find poetry? What was your journey to poetry? How did you become a writer?
Mahogany L. Browne [00:43:11] I was a writer first, I believe, fourth grade. I wrote my first story and that was that I was hooked.
DeRay [00:43:18] Do you remember it?
Mahogany L. Browne [00:43:19] No, it was bad. I don’t. But I remember that we made every single portion. We made the story. We illustrated it. We made the book like bookbinding, which was cardboard paper. Right. But I was always interested in writing, stealing books from the library. I just wanted to, like, find these other worlds and dove into them.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:43:40] But poetry didn’t come as easily. So by the time poetry found me again, I was introduced to it in high school. But by the time I decided I could really do this, it wasn’t until I was twenty three and by then I was kind of hooked, but I didn’t know that it could be a job. I came from a family of state workers, you know, working for the office of civil rights when I was 18 and for the Department of Health Services in California, you know, you had to have a real job is what I was taught. And when I said I wanted to write, they were like, and what what next? So I had to prove that writing was the job. Right. So when poetry happened in that way that I started just at an open mic while I was working for a hospital, and then I did HBO, and then I moved to New York as a journalist working with Source and XXL and Honey poetry kind of took a back seat, but it always was like that passion for me. And it obviously came out of my writing because my editors would be like, you can’t write about Benny Siegel and use these words like cascading like you got to get it together. So it was always kind of encroaching when I left. By the time I was like twenty four, I decided that was it. It’s just going to be poetry because the only editor then is me. Right. I didn’t have to worry about what advertising dollars said. I didn’t have to curb my ideas because I didn’t agree with the misogyny that I felt was being forced into these specific conversations thinking about hip hop journalism and the feminine black body. I didn’t want to do that anymore. Poetry then became this this anchor and it became an anchor for me, and that was it. I haven’t left since. I just figured out new ways to do poetry. So that meant teaching and facilitating in high schools. That meant touring the world and performing on stages, writing books. And then now my first YA novel inverse.
DeRay [00:45:36] Chlorine Sky Which is why which is why we’re here.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:45:38] Yeah.
DeRay [00:45:38] So let’s talk about this. I used to teach sixth grade math. I taught in East New York, Brooklyn and Star City about 12 years ago. And my students are twenty twenty one, twenty two, which is so wild I’m like of my goodness. But you know, I was in reading and reading Chlorine Sky, it was interesting because these weren’t books to me when I was a kid. Like there was no book books weren’t I don’t know, poetry was like this thing we sort of did it like a random unit.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:46:05] Yes.
DeRay [00:46:06] They weren’t books. So I’m reading this. I’m like, it was so interesting because I’m like, wow, I wish I’d had a text that even looks something like this. Can you talk about why this format? It in some ways is a meditation on friendship and in girls and in school in love-ish in family, you know, so why why this book? Why this format? Why now?
Mahogany L. Browne [00:46:30] Why this book? Why this format and why and now? This book, I was afraid, like I’ve never been able to write a novel, OK, this was my first attempt at that and novel inverse made it feel as authentic to my voice now as possible while I read every day I love novels. I wanted to do something that kind of showcased the writer and the voice that I am today and how I even got to be there. So a lot of Chlorine Sky is informed by my own childhood memories growing up in California. What does it mean to have the world decide for you as a black girl, as a tomboy, you know, these gender norms. What is consent? How does mass incarceration impact your your whole life? What a single parent can do I wanted to have all those conversations, but in a novel, it felt too, too big to fail, insurmountable, whereas poetry allowed me to do that thing I’m really good at, which is I can take a snapshot and I can tell I can distill all the information in the snapshot. And from that, I was able to have these really interesting moments of friendship and like failure and fear. I could talk about gender norms, I could talk about colorism and textualism. I could do all of that in verse and allow folks to really put themselves in the driver’s seat. It wasn’t just this is what’s happening on this day, on this page, because of the poetic form. It allows the reader to get caught up in it. And because I don’t say the name of the protagonist until the very end, it also allows the reader to feel like this is their story, too. I mean, everybody got the story like this was one of those those moments when I was like, even if you are not Lay Li, you know, Lay Li, do you know what I mean? Like, sometimes we’ve all been the Lay Li’s, if we’re honest. So I want to do, like, show that moment of, like, real universatility. Like, you are a part of this conversation. This quilt is also you. And the poetry was the easiest way for me to do it. Why now?
Mahogany L. Browne [00:48:42] Well, Toni Morrison said if you don’t see the story, write it, you must write the story. And here we are in this day and age where we can look and have a discussion about Michelle Obama and Jennifer Lewis and Mariame Kaba and. And you have so many diverse, beautiful, different black women now. But when I was growing up, it was like three. You had three to look for Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and Tootie. Right. So that was it when I was growing up. But you have those things were like it was so few. And then we would find one and we would it was like playing that’s my car is like, that’s me. That’s me. I’m here to like, I exist. And I felt like here we are having these conversations where Black Girl Magic is a common thread. We need to unpack. We need to start unpacking the the problems that we have brushed aside and renamed. Right. And reclaimed. Yeah. We Black Girl Magic now, but that black girl didn’t even know how to love herself five minutes ago. And so I want to show that story. I want to show that that journey.
DeRay [00:49:51] Can you read. “I” can’t imagine. And then we’ll talk about it.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:49:54] I can’t imagine what it’s like to forget my mother’s face. I sit quiet and wait for her story to unfold. My momma still on drugs and my daddy ain’t got time for all that. He don’t want us girls to see her like that. He says ‘every child deserves to be the sun. To know they come from the sun. And if the sun snuff itself to dust before its time and no shine is left to see, let it be.’ One day we woke up and she was already a cloudy shadow of herself. Then one day we woke up and she was gone. She only come home when she clean. She only call home when she sort of sober. She ain’t never remembered my birthday or my sister’s birthday. And I’m like, whatever. When you live where we live, you say what it is. And if you can’t say what it is or if it hurt too much or maybe it’s too confusing, you just say ‘whatever.’ That way you ain’t no lie.
DeRay [00:50:52] Why did you include this?
Mahogany L. Browne [00:50:53] What I found to be not just interesting, but like redemptive even for like young people, how they deal with trauma, they kind of speak it plainly and then they just keep it moving. Right. And for as an adult, remembering conversations like this is not of the conversation that I had when I was a young person, but one that I witnessed when I was teaching. And I remember how flippant it seemed when the young person just said, ‘whatever my daddy gone, my mom gone, whatever.’
Mahogany L. Browne [00:51:25] And I knew what the whatever actually meant. So it was one of those moments when I was like, oh, what does it mean to, like, hold all this adult trauma as a young person and then still feel beholden to tell the truth? Right. And so to assure that you are not a liar, to show you’re not a snitch, you just say whatever it’s whatever and let the listener figure it out on their own. And I love I love that power that that young people have. They gone keep it as real as possible, but they’re also not going to do all the legwork for you. They, like you catch up. And I wanted to add that I wanted I wanted that to be a part of the narrative. Right. Is like a young person telling you, figure it out for yourself.
DeRay [00:52:07] I love it. I think, you know, this is one my mother left when I was three and and reading it, I’m like, I get it, you know? And I it’s these sort of stories that I definitely didn’t see you when I was a kid. There were so many stories about. Absent fathers and father, they were they were like no stories about mothers, right, whom are present. And so shout out for including this in a way that was both honest and real and human. And like, you know, it’s like this is this is real. You’re like you’re like it’s whatever. You’re right.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:52:36] And I like that you brought that up. We rarely got to think about those mothers that it was just too much and they had to go. We rarely got to have those conversations because it’s always been single mother household. And then, of course, it’s her fault when shit go wrong. But what happens when you have all of these motherless kids? And it’s not because it’s not by choice, it’s because the system is set up to dog out their parents. So by the time they’re looking for that guidance, if you’re lucky your parent is there, they can be remembered. And if not, you’ll get these stories.
DeRay [00:53:11] Yeah, like I think about, you know, I’ve never seen a story talk to me about what Mothers Day feels like when it’s always been absence. Right. Like, I’ve always I’ve always been, like, very happy for the people around me on Mother’s Day. But Mother’s Day has never been a celebratory day for me. Right? Father’s Day is great. Like my father’s great. But Mother’s Day is where people put all their Mother’s Day like this thing. And for me, it’s like Mother’s Day is like a you know, I like fine women that have been really powerful to me and did like I do all these. There’s a ritual that I do. So it’s not a sad day or it’s not a day of absence only. But like I’ve never seen that written, you know, I’ve never seen that story. I’ve never seen a story of a kid having to process that.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:53:51] Yeah. It’s wild, my mother, she succumbed to addiction maybe when I was 16. So I had a really you know, she was a part of my life.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:54:00] Even after her addiction, it took some years for her to get clean and some years for us to be estranged. But she was there. Right. And I do remember, like a couple of folks having that same kind of tumultuous back and forth that you’re talking about where they like. I don’t care. I don’t care about my mom.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:54:18] And I was like, how could you say that? She almost died. Like, I almost died today. Right, right. Right.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:54:25] I really give space for, like, folks who are like, oh, it’s it’s hard for all of us. Yeah. There is no one way to grieve, which also means there isn’t one way to celebrate.
DeRay [00:54:35] Take us to page sixty.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:54:37] When kids have a different daddy than they’re siblings, it’s hard to remember what comes first, the heart hurt or the stomach growl. He’s got a different daddy. He’s OK. Not mean like her, but my dad is a ghost. Mama say some people can’t stay out of jail. Isa Say he ain’t never want you. Her nails click in the air like they close in a casket. Cousin Inga say Isa just jealous but I know hate when I see it.
DeRay [00:55:07] Why this?
Mahogany L. Browne [00:55:09] So yeah, me and my sister had a very tumultuous upbringing and she used to really wear my ass thin honey, she would fight me every day and I just could not figure out why. Right. Like she’s my big sister. I loved her so much. I wanted to be like her and a lot of ways and she was just not not here for me. So some of these incidents that you see in this story, it’s the juxtaposition of me and her. And of course, writing humanizes the people that you used to think were against you or evil or whatever. And you start like it gives you a little more objectivity. And so what I didn’t see is when young people are mean to each other, it’s more times than not them trying to claim space for themselves, especially when they feel overlooked. And Isa is constantly, always trying to trudge out and look for herself. And the protagonist is like, I just want my sister. I just want my sister. And she’s still trying to like carve some space for herself. So that portion specifically I wanted to look at, OK, Protagonist’s dad is gone. This is what blended families can look like sometimes. It is not sweet. We don’t have all of these half siblings that are just perfect and they’re great. There’s sometimes there’s a lot of animosity between them and you don’t really know where that comes from. And I wanted there to be a little a little bit of air lifted because Enga comes in and says she just jealous, right? Like there’s this voice of reason and then the protagonist is still hurting, is like not she hate me like everything is. Hey, you just you hate me. It’s impossible. So yeah, I wanted to include this brief moment oscillating between these three characters to show that everything that you see there isn’t obviously just one way to see it. And so Isa is responding with an energy that’s super aggressive and mean to her sister, her little sister. But the little sister doesn’t recognize that Isa is hurting, too. There’s no room for that just yet for her to know what’s happening. And Enga’s the one who can who can put a name to it and say she’s jealous.
DeRay [00:57:20] What we say when I was around myself as an organizer is that young people often have the experiences before they have the language. And The part of our work is not to penalize young people for not having the language, but to honor the experience. And what I loved about this part of the book, just like so many other parts of the book, is that you actually just keep the language. You’re like like there is there’s language about like we don’t have the same fathers, we are sisters, we are siblings, we are family in. That’s hard. And there’s not space always to talk about it. I don’t know. I don’t know. I know something is off. I know something doesn’t feel like other houses that I see. And what I thought was really beautiful here is that you actually like helped bridge that like space between experience and language, especially for young people in a way that doesn’t always show up in text about our lives. Mm hmm.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:58:09] I love that.
DeRay [00:58:11] And I’ll ask you to one thirty eight and then I will. And then this will be I ask you to read anything else and then I’ll just ask a couple of questions, but one thirty eight. OK, I love this. The ‘thing about the truth,’ I’m like this should be you should make this, this first and like the first beginning should be like a card.
DeRay [00:58:28] or like something. I would send that card to people.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:58:32] The thing about the truth is it never really surprises you. So it lately reveals what a part of me always knew deep down in my gut it hurts. Yeah, it stings like a mug. But what hurts more is she waited so long. I say it’s been two months and you watched me walk around with him. It’s been months and you haven’t called me back. You saw me with him and ain’t had nothing to say. How can you play me when I’ve always had to go back? You must think I’m dumb. I was willing to fight for you just because you ask.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:59:04] But you were quick to let everyone make fun of me. Now you are here with this story about Clifton. I don’t care about him and I don’t care about you. You’re more concerned with what Sean knows and where Curtis is than how you ain’t never really been a good friend. You were like my sister and that’s what I let you walk all over me. But I get it now. You’re not my family. Lay Li’s eyes almost rolled out her head. She didn’t wipe her face, just tucked her lip in. ‘The only reason I’m telling you is because I know I owed you more. It wasn’t right to keep that from you, but you look so happy. I didn’t want to hurt you that bad.
Mahogany L. Browne [00:59:40] Sure, it was funny at first to watch you because I wasn’t answering your calls, but I had to deal with me and Sean and that don’t even matter no more. I would never intentionally hurt you like that.’ I want to stop myself from crying. I want to stop myself. But she puts a hand on my shoulder and says, ‘I’m truly sorry’ and the levee breaks.
DeRay [01:00:03] The thing about the truth is it never really surprises you. It’s like we know.
Mahogany L. Browne [01:00:08] That you’ve got to trust your intuition.
DeRay [01:00:10] Denial is a drug that we all walk into you now. Yeah. And I was like, you’re right. Like Lay Li. But everybody knew. They knew. She knew Lay Li knew, you know.
DeRay [01:00:20] But tell me why why this.
Mahogany L. Browne [01:00:21] This actually wasn’t in the second to last draft.
Mahogany L. Browne [01:00:26] And Jason Reynolds, my brother in Reader, was like no, Mo, it is hitting soft, like you can’t hit and just expect a reader to be like, OK, everything’s OK without showing the work. Right. And this apology, honestly, it was an apology that I think the protagonist gave to herself before Lay Li ever could write. The apology was I knew better. I didn’t trust my gut. I need to honor my gut. And then this second apology was I’m truly sorry, which is like she’s like crying. But I think it was that reckoning. It was necessary because the protagonist had to reckon with the herself, reckoned with the power that she holds, reckon with how much power she gave away and not necessarily straightened Lay Li out, but keep it a buck for herself. You know, we do it so often when we just lie to ourselves all day, we lie about everything just because it’s easier, because it hurts less. It’s easier to get up in the morning to look at ourselves than to admit that we’re scared or vulnerable or we made a poor decision or we supported somebody who made a poor decision. Right. Like we we never keep it that funky with ourselves to assure that we don’t do that again. And I love that as as just an opener, because we’ve all been there. We’ve all lied to ourselves.
DeRay [01:01:49] I love it. And what I’m so sort of zooming out to talk about the book writ large, now that we’ve read these sections, there will be parents listening who are thinking about text for their child. What would you say to them about about Chlorine Sky?
Mahogany L. Browne [01:02:04] I would say parents buy two of these books, one for you and one for your child.
Mahogany L. Browne [01:02:08] Read along, have a discussion about it, because it may, at face value look like it’s about an African-American girl growing up and growing up world and finding who she is among the ashes of a fractured friendship and really it’s a conversation about the kaleidoscope of our lives, it’s looking at this young girl, it’s looking at gender norms. It’s looking at the power of friendships. It’s looking at how addiction can cripple a family. It’s looking at how mass incarceration can cripple a family. It’s looking at blended families, how we are not kind to ourselves and even parenting. Like if you I don’t know if you remember the rules section the rules in the book. But there was so many moments that I started just like cracking up, laughing because I remember those rules like the back of my hand. But also I remember how contradictory it felt. Right. It’s like, don’t do this, do this, don’t do this, do this. And you think I’m stupid. You’re like, I’m not supposed to answer that.
Mahogany L. Browne [01:03:11] Like when I don’t ask you, do you think I’m stupid? That’s a hypothetical. Do not respond. Right. So it’s having all of this intergenerational excavation. And I think not only will the young person learn, as you said, how to articulate these experiences, but the adults, the adults get to get back into that passenger seat as what it’s like to feel like a young person without a voice.
DeRay [01:03:35] We consider you a friend of the pod. Can’t wait to have you back. It is an honor to finally meet after all these years. And I wish you nothing but success.
Mahogany L. Browne [01:03:43] Thank you.
DeRay [01:03:46] Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out, make sure that you rate it wherever you get your podcast with this Apple podcast or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week.
DeRay [01:03:58] Bothered the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by Brock Wilbur and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer and myself. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Sam Sinyangwe and our special contributor Johnetta Elzie.