Papi Kymone Freeman (guerrilla artist) is one of the leaders of #DC Ferguson, an organization devoted to exposing police terror in the Washington, DC area. Kymone, alone with Eugene Puryear, Salim Adafo and Kenny Nero have led non-violent demonstrations that have shut down major economic arteries in the nation’s capitol. Kymone is the director of the National Black LUV Festival that has since become the largest annual AIDS mobilization in Washington, DC. He has authored a collection of poetry entitled Blood.Sweat.Tears.
Kymone is in the process of completing a one-man show called “Whites Only,” a show where, according to Kymone “white folks can witness an angry Black man in therapy from the sanctuary of their seat.” He is also the subject of a chapter in the book entitled: Beat of a Different Drum: The Untold Stories of African Americans Forging Their Own Paths in Work and Life.
Kymone’s dedication to art and activism led him to accept the position of New York City spokesperson and official poet of the anti-war independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader during his campaign in ’04. A scholarship received from the American Friends Service Committee allowed him to spend the summer in Nairobi, Kenya for an international leadership conference. He used his time in Kenya to hone his skills as a playwright. He received the 22nd Annual Larry Neal Award for Drama for the successful play Prison Poetry that has appeared at the Historic Lincoln Theatre and Source Theatre during the Hip Hop Theatre Festival, THEARC Theatre, Oak Hill Juvenile Detention Facility and several college campuses where his work has been included in the Black History curriculum of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He has conducted production workshops at the National Black Theatre Festival and Institute of Policy Studies.
He is currently Program Director of We ACT Radio 1480 AM DC’s new progressive radio station.
Who is Kymone Freeman? Where were you born and where did you go to school?
I am the eldest grandson of Lily Ann Lewis who climbed the steps of the Washington Monument just to show me the highest point in the city to tell me I can do anything. I am an angry Black man in therapy, an autodidact, a guerilla artist, an activist and currently this country’s poorest media mogul. I have produced poetry, theatre, festivals, TV, film, and radio.
I am one of the few indigenous natives of DC. I was born in DC General Hospital and initially raised in my maternal grandmother’s house at 624 Kentucky Ave SE. I grew up during the soulful 70’s but the crack epidemic and violence of the 80’s, along with the death of my grandmother, forced me to attend school in North Carolina and in Alexandria, Virginia.
When did you decide to get involved in political struggle?
I am a product of the Million Man March that gave us the charge to go back to our communities to #dosomething. The fact that no crime was committed in DC for over 48 hours because of the brotherhood and unity that was displayed there is a lost footnote in history but a month later I witnessed the murder of my cousin at a cabaret that I hosted. It was then that I decided to dedicate my life to begin to synthesize my reality with the greater possibilities.
How has your involvement in politics changed your life?
My involvement with politics first began with the case of Mumia Abu Jamal. After reading Death Blossoms I learned more about his case and realized he was innocent and attended my first marches and rallies. I marched in DC, Philly and to the prison he was originally being held at while he was on death row. That activism lead me to the precursor of the explosion of the prison industrial complex which is the War on Drugs.
This enabled me to draw immediate conclusions from my experiences and why I was seeing the devastation of drugs and violence in my community in the 80s with the materialism that drove my generation to early graves and massive incarceration in the 90’s.
During this period I discovered poetry and found my voice to articulate the rage and passion I had regarding these issues. I say this because art is political. My pursuit as an artist also began to open another dimension in my thinking and expanded my circle of friends who didn’t think like the hustlers and government employees I was surrounded by. They were independent thinkers who lived life on their own terms which provided me a reference point to one day escape the plantation confines of a 9 to 5.
With my two passions Art and Politics I decided to combine them with a festival to address the pandemic of AIDS in DC that had claimed the lives of both my Aunt and Uncle. The Black L.U.V. Festival (love.unity.vision) was launched in 1997 and I have since produced 12 festivals. This independent festival was the foundation that introduced me to all the contacts that I would later need to break free from a 9 to 5 to speak truth to power full time. It was through those efforts to organize the festival that I met Kevin Zeese, then the Executive Director of Common Sense for Drug Policy, who mentored me, opened his home to me, and gave me the necessary support for me to make the transition. He sponsored me to attend several People of Color and the War on Drugs Conferences held in various cities across the country produced by the Drug Policy Alliance and Deborah Peterson Small.
What is the mission of We Act Radio?
It was also through the organizing of the Black L.U.V. Festival that I met my business partner Alex Lawson with whom I co-founded We Act Radio, DC’s only independent radio station. Alex was with DC Fights Back, an AIDS advocacy, group that helped me assemble several AIDS Mobile Units to turn the festival into the largest annual AIDS testing event in DC for six years. On November the 11th, 2011 at 11am we launched We Act Radio on MLK Ave SE Washington, DC.
Our mission is dedicated to raising up the stories and voices of those historically excluded from the media.
How does WeAct Radio contribute to educating the community regarding political events?
We Act Radio is an independent radio station that produces original content and provides broadcast media outlet services to the progressive community of Washington, DC and beyond. Everyone comes to DC to protest, march, rally, or hold press conferences. We offer live streaming services at cost to ensure that the content provider is not solely relying upon what other media outlets chooses to broadcast but rather distributing their content in its entirety amongst our platform.
In addition, We Act Radio functions as a community anchor institution in one of the most underserved areas of the nation’s capital by partnering with the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities as well as the DC Summer Youth Employment Program to offer Media Arts training classes to at-risk youth every summer for the past three years we have been in operation to effectively contribute to the political education of our young people.
The Anacostia studios of We Act Radio are also large enough to host community events whether produced ourselves are by other individuals or organizations. We host open mics, debates, live productions, film screenings, political education classes and, most recently, have partnered with the National Black United Front to host the N’Joya Weusi Saturday School for extracurricular S.T.E.M. activities for children.
Please share a story of resistance in your work that embodies hope for you.
Spending a week in Ferguson and St. Louis as an independent media outlet after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson I was impressed with the level of commitment from the young people there responding on the ground by beginning to organize their community and politicizing themselves with no fear of an overwhelming show of force by the military industrial complex. This was even a bigger inspiration for me and the hope for the future of our youth than that of the launch of the Occupy Movement in Zuccotti Park that spread around the country and around the world because, finally, young Black people were involved and taking leadership.
But the greatest single story of resistance for me is from Mo Costello, the owner of MoKaBe Coffeehouse that received death threats in St. Louis and was tear-gassed twice just for providing a “Safe Space” for protestors.
In the spirit of John Brown, she risked her livelihood and the safety of not only herself but that of her three children that helped run the family-owned business. I personally saw the police intimidation she and her family faced and despite all that they still chose to support the community and the #BlackLivesMatter cause by operating as an oasis surrounded by a desert of injustice.
What role do you play at WeAct Radio? How has this changed your life and influenced your political activities?
I am the Program Director, the General Manager, and sometimes janitor. I have a paid staff of two and a volunteer staff of two. My life has changed from working for others to working for myself. This alone will greatly alter the thinking of any individual. I remember when I was still picking cotton at the Postal plantation, my manager told me that I don’t get paid to think. Well, now I do.
As an independent media outlet, we don’t just cover stories, we produce content. I am free to break stories I find relevant like the Public Duty Doctrine that states that the government has no duty to provide emergency services including 911 to the general public, but rather it is a “courtesy” it extends. Only fires are excluded from this admission of civic immunity simply to avoid the potential of civil lawsuits against the city for damages in wrongful death cases due to neglect or malpractice. Most people are unaware of this and no major media outlet will ever cover this aspect even in the case of Cedric Mills who had a heart attack and was refused medical attention by emergency personnel and left to die on the street.
Most people don’t know that courts have ruled that the police can legally lie to you and that the media has no legal obligation to tell the truth. They assume the validity of a police report and whatever version they see on the 6 o’clock news.
In your opinion, how is the struggle for justice in Ferguson and the struggle around police terror in Washington, DC interrelated?
First of all, “An injustice anywhere; is a threat to justice everywhere” so I never categorize or compartmentalize various aspects of the struggle separately. I view them all as pieces in one big chess game. There are of course some favorite pieces that I choose to use more than others, but I must pay attention to them all.
In a specific response to #DCFerguson, which is the hashtag we have chose to use locally, we obviously feel very strongly about the interrelatedness of all the cases of police terror and their intersection on the national level that falls at the doorsteps of the DOJ and the White House. DC is the perfect collage of local, national and international affairs.
While all of our problems are either local or national, we now see that Malcolm X was right in his assessment that our only hope for justice is on the world stage.
How can we connect these issues?
We must begin by controlling the narrative and the branding. We should avoid ever repeating talking points from the establishment who effectively sets the limits of the agenda by defining the narrative and deciding the brand words to be used.
For example, by calling a protest against police brutality an “anti-police protest” the establishment has effectively minimized the amount of support you can expect to receive from the public.
If the #BlackLivesMatter movement began referring openly to their cause as the “New Anti-Apartheid” movement they would have effectively conjured up all the aspects that joined the various levels of oppression that manifested itself during the Apartheid regime in South Africa and the tools used to eliminate it. This alone would put the system itself on trial and elevate the debate beyond the realm of good cop vs bad cop to investigate a system that refuses to distinguish between the two and rewards bad behavior when applied to communities of color in general and poor people in particular.
You testified during the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Please summarize what you said.
I basically amplified the demands for community control over the police. I accused them of dancing all around the mulberry bush exchanging pleasantries with talks of new training or stating dwindling crime statistics being offered as proof that what they are doing is working instead of directly addressing the issue at hand of an out of control police force and a corrupt grand jury system that refuses to put a leash on killer cops as long as the victims are Black or Latino.
If the Commission had allowed you additional time, what would you have added to your statement?
I wish I had time to read all the names of unarmed Black people killed by White police officers and all the names of unarmed White people killed by Black police officers.
Is the Commission a hoax? If so, do you think Black folks should participate in it?
Carmen Perez, Executive Director of the Gathering for Justice, said “There is a crisis between police and communities of color.” However, the majority of those on the Commission and particularly those in leadership are not treating it as such. Whether or not the purpose of the President’s Task Force is to continue a policy of “Benign Neglect” by circling the wagons to prevent any true radical police reforms while providing lip service to a decades old issue remains to be seen, but yes we should participate because this is where the current debate is being held.
How can we leverage the Commission process to the advantage of the Black Community?
I was very disappointed that there were no protestors present during the townhall. They purposefully minimized the likelihood of this by hosting it as a 9-5 event rather than (2) evening events which would have resulted in greater community involvement. There are allies to be made whether on the Task Force or in attendance and enemies to be identified. We are in need of intel and data collection just like our adversaries.
Therefore, there should absolutely be a more concerted effort to take these proceedings over and if necessary bumrush the mics like they did at Rev. Al Sharpton’s national demonstration in DC if they continue to avoid the discussion of community control over the police.
What are the challenges facing #DCFerguson and the overall police terror movement?
How do we enforce demands? How do we escalate the calls for justice? How do we protect ourselves? Who are our allies? How do we force the police to share power with the community? How do we fund an organization truly committed to these values?
All these questions must begin to be addressed.
What is the basis of your hope that WeAct Radio or #DCFerguson can move the struggle for black liberation forward?
Hope is a drug and was also the name of a slave ship. But hope got a bi-racial president elected and as the “People’s Pastor” the Reverend Herbert Daughtry of the House of the Lord in Brooklyn, NYC told me, “I am addicted to hope.”
Our hope is echoed in the last words of the late great Dr. Vincent Harding, the author of MLK’s Beyond Vietnam Speech, when I interviewed him last year on April 4th the 47th anniversary of that speech and shortly before his death later that same month when he said, “Don’t be overwhelmed for too long, because we have work to do. Stay strong.”