Bourbon 'n BrownTown

Ep. 13 - Chi DNA: Black History & Resistance in Chicago ft. Kofi Ademola

Episode Summary

BrownTown is joined by Kofi Ademola, a Pan-African activist, community organizer, and leader in the Black Lives Matter movement to discuss the unique history of Black resistance and political organizing in Chicago and how it impacts the movement today.

Episode Notes

This is the third Chicago Drill and Activism (AKA "Chi DNA") installment of Bourbon ’n BrownTown. Chi DNA is an ongoing documentary and multimedia project, which also features interviews, micro-documentaries, and editorial pieces on drill rap and the activist resurgence in Chicago.

Full Transcriptions Here!

Kofi Ademola is a leader in Black Lives Matter - Chicago who has dedicated his life to the struggle for Black liberation, and against systematically and intentionally targeted discrimination. At age 18, Kofi started his life long career in social services, working in homeless shelters, advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, conducting gang intervention and conflict resolutions. He orients his work towards combating racism and ending state violence and criminalization of Black communities, reimagining new egalitarian systems that center the most marginalized. Most recently, Kofi claims he's mainly playing the role of "cheerleader" in the movement, amplifying others' campaigns, most notably youth in #NoCopAcademy, women, transpeople, and other marginalized groups doing great work. Additionally, he recently organized the #GoodKidsMadCity campaign that aligns youth in Chicago and Baltimore who fight to end violence in all its forms and call for more resources to underserved communities.

The self-proclaimed "Chicago Forrest Gump," Kofi has been in and out of activist, electoral politics, and hip-hop circles in the city throughout the years, experiences that render him a perfect candidate for a discussion on historical resistance in Chicago. With the conclusion of Black History Month 2018, BrownTown and Kofi dissect what the month really means, how it is co-opted by the white mainstream, and how crucial it is to understand, formulate, and amplify the narrative of yourself and your elders.

The Chicago Drill and Activism project explores the creation, meaning, perspectives, and connections between drill rap and the resurgence of grassroots activism since the early 2010s through the eyes of the people involved. It focuses on contemporary Chicago as an intentional place for the resurgence of these two formations of cultural and political resistance during relatively the same time period. It examines how authenticity, community, and other important values to the subjects are impacted and promoted via technology, social media, and a rejection of traditional means of movement politics and corporate structures. As told by activists and drill rappers alike, the project situates the the subjects’ experiences and actions into a broader theoretical and empirical history of systemic inequality and resistance in Chicago. Follow the ongoing project at for more.


CREDITS: Intro music by Fiendsh and soundbite from Fred Hampton's "You can't jail a revolution" speech. Outro Chi City by Common. Audio engineered by Genta Tamashiro.


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Episode Transcription

Ep. 13 - Chi DNA: Black History & Resistance in Chicago ft. Kofi Ademola

BrownTown is joined by Kofi Ademola, a Pan-African activist, community organizer, and leader in the Black Lives Matter movement to discuss the unique history of Black resistance and political organizing in Chicago and how it impacts the movement today.


[00:00:00] Fred Hampton: "Bobby Seale is going through all types of physical and mental torture, but that's alright. Because we stood here even before this happened and we're going to stand after this- after I'm lock up and after everybody's locked up- that you can jail the revolutionary but you can't jail the revolution."

(Intro music by Fiendsh and soundbite from Fred Hampton's "You can't jail a revolution" speech.)


[00:00:31] David: I want to welcome everyone to another episode of Bourbon 'N BrownTown. As always I am your host, David of BrownTown, and joined as always with my cohost Caullen of BrownTown. 

[00:00:42] Caullen: What's up, what's up? 

[00:00:44] David: Caullen, what are we drinking today? 

[00:00:46] Caullen: We are still drinking some Johnnie Walker red label. 

[00:00:49] David: Still drinking 

[00:00:50] Caullen: Scotch whiskey. And as well as some tea as well, we got some tea action.

[00:00:53] David: Yeah. Oh, there you go. Well, I mean, that's jumping into it. Today, this is going to be a “Chi DNA” or “Chicago Drill 'N Activism”, for those of you who live under a rock. Caullen, can you tell the people out there who might not know exactly what Chicago Drill 'N Activism is a little bit about, and then we'll introduce our special guest here?

[00:01:12] Caullen: Yeah, I'll try my best to keep it quick. So it started as a Grad thesis project for me at DePaul University. But now it's a cross platform project with Soapbox Production and Organizing, primarily a feature documentary, as well as the podcasts, editorial, microdoc, and other things are homemade in the same kind of spheres. So Chicago Drill 'N Activism, AKA Chi DNA.

A feature documentary and larger cross-platform multimedia project explores the creation, meaning, perspectives, and connections between drill rap and the activists resurgence since the early 2010s through the eyes of people involved. It examines how authenticity, community, and other important values to the subjects are impacted and promoted via technology, social media, and particularly a rejection of traditional means of movement politics and corporate structures. As told by the activists and drill rappers alike, the project situates the subject experiences and actions into a broader theoretical and very empirical history of systemic inequality and resistance in Chicago.

[00:02:07] David: Yeah. Bravo. And all of this. As always, you can find at where the project kind of lives and breathes. It is constantly updated and make sure to follow through. We're on Twitter @chidrillandact. But here we are today with, Kofi Ademola. Kofi, how you doing man? 

[00:02:33] Kofi: I'm wonderful. Thank you all so much for the oolong tea. It is delicious. 

[00:02:37] David: Oh man. That's all Desirae, shout out Desirae. A little bit about Mr. Ademola. He is a pan-African activist community organizer and leader in the Black Lives Matter movement who has dedicated his life to the struggle for black liberation and against systemically and intentionally targeted discrimination.

At the age of 18, Kofi started his lifelong career in social services, working in homeless shelters, advocating for LGBTQIA rights, doing gang intervention and conflict resolution. More recently, Kofi has oriented his work towards combating racism and ending state violence and criminalization of black communities. Re-imagining new egalitarian systems that center the most marginalized. 

[00:03:32] Caullen: Word. 

[00:03:33] David: You're doing work, bro. You are putting in work. 

[00:03:37] Caullen: We can end the podcast right there, we're done. [laughter] 

[00:03:41] David: For real though, but, how'd you get involved, let's put that as a certain- how'd you- it says right here "at the age of 18", but, how was that process for you? Starting your journey? 

[00:03:52] Kofi: I mean, I caught a felony at 17. Was, you know, in and out the county. Got put out mine- I was raised by a single mom- got put out the house. I was homeless for a second, ended up living with my pops. Got more involved with gang activity. But it was a cousin from the west coast that got into hip hop out there and started pulling me into the Chicago scene. And that just put a real shift in my life and I started pulling away from the streets.

I started getting more involved with the music, with the parties, with the graffiti, with the dance and it just shifted. And in that same thing, I had people that ended up becoming mentors and pulled me into community organizing. So, I mean, Inglewood, you know, talking to, grandpa's talking to grandma's, talking to aunties, talking to, you know, the guys hanging off the block and people- who early in my life, who I would've saw as my opposition, my enemy, or whatever, you know, I saw them through a new light.

I saw that humanity and I saw that we have more similarities than we had differences. And they going through the same struggles and dealing with the same things I was. So, you know, why was I looking at them in this negative light? So I really had the opportunity to go through a transformation. And in addition to that, you know, I lost a couple of friends to gun violence.

I had five friends, you know, end up with life sentences, you know, for murders and you know, so. I got to see a different side of my people and that just really started to push me in a different direction. And it was straight up opportunity. If I didn't have the opportunities that came my way.

You know, I hate this stereotype, but you know, the options is limited. So, you know, thinking about being in jail or being dead is some real stuff. You know what I mean? 

[00:05:51] David: So you've called yourself or people called you the Chicago Forest Gump. How was that, please, for all rumors out there, we want to know what- how that happened or what is that all about 

[00:06:05] Kofi: yeah. So naw, I mean, that's just an inside joke. I spread that rumor, so don't worry about it. But naw, just, if you remember the movie, he comes across politicians, celebrities and he's completely ambivalent and oblivious to them. They're just regular people. So just being in Chicago, I've come across and been in, you know, presence of and interacted with some interesting people. You know what I mean? And it's all happenstance, you know, all serendipitous, you know what I mean?

I was with Public Allies, which basically was this program that took 18-35 year-olds, put you in community-based organizations. So I was working for Northwestern Community Law Clinic. So they had me in juvenile detention centers advocating for shorties that was getting, you know, put with bogus charges, but didn't have no legal representation.

[00:07:07] Caullen: Yeah and that means a lot. Cause the optics of that, having someone to legally represent you, 

[00:07:12] Kofi: Exactly

[00:07:12] Caullen: kind of shows your innocence almost.

[00:07:14] Kofi: So, I'm not even knowing who I'm in the presence with. So this pop off with Bernadine Dohrn, I didn't know who she was. She's talking to me dropping knowledge and what have you, I don't learn till later on in life that she was part of the underground weatherman there, her and her wife were up on federal charges for terrorism and they were making bombs and trying to overthrow the government.

You know, I mean, I had no clue, you know what I mean? But I'm in the presence of that. And then at the time Michelle Obama was the executive director of Public Allies and she was transitioning out to go work for the University of Chicago. But before she did that, she used to have Barrack come through and do trainings for us.

So, you know, I got cool with their family, you know I will run into them at Hyde Park, with the children leaning in and we're, you know, little babies and stuff, you know what I mean? You know, that's how I kinda, came across them. You know what I mean?

And then just being in a hip hop circle, we had a cable access show- this before YouTube and all this- but it was a live call-in show. Some people will see as they call in and talk to us, ask us questions. And we talked about hip hop in Chicago. We had Common on there. When Wu-Tang came to town, we had them on there.

[00:08:25] David: When was this? Where was I? How old am I? Was I there? 

[00:08:31] Kofi: This was all nineties baby. All nineties Chicago hip hop. And me and my crew, Euphonics, we used to throw parties. Kanye used to come through, Ron fess was a part of our crew. We threw MC battles and Kanye into one of the battles, and he came in second place that Ron Fez hosted, you know what I mean? And I used to be over his crib all the time. His mom was beautiful, hospitable would show us love, make us food. Me and Kanye was tight to the point where I gave him all my grandfather's records. You know, my grandfather had this immaculate collection of Dusty's and soul music. And I gave Ye the whole thing for free, you know, and GLC used to work over at Evergreen Plaza. So, you know, we would be with him. 

Really though, you know, they had a crew we worked with this young DJ named DJ Chase. He put out some mixed tapes and we had Kanye and the go-getters out, and we were putting the music out. So before he made his transition to New York, we were putting his music out and supporting him.

I used to rock with John John, who would be called John Monopoly was, the one that introduced him to hip hop and Roc-A-Fella and got him that plug that way. But I was with Ye when he was selling them 3000 beats to NAS and Little Kim and Jermaine Dupree, and still struggling and living off 95th. And you know what I mean? So, just being in that era, and just being around in those circles, I just saw an article today talking about Yung Berg, missed a court date in Miami. And he might get locked up off some marijuana charges and I'm like, dang, I ain't even thought about little Yung Berg, but I knew him when he was a shorty. When he was at Kenwood doing a ton of shows. We took him out to LA, I used to mess with Infrared records and them, so we took him and Mooney out trying to get a record deal with Interscope. You feel me? So I was in those circles, you know what I mean? And that was my life, hip hop was my life, in the mid nineties to early two thousands. That was what I did. 

[00:10:40] Caullen: And correct me if I'm wrong, but that was kind of the intermediary between, you know, some of the streets and that kind of life and organizing for you, right? Those, the streets then you kinda got into hip hop and then kind of that whole scene. And then that kind of transitioned into organizing or organizing people.

[00:10:58] Kofi: Yeah. I mean, organizing comes in different forms and I did it formally through the non-for-profits that I worked for. So we're organizing around issues around food deserts, how do we get food to people? People that we're dealing with, gang violence, how to- what's the alternatives than getting the police involved? How can we, you know, before it was called restorative justice, we were doing restorative justice before it was a thing, right? Buzzword. So all those experiences lended itself to me, being in a juvenile detention center, being out in the street, being in the hip hop community, leveraging all those relationships, building all those networks. And that just kind of spun my wheels and really developed my activism and my organizing sort of approach to things.

[00:11:51] Caullen: Right. I think people forget that activism and organizing and as much as it has been, like you said, so much of a buzzword now it's like, how much of it is so interpersonal and I feel like from the outside and looking at your life into my experiences that I've had is like, you can have all these pockets of these different people in circles that you mess with and interact with throughout your life. It's like those personal one-on-one interactions matter so much. And as far as- and I didn't even organizing that person specifically, but just like, learning how to talk to people is what it boils down to. It was interesting. 

I don't want to get too much away from this, but I remember talking to you having a phone call twelve months ago. And obviously you've always been in Chicago, Chicago-area, right? And you know, you've always lived here. You've always known Chicago for its beauty and its, destruction and violence sized systematically, but looking at some history of Chicago, both in machine politics and inequality, but also resistance to those things, the violent structures and things that even you didn't really know and things you're still kind of learning. I just want to unpack that and just kind of- how you got into reading stuff on Chicago's political history and how that's kind of sparked for you or finding out things you didn't know.

[00:13:10] Kofi: Yeah. So I'm, I'm a backtrack, just- I want to talk about specifically my experience and then like juxtapose and compare that to what happened in the Bronx, in the seventies. Right. So for us, my crew Euphonics, we all came from different parts of the city and we all came from different gangs. So, you know, some of us from, with GDS, Stone's, Vice Lords, and we were able to come together under hip hop, under the umbrella hip hop, and under the umbrella of trying to move forward and do something positive. And that kind of pulled us away from the streets. We didn't know that, in the seventies, when the Bronx was getting set up, sent up with a hundred different gangs, they were dealing with poverty and, you just watched The Get Down, right? It gives you a little glimpse, but the reality is it was like the murder rate was outrageous in both the seventies in the Bronx and then in the era I grew up in the nineties in Chicago. You had the highest murder rate. So people were really getting at each other and it was organized. You feel me? You had the projects, you had, all that, right. 

I just wanted to bring that into context because before I got to reading about what Fred Hampton did before I got to reading about the history of the Vice Lords and the history of the Blackstones and the history of the Gangster Disciples. Before I learned about any of that, I didn't realize, we were living history, we were experiencing it, we were replicating what generations did 20, 30 years before us, you know what I mean? So to me, that's just kind of always interesting that one, we get detached from history, but at the same time we find ourselves sort of recreating it. Just cause you know, all of the conditions we're dealing with. 

So I got to reading. I first got politicized by reading Stokely Carmichael's Ready For Revolution. I was reading Malcolm X's autobiography, sort of simultaneously. I came across Che Guevara and read all of his- his autobiography and then Guerrilla Warfare and just all the stuff that came from that. So I got politicized from reading. That's always been my vehicle to better understand the world and contextualize why things are the way they are and understand the history of that. So when I'm reading about like the Vice Lords- nobody tells us this stuff, they need to be teaching this in CPS- that they from 1964 basically, but really 67 to 69 crime dropped over 60%. When they started organizing, they had over 10,000 Vice Lords that they organized and they decided they wanted to transform their community. They ended up not only stopping the violence, but they started advocating that the community get resources. They sat down with Sears and Roebuck, YMCA, and all these people that had political power and money and said, y'all need to bring some of that this way. And that's what they did. They opened up an ice cream parlor. They opened up a, they already had their pool hall, but they opened up a clothing store. They had a housing rights group. They would go and stop people from getting evicted from their homes and help pay people's rents. I mean, this stuff we don't hear about. And this was separate from what the Panthers were doing, they were working with the Panthers to a degree, but this was them finding out their own self-determination.

So when Dr. King came and started talking to them in 65 and 66 they were already kind of politicized. So that just pushed them even further, and they really transformed their community. And what's powerful was that both Daley and Nixon, at the time, declared a war on gangs and essentially a war on poor people. So you saw a shift on how the Chicago police department started going after not only black gangs, but Latino gangs too, and started targeting them. And it really shifted the nature of how people operated in the community. And this is also around, simultaneously, in the seventies when we see the influx of drugs coming in, but the state's attorney at the time Edward Hanrahan both went after Bobby Gore, one of the leaders of the Vice Lords while simultaneously cooperating with COINTELPRO and FBI to murder Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. So this was not coincidence. They went after Jeff Ford, they went off the, you know, all the leadership, you know, and we have to know this history that young, black people, young brown people were organizing and they were transforming their community, cause nobody else was doing it for them. Nobody. And yeah, they were fighting and they were doing their thing, but they grew out of it in their twenties and saying, we see these 13, 12 year old, 11 year olds coming up behind us, we want something different for them.

[00:18:31] Caullen: Man, twenties was the old heads, you know what I mean?

[00:18:33] Kofi: Exactly Pep. Bobby Gore, all of them, they said, we kicked this off from being locked up, but we gonna change things. And the same thing on the south side, in Woodlawn with Jeff Ford, you saw Bishop Brasier, try to get resources for them. And they, you know, at the time before Nixon got in office, what's his name? Johnson, 

[00:19:05] Caullen: Lyndon, B Johnson? LBJ? 

[00:19:06] Kofi: Was it LBJ? 

[00:19:07] Caullen: Are you talking about-

[00:19:09] Kofi: It was LBJ. So he had this whole war on poverty, getting money out to the community-

[00:19:16] Caullen: he read some book, right? And then he was like, "oh man, poor people are suffering"

[00:19:20] David: "Poor people are a thing!"

[00:19:21] Caullen: In a really privileged point of view. Like, "oh, this is happening. I didn't know about this", you know, right? But at the same time he was like, "okay, what do we do?"

[00:19:30] Kofi: Yeah, exactly. So all that money was supposed to be coming to the hood. Daley's punk ass was siphoning that money and not making sure that it did really get to the west side or the south side. 

[00:19:41] Caullen: Daley being the mayor of Chicago at the time.


[00:19:44] Kofi: E

Mayor Daley, Sr. And despite all that, the Lords, the GDs and the Stones basically tried to organize their community and transform their communities. And they actually came together. They would call LSD Laura Stone Disciples. And unfortunately we had Jesse Jackson had taken a lot of credit for Operation Bread Basket, and all that. But the reality is, and you can talk to Amina about it, is that it was Jeff and all them, they really put in that work that got people 20,000 jobs. You got money coming to the community, and they had to sabotage that. 

[00:20:21] Caullen: You mean Matthew's right? 

[00:20:22] Kofi: Yeah. Yeah. So we have to ask about why when we were being self-determined and changing the conditions in our community, despite dealing with the poverty, the concentrated poverty and the oppression, why wouldn't we be supported if it was really about, you know, improving our community and transforming our community, why would they sabotage all the progress we were making. Maybe cause we're not supposed to. Maybe, we're supposed to just be passive, living in Hell. 

[00:20:54] Caullen: And be thankful for the breadcrumbs that we make in here.

[00:20:58] Kofi: Yeah, exactly. So we gotta question that. And history lets us do that. 

[00:21:03] Caullen: Yeah. I feel like there's thousands of ways you can navigate from here. 

[00:21:06] David: That was what I was gonna say. I was like, man, you know what, after this is done, we should probably sit back, just relax.

Let's just talk, bro. Let's just talk. Cause it's crazy. So it's interesting how much you learn. Cause for example, I'm from the west side of Chicago, but my community or my background isn't really oriented in Chicago. Cause my parents were immigrants, we weren't, they were just- we're just doing their own thing. 

Their community was not of any importance and they didn't educate or they- not that they didn't educate, but they didn't put that importance to anyone in my surroundings. It was just us. It was like, you know and so leaving that as I've talked before on past episodes, there's this moment, like you had, where we kind of realized and recognized, this is what is happening, how do I engage? How do I proceed? I've read- not all of it- I haven't finished the autobiography of Malcolm X. And I've read a couple things mainly because Caullen just has them on our shelves and it'd be like scrolling- I'm like, what's this? And it's interesting. The manner in which we educate ourselves and the manner in which, you know, it's important to know, and everything you just said, I had some knowledge simply because I've talked to people like yourself and gone mainly that, but it's important for all of us to recognize the importance of our history and the important role that it has played. And it continues to play today, you know? And so this episode is releasing anything we can take in on this route in February, you know, it's black history month and you know- how do you feel about black history month? Do you have any sort of feels? Cause I know Caullen does, I just wanna hear yours first 

[00:23:04] Kofi: it was for practical reasons that Carter G. Woodson made that week, to educate students because, we are colonized people, right? We are on every level we're attacked by white supremacy. And one thing that you want to- of the oppressor- is to suppress history, suppress your identity and to control the narrative about who you are, your heritage and all of that good stuff, right? So it was a very practical, pragmatic thing, but anytim anything gets institutionalized in a very colonized way, and you don't control that narrative it becomes problematic and watered down, and, we get the safe, edited version of our history and identity. And we don't talk about rebellions and revolutionaries, we're not talking about, the Stonewall rebellion and Nat Turner and Harriet Tubman shooting people, fighting for dear life for liberation. Right. We're not talking about Marcus Garvey and all these different people, Ida B Wells here in Chicago, Gwenyth, it's just like, so for that, for me I'm kind of with my homie Diallo Kenyatta that actually celebrates, he calls it white history month, during February, and he- 

[00:24:43] David: white history month in February?

[00:24:44] Kofi: Yeah. And like-

[00:24:46] Caullen: I'm listening... [laughter]

[00:24:50] Kofi: and he gives you all this information on abolitionists like John Brown. That they were fighting back against white supremacy, the radical Republicans, but then he also gives you people that did some horrible fucked up shit. So he gives you both sides, but he's like, "we don't learn about these white people." We don't learn about white people that were either radical and fighting on the on the side of righteousness and justice, nor do we hear about the horrendous people that have done terrible things, or we get the sanitized version of Andrew Jackson or whoever.

[00:25:32] Caullen: Yeah- Andrew Jackson of all people. "Natives go, go, go, go, go, go over there."

-white history. Like that kind of thing. I never heard about that. That's kinda dope, but it's just like, when you were talking about their grandparents, like white folks talking about their grandparents, or their family members, like, "oh, they're from a different time, they're old" or whatever. I'm like- there were freedom riders back then riding with black folks for black liberation. There were the John Brown's, there were white folks fighting for black liberation essentially, and for like other- dismantling ther systems of oppression. So it's like, "why wasn't your grandma that person? I get it- like context and all that, but I'm like, that's- I don't care. Like, talk to your racist grandma, I don't care if she's 78, 80, I don't- talk to her- she can change! That's where my mind always goes to- 

Speaking of the sanitized history. It's- and the co-opt of Don violence is like, January and as well as February, but also about Martin Luther King, right? And then for good reasons. But you know, his legacy is so sanitized and so diluted, you're right to be like- yeah, everyone's equal, and I'm not under the law, which isn't true. And he's nonviolent, so don't do these things. Right? And it's like an issue. the thing I brought up in SoapBox Editorial, was black lives matter stops a highway or closes traffic, or mobs on Michigan Avenue during Black Friday- "Martin Luther King wouldn't do that." And it's like- not only would he, he did all the time. And it's just like a blatant lies and co-opting his legacy in a way that worked for all politicians really. It's, violent, really. When you get to the meat of it. 

But I think one thing I've seen in the past several years is that the pushback against that false narrative is so strong and that kind of #reclaimingmlk is such a prominent thing, which I've seen show up from a lot of different groups and stuff, who- they recognize it. There's mattress sales on Martin Luther King Day, right, and it's like, what is going on? A man who was fiercely against capitalism, militarism, and all these other systems of oppression, you're using those same systems of oppressions and using his legacy to sell mattresses, quite literally. So it always kind of, it's funny, but also just, how is this- so I think, like you said, knowing your history, knowing not even your history- but just the history of this nation of black and brown folks and marginalized folks. It is so important in understanding the soul of this nation, how we can kind of reclaim that, right. It's not all about all these bad things happening, but it's like, what have our elders done in previous years, previous decades, previous centuries, how can we use that same framework or that same practical organized strategies to push forward for the future. 

[00:28:18] Kofi: Absolutely. Yeah, one thing for me, especially just talking about King, I was at DuSable Museum on King Day on the 15th, and I talked about- because this is the new thing, right- let's talk about the civil rights movement, and compare that to the movement for black lives. And is it the new civil rights movement? And it's getting romanticized already. 

[00:28:40] Caullen: Sure. It's like, you know we're not done yet

[00:28:42] Kofi: but one thing that I like to highlight is, again, all the marginalized people that got pushed to the back, right? So Barry Bayard Rustin, queer black man, he's the one that organized the March on Washington, doesn't get credit for that. We hear about the, I Have a Dream Speech, but we don't realize that the March on Washington was about economic justice. You know what I mean? Ella Baker organized Southern Christian Leadership- SCLC, organized SNCC- Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Diane Nash from Chicago, did so much phenomenal work of organizing in Alabama and here in Chicago around school segregation.

So these are all our unsung heroines that really put in the work and King kinda got to show up and take the credit for it. And that's the difference, kind of like what we're seeing now, you know, we're seeing trans women, but people who have traditionally been taken without a voice in this movement are now being censored nowhere near the amount that they should be, right? In fact, I shouldn't even be here speaking right now. You know what I mean, to that degree- I try not to take up too much space. But, you know, that's the reality of what was happening then. In addition to King being way more radical than we hear about. King came to Chicago because of the school segregation that was happening here, that was what originally brought-

[00:30:19] Caullen: Which is totally eradicated now, folks. We fixed it. 

[00:30:23] Kofi: We don't have the Willis wagons anymore, but we definitely have the segregation, right? So he came to fight against the Willis wagons 

[00:30:30] Caullen: and housing as well, right?

[00:30:32] Kofi: Well no- that was first, that ended up getting undermined because Daley went and met with LBJ and said, I need you to smooth this over, and LBJ did that. So then King and them had to come up with a new plan, and they met up with folks on the west side and said, what are your issues? What are you working on? Definitely housing. Cause you know, he went to the west side and was like, what is this? Where am I? You know, like, I feel like I'm in another country right now, you know?

So housing, economic justice, those became sort of the battle cries for the Chicago freedom movement that would get created from that. But King, we gotta also remember King lost here, like Chicago was so hard, he wasn't ready for it. So then that's when he went back down south to organize with the garbage workers to help them.

Yeah. So we definitely got to know the true history, but YouTube is our friend. Watch a debate between Bayard Rustin and Malcolm X it's powerful. You know what I mean? Like watch a debate

I mean, there's so many King speeches that we don't hear about where he goes in on capitalism and imperialism and his anti-war sentiments of Vietnam and, we just don't hear it, but luckily there are people out there that are uploading those videos and we just got to get into it.

[00:32:03] David: Yeah, find them. Currently, you've kind of changed your work, I guess you would say, to combat different things within the black community. What are you most recently doing right now? 

[00:32:21] Kofi: I'm really a cheerleader right now. I'm supporting a bunch of dope initiatives that are led by black women that are led by brown women. They're really doing the work. So on one end, I'm supporting organized communities against deportation. They're working with BYP 100 to basically get rid of the gang database, which is basically the excuse for Chicago police department and ICE agents to work together, to target immigrant communities and go after undocumented folk. So even though this is supposed to be a sanctuary city, the reality is the police and ICE agents are corroborating on targeting folks after they criminalize them. So if I labeled you as a gang banger, then I can target you. And then, oh, I just so happened to get your family too. And now I'm going after everybody. So, you know, they're fighting hard back against that. And they winning some battles, so much love to them. Supporting Assata's Daughters for the People's Artists Collective, they're working on the No Cop Academy, talking about the west side, how much hasn't changed, they don't have the community revitalization, community development, infrastructure, institution, the city and state and the business community- everybody's neglected the west side. Rahm proposes building a $95 million cop academy there. And it's like, we're supposed to jump for joy. Like, oh, this is going to bring jobs-

[00:33:55] Caullen: Yay more jobs, right. Train the police to be better. Not kill us at an astronomical rate. 

[00:34:01] David: I mean, that's actually like a question that I've had conversations with people about that. And they're like, what do you mean? What do you, what do you mean you're working with Soapbox and like, oh we're doing this project. Well, isn't that a good thing that they're getting more police there and- 

[00:34:15] Caullen: they're asking about the No Cop Academy video? 

[00:34:17] David: Yeah, not to go too far, but when I've had conversations with people about the work that we're trying to do and like, oh, No Cop Academy is this thing, we're working with these groups blah blah blah - oftentimes the question that I've gotten, if not from all of them is like, "but isn't, wouldn't it be safer? Like what's wrong with more police in there, it's not a good neighborhood, is it?" That sort of rhetoric is used, and it's kind of like, but do you know why? You're looking at something from one lens, you're not seeing the other side and like that's, can I blame them? I don't think I can. Cause there are people who would not put themselves in that place. Does that make sense? Like they won't allow themselves to experience the community run themselves, therefore not not allowing-

and then, and that's like, for example, my parents. My parents still to this day do not, they don't know anything about their community really, like policies. They don't fucking know. And that, that's not where their heads at. And so it's like, it really means now, having this sort of urgency kind of like you're like, "you should go out to vote." "But who do I vote for?" "Well, vote for this person?" "Why?" "Well, you know, this, this, this." "Okay. Cool." And then they go out and they vote, you know, makes them feel like they do something, but it's like you have a group of people unlike yourself who- kind of, you understand the situation, you have been put into a space where you, there's only momentum for you. Your community pushes you. Your peers have kind of led you to where you're at and you're doing amazing work. And lucky for us, we kind of caught you at the right time, cause you're kind of out in the world and we're sort of doing our thing out here. You know, which kind of brings us back to Chi-DNA and Drill 'n' Activism. And we're talking about music. We're talking about how it had an important impact on yourself, and as we talked with Charles, art and its role in activism without us being aware of it, it's important. And it's valuable. And you know, that ties along with our history and songs are stories, right?

You listen to music from the eighties, it's telling you something about a terror. You know, we oftentimes talk about NWA and how they're talking about their surroundings, their system, and how that was sort of reacted to. You go back then to, nineties hip hop, you're looking at New York and the way gang culture is romanticized.

But now you're getting more to this fear of everyone recognizing that we're all on the same boat and we're realizing that it's sinking. So if we don't do shit about it, no one's gonna win, and so then that's really the goal. And so a question for me that I have is, in your work, in the organizing that you've done and like right now you're, as you said, you're a cheerleader- what have you found to be the most productive or the most useful, either of your time, or of a certain, like a movement or like how, am I making any sense with that question? 

[00:37:28] Kofi: Yeah. I mean, a couple of things- I think what you kind of alluded to is really plugging people into the issues. Like, how do we, how do we activate people and how do we, you know, get people to understand not only the issues, but they have agency to do something about it and that we all play a role, right? We're in this fishbowl we're interconnected, you know, what happens to me somehow still affects you. So how do we build up that empathy? How do we build up you know, that awareness. So I think that's the difficult task. I work with students and getting students to connect the dots, to see how our policy or a law impacts them. You know, they're intelligent. They understand that. But to see how this macro stuff impacts your day-to-day life can be difficult to unpack, you know?

[00:38:22] David: Absolutely, absolutely. Traumatizing even.

But I think music is that sort of- and just art in general, is such an effective outlet and tool to really get that, you know, to the masses, you know, you put it in the song or you put it in an art piece, you put it in a medium, that's, you know, that the people can consume 

[00:38:49] Caullen: and digest.

[00:38:50] Kofi: I think that that is like one of your most effective tools, you know what I mean? I think, and then, you know, we're living in an interesting time where you're seeing activism influence art. So, you know, Chance has really been activated and impacted, I think it's by people like Malcolm, London, and other people, but it's also just him being on social media and him being in tune on what's happening and saying, I want to get involved. He, you know, he has a daughter he's passionate about Chicago public schools. So he's like, how do I get involved with that? He sees the injustice happening with police violence and he's low key helped out on that kind of stuff. You know what I mean? So, you know, we have to like examine these relationships of how people are getting information, how they're unpacking them and then really controlling these narratives. And I think those are important means that gives us the ability to effectively organize people and get them in tune with what's going on. It boils down to that communication. Anytime I'm working with young people, you know, I value their language. I'm like, don't change how you talking. I want you to understand these new words if I'm bringing in a lexicon of social justice vocabulary, but at the same time though, I want you to speak how you speak. I don't want you to change, you know, cause then, you know what I mean? That's what Fred Hampton was so good at. You know what I mean? Like Fred Hampton was a orator. He was an excellent communicator because he can he speak to you in the street, same thing with Jeff Ford and all of them. They could speak to you on the streets. They can speak to you in other ways, too. And we got to teach our young people to value their culture, their language, and just really unpack the issues. And that's what I love with what you all are doing with Chi-DNA, because it's bridging that gap that I, you know, I think needs to happen. We need to have these cross conversations on how does the streets impact the music and how the music impacts the street? What's the responsibility around that and what can we do to, to get through to people, you know, without putting this value judgment on it? You know, I can't put down any person talking to them on their experience. If all you know is the street, then who am I to tell you not to talk about your experience? If I want to feel responsible, I need to introduce you to some new experiences or new information and challenge you to then talk about these issues and also have to recognize the industry that's going to exploit you, you know, an industry, that's going to profit off of your traumatic experiences and 

[00:41:29] Caullen: your pain. 

[00:41:30] Kofi: Yeah exactly, so I guess, I don't know if that answers your question, but that's kinda like how I see it in my approach and I encourage artists and activists and people to blur those lines because, you know, we got to have both on the same side cause we at war. It's an invisible war, but now it's become less invisible and people are seeing it. It's a war against us. It's a genocide. And you know, however we activate people, whether they send it up to county or, shutting down prisons, we gotta get all our people activated. Plain and simple.

[00:42:08] Caullen: I think, especially like you said, it's a war and it's been a war, but I feel like now for a lot of reasons, it's more salient now, especially to folks who weren't previously implicated. And so I'm kind of stealing language from Ruby Pinto and Charles Preston, but it's like- with art, how do we get those newly politicized, newly radicalized folks, how do we get them in the entryway? With art- it kind of brings them into the fold to kind of say, "Hey, you've been doing this for awhile, we're glad you're woke now, but, here's what we're doing." Right? And so how do we use art in all its- and arts are super nuanced and broad. So how do you use art and film, paintings, fashion, whatever- poetry, spoken, word, whatever. How do we use, however the entry point is for you and what your skills, what your interests are, how do we use that and get you there, and then kind of bring you into the fold as far as how to move forward for peace and equity and justice and love?

[00:43:06] Kofi: Yeah, definitely. 

[00:43:08] David: And so, this has been awesome being able to talk to you. I wish we could just keep talking for hours. I'm sure somebody will listen. Like the other day we had a- who we actually jumped on their podcast it's: Brown Girl Talks- 

[00:43:25] Caullen: real talk. Shoutout to Melanie Gomez.

[00:43:27] David: Shout out. We were having conversation, and they're just like, "yeah- you know, we kind of just blew through all, like all seven episodes you had", and I'm like, that's like seven hours of stuff. 

[00:43:35] Caullen: [Laughter] I think I'm awesome- I didn't think anyone else'd think the same thing.

[00:43:38] David: It's really, it's interesting, you know, you were talking about the importance of understanding our history, but also the manner in which we are now able to digest information is incredible. And you gave a shout out to YouTube, being able to, you know, we're finding these old speeches, you know, and interviews and things that we've seen, that we wouldn't have seen any other ways.

[00:44:01] Caullen: So we've been talking a lot about resistance, whether in corporate tiered gangs Latino or black gangs, or just politicized street organizations really- in the sixties and seventies kind of against machine politics and the Daley regime. Whenever there's an office in the state, you're talking about a lot about Rahm now and the different reasons against Rahm and the state now, but I'm looking at the eighties under- federally, under Reagan, right- it was problematic for a lot of reasons, but also locally under Harold Washington. And really this, the interruption Harold Washington had with machine politics under the Daley regimes, both before and after his reign. So talk to me about the importance or the implications of a Harold Washington in the eighties, or at a time he was mayor and how he came to power in the first place.

[00:44:55] Kofi: Yeah. And just to let you know I have two sources, firsthand information from Josie Childs who organized with Harold and just to sit back and hear this elder's stories. And, you know, we gotta get that firsthand narrative from folks. The second, my second source is, it's not an autobiography, but it's a biography called Fire on the Prairie. That really goes into depth about Harold Washington. And I think if you all are interested in Chicago history, that's a must read. But the thing I love about Harold was we got to see him on both side of the coin. So he actually was embraced by the Daley machine politics because his father was an attorney and kind of came into power. So, you know, he was a Congressman in the seventies and they actually- so I was like, where do I start with the history, right? I want to get it all out. But long story short, they actually use Harold to sabotage police accountability, which is crazy. They use Harold to undermine the black patrol men that were advocating and fighting against police brutality. Go figure. 

[00:46:15] Caullen: I did not know that.

[00:46:16] Kofi: Black police officers came together, they had their union, they had an organization, and they were taking the city, they were trying to push for basically, civilian oversight, same thing we're fighting for now, go figure. Coincidence. And actually to go back to King, one of the things that Kings was demanding from the Daley regime was a civilian oversight. So it's just interesting, like all of this. So what they did is they used Herald to actually- as a token. So they came up with this- I forgot the name of it, but it was like a bootleg police accountability council essentially. And they had Harold on it as a token. And it was basically the police investigating the police. So we know nothing got accomplished. Nobody got held accountable. 

[00:47:03] Caullen: I feel like I've seen this story before. I just, ah, wait where I don't remember. 

[00:47:08] Kofi: I know, right. But Harold would later talk about that as one of his biggest regrets. He did it for political reasons cause he got political capital for doing that, but he understood how terrible it was and he regretted that- so that's important that we know that the history. So Harold was actually comfortable as a congressperson and was very hesitant about becoming mayor. So there was a brother that Charles actually reminds me of- he's like a young Lou Palmer, but Lou Palmer was a black nationalist. Had his own newspaper was all about self-determination and him and some other people, Harold was like, "look, you registered 50,000 voters, I'll go ahead and run." Cause Harold actually ran, I think in like 79 and loss, but decided to run again for 83. So they said, okay. They took up the challenge and got like 80,000 plus registered voters. And it's just the timing of everything was perfect. Nobody was feeling Daley Jr., Jane Byrne completely was messing up. Like she got in office on the backs of black people, but then she gave CHA housing oversight over to majority white people. And she completely F'd over black and Latino communities. So Harold just came in at the perfect time when people were just fed up with all of that. And the Latino community got behind him and it was a wrap. He barely had any white votes, it was predominantly black and brown people that got him into office. And while he was there he had fights, we'll call it the council wars because you had Ed Burke, who's still in office. And if you see a thing that just came out about him and Kim Fox was just crazy, about him putting money in her campaign and her looking out for him on some tax breaks, but that's a whole other story. Ed Burke has been in power since then. Him and Vrdolyak had what was called the 21 or something like that. They either had- I know they had the majority- no they had 29 Alderpeople. Harold only had 21. So they had the power in city council, but he had the mayoral power to veto them. So they were literally at war about resources going to the black-

[00:49:37] Caullen: Beirut by the lake- is that what they called it? Council wars, all that. 

[00:49:42] Kofi: Yeah. Harold did some phenomenal things for black and brown communities, but he sacrificed a lot. I mean, he literally put his life on the line. He wasn't sleeping. He was smoking and drinking more, he was eating horribly, and self care, self care. And Harold was a womanizer too. And that was another problematic thing about him. But despite all of that, he did his best as- in that position to politically move things. And you know, it's unfortunate cause he would have won again at 87. Had he not, you know, died, you know what I mean? And that was, Daley's, Junior's entry into politics. Well into, you know, he's already the state's attorney and everything, but that was his kind of entry into it. So people really need to educate themselves about Harold Washington's legacy, because it's not just about him. It's about, he brought together your most radical black people, your middle-class and moderate and then good old, messy Jesse trying to sabotage him and doing messy Jesse stuffs. 

[00:50:50] Caullen: [Laughter] I haven't heard that before. And I'm surprised I haven't. 

[00:50:54] Kofi: Oh, messy Jesse was horrible. He, you know, he was mad. He wanted to be the first- but that's what inspired him to run for president in 84.

[00:51:05] David: I actually know who you're talking about. Like, oh, that makes complete sense. No, but it's like, you were just saying, how you didn't- you're hearing Kofi over here just talking- you're like, "I didn't know that", I'm like, "man, I didn't know, half the shit this motherfucker's saying right now", but it's like, it's important and this is how- this is why we do this. We were able to sit down in a room and have communication and you have knowledge in your brain due to your age, due to your connections, due to your networks and what you've been exposed tom and that's what we look for. And that's the type of conversation that we want, because then we're able then to reach it to a crowd and be like, "Hey, like here's this information about Chicago that you might not know. Take a moment, take a listen." And like, maybe this is what ignites them, you know what I'm saying? Art comes in multiple forms and it doesn't necessarily have to be just one form. And you know, this in itself is a piece and we are all working to collaborate to it, and you're adding your strokes to it. You know? It's like, damn, that shit was happening? Like what? Harold Washington- who, what? Google- boom, YouTube, where are you at? That's how it works, but it's important. And then understanding our history, understanding like where things come from and how things affect other things. Whether you are doing anything to it or not, shit is happening. If you're going to sit there and take it and they're going to move without you, and that's a conversation that we've kind of had pro-Trump, you know, or pre-Trump, right.

[00:52:31] Caullen: Two different things. [Laughter]

[00:52:35] David: but pretty sure. But like, you know, with Trumpito in office, you've had this sort of movement and you have this sort of energy from people who weren't really worrying about shit before, but now they see- you know, just when we're recording now, it's like the government just shut down on his one year anniversary and the guy's pissed off because he's not able to go to his one year anniversary party, you know? And that's who we have. And so, we're at a very crucial point. And we say this often in our society where, it's either make or break, it's fight or flight. And what we're seeing with all these people sort of becoming mobilized and trying to educate themselves. I think that's an important thing. It's like, what can I do? And so that's kind of where I was going to go at, with you, is like, so I'm some shorty on the west side of Chicago, let's put him there- scratch your head, it's like I'm listening to this. I'm like, all right, this just happened, okay, No Cop Academy- like what can I do? Where can I help? Or how can I go, how can I be effective? What would you say to that guy- shorty? 

[00:53:44] Kofi: I mean, I think we just need to know about groups that are working with shorties like that. It's an organization called the Voice Project out working with high school students on the west side, around restorative justice. They're working on intercommunal violence, how do we stop some of these interpersonal beefs? How do we get these shorties some jobs so they, ain't got to go hustle on the block. These real things are happening. And with the No Cop Academy saying like, look, we use that 95 million to do afterschool programs that have mental healthcare, to open up schools, et cetera. Why are we wasting it on more incarceration? It's a place called- a place- it's a website called Million Dollar Blocks that breaks down between 2005 and 2009, $1.4 billion went towards incarcerating people. It was like- for Austin had the highest number, it was like $241 million went towards locking people up. In Lawndale was like 219 million. You look, it had the same numbers, like 100 million for Inglewood, Roseland, et cetera, right? 


[00:54:50] Caullen: are all neighborhoods in Chicago.

[00:54:51] Kofi: Yeah. And in 2015, $1.4 billion went towards the department of corrections. You know what I mean? The Chicago police department has $1.4 billion annually going towards police 

[00:55:04] Caullen: 4 million a day folks.

[00:55:05] Kofi: Yeah, exactly. And a 100 million spent on civil cases, for them killing people, and abusing people. $65 million in overtime for them making false arrests and running up on a shorty and- suspect. Yeah. Just to get that money, you feel me? So we know what it is, man. We, we know what the problem is. We know what are we got to do. And it's just about educating shorty. Like, shorty you not in this alone, you know what I mean? Like we, we got your back and you know, but we can't come with like real resources that we can't come with, you know, opportunity. We can't come nothing but talking out the side of our necks, then we not going to get through to people. You know what I mean? But at the same time we can't underestimate people, cause shorty and them in tune, they pay attention, they understand what's going on. They just got to know, like I tell- I got shorties tell me all the time, "Hey G, just-" on the phone with them, "-tell me when I need to show up." You know, and they serious. They ready to pop it off with whoever, whenever. But I'm like, naw shorty, we ain't at that part of the revolution yet.

[00:56:19] Caullen: [laughter] Slow down. I'm glad you ready, I'm glad you're there, but just give us a sec.

[00:56:24] Kofi: But I mean, I had that same sentiment, so I understand that. But reality is we can't underestimate our young people. Our young people are intelligent. You know, our young girls, our young men, our gender nonconforming folks. And, you know, all our people are smart and we just got to make space for them in the movement and be able to like follow their lead. You know what I mean? Real talk. 

[00:56:53] David: Yeah. No, it's great. And to me it's always interesting because we've had a couple of people, you know, sitting in, and, you ask, I've kind of asked that question a few times and the responses are different, but kind of the same. And so it's interesting that we're hearing this sort of- the spectrum of voice, but it's really like understanding the problem, looking at the issue and working to the solution. And that's what we always want to do. 

You know, as always shout out to the people and organizations out there that are doing all the work, because as we understand this fight, hasn't, didn't just start with Trumpito. It didn't start with Bush. It didn't start with- Obama. I mean, Obama might've started something, but like- it's touched everybody, nobody's safe. But it's been happening and there's countless things out there for everyone to educate themselves and really find the reality to things. Let's understand, like this whole fake news sort of campaign that's kind of been spurring over the last year, but like this- "oh, that, that shit's not real." "This shit's fake" or "that, that's real." But you know, we have to look at things critically and examine and really understand for ourselves as individuals- take responsibility and be like, Hey, this is the information that I'm giving to- like, what am I going to do with it? You know? And as a shorty, like, okay, I'm listening, this is what I can do, like act upon that, push to it. And then once I do it, being able to grab your peers and kind of rope them in and be like, Hey man, like you understand what we're doing, you know, it's nothing or what you're doing or is this or that, and that will- but. There's one thing that we do want to close with, in particular, and that's kind of, you explaining the meaning of "ase". Did I say that correctly? Yeah. Okay. Just making sure, just making sure we say that correctly. 

[00:58:49] Kofi: As long as you didn't say ashy, we good. 

[00:58:52] David: Yeah. I'm usually pretty. Nah, but like, so and then there's- well, we'll talk a little bit about it, but like what does that mean, tell us a little bit. 

[00:59:02] Kofi: Yeah, so, I mean, you know, black people trying to get back in touch with their African roots and you know, a lot of us do the transatlantic slave trade came from west Africa. So, you know, from Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, you know, just all over different parts of west Africa. So one kind of tongue that tied at us and binds us together was Kiswahili, because that was the trading language that, you know, across the continent through the different countries of Africa you know- just to let people know Africa isn't a country. Some people get that confused. 

[00:59:40] Caullen: Nor is it a shithole.

[00:59:43] Kofi: But nah- it's made every other country rich. So I highly doubt it's a shithole. But so, about us reclaiming our tongue and our language, and whether it's Twi from Ghana or Yorubo or Igbo from Nigeria we use terms that really resonate with our identity and culture. So ase is just a simple form of like "I agree" or you know, "amen", from a Christian perspective. You say, ase after you've invoked your ancestors after you've done like a ritual ceremony, calling the names of your ancestors. But it can also be in a more informal way, to say that something was powerful- I want to uplift that. I want to snap my fingers. So, you know, somebody says something that really resonated with me, I would say ase to bring that energy into the space. 

[01:00:40] David: You know, the first time I heard that was Kumbaleaks, like actually heard that like- say that and the crowd responded, I was just like, oh, I'm supposed to say this. Yeah, it's like at first, like I didn't get it before this, I kind of find it, but it was like recognizing the importance of that moment. When thinking back at that event that they were having, cause they were just, you know, doing their thing. They were ending, closing the ceremony with that in the crowd and the response, it was just, like, I don't know, there's strength in the word, right? And that's, it's beautiful, and that's why we're talking, right? 

[01:01:20] Caullen: History matters. 

[01:01:22] Kofi: Love, respect. 

[01:01:25] Caullen: There's simple things. Amor. Respecto

[01:01:28] David: I actually like that they do it in Spanish.

But as always from us at Bourbon 'N BrownTown, we wanna thank our special guests for hanging out with us tonight. Sharing so much of the knowledge and the history that you have in that head of yours. We'll make sure we'll probably get you back here at some point. Thank you for hanging out with us.

Kofi: My pleasure. Hey, it was dope. 

David: As always, from Bourbon 'N BrownTown, stay black, stay brown, stay queer, 

[01:01:59] Caullen: Stay tuned, stay turnt. 

[01:02:02] David: We out here. SoapBox PO, everything. See you around. 


Outro song Chi City by Common. 

[01:40:13] David: Bourbon 'n BrownTown is engineered by Genta Tamashiro. For more credits, information on episode guests, related media and topics check out the episode notes. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram at Bourbon 'n BrownTown, Twitter @BourbonnBrwnTwn. Or visit 

[01:40:28] Caullen: For any and all things Soapbox Productions and Organizing, follow us @soapboxpo on all social media and visit