It’s one week before Christmas, and as singer-activist Justin Michael Williams sinks deep into his meditation routine, an idea comes to mind: “28 days, 28 interviews with 28 young, Black creators and leaders who are making history today.”
“I’ve never interviewed anybody, ever,” Williams tells CASSIUS. “I’m an artist, you know? And I was like, ‘Why would I do this? Maybe this is for someone else.'” After fighting the calling for a week, “the floodgates opened.” By January 20, POWER28 was born.
Featuring leaders in social justice, LGBTQ rights, astrology and more, the POWER28 highlights young, Black creators and leaders making history today. “This list is different from your typical ‘POWER100’ lists,” says Williams. “We aim to feature creators who are making big waves in the Black movement through their art and work, but are not always at the forefront of mainstream media.”
Throughout #BlackHistoryMonth, the POWER28 has released an interview per day via Motivation for Black People, an inspirational podcast series also launched by Williams last year. Interviews include conversations with everyone from Moonlight‘s Tarell Alvin McCraney to Alicia Garza, with the importance of being self-reflexive and doing internal work shining as a major theme.
“Every single person who I interviewed, I asked them to give three tangible tips that people can implement into their lives right away when they finish listening to the podcast,” Williams adds. “Every single person answered that question.”
We chatted with Williams about the POWER28 project, what self-care looks like under the reign of Trump, and other endeavors he has planned for the coming months.
CASSIUS: What was the fuel to this fire? What made you feel like, “You know what? This is absolutely needed?”
J.W.: The idea came to me the week before Christmas, and by January 20 all the interviews were done. To answer your question very specifically, the reason I feel like it had to happen was [because], in the media and in the news and with everything going on in the world today, I feel like there’s so much about the destruction of the Black community and so much about the anger that’s happening in the world and the distress that’s happening in our community—which is very real; I don’t wanna discount it—but there’s also so many amazing things happening that are not in the news. And I think that when these people hear these interviews—the text messages and emails I’ve been getting, people are like, “Oh my god, this is changing my life. I didn’t even know this existed.” And that’s really why I wanted to do it.
C.: You have such an amazing roster of folks here. How did you go about picking who to feature? It all came together so quickly.
J.W.: I had my wish list. I had already been working the Motivation for Black People Instagram account and posting motivational talks that people had been doing, so I started researching people. My real qualification for somebody being on this list, it had absolutely nothing at all to do with their followers or their fame. At all. It was [about] “Who’s really doing the WORK?” Not just talking about the work, but doing the work. [Laughs] Once I made that call, it was actually pretty easy.
C.: You mentioned Motivation for Black People. Tell me about the podcast. How long has that been going? Is that also pretty new?
J.W.: Yeah! So that started right around Thanksgiving, actually. It was the last week of November, and it came from the same reason. I just was feeling like there‘s so much in the Black community, like I said before. I felt like there was no one talking about all the amazing things that were going on and there was no one talking about, “This is how we keep rising. This is how we come up. These are the actual tools, like the real tools that you can use to continue to make your life better and inspire your life so that we can get of these situations.”
Oprah talks about this kind of stuff all the time, and I love her, she’s like my idol, but she’s not specifically Black. And I think Black people, when it comes to talking about meditation mindfulness or healing or therapy, we have a different set of specific issues and problems and ways that we have to approach these things that are different from everybody else. When you’re talking about meditation with Black people, one of the first things that come up is “Oh, well I heard in church I’m not supposed to do that.” And that’s not something you hear everywhere else, so who’s talking about this stuff that’s specifically for us? That’s why I created the Motivation for Black People platform, to feature people who were doing amazing work and to help bring these teachings forward in a space that was really speaking to the heart of Black culture. POWER28 was kind of given birth from that.
C.: The interviews cover everything from the start of BLM to being your most authentic self and essentially “living your best life.” And as we previously touched upon, and as you also mentioned through a lot of the things that you’re saying now, one of the recurring themes is the idea of internal work self-awareness. How does one practice self-care in 2018 with all that’s presently happening?
J.W.: Mmm. This is so good. Once I sat down and once I completed all the interviews, I asked myself, “What was the recurring theme?” It was pretty obvious about halfway through. No matter who they were, what they were doing, the big piece was that we have to look inside of our own selves and heal the traumas and the oppression and wake the things that have been passed onto us for generations and generations, to break the patterns. And the only way we can break the patterns is to go inside of ourselves and stop looking outside. Ultimately, nothing is gonna shift if we don’t shift inside of our own selves, and this is where we source our power from.
For me, the self-work involves a few things: 1) Instead of always pointing the finger, to notice how we are continuing to hold up the systems of oppression that have been placed on us, because we play a role. When we continue to eat shitty food, we play a role in continuing to have our people be unhealthy and fall into the system and die. When we continue to be anti-gay because of old religious doctrines, we’re continuing to push some of our people away. When we continue to look at the “other,” somebody who we don’t understand, from a place of distance, it all does it. And the same thing with our own traumas growing up. Black people have dealt with so much. When I talk to my white friends, they have one thing; we have 20. And that one thing keeps them in therapy their whole lives. It’s like, “Oh yeah, my dad was an alcoholic, so was everybody else!” [Laughs] I just feel like the work that we have to do on our past and how that past is affecting us today is what’s gonna really unlock us for the feature. Using the mindfulness tools, using meditation, using all that stuff is really gonna make a difference.
C.: For anyone who may be feeling lost, where do you recommend they start that journey?
J.W.: Start with the healing work. I think people should definitely listen to Yolo Akili Robinson’s interview. Preston Smiles, Darnell Moore. And Koya Webb is a really good one as well. They’re all so amazing, it’s so hard just to pick a few. They very specifically spoke to healing and looking inside and understanding how the work that we’re doing on ourselves can help us move forward, and they gave us very specific tips on how to do that work. Yolo in particular really spoke to it. I think if people listen to that, that would be a great start. I feel honored to be able to bring these people’s voices forward.
C.: If nothing else, what do you want listeners to walk away with when they go to the site and listen to these interviews? What is the biggest reward you want them to gain?
J.W.: I just want people to know that Black people can do anything. Despite anything that we’ve been through, despite the world sometimes showing us the exact opposite, that we continue to overcome and to make our dreams come through. And I want people to know that this podcast series tells you how. One of the things that was important to me with every single interview is I feel like there’s so many motivational speeches and talks out there, but what happens with a lot of those talks is you listen to this inspiring speech, and you’re inspired to do something but nobody ever actually tells you what to do. Every single person who I interviewed, I asked them to give three tangible tips that people can implement into their lives right away when they finish listening to the podcast. We can accomplish our dreams; we just need to know the steps, and these experts that we’ve honored in the POWER28 give you their real steps that they took, and they’re incredible.
C.: So good. Let’s quickly talk other projects. Tell me about the “Stay Woke” medley that just dropped.
J.W.: The last year, since the election really, I’ve been really in conversation with my brothers and sisters in my community about how to use my voice and my platform for the culture and for the movement. I considered myself in the past as more of a passive activist. Like somebody would host a rally or march and I would go to the march. But I’ve never created something until this year with my music on my own, and so the “Stay Woke” medley is the first thing that I’ve ever created that’s unapologetically for the movement for Black History Month, unmistakably for the culture.
C.: Anything else you’d like to add?
J.W.: Link people to motivationforblackpeople.com. We are encouraging people to join the email list primarily because what we’re doing there is after the POWER28 is over, the podcast is gonna continue every week for the rest of the year. We’re actually recording a whole bunch of videos and really good content that’s gonna start going out to our email list, so for people who wanna stay motivated all year round, [they can] kind of join the global community. It’s crazy; we have thousands of people already in the first two weeks.
Also check out POWER28’s Get Your Life Right, a supplemental workbook to help folks implement these teachings into their everyday lives.