Thank You Kevin
(Comic from Kevin Weston)
About a month ago, writer, thinker, visionary, pioneer (drop in whatever superlative you wish here) Kevin Weston released a comic strip. It was photos of him walking in a neighborhood, most likely Oakland, with captions from history’s great leaders floating next to him, all laid out in the box form of comic books.
For those who know Kevin, that he would combine revolutionary quotes with the childhood vehicle of comic books layered on top of simple images of a man walking the street to produce something profound, makes perfect sense. He was always doing stuff like that – a complete abandonment of convention, rules, and expectations, in order to allow the freedom of a purer truth to service. And just like this comic, he always made it look easy. Kevin is to media what Bruce Lee is to martial arts.
In the comic, the quotes he chose are iconic – transcendent of time, context, or even politics. They read:
“If you haven’t confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence, you have won before you have started.” – Marcus Garvey
“Freedom is the road seldom traveled by the multitude.” – Frederick Douglas
“It does not take many words to tell the truth.” – Sitting Bull
Looking at the comic, what is striking is that these quotes are actual articulations of Kevin’s way, his walk.
Usually when people cite famous sayings, they are aspirational, hopes of what someone can possibly become, versus what they are here in the comic, words describing a path he already figured out and exampled everyday. There is usually a distance between the admired quote and the actual lived experience, but not with Kevin. For those of us who were guided by Kevin as mentor, editor, friend, life guide – one has learned these lessons without having ever read these historical figures. Ask any one who has spent time with him, and they will be able to give you countless anecdotes of Kevin living those messages.
That’s because Kevin lived a life that Garvey, Douglas, and Sitting Bull hold up as the ultimate of life instructions. That he was a truth-teller and freedom fighter with confidence to spare, seems about right.
And while history may remember the larger broad strokes of how Kevin did this – as a media-maker, an organizer, and leader -- he also did it in the most subtle of ways, the moments that you don’t know will impact you perhaps until years later.
I remember when De-Bug was just starting out – and we had no idea what media was about, only a desire to be heard. We did what seemed rational. We got a workshop on “journalism.” So there we are, about five of us at the old Pacific News Service building on a Sunday afternoon, where we had corralled some poor editor to explain to us what a “lead” is, and go through that upside down pyramid thing people who went through journalism school always talk about. Kevin walks by and casually asks us what we are doing. We tell him we are learning how to be journalists. Twisting his hair, slight grin on his face, he says, “Journalists? I don’t want to be a journalist. I want to be a writer. Don’t you?” And walked on.
We were confused of course. We figured he writes articles for newspapers, so isn’t he a journalist? But he knew what he was instigating inside of us. He was challenging us to be larger, more impactful thinkers and actors than what we originally imagined for ourselves. He wanted to us to walk a “road seldom traveled,” to be confident in ourselves enough where we didn’t “workshop” our way through life, or our understanding of our own truth.
When we printed our very first De-Bug magazine, we had a celebration party in downtown San Jose. Kevin came down with Sandy and a few other Pacific News Service staff. We had a DJ, about 100 people, and an empty dance floor. A couple of the youngsters, Shana’s cousin and her friends who were flat out bored, really just wanted to dance, but were shy. Kevin noticed they wanted to get out there, and encouraged them to start the party. He eventually got them to the dance floor, the youth giggling all the way, and succumbing to the music and Kevin’s charm, they forgot their fears and started to dance – mirroring Kevin’s moves, and trying to see if he could do theirs. They were all laughing, smiling, and the whole room was finally loosening up. When I made eye contact with Kevin he mouthed, “That’s three!” while holding up the number. He cast out his confidence like a protective blanket to those youth, knowing what would occur with the first move, and it gave license for everyone at the party to finally have a good time. It started with three, and quickly became the whole room – a fire lit by Kevin. He moved in the world like that, seeming to know the end of the story when the rest of us were on the first chapter.
The last conversation I had with Kevin was about barbeque. Or rather, history, economics, racial politics and sociological studies – through barbeque. He and Jean were comparing BBQ spots in Oakland and Kevin starting talking about his Garvey economics approach to selecting BBQ spots, but also the unique challenges of that discipline. He had us all cracking up, talking about how a real BBQ joint must smell like smoke, and if not, the integrity of the spot must be in question. At the same time, he had us questioning how our racial politics play out in the modern day economic complexities of our time. Who knew just eating a plate of ribs could be that deep? Kevin did. He was leading an editorial meeting around his bed without us knowing it.
For me, when I look at that set of quotes in the comic, the one that stays with me the most is probably the one from Sitting Bull. Kevin’s daughter Lelah is just a couple months younger than my son. As new fathers, we got the same routine question, “So what’s it like?” I always found it to be an utterly unanswerable question. When asked, I would either give a generic response, telling myself there are no words, or launch into a lengthy, meandering, monologue that really lead to nowhere, and left the person who asked regretting they did so.
After seeing Kevin in the office for the first time after Lelah was born, I instinctively asked him the same question that always flustered me. I said, “So what’s it like being a father?” He smiled, looked away, clearly imagining her as he did, and said simply, “I’m in love.”
The clarity of his truth gave me words for my truth.
So let me say plainly and honestly: Thank you Kevin for everything.
Raj, I remember you when we did a Global Exchange Reality Tour in SV. It's been a long time! Nice tribute to Kevin. Perhaps I'll see you at the memorial Saturday. Keep up the good work!
Good work Raj! I wish I could bring myself to write something for him. I just can't...
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