JAI: Some are taking action by marching and protesting the verdict, boycotting the state of Florida, or pushing for Civil Rights charges. What do you make of those solutions?
BILL: My personal feeling is that the Trayvon Martin case is an indication of something that has to be addressed, but if we focus on Trayvon Martin only and we do not focus on the hundreds of children that are being killed daily in our communities, then we are not addressing the urgency of the matter at hand. We have to deal with the fact that we are imploding culturally. Lack of fathers in the home, violence, guns, drugs. Those kinds of things in our community can only be ignored for so long before they devour us.
A solution is not just a thought. It's a process that has to deal with the multiple layers of the problem. Not only Icon Mann, but everybody has to get involved to solve these issues. It's like we're on a beach and a tidal wave is coming. There are some people who will say, "Well, a tidal wave is coming. How much are those Jordans?" But see, the tidal wave does not care. The tidal wave is coming. The boogie man does not care whether or not you believe in him. He will eat you.
JAI: How should others get involved or support the work that you're doing?
OMARI: What would be awesome is if folks went and created out of their heart, out of their pain, out of their spirit, their own tidal wave of sorts. It's like a tidal wave when Jay-Z says, "I don't wear jerseys/I'm 30 plus/Give me a crisp pair of jeans and a button up." He said this and jerseys were almost obsolete within a week. No grown ass men were wearing jerseys with their pants down below their a-. Sales plummeted because of a rapper, who cannot avoid being a leader. When he says, "I'm wearing a button up shirt, I'm looking like a man," a million teenagers said, "I don't know, but I guess I should. Jay-Z said it." So we hope that we can have a Jay-Z moment as a group.
At one point we were all knuckleheads so we're not being self-righteous and saying, "I've never been lost." I was a little black kid from Decatur, Bill's from New York. We were knuckleheads, but we figured it out and used the right tutelage and leadership, and we're still figuring it out. So I think the greatest support ever would be if folks caught this tidal wave and decided to create their own push in their own communities. There's so much selfishness among human beings, particularly when desperation increases. But this "crab in a barrel" mentality is old. We've got to get past it. So create your own groups. Be a 19-year-old kid who gets out of juvy and decides to go speak to kids who are 14 and 15 to help them avoid what he just fell victim to. That's the greatest support, is really learning from what we're doing to the point that you actually create some positive things on your own.
JAI: Since you mentioned Jay-Z, what are your thoughts on the exchange between him and Harry Belafonte? Essentially, Belafonte was calling for him and Beyonce to be more socially responsible, while Jay-Z responded with the idea that his "presence is charity."
OMARI: I don't disagree with Jay-Z because obviously just his presence and saying a couple of words can shift the paradigm of an entire generation. He's very self-aware and he can make that comment, and it's arguable that he's correct. But we have to be aware that people like Harry Belafonte have seen it all, and they don't call you out unless you're doing something important. The coach doesn't call out every player. The player that gets called out is one where the coach recognizes you have an ability that goes far beyond your own knowledge. So if Jay-Z sits down with him, my respect for Jay-Z will jump through the roof. Even that's being an activist - your decision to have the conversation. If there's two brothers that want to talk, just the attempt to do that is action because something good will come of it.
JAI: There's also a question of whether entertainers and artists are only responsible for raising issues with their art, or whether it's also their job to pose solutions. You've gotten directly involved in activism, but do you feel that all entertainers have that responsibility?
OMARI: I think there's a reason that there are Chiefs and there are Indians. Everybody has a different position and coming from the world of athletics and being raised around a bunch of men, I'm very comfortable with taking on whatever position there is. I think some of us do have the position of just making the audience aware, and then for others, maybe we were just born in this. I don't know how to make the world aware without then being in the fight. I don't condemn those that are simply trying to raise issues. But I'd rather die on this earth knowing that I did something to move it forward than to just be a yes man and someone who simply goes, "Hey, the fire's over there. Watch out."
Thanks to Bill Duke and Omari Hardwick for having the conversation.
Below, find their PSA, Little Black Boy Wonder: