Kevin Powell

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Kevin Powell
Kevin Powell, 19 November 2015.jpg
Kevin Powell in 2015
Born (1966-04-24) April 24, 1966 (age 53)
United States
OccupationPolitical activist, writer, reality television personality
Jinah Parker (m. 2017)

Kevin Powell (born April 24, 1966) is an American political activist, poet, writer and entrepreneur. Powell appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in March 2009 for a show titled "Oprah Talks to Men Who've Beaten Women."[1] He has made three unsuccessful runs for the United States Congress in New York's 10th congressional district.[2][3]

Powell appeared in the first season of MTV's reality television series, The Real World: New York in 1992. He was the oldest member of The Real World cast. From 1992 to 1996, he was a senior writer for Vibe magazine.

Early life and career[edit]

Powell's hometown is Jersey City, New Jersey.[4] He was raised in a poor background by a hard-working single mother from the South.[5] In 1992, he was a cast member on The Real World: New York, the first season of the MTV reality television series in which a group of strangers live together for several months.[5] During the course of his stay in the house, Powell had a number of discussions with his housemates about stereotypes and race, some of which resulted in heated arguments.[6][7][8]


Powell has written for publications such as Esquire, Newsweek, The Washington Post, Essence, Rolling Stone, New York Amsterdam News, and Vibe, where he was a founding staff member and served as a senior writer. He interviewed and profiled General Colin Powell and Tupac Shakur. Most recently, he has been a Writing Fellow for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, as well as a Phelps Stokes Fund Senior Fellow.

Since 1993, Powell has published 11 books, including Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and the Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays. Powell's childhood memoir, My Own Private Ghetto, and The Kevin Powell Reader were published in 2011 and 2012 respectively.[9]

Media appearances and lectures[edit]

Powell has hosted and produced programming for HBO and BET; written a screenplay; hosted and written an award-winning MTV documentary about post-riot Los Angeles; and, in 2001, was the Guest Curator of the Brooklyn Museum's "Hip-Hop Nation: Roots, Rhymes, and Rage" — which originated at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.

He has lectured in 48 states at colleges, universities, community centers, prisons, religious institutions, conferences, and festivals, as well as in corporate settings (including Harvard University and the United Nations). Powell is a frequent guest commentator on VH1, MTV, BET, and other media platforms about popular culture, political and social justice issues.


Beginning with his days as a teenager at Rutgers University, he participated in the student-led anti-apartheid movement – the drive to end white supremacy in South Africa. Powell has worked on issues of police brutality and racial bias cases and he has worked for years around voting rights.

As a result of his own past struggles, Powell has committed his life to personal healing and professional therapeutic counseling. He is an outspoken critic of violence against women and girls, of violence in general, and he has been at the forefront of the movement to redefine American manhood away from sexism and violence.

Powell produced the 10-city "State of Black Men National Townhall Meetings" tour (2004), numerous Black male think tank sessions, and "Black and Male in America, a 3-Day National Conference" (2007) ( He holds an annual holiday party and clothing drive every December in New York City to benefit the homeless teenagers of the SafeHorizon non-profit organization. He co-founded the grassroots community townhall series Hiphop Speaks! (with social entrepreneur, activist, and writer April Silver), which he describes as "a series of forums and MC battles geared toward using hip hop as a tool for social change." Powell participated in Gulf Coast disaster relief efforts, facilitating the delivery of goods and services to the affected regions, and being a co-founder (with social commentator Jeff Johnson) of "Katrina on the Ground," an initiative that sent over 700 college students to work in the devastated region.

African-American social networking tool BlackPlanet featured Powell as "Riser of the Month" in February 2011 for his support of the African-American community.[10]


In 2006, Powell launched his first bid to unseat Edolphus Towns in New York's 10th congressional district, located in Brooklyn, discontinuing his campaign in July of that year.[2] In 2008, Powell ran for Congress again,[11] in a campaign that was backed by celebrities such as Chris Rock and what ABC News described as "big names from Brooklyn's 10th district".[12] During the campaign, Towns made frequent reference to Powell's self-professed early history of violence against women, issues Powell has discussed in his early writings and has indicated he has overcome through therapy.[13] These references were addressed by Powell in an open letter to Ed Towns, where he also appealed to Mr. Towns to focus on issues.[14] In a June 2008 interview with Theodore Hamm in The Brooklyn Rail, Powell addressed media coverage focusing on his past: "My issue of violence against women happened between 1987–1991, which is now seventeen years ago. I've written about it very prominently [...] I think if you're going to be a public servant, regardless if you're an elected official ... you have a responsibility to be transparent and accountable for everything you do."[15]

On July 9, 2008, comedian David Chapelle failed to appear at a Powell fundraiser, despite promises to the paying guests.[16] This was followed by Powell hosting an event at Brooklyn favorite haunt Junior's, where he invited the media to witness him respond to what The Brooklyn Paper described as a "mean spirited column" in the Daily News[17] focusing on his history of violence.[18] As reported by "Page Six," at a dinner on July 28, 2008, Powell "slipped up" when he told an audience of some "40 representatives of Williamsburg's ultra-Orthodox Satmar [Hasidic Jewish] community" that if elected, he would "bring home the bacon."[19] Bacon is not permitted as part of a kosher diet.

On September 3, media reported that the Powell campaign had received a notice from the Federal Election Commission informing them that Powell was not officially registered as a candidate for Congress.[20][21] As he was not a candidate, his continued fundraising efforts constituted a violation of FEC regulations, and the Powell campaign was asked to disavow such activities within 30 days. As of September 4, the Kevin Powell for Congress campaign had not filed its mandatory Pre-Primary report of all campaign contributions to the FEC, though the report was due August 28.

The same day these stories broke, local periodical The Brooklyn Paper announced its endorsement of Powell over 13-time incumbent and sitting congressman, Edolphus "Ed" Towns.[22] But in light of these revelations, a Paper reporter broke news of the FEC letter and missed deadline and contacted the Powell camp for comment. This paper noted, "Powell did not return repeated requests from The Brooklyn Paper for comment about the FEC letter and his missed filing."[21]

Powell lost this race 67%–32%, receiving 11,046 votes compared to 22,586 for Edolphus Towns.[23] Powell announced that he would run again in 2010.[24] Powell lost again in 2010[25] and later ruled out running in 2012.[25]


In 2017, Powell sued the creators of Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez On Me for copyright infringement claiming it derived from Powell's interviews with Shakur.[26] In his complaint, Powell admitted that, "While some of the content [in the articles Powell wrote in Vibe Magazine] was factual, some portions of the article were changed or embellished by Plaintiff." [27] The suit was later dropped.

In 2018, Powell and his wife were sued by Minneapolis choreographer April Sellers because the couple had issued an open letter slandering her and ruining her career due to an email his wife received from somebody also named April Sellers. This resulted in a verdict against Powell for $210,000.[28][29]


  • In the Tradition: An Anthology of Young Black Writers Edited by Powell and Ras Baraka (1993) (ISBN 0-86316-316-5)
  • recognize Poetry by Powell (1995) (ISBN 0-86316-324-6)
  • Keepin' It Real: Post-MTV Reflections On Race, Sex, and Politics Essays by Powell (1997) (ISBN 0-345-40400-9)
  • Step Into a World: A Global Anthology of The New Black Literature Edited by Powell (2000) (ISBN 0-471-38060-1)
  • Who Shot Ya? Three Decades of Hiphop Photography Photographs by Ernie Ernie Paniccioli, Edited by Powell (2002) (ISBN 0-06-621168-9)
  • Who's Gonna Take The Weight? Manhood, Race, and Power in America Essays by Powell (2002) (ISBN 0-609-81044-8)
  • Someday We'll All Be Free Essays by Powell (2006) (ISBN 1-933368-57-8)
  • No Sleep Till Brooklyn, New and Selected Poems Poetry by Powell (2008) (ISBN 978-0-9796636-9-7)
  • The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life edited by Powell (2008) (ISBN 978-1416592242)
  • Open Letters to America: Essays by Kevin Powell (2009) (ISBN 978-1593762148)
  • Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and the Ghost of Dr. King (2012) (ISBN 978-1105414091)
  • The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey into Manhood (2015) (ISBN 978-1439163689)


  1. ^ "Oprah Talks to Men Who've Beaten Women". March 19, 2009. Retrieved August 23, 2010.
  2. ^ a b Hicks, Jonathan P. (July 5, 2006). "A candidate drops out of a race for congress". The New York Times. Retrieved October 14, 2008.
  3. ^ Cheers, Imani; Crystal Holmes (September 25, 2008). "The Audacity of Hip-Hop". Newsweek. Retrieved October 14, 2008.
  4. ^ "Julie Thinks Kevin is Psycho!" The Real World: New York; Episode 11; First aired July 30, 1992; MTV.
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ "This is the True Story..." The Real World: New York; Episode 11; First aired May 21, 1992; MTV.
  7. ^ "Kevin and Eric Mend Their Relationship" The Real World: New York; Episode 5; First aired June 18, 1992; MTV.
  8. ^ "Heather Wants to Grab His Booty!" The Real World: New York; Episode 7; First aired July 2, 1992; MTV.
  9. ^ About Kevin Powell Kevin Powell for Congress, 2010
  10. ^ BlackPlanet Rising. "Risers of the Month".
  11. ^ Hicks, Jonathan P. (April 28, 2008). "Brooklyn congressman and veteran of tough primaries faces new fight". New York Times. Retrieved October 14, 2008.
  12. ^ Marikar, Sheila (July 15, 2008). "Can 'Real World' star make it in real-life politics?". ABC News. Retrieved October 14, 2008.
  13. ^ Hicks, Jonathan P. (August 15, 2008). "House race in Brooklyn focuses on women". New York Times. Retrieved October 14, 2008. Over the last few months, Mr. Towns has been quick to criticize his opponent, consistently raising one issue: Mr. Powell revealed in an autobiographical book five years ago that he had engaged in acts of violence against women earlier in his life.
  14. ^ Powell, Kevin (July 21, 2008). "Open letter to congressman Ed Towns". Huffington Post.
  15. ^ Hamm, Theodore (June 2008). "From Brooklyn to DC: Kevin Powell in conversation with Theodore Hamm". The Brooklyn Rail.
  16. ^ "Dave Chappelle To Appear at Kevin Powell Rally | Get The Latest Hip Hop News, Rap News & Hip Hop Album Sales". HipHopDX. July 9, 2008. Retrieved August 23, 2010.
  17. ^ Errol Louis (July 19, 2008). "Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle and other stars come out for a bully". New York: Retrieved August 23, 2010.
  18. ^ Politicrasher, The (July 25, 2008). "Kevin on the couch". The Brooklyn Paper. Retrieved August 23, 2010.
  19. ^ "Kevin Powell Slips Up in Race For Congress With Bacon Comment To Jews". August 1, 2008. Archived from the original on February 12, 2009. Retrieved August 23, 2010.
  20. ^ "PAGE BY PAGE REPORT DISPLAY FOR 28039812601 (Page 1 of 3)". Archived from the original on November 30, 2008. Retrieved August 23, 2010.
  21. ^ a b Muessig, Ben (September 4, 2008). "Powell outage". The Brooklyn Paper. Retrieved August 23, 2010.
  22. ^ "Fresh choices in three Brooklyn races". The Brooklyn Paper. September 3, 2008. Retrieved August 23, 2010.
  23. ^ "New York Primaries 2008". Archived from the original on February 18, 2010. Retrieved October 14, 2008. U.S. House – District 10; Precincts Reported: 593 of 593; X Edolphus Towns(D) 22586 (67%); Kevin Powell(D) 11046 (32%)
  24. ^ "Brooklyn Eagle, Bay Ridge Eagle Brooklyn, NY :: daily paper in Brooklyn". Retrieved August 23, 2010.
  25. ^ a b Freedlander, David (October 18, 2011). "Kevin Powell Decides Against 2012 Congressional Run". The New York Observer.
  26. ^ "Tupac filmmakers sued over copyright infringement". The Philadelphia Tribune. June 27, 2017. Retrieved January 28, 2019.
  27. ^ "Case 1:17-cv-03785-DLI-JO" (PDF). June 23, 2017. Retrieved January 28, 2019.
  28. ^ Chanen, David (December 31, 2018). "A Facebook post called Minneapolis dancer a racist. They had the wrong April Sellers". StarTribune. Retrieved January 28, 2019.
  29. ^ Du, Susan (January 23, 2019). "The Smear: A career-killing lie almost ruined this rising Minneapolis dance star". City Pages. Retrieved January 28, 2019.

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