We Gonna Be Alright /ˈwē ˈgə-nə ˈbē ˈȯl-ˌrīt/ phrase. – a song lyric from the “Alright” by Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winning artist Kendrick Lamar.The song “Alright,” featured on Lamar’s 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly” focus on hope during racial and socio-economic tension. In the summer of 2015, several youth-led protests against police brutality across the country were heard chanting the chorus to “Alright”. See also. Black Lives Matter movement
Yeah. my name is David Abdulla Muhammad. I was born in Kansas City, Missouri. I’m 35 years old. I am a child of Black flight, I like to call it. When I was in third grade, my parents saw the trends that were happening in Kansas City, Missouri, specifically with the school system… And were trying to decide if they wanted to send us to the public school or a private school in KCMO or move across state lines to a school there. So, Most of my schooling ended up in Kansas. We moved over to Overland Park in the Shawnee Mission school district and I went through elementary — the rest of elementary school, middle school, and high school in Shawnee Mission. I think that this context is important because I was the only Black face in class. I went on to Fort Scott Community College, I played a little basketball. From there, I went to Emporia State University where I got my Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education with an emphasis in Social Studies. So, I ended up being a school teacher. I taught middle school and high school for 11 years. Got my Master’s degree in Education from Baker. The past six months — seven months — I’ve been working for a nonprofit that focuses on education called LeanLab… And I’m actually resigning from that now. But for 32 years in my life, I’ve been involved in martial arts. My father has the longest running Black owned martial arts school in Kansas City and I’ve been doing martial arts since I could walk. I started teaching under him when I was nine and I teach full time to this day at his martial arts academy. Also, I’m married… My wife, Aisha, and I have two little girls. So yeah, that’s, that’s kind of a little bit about me.
I think that beauty is whatever is the norm. And that is to say we are all conditioned to what we believe beauty is. But I think that beauty — true beauty — is beyond the physical because we all had beautiful moments… when my daughters were born. Those beautiful moments when I saw my wife walk down the aisle. So, I would say that beauty is an experience and because it’s an experience, it’s something that really no matter how hard society tries it really can’t be packaged and it’s not a monolith. No one owns beauty.
If I say that beauty itself is an experience, I think Black beauty is an energy. It’s energy that is born out of necessity. I’m one that believes that the Black experience, especially in America, is one unlike anybody else’s. We are such resilient and creative people because we from the time we’ve come to this country — and I use this country because it’s the only country I’ve lived in — We’ve had to make beauty out of the worst possible situation. And so when you look at slavery and something as simple as the food… We were given the scraps and turned that into beautiful meals that are now below by the world. Soul food was born with the cheapest things we could use. Black beauty was born from poverty. Black beauty was born from necessity. Because if we didn’t make things beautiful, we would have died as a people years ago. And, I don’t necessarily mean physically die, but our energy wouldn’t be as big. Globally, there’s no group more mimicked and copied than Black people. I’ve traveled around the world and everybody’s like… It’s like Paul Mooney, when he says, Everybody wants to be a n***a, but nobody wants to be a n***a, — excuse my language — but like people love Black culture because it’s survived and it’s come from a place of I have nothing else but my spirit.I don’t have any money. I don’t have any political power. I don’t have any resources. But I have swag… I can walk a way that you can’t walk. I can dance better than you. I can cook better than you. I can make love better than you. I’m going to make whatever I got fly — and you’re not going to understand why because I had to do that to make myself be able to deal with what I’m going through.
Soul. Love. Resilient. Transformative. Bastardized. Appropriated.
Yeah, I guess the images that pop into my mind are jazz players. I immediately think of guys on the corner who were what I call ‘Intelligent hoodlums’ — you know, they were like street philosophers on the corner — rappin’ — spittin’ game. I see women at the hair salon. I see barbershops. Growing up and going to the barber shops on Saturdays, being there for hours because they didn’t take appointments and it was first come first serve, just hearing all of the grown men discuss everything that was going on in their life. I see young Black kids running and jumping off mattresses. I see brothas freestylin’ at the lunch table.
You know, I would say that my experience is one that was unique compared to others. Like I said, I spent the majority of my childhood going into schools that were predominantly White. And so I often felt like I was straddling a fence. There was this pressure from White culture, especially young people. They wanted to see me be the stereotype — either really athletic or really outwardly emotional or aggressive womanizing. And from Black people who were in the space that I was in…. They were typically not as academically focused as I was and there was a lot of toxic masculinity. So there was this pressure that I felt. It wasn’t as overt. I never got called the N-word… but I always felt like I was too Black for the White kids and too White for the Black kids. I felt like I could never be my true self. I had to hide my identity because I didn’t see other Black people like me. You know, I played the violin, I really enjoyed school, and things of that nature. I was kind of a square in some ways. And those things weren’t applauded in the small Black network of people that I was around. The things that got applauded was athletic superiority, the ability to hook up with a lot of girls hanging out, and things of that nature. I wasn’t attracted to that lifestyle. And then, when interacting with White kids… You were popular if you either were the super athlete or the super Negro. I wasn’t that either. So, I felt a lot of pressure in that aspect. I guess, as a young person, it was kind of an identity crisis to some extent.
No, I haven’t experienced overt racism. I’ve been blessed where I don’t have any moments where I felt like I was being… Well, I’ll take that back. I take that back and it’s interesting. I got it as a teacher. I taught in a predominantly wealthy White school district. And there was a moment when a student had posted something on social media. It was offensive towards a young lady, I don’t want to repeat what he said. Anyways… So I called him out on it. And some of his friends the next day came to see me after school to confront me. The first thing that I felt offended about this moment was the boldness of these young kids to come up to me, as if I was not an authority figure. They didn’t show me any respect or deference that I would’ve shown to one and my teachers. I remember very clearly one of them said, Well, you as a teacher, especially as the only Black teacher in the school, you shouldn’t be talking to kids like this. The White superiority complex that he had at 14, 15 years old that was already ingrained to have the audacity to tell me what I should be doing or not doing it as an adult and, you know, as a Black man. And so that’s probably the most memorable experience I would say. There’s been a lot of microaggressions and implicit bias, but I don’t have many overt experiences.
I have a lot that I’m proud of… The first thing that comes to my mind is that I’m proud to be a father and a husband.. It’s a blessing to have something that’s matured me and to have people who depend upon me. I’m proud of my experience as a teacher, both as in the classroom and also as a martial arts instructor. I’m proud of my accomplishments in the classroom. I’m proud of my spirituality. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s kept me grounded and it’s been something that’s been a consistent force in my life. And then lastly, I’m proud of my resilience. There have been multiple times in my life that I’ve been met with challenges and I’ve worked through things — been able to put my head down, keep moving and accomplish those goals. I think all of that is surrounded by the fact that as a Black male in a society that doesn’t expect much of you. And so, yeah that’s what I’m proud of.
There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child and when I walked away from the traditional classroom, I told myself that it was only the beginning of the hope to impact more kids positively. You know, I felt that I was going to be limited by the classroom if I stayed in that small space. And so my big dream is to utilize the karate academy that I run as a resource to support community efforts — to be a vehicle of positive change and growth. In the greater community, whether that be supporting the schools or supporting community organizations and nonprofits. I wanna make my academy a beacon of opportunity for the greater Kansas City community. It will be a resource, just like people know that the Boys and Girls Club or the YMCA are resources. I want people to know that there’s this martial arts academy — that’s a family owned and Black owned business — that takes kids of any background and helps them become better human beings. So that’s, that’s one of my major goals. Along with that, I just want to continue to be a better father and husband. You know, it doesn’t matter how many kids I save outside of the house if I can’t save my own kids. So my dream starts at home first. Lastly, I just want to be remembered as a nice guy. I hope whenever I depart, nobody is like, Aw man, that guy was an asshole. I hope that people just think I was a decent guy on an individual level.
I think it’s access… And when I say access, that’s a multilayered answer. Oppression is the manifestation of a lack of access. When you limit people’s access to resources, limit people’s access to having their voices heard, and limit their access to having an ability to be educated then you oppress them. We live in a society that shames the victims. Like, Why can’t you people get it together? What’s wrong with y’all? Even to the point that we do it ourselves, like, Man, what’s going on with us? We end up shaming ourselves as victims. And we start questioning what’s wrong with us without questioning the environment that produced the lack of access.
I’ll give you an analogy that I once heard… If you walk by a pond and you see a fish belly up, you ask yourself, Well man, what’s wrong with this fish? Might be dead. Okay. If I walk by the next day and there’s a hundred fish in that same pond belly up, I’m not going to ask what’s wrong with the fish. I’m going to ask what’s wrong with the lake.
I think that that’s the thing that we do. We’ve got all these people belly up and we’re not questioning the environment that produced this. I think it all goes back to a lack of access and who controls that access. If you don’t have anywhere to amplify your voice and your concerns, then that’s putting a muzzle over your potential… literally and figuratively.
I think it goes to something as simple as a neighborly needs. We can sit around and have these grandiose visions of “kumbaya”…and some people want to be able to say they don’t see race…or…I’m going to get everybody woke… and I don’t fall for that stuff. Not to say I’m not a student of the Malcolm X’s and Martin Luther King’s and those dreams of one day we’ll all stand together….You know, I’m a dreamer myself…But I think we have to start at the most basic human level. And that’s just neighborly needs.
When my mom was growing up, she knew that she could go next door and get a cup of sugar from somebody if she didn’t have sugar at home, you know? And they knew that if the kids were outside, they weren’t going to walk in so-and-so’s lawn because I was just disrespectful. And if there was an older lady walking up the stairs, they were going to help her with her bags and even going to open the door for the next person, not because of any kind of patriarchal thoughts, but just because it was the right thing to do. And I think that if we take it to that most basic level, that if I recognize that when I sit next to you…you’re somebody’s son, father, brother, coach, mentor…there’s somebody out there that is connected to you, that depends upon you, that depends upon your energy, that looks to you, and that you are indebted to to some extent. If I recognize that and I recognize that I also have that in myself, then I’m going to treat you like my neighbor. And we live in a society where I don’t even know my next door neighbors name…and we have more social media and we’re less social than ever.
And so I think my dream is just for us to be better neighbors with each other. Everywhere I go, I’m running into people who become my neighbor, in that space, and so just be a good neighbor for that moment. I don’t need to agree with you politically. If I’m a good neighbor to you, that’s going to have a ripple effect because now you see the humanity and that means that you’re willing to engage with me in conversation and work. I think it just takes care of the rest, organically, as opposed to us sitting around hoping that everybody wakes up and realizes that it’s wrong to be racist.
Say hello to the person you walk by. I mean, we live in Kansas City — the city doesn’t run on subways and stuff — but think about your daily routines… You get up, go to the gym, go to work, blah, blah, blah. Think about how many times in those spaces that you walk by the same people that you never even speak to. I challenge everybody to say hello to somebody. Just say, Hey, how’s it going? Have a good day. Simple as that. I know it sounds cheesy and all of that, but what it does is it makes somebody see you and lets them see that you see them on a most basic level. Like if we go back to the idea of access, it’s also the access to visibility.
I’m currently reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison — which I should’ve read a long time ago, but I’m late, you know, whatever — I’m thinking about this idea of visibility. When people feel invisible, they’ll do anything they get noticed — they’ll get disrespectful, they’ll do whatever it takes to be seen. Think about a child. When a child knows they’re being seen, they act differently. They walk around the world differently. Or another example… Thieves rob stores at nighttime, they don’t do it in broad daylight. Most crimes happen at night cause they don’t want to be seen. And so when you know that I see you — I recognize your humanity and you recognize mine. And that starts with as simple as saying, “Hey, how’s it going? Hope you have a good day. How are you doing? What’s up? You know, brothas do it with the Head nod — I see you. What’s up? Just say hello to somebody. And, again, I know it sounds corny and cheesy, but I don’t know.. I think it’s that simple.
Embrace your excellence. You know, I said that quote by Paul Mooney…”Everybody wants to be Black and nobody wants to be Black.” I don’t think we, as Black people, realize how much everybody else wants to have our greatness. That’s from fashion to athletics to music to intellect to beauty. I mean, White women are out here burning their skin and culturally appropriating our hair and putting in ass injections to be like Black women. And brothers are being tokenized and utilized. I mean, if you’ve seen the movie “Get Out” it shows that on a certain scale, but I think that that’s exactly what’s happening. And I think that we, as Black people, we assume it’s better somewhere else. We assume their water’s wetter and don’t really recognize the fact that we’ve got something here. We’ve got something in it. And if we recognize our excellence and our greatness, then it will make us respect it more. When you know you have something special you take care of it, you honor it, you value it. And if somebody else has something like that too, you’re going to respect it and honor it in them. And so I think that we have to embrace the fact that we have excellence and that we are not second class. I don’t even like the word minority,I don’t like it. I’ll use marginalized, I’ll use disenfranchised. We’re not minorities, cause there’s more people of color in the world than there are White people. And of course we can get into the context of how it’s all a social construct anyway, but there’s more people of color than there are people who are not as colorful.
And we come from a very deep rooted history. We have people who make impacts in every sector of life–The GPS was invented by a Black woman (Gladys West). So, there’s nothing for us to feel like we lack, other than self confidence and self love. And when we start seeing that in each other and seeing that in ourselves, more great things are gonna happen. There’s already great things happening, but it’ll be as a unit, it’ll be as a community and I think that the world is scared of that potential, that’s why there’s systemic oppression. It’s a system to try to uproot what we have the potential to do. And that never has worked, longterm. It might work in pockets, it works for some stuff, but we always find a way to uprise and push through it. If we could just connect on that and move as a unit….And I don’t mean like, Oh, we need to have like a Black nation…or anything like that. But I mean, every other group of people make it okay to be outwardly pushing their agenda that supports their community and their culture. We don’t know ourselves, so we don’t move as a unit, we’re afraid of our own greatness.
Advice…Listen…Listen. The worst thing you can do to a people is steal their voice. And that happens in so many ways to people of color by the White dominant culture. White dominant culture, it survives because it tells people what they think that they should be doing. And it tells people how they should also deal with the tragedies that they face. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Get it together. You need to go do this. Why aren’t you doing this? They never ask what we feel like we need. If I drive by a homeless man and I give him a sandwich and he’s like, Man, I can’t eat this. And you’re like, Man, why aren’t you grateful? And you didn’t listen to him. He might tell you, I can’t eat it because I have a gluten intolerance and I can’t eat bread and if I do, I’m going to get sick. But you never asked him what he needed. And then even if you did, you didn’t listen to him. You had already in your mind thought about what you think he needed so you’re going to shove that down his throat and then be mad that he either couldn’t digest it or didn’t want it. And that’s what happens with people of color, especially with Black people, we get frustrated. The White dominant culture either shoves it down our throats and then we can’t digest it because it’s not what our bodies or our systems needed to survive or to cope. And there’s some people who can swallow it and might grow, but you’re going to grow a little different, you might grow a little off. And there others amongst us who’re going to say, Man, I’m not taking it. I can’t, I know it’s not good for me and get it out of my face. In both cases we get shamed. And so I feel like the first thing that White people can do is listen. Just shut up for a second and listen to people. Don’t interrupt. Don’t diagnose them based on your lens, because your lens is not the same as my lens. I don’t see the world through the same lens as you. Just sit in that space of silence and listen to what people have to tell you about their reality.
Oh man. Oh man. I gotta list movies…“Finding Forrester”…“Finding Forrester” was a movie that convinced me that it was okay to be smart as a Black man. It’s not that I didn’t know that, it’s just reinforced that idea in me. Of course “Malcolm X,” the autobiographies and the film are powerful. “School Daze”… that movie absolutely molded me. “Higher learning” — I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it — but “Higher Learning” definitely molded me. “Hoop Dreams” was a documentary that also really molded me. Going back to books… “The Souls of Black Folk” by W. E. B. Du Bois and “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. There’s a children’s book written by a friend of mine named Derrick Barnes. It’s called a “Crown.” It’s about the Black hair experience here, And so that’s a really amazing children’s book. For music…To Pimp a Butterfly. Also, DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar. Jim Crow the Musical by Add-2. Undun by The Roots….Every Roots album… Every single Roots album (period). Black Thought is the best rapper in the world. Hands down. Yeah, I’ll just stop there cause I could keep going.
People who don’t understand the Hip Hop culture, well it ain’t for you. Hip-Hop is Black culture and Hip-Hop is the culture. There is no separation. It is like jazz, purely American — and it might be more a purely American art form. It’s born from nothingness. The history of Hip-Hop came from people who were like, Yo, I can’t afford piano lessons. I ain’t got no drums. I don’t have big machines. So, let me take this record and keep repeating it over and over and just rap over the B side.
That just is genius. It’s genius that I’m going to rhyme words that don’t even rhyme together. I’m going to bend the vocabulary and turn it into something of its own. I’m going to create a whole new vocabulary where you may not know what I’m talking about when I say I sell snow, but they know what I’m talking about — like we’ve created our own language and we create it rapidly — the terms that these young rappers are using now are completely different than what was used only a year ago. And we just keep up with it… like swag, dope, fly. I think that poverty produces the most creativity and Hip-Hop was born out of poverty. I don’t mean that you have to be poor to be in Hip-Hop because I didn’t grow up impoverished, but I think that Black people are one or two degrees of separation from somebody in our family who is impoverished.
So we see it… we know it…we feel that that energy.. It’s in our system very quickly and that’s why Hip-Hop makes sense to us. It takes nothing for me to have one guy beat his hands on the table and the other guy starts spittin’ a verse. Like, the cipher is as old as mankind — just sitting around and telling the stories in a circle. Hip-Hop is just a continuation of that tradition of storytelling. So, yeah. Hip-Hop is everything man.
Interview Date: January 30, 2020
Day 16 — Story posted on February 15, 2020