Black Owned Maine Podcast
Echoes of Old Systems featuring Ali Ali
Audio Clip: Echo saying Black, Black, Black. “Black Owned Maine as a directory and resource and as a brand is also helping the state of Maine stand up and represent itself as a place that does have people of color, does have Black people, does consider diversity. We’re gonna bring money into this economy. People who wouldn’t have felt comfortable coming here and spending dollars and voting with your dollars.” Echo saying dollars, dollars, dollars, dollars.
Genius: Blessings and vibes from Black Owned Maine. Welcome to the Black Owned Maine Podcast. My name is Genius Black.
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Genius: Moving forward, gonna introduce y’all to my dude: he’s an educator, a poet, as well as an abolitionist. Ali, what up bro? (1:20 – 1:30)
Ali: How are you man? (1:30 – 1:32)
Genius: Hey, feeling fine, feeling fine. I really just wanted to bring you on today– tonight– I don’t know whenever y’all listening, that’s what time it is. Because we have some knowledge to bring forth and we want y’all to keep this conversation alive and keep it going. What I want to do is allow my man Ali to further introduce himself. We would love to hear a little bit about where you were born, maybe where you grew up, how you grew up. And really, ultimately, how you ended up doing the work that you do. (1:32 – 1:59)
Ali: First off, my name is Ali. Thank you Jerry for letting me be on here today. I am originally from Ethiopia. I came to the states in ‘99. I was originally in Ohio with my family and everything and then my father came up here to Maine with me and my brother and I grew up over here in Maine. Going through elementary, middle and high school, going through you know just living Maine itself, right now it’s 1.6% Black but back then it probably less than 1%, you know. So it was like a real young generation just trying to grow up and find its way. (2:00 – 2:38)
Genius: Word. (2:38 – 2:39)
Ali: We didn’t have no mother in the house so it was just like me and my brother and my father and so going through life itself was difficult because you ain’t know if you was Black, if you were Somali or Ethiopian, if you were Muslim, if you was white. You didn’t know how to maneuver, so you had to just find a way. You just got to find somewhere where you’re safe, right. (2:39 – 3:00)
Genius: Yup. (3:00 – 3:01)
Ali: And a lot of the homies will listen to like 50 Cent back then and everything, so they was bumping and trying to like do anything wild because the more wild you are, the more cool you is, right? That’s what society embedded into our mentalities. (3:01 – 3:17)
Genius: Umhm. (3:17 – 3:18)
Ali: So I mean, I tried to navigate that way, but I always knew that I didn’t want to mess up too much. I can curse? No, right? (3:18 – 3:29)
Genius: I mean, if you have a curse word in your heart, then you can drop it. (3:29 – 3:34)
Ali: All right. (Laughing) (3:34 – 3:35)
Genius: All right? (Laughing) (3:34 – 3:35)
Ali: Just want to respect the boundaries. (3:36 – 3:38)
Genius: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But if it’s real, it’s real. (3:38 – 3:40)
Ali: Yeah, no it’s real, it’s real. Um, I didn’t want to mess up too much, right. So anyways, growing up and not really understanding a place of belonging. And psychologically, that can actually be an issue. So you don’t know how to act, you don’t know what to do. Especially in difficult circumstances, right? (3:41 – 3:55)
Genius: Yes, sir. (3:55- 3:56)
Ali: Because in difficult circumstances you bounce back at home. You count on your family, and stuff like that. (3:56 – 4:03)
Genius: That’s like your spot of respite. When everything is wild, you retreat back there. Or– or not. (4:03 – 4: 08)
Ali: I mean, if you don’t have something like that, where do you retreat back to? So I tended to retreat back to just individuality and like spiritual– myself. Like I didn’t know exactly what God was, or anything like this, but it was just like– I kept kicking back on myself. Then I went back and forth from Ohio to Maine, and eventually I came back here. My mother moved here then. My father and mother were still split; my father decided to leave. During then, since I wasn’t raised with my mother, I also had disagreements with my mother, right? And I was like, “Yo, I don’t think, like, we gonna understand each other because you ain’t really raised me. Like I respect you as my mother, right?” And I know, not really having stability, at the age of 15, I went to the juvenile facility, and then I went back in there at the age of 16, 17-ish. (4:08 – 4:56)
Genius: So, just because we do have a lot of listeners in Maine, as well as outside Maine, just real quick, in terms of the location and reality. What was the juvenile facility that you are speaking of? (4:57 – 5:05)
Ali: The juvenile facility is the one in South Portland. Its Long Creek Youth Development Center. (5:06 – 5:09)
Genius: South Portland, Maine. (5:09 – 5:10)
Ali: South Portland, Maine. (5:09 – 5:10)
Genius: Long Creek. (5:10 – 5:11)
Ali: Long Creek, yep. (5:10 – 5:11)
Ali: There’s about one hundred and… 163 beds, if I’m not mistaken. About 100 hundred, anywhere between 150 to 180. But, at the time, like, when I first got incarcerated in there, it was something petty. And then I had probation, and I messed up on probation, so I went in there for 18 months. So I ain’t gonna lie to you, as soon as I stepped inside of there, I was actually ok. I was like “alright”, you know what I mean? “I finally get to rest, I finally get a bed, I can finally relax my mind. I finally don’t gotta fight a world that I need to find a belonging in.”
But, as soon as–and that first day was a good sleep, you get some good sleep. Second day its like, “ok, you are confined in a space”. Third day, you start to notice like, “Oh shoot, I got state clothing.” Fourth day, you know, you got a small golf pencil and a little piece of paper that you can rip off that you can write on. And then you start to understand that this is for a while. This is one day, 2 days, 3 days; this is not two weeks. This is 18 months, right? And that’s what I mean: 18 months sounds like a long time. (5:12 – 6:21)
Genius: Especially when you young bro. When you, young, a year is like a lifetime. (6:21 – 6:25)
Ali: Yeah. (6:25 – 6:26)
Genius: And you said 18 months! Not 12. (6:26 – 6:28)
Ali: And it was bad, man. It’s not bad because of the people. It was bad because of the circumstances. It was bad because you can’t– cuz you know your brain obviously doesn’t stop growing till the age of 25, right? That kind of forces you to stop thinking forward. It forces you to– it just keeps you stagnant, right?
So I was like, “Ok, this isn’t for me. I need to do something, right?” So I got my GED within the first like, 2 or 3 weeks. Boom, boom, boom. At the age of 17. And I went straight into college right then. So I got into college at the age of 17. I got straight A’s, 3.9 GPA. And then I got into a theater program, so I was doing a lot of programs just to get out of my room and to get off the grounds, right? (6:29 – 7:15)
Genius: So I just want to say, I’m gonna ask you– Thank you brother for sharing this so openly, because I think, in our society, people (and I’m gonna say this, cuz it’s real), people like to incarcerate people, and then forget about them, right? And not worry if they are stuck, trapped, moving forward, moving backwards. Nope–they did something wrong, they’re in there, that’s where they are going to be, right? What I hear you telling me is that as far as you realize, at first, it was good. At first, it was easy for a night. Then you felt stuck. And then you start finding ways to move your spirit and your mind forward. (7:15 – 7:47)
Ali: Yes. (7:47 – 7:48)
Genius: Very, very critical trajectory. (7:48 – 7:50)
Ali: Right. And I’m not saying that this is like a safe haven, right? Cuz you can do this anywhere. You can decide to do better anywhere. (7:51 – 8:03)
Genius: Yes, sir. (8:03 – 8:04)
Ali: But, to do better, you need stability. And the fact that I have to be incarcerated to find stability to do better, is a problem here. Right, this is where the problem lies, because it could have been in a group home; it could have been in a foster home; it could have been somewhere else. Because these are systems too. It could have just been somewhere you feel a little bit of belonging. Someone say, “Hey, you know what? We’re going to invest in housing, right, for kids. We’re going to invest in, like, credible messages.” So this is kind of–I’m going to get onto that eventually, how I got to that. (8:05 – 8:37)
Genius: Yes. (8:37 – 8:38)
Ali: I’m going to go through the realm of how it kind of impacted me. (8:39 – 8:41)
Genius: Okay. (8:41 – 8:42)
Ali: So, I got into a theater program. We started doing a little bit of theater, and explaining our stories, and what happened was, people started to see our performances within the inside of the juvenile facilities–our peers. And they when they saw it, right? You have to understand, there’s beef inside of the juvenile facilities. When they saw it, hands were clapping, hearts were dropping. Like, these are kids that– they were like, “Yo, that was amazing bro.” (8:43 – 9: 10)
Genius: They didn’t even mess with you until, like– well some of them, I would imagine, they wasn’t really– (9:11 – 9:14)
Ali: They were like, “Yo, whatever y’all did,” everyone was taken aback. You know, we started off with like 20 kids, but we ended off, it was only 7 of us consistently doing it. And then we did it for the staff, and they were like, “Yo, this is like, tragic,” and this is our lives just performed, right? So it’s like damn, like, so they started to realize, like, “Yo, these kids are not messed up, right? There’s something that had affected them that they reacted the same way. It’s like, today we know English because we were taught it. If we were taught trauma, if we were taught pain, we’re going to release pain. If we were taught love, we’re gonna release love. So this was us just telling people– and you know, we were young. People were listening to our stories? (9:14 – 9:58)
Genius: How old were you at this point? (9:58 – 9:59)
Ali: I was 17, 18. Everybody was just around that age. Anywhere from 15 to 19. So, I’m still going to college and doing everything. Everybody was getting out. Being black inside there was so difficult that you couldn’t get out at 9, 10 months. I did my whole 18-month bit inside there because I couldn’t get out, right? But, I was achieving everywhere. I was achieving in every factor. So, here we go: 18 months is almost done, we performed inside and outside the facility. Outside of the facility, we did our biggest performance at University of Southern Maine, right? Which is the same university I go to right now. And we did it at Hannaford Hall, with 500 people. It was Sister Helen Prejean. She actually just passed away, about, like, a few months ago. Sister Helen Prejean, she was going against the death penalty all over the country, but she came in and supported us, and it was great. So we did that, age 19 was done.
So I came out and started doing the work out here, right? So we started doing programs out here. We doing Theatre programs are doing it for all– everybody that’s in the community, everything. (10:00 – 11:05)
Genius: And it’s still the same group of stories, just telling your life? (11:05 – 11:08)
Ali: Yeah. So, the original seven that started, people kind of like broke off. Because some of them lived in Texas, there was one living in Virginia, they were all here, they all moved away for some reason or some of them, like, you know me still stayed in Maine and what not. (11:09- 11:24)
Genius: Okay. (11:24 – 11:25)
Ali: But more kids come on right, so it was more kids coming off and more kids coming on, so all together I work with over 250 kids so what happened was over time (11:25 – 11: 34)
Genius: Wow. (11:34 – 11:35)
Ali: I became the artistic director of this program called Maine Inside Out right and there were three ladies running it right and then now we had Joseph Jackson. He did 20 years up in Maine State and he came he got his Master’s degree, he got out and now he’s running his own Maine Prison Advocacy Coalition to advocate for the people that is in there. (11:35 – 11:53)
Genius: Okay. (11:53-11:54)
Ali: Amazing guy, he is a black dude, amazing dude. So he started working and he was just helping, navigating how kids should be – you know I mean performances everything – as an artistic director, I’ve been doing this so long, I can relate with the kids, I can relate with the adults, I am right in the middle. 11:55 – 12:11)
Genius: Got it. (12:11-12:12)
Ali: So, I started doing this work, we got so much popularity that we went up to the state house. And this was when the Governor LePage – Lepage was there, he passed right by, he didn’t want to see our performance. we miss you though. (12:13 – 12:30)
Genius: Big time. (12:30-12:31)
Ali: Anyways, so after we did the performance, the ANgus King wife saw the performance and she said, “Wow, we have to invite you out to Washington DC” and I am like, “What, stop playing..” (12:32 – 12:44)
Genius: Out to where? (12:44-12:45)
Ali: Washington DC. (12:45-12:46)
Genius: Wow, bro. (12:46 – 12:47)
Ali: So yeah, so we got the ticket to go to Washington DC, we raised enough and flew down there. And we performed in front of the Senate – right in front of the U.S Senate inside the Senate building. We are underground and everything and it was beautiful. That year, that was the year we were highlighted. People started questioning what juvenile justice system all across the country and especially starting here in Maine because we only had that one juvenile facility right. (12:47 – 13:14)
Genius: Right. (13:14-13:15)
Ali: So this is about, I will say three years, this is finishing up 2017 – is like finishing up – so all together 7 years. So it was 4 years of being in the works, so it was about 3 years ago and you know what I mean – of doing it… (13:15 – 13:30)
Genius: Got it. (13:30-13:31)
Ali: What happened in what we did in Michigan. In Michigan, we did it like where we had a whole week – we started teaching workshops on how to do theatre of the oppressed – that is the name of it. (13:31 – 13:40)
Genius: So presenter of the oppressed (not sure if this right, could understand well) (13:40-13:42)
Ali: So after doing that, we came back and a lot of kids were still passing away. I am talking to a lot of kids that were incarcerated with us. So 3 to four years down cause incarceration still messes you up a little bit. For me 18 months being inside there, it took me about 18 months of me being in there to come back to society. (13:34 – 14:01)
Genius: Right (14:01-14:02)
Ali: I couldn’t even talk to a girl. Like I couldn’t, I would freeze, I would have anxiety cause I didn’t see no females at all. I couldn’t walk on the street for the first few days by myself. Like Walmart – I would have anxiety attacks. (14:03 – 14:17)
Genius: Whuush, yeah bro. (14:17-14:18)
Ali: Yeah, they don’t talk about that. They just found a scientific word for that, it’s called Post-Traumatic Prison Disorder. And it is a traumatic experience and they are doing that through Columbia University right now. So, a lot of kids are still dying, so after all these kids are dying and everything, we’re just like, “Yo, why are kids dying at such a high rate right. (14:18 – 14:45)
Genius: No, you talking about inside the facility… after they get out. (14:45 – 14:48)
Ali: After they get out. (14:48-49)
Genius: And are people passing away from violence, drugs? Is it? (14:49-51)
Ali: Multiple reasons, Suicide, overdose. It’s just like where, what do you think…Because my questions like, you got a criminal record, you went in when you was 15, you were incarcerated, you have trauma, what are you going to go back to? You’ve been locked up and hidden from the world for three years. There’s new phones, new cars… (14:51-15:11)
Genius: Yeah. (15:11-12)
Ali: Like where are you gonna go back? Everybody has moved forward in life. (15:12-15)
Genius: Right, you’re gonna find comfort in probably something stupidi or something that is backwards for you or what not. (15:15-19)
Ali: Exactly! Right?! You’re gonna find comfort in marijuana, drugs, whatever. (15:19- 23)
Genius: Yeah. (15:23-24)
Ali: Sorry if im like kinda going off in ah… (15:24-26)
Genius: Nah you’re good, this is, you’re good. (15:26-28)
Ali: Okay, okay. So um yeah so um so right after, what happened was we kept continuing. So we kept saying the system the system, the system. And then last year is when it really hit. There was a kid that um started performing with me right. (15:28-44)
Genius: Mhmm. (15:44)
Ali: And he was a part of the first almost the second generation. This kid, when I was not there, he was there. (15:44-50)
Genius: Mmm. (15:50)
Ali: When I was not there, he was there. (15:51- 15:52)
Genius: Mhmm. (15:52)
Ali: When I was not the main character, he was the main character. He lived in Lewiston, and he has 2 kids, he is 23, he has a wife, he lives with his mother, he pays for all the bills, and he is a leader in the community. He did everything he had to with all the difficulties and disadvantages in the community whatever it was. At the same time he rapped, he was there as a great father and he was there to stand up for people, and he was there performing with us. (15:53 – 16:21)
Genius: Wow, mhmm. (16:22)
Ali: One day after performance he left Portland and went to Lewiston. And as soon as he went to Lewiston, he came inside the front door and his kids were not there. And he was like, “Where are the boys?” you know and they said, “ Oh the BHS came and took them” and he was just like, “ Yo, I just can’t take this no more, they keep messing with me, like they keep messing with me when i am walking the street, they keep messing with me when i am trying to do good. I just can’t take this”. So he is like, “Yo i am done” so he starts tearing up and walks out the door. He goes out, you know grabs some pills, you know grab some henny… (16:23 – 17:00)
Genius: Mmmm. (17:01)
Ali: …some regular and sits right outside the front door and pops the pills and sips the henny and in the morning, his wife opens the door and finds him slumped right outside the front – right out there… (17:01 – 17:16)
Genius: Yeah (17:17)
Ali: I got the phone call and, I was walking outside, I was just with my daughter and I was headed to work. And I got the phone call saying, “ Hey, I am just going to say this like directly..” and this was one of the directors of our organization – He was like, “Rune is dead ” and I was like, “What? No!” And I heard all the homies die, so many just like Rune okay. And I was like, here we go, another snapchat… (17:18 – 17: 42)
Genius: Wow. (17:42)
Ali: Another snapchat post I gotta make, another instagram post I gotta, another facebook post I gotta make and continue… (17:43 – 17: 48)
Genius: Damn bro, damn. (17: 49)
Ali: So boom this happen, as soon as this happen, I am in the taxi and i’m just like okay, breathing and my mom calls me and she’s like, “Are you good” I am like, “ Yeah” and she is like, “What happened?” and I let her know and she was like, “Alright”. So two days later, it was a burial, a muslim burial – muslim burial we use a white sheet, we wrap the body, bring it over to the graveyard and we put it on the sand because we beleive that you came from sand and you will return to sand. (17:50 – 18:20)
Genius: Okay. (17: 21)
Ali: We are standing there and it was time to put him inside the grave and they didn’t have many people there, so I jumped inside the grave and I grabbed the body and I was putting him in there. I was like—I was pretty cool, I wasn’t…many people were tearing up but I was just real cool with it… (18:22 – 18:40)
Genius: Yeah (18:41).
Ali: I had to take it in because this isn’t the first time. I have been inside the grave yard like seven or eight times (18:42 – 18:47).
Genius: Damn bro (18: 47).
Ali: As I was putting him in, this one really hit like when I had to put his body against the edge of the place and they were passing me some wax so that I can put the body up – and it just really hit me… (18:48 – 18:58)
Genius: Mmmm (18:59).
Ali: Like, “Bro, I am sorry” and i’m saying, “It is going to be alright” and i am telling him this, “it gonna be alright bro, we here, it is gonna to be alright” and his body is cold… (19:00 – 19:07)
Genius: Mmmm (19:08).
Ali: So after that, I jumped out and we finished putting all the sand over and after it was done like it just hit me. I can’t take this s*** no more, why is the system – the system is destroying us. So after that, that summer of last year, I just went hard. I was like, “ Yo, i am done, I can’t do nothing that is going to ever affect me negatively, hurt me, is going to do anything like that because something i was making circumstances to because of the decisions – i was making decisions because of the circumstances I am in (19:09 – 19:43).
Genius: Yeah (19:44).
Ali: So I decided to stop everything completely. Sobriety and everything so like – to really stay focused and try to see where we can go with our community. And that when we got to open Maine Youth Injustice – the campaign to close down the juvenile facility. We are down like – I think maybe 30 kids left inside that juvenile facility (19:45 – 20:02).
Genius: Say it one more time. Maine Youth, what? (20:02 – 20:03).
Ali: Maine Youth Injustice (20:04 – 20:06).
Genius: Got you (20:06 – 20:07).
Ali: So we are down 30 kids inside the juvenile facility and we are trying to close it down and reinvest the 18.2 million dollars every year that is streaming through there back to the communities that really need it the most. So it is an average of three hundred thousand dollars to five hundred thousand to lock up a kid – per kid right. If we reinvest that back into the same communities, instead of taking the kids out of the same communities right— (20:07 – 20:31)
Genius: Yeah (20:31 – 20:32).
Ali: We would see a lot of issues kind of like be resolved, right (20:32 – 20:35)?
Genius: I very much agree. I just thought that it was important— (20:35 – 20:37)
Ali: Right (20:37).
Genius: to hear about your history— (20:38 – 20:42)
Ali: Yeah (20:42).
Genius: your family, how you found yourself incarcerated and what that was like, how you picked yourself up. People always talk about that— (20:43 – 20:50)
Ali: Right (20:51).
Genius: Like what are you going to do with this opportunity. Like okay, the brother did a lot with the opportunity and brought people up with him with the opportunity. Created an opportunity out of something that didn’t feel like an opportunity right but the pain doesn’t stop— (20:52 – 21:02)
Ali: Nope (21:02).
Genius: The death doesn’t stop. The dysfunction doesn’t stop. And now, one of the first kind of things that I want to crack open here in one of these segments I want to bring to y’all is really – I am just going to call it systemic, see. A good friend of mine, he’s been, he’s been, learning a lot of stuff, he’s been talking to me, I done scream at him a couple times and he took it and kept rolling and he’s the homie right and he’s learning. One of the things he said to me weeks and weeks ago as I was talking about all these issues and the protest and he was like, “Bro, people say systemic and I like kind of know what that mean— (21:03 – 21:40)
Ali: Yeah. (21:40)
Genius: But like what is that for real? Because it, you know, it almost ends up, the way people pull it out sometimes—it’s like, yo is that something, is that nothing? What, what is that, right?” (21:40 – 21:50)
Genius: And so, I want to talk about how you view something big and systemic, um, what that means to you. One thing—and I’ll just share this— (21:51 – 22:00)
Ali: Right. (22:01)
Genius: I was looking it up one day, and one of the thing that, you know, scientifically and medically when you talk about terms like ‘systemic,’ one of the things that you can find is—you know, say for instance someone has an alignment or they’re sick or they have a rash or whatever it may be, you know, you go to the doctor— (22:02 – 22:15)
Ali: Right. (22:15)
Genius: Part of what the doctor is trying to determine is if the issue you are presenting is systemic or if it’s localized. (22:16 – 22:23)
Ali: Mhmm. (22:23)
Genius: It’s a very important concept. So for instance, if you’ve ever had a localized rash on your leg, a doctor might give you something to put topically around that spot— (22:24 – 22:38)
Ali: Alright. (22:38)
Genius: And after a couple days, hopefully, if things go well, the rash disappears, dissipates and starts to go away because they gave you a particular way to address a localized issue. (22:39 – 22:48)
Ali: Right. (22:48)
Genius: However, there are people who get diagnosed with, for instance, cancer in their blood. (22:49 – 22:54)
Ali: Right… right. (22:54 – 22:56)
Genius: That is a systemic issue, right? It flows through your bloodstream. (22:56 – 23:00)
Ali: Right. (23:00)
Genius: So the way you have to attack that, there is no salve or cream that a doctor can give you to put in a certain spot to attack your systemic issue. (23:01 – 23:11)
Ali: Yeah. (23:12)
Genius: You have to ingest medicine, you have to get things in your blood system, whatever it is you have to do: radiation, chemotherapy— (23:11 – 23:18)
Ali: Transformation. (23:18 – 23:19)
Genius: Right, a whole transformation. Once something is systemically broken, especially when it has been systemically broken for a long time, the way to fix it is not with little localized moments. (23:19 – 23:32)
Ali: Nope. (23:32)
Genius: I mean those matter, don’t get me wrong. (23:32 – 23:34)
Ali: Yeah. (23:34)
Genius: But I just want to give people that because I think something, again, we use terms like systemic, and it just becomes like a buzzword—but no, it really means something. (23:34 – 23:41)
Ali: Right. (23:41)
Genius: So, you talk to me a little bit. What is systemic? You used system, the system, the system. A bunch of times, what up with that? (23:42 – 23:47)
Ali: I mean it is just a easier way to… to bring it all together, right. Because racism, right? If you want to talk about racism— (23:47 – 24:00)
Genius: Yeah. (24:00)
Ali: Just because everyone is like, “Oh my god, I’m not a racist, and I am not this and I’m not that.” Well, you gotta look at the definition of racism, right? Because racism isn’t a social issue. It is not like, “I don’t like this person because they’re this color.” That’s, that’s, that’s your choice, right? That’s prejudice, right, but that’s not racism. Racism is when you are taking a value of someone and degrading it, by—in every predicament, right? So when it comes to finances, when it comes to education, when it comes to health, when it comes to prospering, when it comes, you know, to the ability to do things. That becomes a racist structure, so when this racist structure affects people of color heavily, that when you see everything that’s negative really high and everything that is positive really low, right? (24:00 – 24:50)
Genius: Yes. (24:50)
Ali: So for example, education, like, really low for Blacks, and then if you look at poverty levels, they’re really low and death rates are really high. So all the negative things, right, all the negative things are affecting the people of color, and how did this happen, right? Because a system had cre—all this had started from a different system. So the original system had started obviously with the Spanish people when Spain took enslaved Africans from Africa and brought them to this country, right? And there was Blacks in this country, way before all of this. Like, there were Blacks in this country already. (24:51 – 25:29)
Genius: Mmhmm. (25:29)
Ali: So when they brought the Africans, they gave the white people here an incentive, even the poor whites. They were like, “Hey, y’all want to get rich?” (chuckle) (25:30 – 25:38)
Genius: Yep. (25:38)
Ali: So this is an easy thing, right? So they, Michelle Alexander explains this in her book, The New Jim Crow. I’m sorry. The New Jim Crow. She explains it, she says that it was used as a tool, because it’s easy, you know? You can look at someone and say just because the color of their skin is just a little bit darker, they’re… not as smart as us. Period. (25:39 – 26:00)
Genius: Right. (26:00)
Ali: And everyone was gonna believe it because it was just a tool, man. (26:00 – 26:03)
Genius: It was just a tool to create otherism. One thing that I want to interject, because I definitely love the way you explained this. You know, when we talk about things being systemic or systems, we’re not talking about people inventing new systems. We’re talking about echoes of old systems. Part of the reason that this conversation can get stagnated is because a lot of people in America, they just don’t want to hear any, you know— “Forget the past, move on. (26:04 – 26:29)
Ali: Yes! (26:30)
Genius: Why do you keep talking about the past?” It’s like, “Listen listen listen.” Even the way that you are responding to me right now isn’t new. (laughs) (26:30 – 26:37)
Ali: They stuck, they freeze. They freeze. (26:37 – 26:39)
Genius: Even your response to being tired of talk about it— (26:37 – 26:38)
Ali: They freeze when they hear slavery, but it’s like— (26:40 – 26:43)
Genius: But, but where did the system start and like, you know, continue? I am just saying, like if you have a car in 2019 or whatever, just real quick here. You can still go look at cars from the 1980s, and if you learn that engine, it tells you about the 2018 car. It does, and if you look at a car from the 60s, it tells you something, right? A combustion engine is a combustion engine. Yeah, it gets more, uh, sleek and has more plastic and more electronics surveillance built into it. You’re exploding gasoline, homie. We figured that out a long time ago. Systems get updated, but people aren’t usually just creating new systems. (26:44 – 27:23)
Genius: I just want that echo to be real. (27:25 – 27:27)
Ali: Yep. (27:26)
Ali: No, this is… It was an essential, man. Cause this… All this was essential to a prospering, like okay, of power. That’s all it was. (26:27 – 27:34)
Genius: Yes. (27:34)
Ali: So, to moving forward from this, and I know that they say, “Oh, we’ve had a lot of progress,” but you really look at it, we black people made the progress. White people didn’t really do the progress because black people are the only people that have to shed their blood to get anywhere. We have to shed our blood to get to have voting or shed our blood to get to school, but and that’s when it becomes a problem. Like okay, how American are we? How American are we if we disregard the fact that blacks really build this country, right? (27:34 – 28:05)
Genius: Like literally! (28:05 – 28:06)
Ali: Literally, and Natives actually owned this country, right? (28:06 – 28:10)
Genius: Literally! (laughs) (28:10 – 28:12)
Ali: Literally! So like, so this here becomes a problem, right? So after, um, a little bit of progress: the segregation, and you know, the 1954 the Brown vs. Board of Education was signed, after MLK and all that. So people were like, “Yeah, that’s when it ended.”(28:11 – 28:26)
Genius: Shoutout Thurgood Marshall, but yeah, it wasn’t over (28:26 – 28:28)
Ali: From right there, new systems started— (28:29 -28:32)
Genius: Ohhh… (28:32 – 28:33)
Ali: 1954, right? So 1920s to 1980s, what happened was everybody was inside their communities, and people were coming back from war. Blacks and whites were mixed. (28:34 – 28:43)
Genius: Yep. (28:42)
Ali: This is where the red-lining, the segregating… This is that different areas changes (28:43 – 28:46)
Genius: Yeah, that was too dangerous. They couldn’t let that fly. (28:45 – 28:47)
Ali: Right but redlining actually took off on a different scale, right, and people say redlining, like, goes something like, the Color of Law, right? If you read the Color of Law, it teaches you—it said that when the loans were given out, they were given out at low interest rates to whites. So towards the end when Blacks were trying to—towards the end of the 1980s like that when all the houses in the suburbs were filled up already— (28:47 – 29:16)
Genius: Yeah. (29:16)
Ali: and all the communities that were—all only people that were all, that were all—there were Blacks, were Natives and low-income whites, that’s all that was there. Black people only had 2% of the ownership when it came to the houses in the suburbs. So at that time, $14,000 – $17,000 that was the average amount for the houses. (29:17 – 29:37)
Genius: Yeah. (29:37)
Ali: And this jumped up to $200,000 – $300,000. That’s called equity now, right? So, that’s wealth. (29:37 – 29:42)
Genius: Mmm. (29:42)
Ali: Now, everybody that’s Black, right. If—for example—if a Black person moved into the neighborhood, everyone moved out, right? So this person couldn’t even build equity. So the 2% that actually built something—that built something, couldn’t really build it, right. (29:43 – 29:59)
Genius: Wow… they were still kept out. (29:59 – 30:00)
Ali: They were still kept out. So now we have $300,000 worth of, you know what I mean, equity—$100 to $300,000. So now this builds the middle class. The schools and everything, the jobs are sent out to the suburbs. Highways are built in between, so now if you see the inner cities, theres’s highways—(30:00 – 30:19)
Genius: Yup. (30:19)
Ali: there’s the court systems right next to the neighborhoods, right? (30:20 – 30:22)
Genius: Yup. (30:23)
Ali: And downtown, and then over the bridge is green, but the police force live—where do the police live? In the suburbs—(30:23 – 30:32)
Genius: Yep. (30:32)
Ali: where, who gets taxed? The communities. Where does the money go? To the police force that they send in the cops, and they’re in these communities. Now the drugs came into the 1970s – 1980s, right? Nixon… (30:33 – 30:42)
Genius: Mhmm, yep. (30:41 – 30:42)
Ali: Who was the other person? Uh, I’m not gonna get into all the presidents, but Nixon was the biggest one that really pushed it into it. The next president said, um, it was a War on Drugs, and said, “Just say, ‘no.’” And then it was like the three times you’re out or whatever, you know? (30:42 – 31:00)
Genius: Three Strikes, You’re Out. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. (30:59 – 31:01)
Ali: Yeah, the Three Strike System. (31:01 – 31:02)
Genius: Wow… (31:02)
Ali: So all of this jumped from the number was—now I wish I had my notes, man. So it was roughly around like 100,000/200,000 to 2.3 million people that were incarcerated within, like, 20-30 years. (31:03 – 31:15)
Genius: Yeah. (31:15)
Ali: So Blacks, obviously, crack cocaine, hundred years. Cocaine was one year. You know that. So now this system, 13th Amendment that came in with slavery, saying that slavery is abolished— (31:16 – 31:27)
Genius: Hold on one second. (31:27 – 31:28)
Ali: Yeah? (31:28)
Genius: Oh, ‘cause the 13th Amendment is powerful; however, I just wanna highlight, if you think about the architecture and the image that Ali just painted—if you closed your eyes and you heard that—if not, rewind the podcast. It’s gucci. No one’s gonna make fun of you. (31:29 – 31:42)
Ali: (chuckles) (31:41)
Genius: Right? Think about how he was saying that wealth was created, right? With equity and homes. And there were people that had homes, and there were people that were kept out of homes, but then, it wasn’t just having a house. It wasn’t just about your comfortability, right? It was about the system of the city, the city planning… where the highways go, and then people are physically separated. (31:43 – 32:03)
Ali: Yup. (32:03)
Genius: And then the Police are—we’ll talk a little bit more about what the Police are really here to do, but they, you know, they’re there to kind of lean on the situation to—let’s say—make it look a certain way, but the Police aren’t even from the neighborhoods on that side of the highway. You’re talking about a system. (32:04 – 32:19)
Ali: Mhmm. (32:19)
Genius: Right? It’s—if you think about it, that system is recreated in city, after city, after city, after city, city (x4) all throughout the country. (32:20 – 32:28)
Ali: Yup. (32:28)
Genius: Think about it, you might—even when we were describing it—you might think of your local hood. (32:29 – 32:33)
Ali: Yeah. (32:33)
Genius: Nope, all of ‘em. Go to California. Go to Alabama. Go to Texas. Go to New York. It’s all the same story, and it was done on purpose. Systems— (32:34 – 32:45)
Ali: Right. (32:45)
Genius: —are created to maintain certain things, to achieve certain things, and they also tend to have the fingerprints of their creators on that system. (32:46 – 32:54)
Ali: Mhmm. (32:55)
Genius: Yessir. (32:55 – 32:56)
Ali: No, and well, this—it continued, right? ‘Cause you can hold the government accountable after the—you know, 1954—they when they signed the Brown vs. Board of Education or anything like that specifically. (32:56 – 33:09)
Genius: Yeah. (33:09)
Ali: You can hold them accountable—and they call it jure de facto—did it happen by the People’s choice, or did it happen by the government, you know? (33:10 – 33:16)
Genius: Right. (33:16)
Ali: And um, that’s an argument that Rothstein actually approves in the Color of Law ‘cause he’s like—yo you can actually hold the government accountable for that for those reasons, and they should be given back to the same type of loans to the descendants of the, uh, the descendants of slaves that were original Blacks, right? You gotta give ‘em the houses back from the $14,000 – $17,000 so they can build their equity, so it can be fair. (33:17 – 32:42)
Genius: Mm! (32:42)
Ali: That’s, that’s just by law, right? He proved that point, but you know, the government don’t like paying good(?) things back, right? (32:43 – 33:49)
Genius: —especially not to Black people, Brown people.(33:49 – 33:51)
Ali: They’re like—ain’t gonna pay nothin’ back. So anyways, so this kinda jumps into the 2000s and now we’re in 2020. We obviously see a lot of the issues coming up. But I mean, this isn’t something that just started the issues. It’s just like, these are systems that are created and embedded. Our schools are underfunded. The houses are broken down. Kids are getting sick. They can’t focus in school or behavioral issues. SROs are, are police officers are, are in schools. And like we understand police officers were like, you know, 10,000 police officers were hired back when, the school shootings popped off and whatnot. But at the same time, like no police officer has never stopped a school shooting period, right.
But over a million kids got arrested. And most of those kids were Black, and because of behavioral issues. Now the kids got behavioral issues because their parents have to overwork. And we live in a capitalist society where you have to work multiple jobs just to afford, right? So there’s, there’s like there’s maybe two counties in this country where you can work a 40-hour job, a minimum wage and afford a two-bedroom home. (33:51 – 34:47)
Genius: Super rare. (34:48)
Ali: Right. So now as a, sometimes, so now it’s like the men are getting arrested because one in every three Black men are gonna go to jail, right? And that’s not because Black people are, are bad because it’s scientifically proven that all races commit crime at the same rate. And actually whites sell more drugs than Black people, right? Yes. For sure. But Black people, one in every three, and I think white people was one in every 17, right? If I’m not wrong, it’s one in every 17. (34:49 – 35:12)
Genius: Damn. (35:13)
Ali: So now you got single mothers and you got this music industry that’s controlled. And I was listening to a podcast, not a podcast, a Ted Talk the other day and they said the music, they were trying to put out some lovely music into Black neighborhoods. And they said, no, we ain’t going with that. (35:14 – 35:28)
Genius: Nah, y’all gotta talk that crazy s***. (35:29 – 35:30)
Ali: Yeah, they wanted the drugs and the guns. Cause that’s what sells. (35:31 – 35:32)
Genius: And then, not that no Black people was trying to tell that story. That was their real ghetto story, let’s be real. At the same time, when you take music to a record label, I’m just saying, cause I’m actually working on some music right now and I’m, I’m not shouting out my record label. I’m saying in general …
(35:33 – 35:48)
Ali: Shout out your record label, man. Stop playin’. (35:49 – 35:50)
Genius: At this moment, what I’m saying is that when you are working on a body of, of music, you are beholden somewhat to a record label if they’ve signed you, because they have some say so, and they don’t, you know, they don’t want to promote the wrong thing. They want to promote what they think will be successful. That’s why they’re putting money behind you. So, make no mistake when you, you know, I remember the days of the gangster rap and they were all the people, “Oh my God, how are they saying this?” It’s like, well, people just having fun and saying what they want to say. They’re saying what they need to say. They’re also saying what they’re being paid to say, don’t trip. And it’s not a bunch of Black people paying them. I’m sorry. Let’s just … I’m not trying to point the finger. I know people talk about Jewish people, white people. What I’m saying is that we was talking about the gangster rap and the NWAs and all that, even before that, right. When people were, let’s say talking about these harsh things or pain and drugs and rape and b****** and all that, who was paying to put the music out? (35:51 – 36:40)
Ali: Who’s still paying them right now? (36:41 – 36:42)
Genius: But I’m just saying, because that’s something that just gets overlooked, but like, “Black people are so violent.” Well, y’all like to hear about Black people’s violence. Yeah. So says your dollars. So says your actual money and your playlist and which songs you put on repeat. But I’m just saying … (36:43 – 36:59)
Ali: No, but it’s a reality because if you, you hear the rappers they say, “I don’t use drugs.” They say, “I gotta say this.” Because if you listen to Lil’ Baby’s new song, for example, and I know people are always trying to stay up with their music. So I’m going to throw Lil’ Baby out there and he made one about the movement. And he specifically says, “There’s certain things that cannot say,” he says, “I say what I got to say,” he’d say, he explains it. You got to listen to people’s music, man. ‘Cause when I, when the music explains our pain, right, it does. It does. But now when you put this type of music in Chicago where it’s like, what is it, that death city of, I don’t know, whatever they call it. But now they’re saying, well, what about Black-on-Black crime? I said, well, who put them in the communities? Who took the resources and made them scarce resources? (37:00 – 37:51)
Genius: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Bro, I’m sorry. It’s all these people, and I’m going to say it like this. I’m gonna say it like this, ‘cause it’s real. There’s a lot of white people who maybe don’t know a lot of Black people. They don’t live near a neighborhood like that, or communities like that, right? And they have all these views of Black-on-Black crime and how Black people are to each other, right? But what’s crazy is if you peel back, just like you said, who created those neighborhoods? The Black people did not just decide one day, we’re going to go all live on the Westside of Chicago together because we think it’s beautiful. No, these neighborhoods, this is where people were allowed to live. They were pushed out of other places. And then the police were sent there to keep stirring s*** up and don’t play. So, when you look at these neighborhoods and you watch these news reports and this was, Donald Trump talking, this “American carnage” and all this s***, they love to, once they created these spaces, and don’t do anything to make them less dangerous except throw police at it, because police make it less dangerous? No. (37:52 – 38:54)
Ali: Police officers were made for, to capture Black people. Literally, that’s literally, that’s the history. So it’s like … (38:55 – 39:01)
Genius: We’re going to touch back on that in a second, but I just want to say this because you’re right. But what I’m saying is that there’s just this stigma and there’s these views that these crazy wild Black people are like stuck in this jungle. They didn’t even create the jungle. And the conditions that make it so wild were not created by Black people. This isn’t me trying to, don’t get me wrong, there’s gangsters, people shooting people, raping people that happen to be Black, yeah. I’m not making excuses for these people. I’m just saying peel back and understand the circumstances that created these environments, and continue to create these environments, instead of just watching the news and these reports about how bad it is and all these numbers, without ever realizing how it started. (39:02 – 39:43)
Ali: But I guarantee you though, a lot of people will listen to this and say, “Wow, I didn’t know this.” So, you hear people right now saying, “BLM, it’s just a terrorist group and they’re blowing stuff up and they’re throwing things and they’re doing this and that.” And it’s like, but do you guys know the real deep history and why it’s happening? They just don’t. They don’t. Yeah. “That person has to stop.” But, but what, 400 years of pain isn’t enough, and blood and tears and crying and death and still happening? And police officers are still shooting us in the back and strangling us and stuff. (39:44 – 40:18)
Genius: And why don’t nobody tell the police to be non-violent? I was at a protest with a guy screaming at me to be, make sure you don’t do anything violent. The police are crossing me with, with whatever you call the jackets on, the face mask, they got these long sticks look like they ready to do some Ambo-Jitsu on somebody. I mean like, literally I’m like, where did y’all even get this gear from? And this guy screaming at me, physically, “Just make sure there’s no violence against the police.” And I’m like, who’s about to have violence? But nobody says that to the police. I don’t get it. (40:19 – 40:53)
Ali: They were taught through their curriculum. Doesn’t teach this. It doesn’t teach this. So, what they all do, the only thing they knew is like, “You guys have freedom, just relax. Y’all can do whatever y’all want.” But can we though? Because, check this out. There’s 2.3 million people that are arrested right now, 5 million people on probation, 70 million people that have criminal records. That’s about 25% of this, of this country, right? 25% of this country has a criminal record. And that means that you’re discriminated against housing, against jobs, against funding for school. Like, these are issues that you can’t prosper. How are you going to raise a family? How are you gonna be with somebody, if you can’t achieve funds, right? So that’s why when people say, I can’t trust the other sex, it’s because these issues come into it. These social issues, economical issues. And it’s just like, I can’t prosper in life; you expect me to go crazy? And as soon, and if I have a criminal record, now the same police officers are just going to start looking at me, right? And after mass incarceration is going to be my mass surveillance. So, there’s a new system that’s coming up. It just adds up, for everybody that’s listening. So if they’re already, if a Black man is walking in a white neighborhood, automatically a cop’s gonna pull up like, “Hey, what the hell you doing here?” But if you have a criminal record, now it’s like, “What are you really doing over here?” If you’re on probation, like, “What are you really…?” You don’t, your probation is like, you don’t have a job, then it’s, so it’s a system that you’re never going to win. You’re not going to win. And if you like, and humans are bound to make mistakes where normally people that make mistakes, we’re going to be late to work. If you make one mistake then you’re going to … so this, you expect somebody to be normal? After, after witnessing people being murdered, after hearing about your history, after being told that you’re worthless? You expect Black people to be normal. So, nobody’s talking about Black trauma. Nobody’s talking about that, right? And that’s what, white people would just be like, okay, well just go and kind of get over it. But it’s like, how can we, even if we go to your therapists, they don’t understand our reality. So, they’ll be like, you know, this is the type of, it’s not the remedy. (40:54 – 43:01)
Genius: Bro. I think you’re right. So, I want to ask something of you, just because, I mean, I do think that people can start to understand why and how Black people are kind of influenced by this reality, how these systems, we say systems of oppression, but it’s more than just oppression. Like there’s a lot going on … (43:02 – 43:20)
Ali: Disadvantages everywhere. (43:21 – 43:22)
Genius: Right. But talk to me a little bit about how, I mean, obviously we have people of color, but what about white people? I feel like white people are not only affected by these systems, but like the way this racism lives itself out? White people are hurt, and, and disadvantaged and, and lied to, fooled. And they don’t even know it, bro. (43:23 – 43:41)
Ali: I mean, this is … okay. So, when they said, “war on drugs,” they said, “just say no,” right? That’s a lie. That was a lie. It’s war against brown and Black people. And then anybody that was low income in the white communities, “Oh, you want to support them? You can go right there with them.” Right? So what happens is that number, that bracket, got bigger and got bigger and got bigger. So there’s so many people that are below the poverty line and the rich are getting richer, capitalism. The same thing they go, we want to call it structural racism. They want to call it capitalism. Same difference, bro. But like the thing is, that in reality, when you do see white people saying, “Black lives matter,” they’re saying that “We’re being affected too, buddy. We’re being affected too. And this is where it’s going to stand, because we’re being affected the exact same way. I have a criminal record. I’m dressed this way. I listened to Black music. I’m hanging out with all Black people.” And it is technically, sometimes I don’t even want to just say just “Black,” because people of color, you know, I want to respect, native people that are, that are also disadvantages. And I wanted to respect the Hispanics that are also, populated highly inside of the prisons and whatnot. So, I want to respect everybody that lives in this country because it’s not all Black and white. It is, other races. But the difference is here, right? The difference is when you’re white, you have a little bit more of an advantage, right? For example, benefit of the doubt. When a Black person walks into court, right? Immediately you’re guilty. You’re going to have to prove your innocence. And I’m telling you this right now, everybody, who’s going to disagree with me? (43:42 – 45:30)
Genius: A couple of ignorant people, but anyway … (45:31 – 45:32)
Ali: They won’t disagree with me. They know the fact; they can lie to themselves. But when someone that’s white walks in: “What happened?” (45:33 – 45:41)
Genius: Yeah. We don’t want to ruin your life because you made a mistake. Wait, hold on. (45:42 – 45:45)
Ali: “I made a mistake. I made a mistake.” So, this is like, so now, now we have economics. We have education. We have health, we have incarceration. We have the disadvantages. We have the police force. Now the next thing is called the bias. Right? So now we have even the mental view, every single way, even the Black kids that are born have less of a high chance when they’re, when they’re being delivered by their white counterparts. And I’m saying, I’m not saying this in a racial view, this is a stat. (45:46 – 46:19)
Genius: It’s mathematical. Proven. Understood. (46:20 – 46:22)
Ali: The reason why, when we have bias, we take the white body and put it higher, at a higher, they meet value, a value, than the Black body. And this is the problem. That’s the problem. Even Black people do it. So when I realized I am racist, or not, or biased or prejudiced against my own people, I had to stop. I had to go as when I walk into an elevator and I see a white person, I shake the hand. When I, when I, when I walk to the elevator, I see a Black person and I nod my head. Right? I stopped doing that. I say, “How you doing, brother?” I smile at him. I shake his hand the same way I would do it for a white person. The reason why it’s because I have to trick my mind and I have to say, this is not threatening. Right? I have to do this. And this is a work of a Black person. Now think of a white person saying, “Oh, I’m not a racist.” Guess what? Every single part of this country is racist. (46:23 – 47:20)
Genius: By default. (47:21)
Ali: Our dollar bills have to have slave masters. Our 13th amendment says slavery is still … Everything is racist in it. I got to do this work as a Black person. And I’ve been doing this work. You got to do this work. The white people also have to do this work. (47:22 – 47:35)
Genius: This is the end of Part A. (47:37 – 47:38)
This is the beginning of part B. And Ali, I want to ask you kind of in summary of that segment, really, why is it important that we understand the system?
I mean, so everything is law and order, right? Because police are order maintenance and we have to follow the law. And 2000 to 3000 laws are created every year. And if you break a law, then you could be incarcerated. You could be arrested, anything like that could happen. So, if these laws and everything affect us every single day from jobs, from security, from food, from family, from everything that you do, mental health, these systems are connected to everything. If we don’t figure out what’s wrong with the system and we keep looking at people, we’re now going to find a conclusion, because people are just reactions to what they’re learning. Everything is learned behavior, scientifically proven. So if I, like I said earlier, if I’m attacked, then I’m just going to attack back. If I’m hurt, then I’m going to hurt. If I’m loved and I’m cherished, then I’m going to be loved and I’m going to release some love and cherish, right?
So, understanding that the systems are affecting black people in this country. And if you really care about black lives, right? And you say black lives matter, they just matter. That’s all it is. It’s like your life matters. Then if our lives matter, then it’s your responsibility to understand and see what’s affecting us. Stop looking at the actions and say, “Hey, how do we resolve what’s affecting you?” And that just goes back to a system that’s made to oppress us.
Absolutely. No, thank you. Thank you for that. I think that what I want to do is just move forward. We have another way to talk about systems. We happen to be located currently in the state of Maine. And it’s a little different from a lot of states. Come visit us. Check us out. But right now, we want to talk about the system specifically in Maine. So what do these systems look like? I know that you have some familiarity. I’m just curious. Can you give us a couple of details about … Before we talk about how we can break down some of the systems in Maine and maybe some of the work that you’re doing to break them down, but what are we really facing? What do these systems look like in Maine?
All right. So I know we have the highest disproportionate thing of COVID. I don’t know the exact percentages and they talk about that a lot. But we have 1.6% black people that live in Maine, right? And there’s about 23% of youth that are incarcerated that are black.
1.6% of Mainers are black?
And 23% are incarcerated out inside the juvenile facility.
Of those incarcerated, 20% are black?
23% are black.
So we have about, I don’t know, what is it? Like 20 times the rate.
Immediately, now you start to look at the police officers. So you looked at the youth. It’s about 50% of kids that go Portland schools are of color. Right? 50%, in Portland schools.
Yeah. Portland’s popping, yeah.
Right. And then you look at how many police officers are black. And even if you did have black police officers, when you’re working in a system that’s made to harm, black people you’re just going to do it. Remember that bias thing I was talking about.
So if we, as adults are having this class thing, this doesn’t happen in Maine. But what does happen in Maine? Look at Isahak Muse. Isahak Muse was actually a close friend of mine. He texted me the night before he actually got shot in the back.
Say his name one more time.
Yeah. And this brother was murdered?
He was shot in the back. Right in the back in his girlfriend’s house. Her brother shot. But anyways, the reality is that the benefit of the doubt. Again, he was in the military. But there were statements that were said like, “Muslims are terrorists” inside the house. And other ones like, “Why are you hurting me?” Another one was like, “He could’ve grabbed the phone, but he grabbed the gun.” Right? So there’s these things that were certain statements that were said. So it just turned out that he has seven and a half years in prison. Right?
Yeah, I saw that.
I have more friends doing drugs, bro, doing more time for drugs about 20 years.
Yeah. They didn’t shoot anybody. They didn’t kill them.
No, nothing. They didn’t do any of that.
Yeah. And also, I just wanted to say, because it stood out to me in the article I was reading it recently too, about the guy who got the seven and a half years. Some people were like, “Oh, this is good.” But he got less time because he served in the military.
But Joseph Jackson also served in the military. He did 20 years for self-defense.
Yeah. No hate to the military. My dad was in the military, some of my good friends growing up. Well, if y’all want to be you’re going to act like I’m saying something against military, then say what you’re going to say. But I’m going to say that I don’t think even this man murdered this … Well, technically, he murdered his sister’s boyfriend, right? I mean, that’s what happened. He should get less time because he served in the military?
Is this, man. Is simple as this, right? This is the only country where two people could do the exact same thing at the exact same time, at the exact same place and get two different sentences. Only place in the world. I said this other day. I was, light white sentences is also a tool of white supremacy.
Light white sentences are also a tool of white supremacy.
So that’s the systems in Maine.
Because it’s easy to be like, “Oh no, the judge said. The judge said.” Well, who’s the judge? Who put them in power? And what systems are they echoing? Who taught them in law school? You know what I mean? What are they built upon? But people don’t go back there for.
It’s the simplicity of this, man. We live under systems. We all have bias no matter how much bias training we do. I mean, I released a five-day, what you call it? Reversing structural racism. And Laura Ligouri, she’s a scientist. She’s a cognitive scientist. She said, “No matter how much bias training you guys do, it’s not going to work.” Unless you really want to change your brain and really focus on it. But like, “Oh, I took bias training. I’m good.” No, you’re still biased. You just realize that you’re biased. This is just a training to tell you that you know you are. I’m like, “Yeah, I know I am.”
It is what it is. It doesn’t bother them. So for me, when people do bias training is like, “Why are you wasting your money? Why are you wasting your money?” I don’t care if nobody likes me. To be honest, I just want to be financially good. My health is good. My mental is good. Then I can defend myself. That’s what racism is. It’s because you can’t defend yourself. It’s a structure. It’s the value of life. That’s racism. It’s not a personal hate. That’s like prejudice.
I keep saying this like this is the fact is that I’m not here to convince racist people’s minds. I talked to racist people all the time. I have great conversations with them. And we come to a clear understanding that it’s actually capitalism. Great. But the fact is that the more money you’re putting into how to teach white people not to be racist is the same money you could give to black people to get them off of the structure of racism.
Like, that’s the fact is like when two people are equal, you can hang all you want.
Yeah, yeah. No. Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s the thing too. Sometimes I think people get caught up in like, “Yo, if we could just convince these white people to really love black people and to get up.” And it’s like, “Honestly, I mean, if we could do that, that’s cool. But I don’t need that. I’m trying to rock regardless, because how long have we been trying to convince people that it’s all good?”
I have white people that I love. And I got white people that love me.
Me too, for sure.
And you do too, right? So that’s a personal thing. These are personal. Like, I don’t care. You can’t change the whole. But we can change structures.
We can. So how do we change the structures in the state of Maine?
First off, in the whole country, we need to give back things. We need to give back what was taken. We need to give back land and we need to give back money. And how are we going to do that with reparations? That’s the first thing we need to do. It’s not like, “Oh, we climbed this mountain. And yet we did it on y’all backs, but now y’all got a climb it.” No. Y’all got to return what the heck y’all took. That’s just a reality, right? And if that’s not going to happen, which probably isn’t, then we say, “Hey, police officer, stop.” Defund the police and reinvest. Not only defund because that word doesn’t just give it enough juice. You got to add the reinvest into things that are going to help us.
Yeah. So reallocation.
Reallocating. So when you reallocate this money into education, our schools are better. And then you give it to the communities that are divided and whatever. And now they’re over the police. Now, if you could put less police and more credible messages, credible messengers like mentors, black leaders, black women, beautiful black women that are leaders, black men that are leaders. Now we got something to look up to because I had nobody to look up to.
I mean, now I’m looking up to people. But before I didn’t have people to look up to. It was very hard. So people are looking up to me now. They’re saying, “Hey, I want to look …” A lot of young kids who say, “I like how Ali rolls.” I’m just like, “Bro, I’m not a leader. I’m not, bro. I’m just like you. I’m really just like you.” But they’re looking at me like that now. So now I’m saying like this, right, if youth are doing this, so why can’t we bring in a good 15, 20 that had life experience, that knows these things, that we can pay through the taxes, the same taxes, right? From the government that we’re paying for these pensions and whatever, to the same funnel stream to the mentors and the credible messengers or whatnot?
In these communities, we have less issues because we’re teaching the kids, “This is how you’re supposed to act.” Right? We’re not removing children from there. We’re not taking children. We’re actually helping the community. That’s the first part. This is my ideas too. This my own personalities and everybody has their own, right?
And there’s no one particular way to do it. If we had one way to do it, it’s not like one person created the system. It’s like hundreds of hundreds of thousands of people over the years that had. So it’s going to take hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people together, which if America put our heads together, we could do it, right? That’s one idea. Another idea is after you remove the police, like babysitters so the mothers can get more money, how about bringing down the loans for the black people so they can get their home, so they can earn the 200, $300,000 in equity? There are so much different ways. America’s not running out of money.
No, it’s not.
America is the richest country in the world. We have the most billionaires, the most. So we’re not running out of money and the taxes we’re getting taxed for everything, for everything we do. For breathing, technically. You know what I mean?
So where’s the money, exactly?
So that money just reallocating it in the right places.
So, and that’s the thing. I like how you just talked about reallocating. You talked about defunding. And again, what does defunding mean? Everyone just hears that. Not everyone. Excuse me. People that are ignorant of the meaning, just saying, hear that and go, “Oh, you want to get rid of police. You just want to …” No. Well, maybe.
Yeah, reimagine. Reinvent. Reapproach. Something that they just are not willing to do but that is what we mean. One of the things that I want to say, and I’m just curious, because you talked a little bit about what it would look like, where you put those funds. And the question that we were just thinking about just at Black Owned Maine in general is, is it possible to be both pro-black and to be pro-police, like I support the police?
As they are right now? No, it can’t. You can’t do that. This is why. Pro-police, police order maintenance. And the laws are struck in policy, are struck into affect us negatively. So as a police officer, they have to do their job. And if their job says the law says that this, this, this, this, this have to be in place, then you’re just harming black people. That’s the fact. We have the most police officers in the world, the highest incarceration rate, black people are dying, obviously. We see them normally getting shot and everything like that. Nobody’s being held accountable. How are we going to be pro both sides? What we have to do is reimagine, right? So one thing, we have to heal the blacks. We have to heal our community. We have to heal what we have caused. That’s the pain, right? And then for the police, we have to reimagine. We can’t have police officers from the suburbs going to our community.
We have to have the police officers be from our own community.
Police unions are very problematic as well because of what they maintain over time. And I wanted to actually harken back, Ali, to a quote from you because it’s really resonated with me. We had like a pre-talk before this podcast and I had to snatch this quote. And what the brother said was, “It’s not your fault, but you’re thriving and I’m hurting.” The responsibility to change is on whites because their money is stolen money. And when I take that idea … I mean, again, there’s a lot of white people in America right now. Everything that’s going on is literally not their fault. It’s not the state they originated in.
It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.
We accept that.
But this is the thing. There are still people that are thriving and there’s people that are hurting at the same time. And there’s a system that’s maintaining that. So, when I was listening to Ali and he was saying the responsibility for this changes on the white people because the money is stolen, yo, when we talk about these police and how I’m just going to say it. So many white Americans feel so safe and secure because of what they think. When is the right time to call the police? I’ve been wronged. Someone did this to me. Something happened to my daughter. And I respect that you want help from someone who was helpful, but the police make you feel safe. They don’t make everyone feel safe. In fact, it’s proven that some people are not as safe around police as maybe you are honestly it’s maybe you think you are. So, we talk about-
Because they do that because they do their job when it’s with white people.
Right, right, right, right, right. It looks a certain way. But what we’re saying is when we talk about taking money from the police forces, we’re not hating them or want them to not be able to take care of their families. That’s not the point. We’re saying we need less police, because we do. And what we’re saying is that some of that money that keeps society in a certain way and keeps people in a certain cage, if you can literally pull some of that money away from those systems that are so old and sit the money somewhere else, your society will actually be different.
The fact is that they increase the budget for the police, for public safety, so-called public safety, every single year. Crimes have been dropping every single year, right? Our incarceration rate is still at the highest in the world. Our mental health rate is still at the highest in the world. Our depression rate are still highest in the world. Our abusive pharmaceutical drugs are still the highest in the world. We still have the same issues. If we could jail our way out of it, it would have happened already. But no, we’re just increasing the amount of people that have criminal records that are going to be disadvantaged.
And that’s why it’s not about one or two or three year or a hundred people or a thousand people, or the 40 million black people that live in this country that are fighting. It’s a lot of white people that are doing this work that are in the work right now is because everyone is affected, right? So it’s not about single police officers. It’s about a system that keeps increasing what’s not needed. It needs to decrease. And it needs to increase in positive things.
Absolutely, bro. So, just so we can move forward because, I mean, I just had to touch on that because, again, the pro-black pro-police, I’ve heard these types of arguments conversations, and I just want you to chime in. What I want to do is move forward. Or this would be my last thing here, is how do folks get involved?
There’s many ways. There is not one specific way of saying, “Oh, defund the police.” No. You can change the word first though. We could say reallocate funds. The second thing is there’s different organizations in Maine. One of which is Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition. There’s Maine Inside Out. There’s Maine Youth Justice. There’s Maine Initiatives. There’s so many different Mainer organizations. And I will break down the organizations with you. Actually, I have a little poem that I can read off to you later on that will show you like the gimmick that’s going on.
There’s people running for office. Look at the people that’s in your district that are already in office and ask them, “What the heck are you doing about structural racism? What are you doing about the 3%?” I think it was only like, I think. Don’t get me wrong. Don’t hit me on this. I think it’s about 3% of all of the graduates, of black graduates, are reading at the right level of growth, graduating from Portland. And it’s like, why aren’t we investing in things like that? Right?
So this is not a responsibility of just the people that are here. These are responsibility of people that are in power. They’re in the power and we need to hold them accountable, right, because they’re voted for. What are you doing for these kids? What are you allocating? What’s your ideas? And who are you getting the ideas from? Don’t pull no ideas out to behind. Ask the people that’s been in the work. Ask the people that are being effected. Ask the people that have the master degrees in this work, the abolitionists, whatever you want to call them. Ask the youth.
And ask people of color too.
Ask people of color. Ask people that experience it. Do not ask people that you think might know. Don’t do that. That’s in power. No. Ask the people that know I brought five people down to the reversing structural racism. I brought professors. I brought researchers. I brought everyone. And you can look at this, reversing structural racism in Maine. Put it on YouTube and there’s a five episode segment where it goes from the cognitive to the policing to education and everything. And I brought all the best experts I could find in the area. And they all went in for a whole hour and to explain how to break this down.
Right? So I think that’s the best way to get involved and it’s … There’s Black Owned Maine, right?
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. You can support us. But I hear you talk about being active, right? Getting educated, spending some time. You know what I mean?
One of my day jobs, I have a manager who’s been doing just amazing work on himself. You know what I mean? Like you could go talk to people, have all these conversations and we converse. But he’s reading. I don’t know if he’s meditating, but he’s going in. And I respect that because a lot of people just ain’t willing to do that. You know what I’m saying?
So we just want to give you all a little bit of those tips. Obviously, check out the body of work that Ali put together about reversing structural racism because you need those resources. You got to set aside some time and sit down. You know what I mean? This isn’t scrolling through social media. Scrolling through social media ain’t going to fix structural racism. Right? So that’s really also a charge and a challenge for y’all.
There’s a great website actually that I just released. It’s called reversesrmaine.org. It’s a little organization that … Not really an organization, but this is what I created the platform for the five. If you also click on the tab part, you can see the youth highlights and I’ve been highlighting a lot of youth that have been doing work inside the community, black, white, Hispanic, mixed. And I’m trying to highlight everyone that’s doing the work as much as I can. And we’re going to be updating that, hopefully, every week.
And there’s also a donation page if you want to donate. Any of the money is only going to go to the youth activists and they get $50 stipends for all the work that they do. And the reason why I’m doing this is because ain’t nobody paying the black kids, right? Nobody’s paying the kids who’s going to work. I mean, some of them are. But I want to make sure they get highlighted those that are not. And any time they want to get paid, they can just email us at [email protected] And if you listen to this, you can do this too. And you can just send in a photo with the type of work you do, let us know, and dropping your Venmo. We’ll be sending you $50 every for all the projects you guys do.
Word. Word. Real money. Vote with your dollars. So, Ali, what I want to do here moving forward, because I’m always talking about how being black people of color indigenous in America, our lives are complex, honestly. It’s not simplistic. So the fact is that we are multifaceted, multi-angled. And one of the things that I want to talk about now, you know me I’m a creative person. I love art and beautiful things. I know that you are a poet or spoken word artist. I understand. So I’ve heard.
Yeah, I do. I do some poetry.
He does some poetry. The brother slowed down and lean back just a little bit. He was like, “Oh.” But I didn’t want to just ask, because I’m really curious always about the creative process. I’ve had some similar conversations with people. Can you talk to us a little bit about, again, we’re getting a lot of angles of you, brother. We’re looking for this angle.
Yeah, yeah, of course.
How do you best create?
When I do my poetry, specifically, I get into this realm of deep thinking. I do it at night.
Oh, wow. Okay.
I can’t have any distractions. I can’t have my daughter near me. I can’t have no tea. I put the phone to the side. It takes me three to four hours and I get into a real deep writer’s block. And I talk about exactly what I want to talk about. It’s like one of the most recent ones is Carceral Humanism. It’s about how you’re still feeling. You feel like you’re caged in this life. And there’s like a chain that’s holding you back. And no matter how far you go, there’s one like that. And it shows like the experiences.
And then there’s another one about the system about it, like a chess game. If you actually want to go on my Instagram, go to humblephilosopher2020. There’s actually a little tab that you can click on the top where it says Humble Poetry 2020. And then you look at the bottom part. There’s a chess game. There’s professional one. I’m going to be releasing another one that I’m shooting with somebody really soon. But that’s where I really get into it and I try to … I’m still in a process of releasing it. I didn’t really like wanted to release a lot of my stuff. But a lot of people are like, “Yo, you need to keep going. This is really good and people need to hear it.” So, I’m trying to get it out as fast as I can with all the work that’s going on too.
Of course, yeah. And priorities. Priorities.
And I’m just curious, are there any things like in your spoken word, your poetry in that level of creativity, are there any things that you return to over and over or things that just seem to come out?
A lot of my poetry is about being black in America. I’m Muslim. I’m an immigrant. I have a criminal record. I mean, that’s the worst characteristics [crosstalk 00:23:13].
No, we love that. We love that. But I understand. I hear you.
Yeah. So it’s like a lot of it’s about it just depends, man. There’s one about philanthropy, about the money, like how the whole conversation we had right now. There’s one about black women. I just made this one more recently. There’s one about they tell me I don’t belong here, return to your country. There’s that one? Like, there’s just a lot of different … It’s about my life. I’m an expert of what I know, right? So like how can I relate to what’s going on in the world to my life? How can I relate the criminal justice system to my life? Like, how did that affect his?
And I try to relate it so people can understand from a black boy’s life that lived in Maine that grew up here and everything has impacted me. But I’m telling you a story not for entertainment. For educational purposes, and for you to have a purpose and a reason to be like, “Okay, I need to do this work because it’s affecting a lot of people.” And they don’t have to be black and they don’t have to be male. They could be any ethnicity and they can be any race, any sex. Right?
So that’s the reason why I do my poetry.
I love it, bro. I mean, I was going to ask, if you had a piece of poetry you wanted to recite, or if you had something you could pull out. I mean, we on the crispy mix right now.
I know y’all can hear it.
This is nice, nice.
At the same time, not even put you on the spot, whether if you have something that you would like to recite or share with the audience. Again, this is the audience is Maine as well as Texas as far and wide. We’ve got people in Vegas. But then also, for me, man, I’m a creator. I love words. If you want to just break down a poetic idea for us, I would be open to that as well. I’m not saying you have to recite a poem. But I mean, hey, bro.
I think I’ll recite a poem. I think poetic ideas are … I mean, everything we speak and as poetic ideas, right?
This whole podcast, you can put it into a poem.
It’s all poetry.
I can do a wrap up of what we talked about today. I could do Carceral Humanism, whichever ones you … What would you do? What did you want to hear? Philosophy? I’m sorry. Philanthropy or the Carceral Humanism?
Oh, wait, but you said the philanthropy joint wraps up what we were talking about?
Yeah, wraps up what we talked about.
I mean, I don’t know. I don’t want to say yes to either one, but let’s go with that one.
Okay. I want to say philanthropy.
Right, man. You put me on the spot. I’ll try to put … Anyway.
All right. So it starts off like this, philanthropy, the definition is a generous donation. All of that wealth you’ve accumulated, what an enormous foundation? You expect me to believe generosity move the elite. We just in their plantation. To promote welfare. I mean, billionaires decide to give some of their share to a low class that hold care. And hopes to declare some fair treatment to settle some affairs that are heinous. Your organization’s plans to fight systems built and secret. Coincidentally, conceiving. Having both sides sign on the dotted line’s agreement. New proposals released then.
Set timely infrequent. Boundary set with rules so there is no cheating. Hmm, this is convenient. Examiners examinations gleaming as they discussed during a minor briefing. A table full of individuals that are paid to be seated. Their duty is to decide which application is pleasing kind of like the hunger games we see it seeping. Fighting for survival while all sides are competing. See, their control’s increasing. We’re left drained, leaking. We’re then blinded, perceiving to fight over cheese were scheming.
The income inequality, a social philosophy had derived from the pain that enriched the economy. It was between the ’30s and the ’70s reconstruct and rebuild. Up and coming. Yeah, we were quite skilled. Segregation was unwilled because the law had been fulfilled. But when the suburbs got built, those houses were filled. The government sat back. The blueprints were thrilled. The movement to implement separational wealth for generations to thrive a caste was instilled.
Prior to this, all Americans were mixed within communities way before ownership. Of a two or three-story property they gave low-cost loans to the white majority and they denied or charged high for the loans for minorities that left only 2% ownership for the black man’s authority. Now, it’s all learned behavior with the white mentality. If color moved in, it’s against normality. No sales distributed. None of the colored were commuted. White flight, right on site. No need to dispute it.
Now we disguised the law saying this is the norm. People’s choices aren’t governed so it couldn’t hold up in court. Was it De Jure or De Facto? That’s the color of law. They met a stretch whatever way it worked. It was all a facade. All the houses built clout, the ones in scattered out. Now, the blocks and the projects were left for those in doubt. See, the jobs didn’t follow, then businesses burned down. So if you ain’t a car, you ain’t had no job because there is no route.
Now, the schools were under-funded, flung down to a drought. Public’s homes were disowned then the walls then broke out. No governments to assist or help with bailouts. Highways were set. Division was witnessed. So you start to kick it. Generational hangouts. Chilling and grilling, traditional cookouts. What else is there to do when society has left you out? Those empowered stay dreaming, planning, and scheming. How can we do it legally without our history repeating? It came in two words, investing and infesting.
Now, listen here. If you were confused, this will teach you a lesson. If we move in simultaneous drives, there will be less tension. In the suburbs with time, the equity had climbed. From a few grants six figures, this here was the prime. Home equity investments some say that it was impressive. Now others sit in question had built some resentment. But then the hood was infested with getting hired depressants. The crack attacks impression while everyone was congested.
They arrested the melanin, sent men like a settlement, even though both races were dependent on medicine. The war of drugs obsession 100 years if you’re black. This here was the discretion. This propaganda set felons, but no one dare to contest it. Then they overtaxed the community. Sent money to the suburbs. They paid pension for punity and gave cops immunity. Made it seem like badges and uniform were purity. This isn’t my story nor is it a foolery. Check the 13th amendment, it’s written there in eulogy.
But then they say it’s returned in minor annuity, food stamps or the WIC Healthcare. If you’re sick, broken roads in small checks to keep you alive, but you’d lose it if your pockets got big. Now, let’s bring it back to the scratch in defining this fantasy in total of quantity when we say philanthropy. The sum can start with from reparations of free work in slavery. And what’s owned in acres and million dollar homes. That’s a native trail of tears. This is the land that got dethroned.
The elite, or sponsor, the amount that we ponder as you stand in your privilege, then throw the chump change that you launder. Have this gimmick and practice to define and conquer. In these groups we scatter, it’s the cheese we’re after. In the maze, we chase go fight racism they say. Katniss Everdeen, this must be the hunger games. Why don’t they hand you your share so you can fight for your freedom? It’s your ownership is them taking you for … It’s them playing you for treason. The tale of two cities, one has become an embassy while the other of refugee. This is why history is important. You start to understand the climate and season. This is the character of America, the institutional reasons.
Oh, Ali, appreciate you, bro.
Thank you, man.
Appreciate you, bro. I was going to throw in the fake handclaps but I’m not. We’re just going to keep it real. We’re just going to keep it real. Wow.
I started a few times, man, though. It’s been a long talk.
No, you good. You good. I appreciate that, man.
I was curious, where can people find you, listen to any of your art? Or just your website, your social media, you want to plug that real quick for us?
Yeah. On social media, on Facebook, they can find me as Ali Ali. On Instagram, it’s humblephilosopher2020. My poetry page is actually right on the top as a tab that you can click. It says Humble Poetry 2020. And that’s like all my poetry is on there from Chess and Carceral Humanism one is going to be on there. It’s going to a new release on there too, new video that I’m coming in. And then on Twitter, I have Humble Philo, P-H-I-L-O, 2020. And then the website is the reverse. Let me make sure I can get you right. We just released this. Reversesrmaine.org. And there’s the donate button on there if you guys want to donate to the course.
That’s what I was going to ask, if that’s where people can donate.
Yeah, yeah. If you want it, there’s a PayPal, everything on there. Anything helps. And even if it’s not a donation that you can just share whatever. All of this is all good work.
All love, all support. No doubt. Thank you, bro, for letting us know because I know people are going to want to follow up and check you out. I also want to come back and bring it full circle. Again, this could be your spot. But right now it’s not. It’s our spot. So shout out from Black Owned Maine, letting you know that we are searching for sponsors, currently. You can sponsor this podcast as a whole, or an individual episode. If you’d like to do that, send us an email at [email protected] Again, you can sponsor this very podcast as a whole, or via individual episodes. Email us at [email protected]
Also, absolutely utilize our website and our directory at blackownedmaine.com. I know that goes by quick. I always tell people the portion of Maine owned by black people. Yes, blackownedmaine.com. Also, you can check us out on social media. You know where we’d be. Instagram, Black Owned Maine. Also, on Twitter and Facebook. You can find me at Real Genius Black on Instagram.
Also, keep in mind, this is something new for y’all. You can make tax-exempt contributions to our organization as a whole. And you can do that through our fiscal sponsorship with Creative Portland. Shout out Creative Portland for having our back, really. Also, there’s a link to donate on our website at blackownedmaine.com. And all you have to do is go under the donate tab. Again, it’s Genius Black, the homie Ali from Black Owned Maine. We shout on y’all out.
Vibes and blessings.
Ali Ali came to the U.S. from Ethiopia as a child in 1999. As a teenager, Ali was incarcerated at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, first briefly and then, after a parole violation, for 18 months. While at Long Creek, he quickly got his GED, then started taking college classes and joined a theater program that focuses on the stories of incarcerated youth. He became artistic director of Maine Inside Out, which runs those programs, after his release.
But reintegrating into society after getting out of Long Creek wasn’t easy. Ali says it took him about 18 months to recover from the 18 months he was incarcerated. “I couldn’t walk on the street for the first few days by myself,” he tells Genius Black in this episode of the Black Owned Maine podcast. “Like, WalMart—I would have anxiety attacks.”
And Ali wasn’t the only one. Friends he’d made at Long Creek were dying, from suicide, overdoses, and other conditions caused by the trauma of prison life. The overdose death of one of them, a 23-year-old father of two who’d been a key member of Maine Inside Out, hit Ali particularly hard. After helping with his friend’s burial—literally standing in the grave and holding his friend’s body—Ali had a new sense of purpose. “I can’t take this shit no more. The system is destroying us,” he says. “So I decided… to really stay focused and see where we can go with our community.”
The result: Maine Youth Justice, a campaign to close Long Creek and reinvest its annual $18.2 million budget. It costs $300,000-$500,000 per kid to lock someone up at Long Creek, according to Ali; reinvesting that money in the community, rather than taking kids out of the community, would resolve a lot of issues, he says.
Genius Black and Ali dive deep into the meaning of the word “systemic,” discussing how racism is a structure and a system that can’t be fixed by small, localized efforts. “Education [rates] are really low for Blacks, and then if you look at poverty levels, they’re really low and death rates are really high,” says Ali. “So all the negative things are affecting the people of color, and how did this happen, right? Because all this had started from a different system when Spain took enslaved Africans from Africa and brought them to this country.”
Ali and Genius Black talk through segregation, redlining, policing, and the war on drugs, all of which combined to foster inequality, and led to the dramatically higher rates of incarceration of Black men. “Systems are created to maintain certain things, to achieve certain things, and they also tend to have the fingerprints of their creators on that system,” says Genius Black.
Today, says Ali, there are 2.3 million people who are currently arrested; 5 million people on probation; and 70 million people with criminal records. “That’s about 25% of this country, right? 25% of this country has a criminal record,” he says. “And that means that you’re discriminated against [in] housing, [in] jobs [and in] funding for school. These are issues that [mean] you can’t prosper.”
“Guess what?” Ali adds. “Every single part of this country is racist. Our dollar bills have to have slave masters. Our 13th amendment says slavery is still [legal for incarcerated people]. I got to do this work as a Black person. And I’ve been doing this work. You’ve got to do this work. The white people also have to do this work.”
As Part B of this episode begins, Genius Black and Ali Ali bring their discussion of systems closer to home—right here to Maine. Ali points out that while Black Mainers represent just 1.6% of the state’s total population, 23% of the juveniles who are incarcerated in Maine are Black. They discuss similar cases where Black defendants receive substantially more prison time than white defendants. “Light white sentences [are] also a tool of white supremacy,” Ali says.
To get different results, Ali says, we have to change: to give back what was taken—land and money, specifically—and to defund the police and reallocate that money to schools and communities. “When we talk about taking money from the police forces, we’re not hating them or want them to not be able to take care of their families. That’s not the point,” says Genius Black. “We’re saying we need less police because we do. And what we’re saying is that some of that money that keeps society in a certain way and keeps people in a certain cage—if you can literally pull some of that money away from those systems that are so old and put the money somewhere else, your society will actually be different.”
To put these kinds of changes into action, Ali recommends some specific organizations:
He also recommends getting involved in local politics: talking to people who are in office and finding out what they’re doing about structural racism, learning who they’re relying on for the information they use to inform their work, and being sure that people of color are among their sources.
The conversation ends with Ali performing a piece of his poetry called Philanthropy.