On Tuesday, Sept. 15, West Chester University had the opportunity to host guest speaker, activist, writer and poet Kevin Powell for his speech and Q&A about being able to “Remain and Retain” at 7 p.m. in the Philips Autograph Library.
“Remain and Retain” refers to the struggle and difficulties of being a person of color in college and in society. In his speech, Powell shares his story of poverty, the struggles of his single mother, and rising above the past issues of ethnicity to be the first one in his family to attend college at Rutgers University.
Many different organizations, races, and ethnicities congregated at the Philips Autograph Library that night to listen to Powell. Groups like Black Men United, Brother to Brother, Social Equity, and even the coaches from the WCU Men’s Basketball Team attended Powell’s speech.
“At first it wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be, but then it all just filled up,” said graduate assistant Jairo Henao. “By the time he started talking, all the seats were taken, and all the tables had been filled.”
In addition to the diverse organizations that attended, varied ethnicities of students were there, including Hispanics and Asians. This also included former students.
Initially, Powell introduced himself and began to speak about the history of people of color, and the oppression, difficulties, and miseducation that they faced, due to the lack of equality in the systems of society–specifically, the education system.
Powell then continued to talk about his upbringing and transition into manhood, reflecting his personal struggles and connecting his hardships with the audience’s.
“He kept it as real as possible with everybody, and he broke it down and made everyone feel as comfortable as he could,” said Jairo. “I connected with him too because just like he was, I was the first person in my family to go to college.”
Dominique Lindsay, peer mentor at the Office of the Multicultural Affairs, remarked that “it was really inspiring, and he talked about things in viewpoints you wouldn’t necessarily think about.”
“[He] gave us clear advice on how to remain and retain. For example, having ties to campus other than academics is important, so you have something to look forward to when you come back,” said Lindsay.
Powell’s talk covered many more topics in today’s society, like ignorance, equality, and self-hatred. The main focus of his speech, however, was on each individual person. Individuality, and knowing who you are, what you stand for, and what you desire to leave in remembrance of you.
“[Powell] explained about the different ways to make the most of your own personal legend, how to make your own brand in college and in society,” said Lindsay. “He wanted what he left behind to value more than whatever today’s material obsession dictated.”
Powell concluded that no matter how hard you are struggling with being a person of color, even here at West Chester, he wanted people to stay here–to remain and retain, like he once did.
After his speech, Powell held an open-ended Q&A, where many individuals were able to speak freely, ask him whatever they wanted, and learn even more.
“A lot of people made very good, thoughtful remarks and impressions, ”said Henao. “Many people were touched by his words, and were easily able to both connect with and learn from him.”
After the session in the library, everyone proceeded to go out to the Frederick Douglass statue to take pictures.
Meanwhile, the first 50 students that walked in to the Remain and Retain event were eligible for free pre-order vouchers to Powell’s next book, “The
Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood,” with its official publication set for Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Powell is based out of New York, and if you are interested in learning more about him, you can reach him through his website at http://www.kevinpowell.net.
Aidan Paggao is a third-year student majoring in marketing with a minor in international business. He can be reached at AP814179@wcupa.edu.