problems & solutions: thank you ‘problem areas’ & hbo

May 1, 2019

Growing up, I was the kid adults were always telling to stay out of grown folks’ business. I’ve always been a question asker and a talker. Conversation can change the world and when we ask questions, particularly the questions that are difficult or uncomfortable or challenging or messy, that’s how you know you’re getting someplace real. That’s probably a big part of why I make podcasts; I want to have the conversations I think can move the needle of the issues impacting young Black folks today. It’s also why touring with HBO to promote the new season of Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas was such a natural fit.  

How many times do you turn on a late night show and it’s a white dude in a jacket talking to another white dude in a jacket who is supposedly an expert on something? And you never hear from the actual people who are dealing with the issue. Problem Areas is different and so was this tour. 

One of my favorite things about the show is that it takes us outside of a studio and amplifies real people’s stories in their own words. When Cenac talks about young Black people being criminalized in their schools, we hear their experiences in their own words from the hallways of their school instead of just hearing white experts talking about those experiences.

And from the stage of our tour stops, we heard the real stories of folks at the forefront of tackling issues that impact us. In New York, education advocates Natalia Ortiz and Jasmine Gripper joined Cenac to break down how we’re failing Black and brown kids in our schools and what we can all be doing about it.  In Los Angeles, the ACLU’s Ruth Dawson and Brandon Burciaga of the LA LGBT Center got real about how our school overlooks Black queer girls and why it matters to all of us.

At Spelman in Atlanta, activist and Insecure actor Kendrick Sampson joined BLKHLTH’s Khadijah Ameen and Spelman College psychology student Rayven L Peterson to keep it very real about his history with mental health and the need for Black men to do the same. Even though she’s a young person, Peterson left me with the most important personal takeaway of the tour. When asked about how poor folks can afford to practice self-care, Peterson dropped some very real knowledge, reminding us that self-care for Black folks is often about self-preservation, preserving your time and your energy for the things that truly nourish you. Our young people have so much wisdom and her words reaffirmed the importance of giving them the mic and hearing what they have to say.  

My biggest takeaway from the tour was that some of the most insightful and meaningful work is already being done in our communities and we need to make sure that work is seen, amplified, valued and (importantly) funded! Give Black creators, activists, organizers, and builders a platform and a budget and we will not only create dope shit, but we’ll also change the world.

The Atlanta panelists from the stage at Spelman College.

The LA LGBT Center’s Brandon Burciaga from LA.

Wyatt Cenac joins our Brooklyn panelists.