The Blackest Questions

Celebrating Queer Black History with Dr. David J. Johns

Episode 56
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Queer Black history makers are highlighted during Black History Month on The Blackest Questions. Dr. David J. Johns, Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition, takes us to church, celebrating trailblazers who deserve all the flowers. Some you may know, others maybe not, but just like in every episode with host Dr. Christina Greer, you’ll walk away with a newfound respect for the champions who refused to back down and instead carved out their place in Black history.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 05: Dr. David J. Johns speaks onstage during The Root 100 2023 at The Apollo Theater. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for The Root)

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Panama Jackson: [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.

Dr. Christina Greer: Hi, and welcome to the Blackest Questions. A trivia game show meant to teach us more about Black history. I’m your host, Dr. Christina Greer, politics editor for theGrio, and currently a Moynihan Public Scholars fellow at the City College in New York.

In this podcast, we ask our guest five of the Blackest questions. So we can learn a little bit more about them and have some fun while we’re doing it. We’re also going to learn a lot about Black history, past and present. So here’s how it works. We’ve got five rounds of questions about us. Black history, the entire diaspora, current events, you name it.

And with each round, the questions get a little tougher and the guest has 10 seconds to answer. If they answer correctly, they’ll receive one symbolic Black fist and hear this. And if they get it wrong, they’ll hear this. But we still love them anyway. And after the five trivia questions, there will be a Black bonus round, just for fun, and I like to call it Black Lightning.

Our guest for this [00:01:00] episode is Dr. David Johns, who’s the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, which is a civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of the Black LGBTQ plus community that works to end racism, homophobia, bias, and stigma. Dr. Johns has a long history in public service.

He was the Senior Education Policy Advisor to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. And President Obama also appointed him the first Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for African Americans. You may also know Dr. Johns because he’s a great friend of theGrio and is on lots of shows here and there.

Hello, David. Thank you so much for joining the Blackest Questions. Are you ready to play?

Dr. David J. Johns: I don’t know, but I’m excited to be with you.

Dr. Christina Greer: Listen, you know, I would never lead you astray. We’ve known each other a long time.

Dr. David J. Johns: We’ll im competitive AF. So that is my expectations at this moment.

Dr. Christina Greer: Well, my my producers reminded me that Mike Twitty, I think, is the only guest who’s gotten a five out of five.[00:02:00]

So, Mike, if you’re listening, we’ve got someone coming for you. Everybody else. Don’t worry about it. And we’re going to have a blast. Okay. So this question, let’s jump right in. Question number one. This civil rights activist was a close friend and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was the chief organizer of the March on Washington.

Bayard Rustin. Alright, so let me finish, at least for our listeners out there who aren’t on it, but yes, you are correct. It is Bayard Rustin. I guess we’re going to have to change the rules and see who gets it the fastest now. So, um, so he was the chief organizer of the March on Washington, which was a pivotal turning point in the fight for racial equality.

This man was often left out of history books. Who am I describing? Dr. Johns, you say it is?

Dr. David J. Johns: It is our brother Bayard Rustin, who is sitting over my shoulder.

Dr. Christina Greer: That’s right. So, Bayard Rustin was a lifelong believer in peaceful protest and began working to end segregation in the early 1940s. He’s credited with helping Dr. King. Uh, form a deep understanding of nonviolent ideas and tactics. Bayard Rustin was openly [00:03:00] gay and was forced to take a less public role in activism, despite his effectiveness and decades of experience. In the last years of his life, Rustin became active in the gay rights movement as well. And in 2013, President Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a new movie about Bayard Rustin’s introducing the world to even more about the fearless leader.

Rustin – Film: On August 28th, Black, white,

young, old, rich, working class, poor will descend on Washington DC.

Dr. Christina Greer: You can find it on Netflix. I also narrated an animated lesson about him with the folks from TED Ed, and you can find that on YouTube. None of it would have been possible without the march’s chief organizer, a man named Bayard Rustin.

Dr. David J. Johns: One of the things that I appreciate about the film, in addition to seeing parts of my life reflected back, um, to me, um, is an, an awareness. Um, and understanding that that moment would not have happened without Bayard’s brilliance [00:04:00] and his persistence in spite of. Right? Before that moment, most of our marches were in the south and they were concentrated in local communities.

Uh, he had the audacity to say, let’s gather in our nation’s capital to make demands of our nation’s leaders. And in addition to teaching nonviolent pacifist forms of organizing, uh, lessons he learned from around the globe to Dr. King and others, uh, he literally set the stage, uh, there’s so many moments that we hearken back to, um, when it’s Black History Month, when the McDonald’s commercials begin to sing our stories or parts of it, um, that he created.

Um, so I’m really, really excited about that.

Dr. Christina Greer: Are there any other gay historical figures you wish got more recognition for their contributions? We know Bayard Rustin is slowly but surely getting his just due. Who else should we be thinking about and advocating for, uh, as we learn more about our own Black history?

Dr. David J. Johns: The direct answer to your question is absolutely. NBJC has a resource called Been Here. Um, it’s a library that we inherited from a brother named Stephen Magenold, who, um, got [00:05:00] tired of hearing that people didn’t know, uh, about the fact that Black, queer, trans, and gender expansive people have always existed.

So he created this encyclopedia, and we inherited it. It’s one of the things that I’m most proud of. And included in that are folks, um, like, uh, Miss Major, uh, whose book I’m reading now, uh, who is a Black trans leader who is responsible for, um, organizing and providing space for Black gender expansive people who’ve been incarcerated.

Um, she’s central to a lot of the wins that we associate with the LGBTQIA plus movement, and she’s built upon the legacy of Marsha P. Johnson, who’s responsible for the Stonewall resistance. And things that are often a race when people particular white folks stand on pride stages. I spent a lot of time talking about by before now and also will celebrate a contemporary figure and keep working.

Keep working on 1 of founders. He is the 1st. Black openly queer man to serve a [00:06:00] sitting president. He laid the foundation for meeting me to be able to serve President Barack Hussein Obama. Later, he organized the 1st meeting between a sitting president and Black or not Black LGBTQIA plus leaders and sent to their conversation with President Clinton around HIV and he continues to leverage his time, talent and treasure to try and connect dots between how public policy really, really matters in the lives of Black folks and applying an intersectional lens to highlight Betty Lou Hamer’s lesson around the fact that none of us are free unless and until all of us are free. So that’s at Beenhere. org.

Dr. Christina Greer: Ugh, Amen and Ashe. Listen, this is why I love having you on.

Because we’ve done lots of different types of podcasts and shows together, but you just, not only do you come with it, you come with a succinct three bullet points. Boom. Here’s a book. Here’s a resource center. Here’s a website. Let’s go. There is no excuse. As you always say, teach the babies.

Dr. David J. Johns: Literally, I should have put that shirt on today.

I got, we need Black teachers, guys. I mean, they go hand in hand, [00:07:00] but yes.

Dr. Christina Greer: We do. And uh, your t-shirt game, we’ll get to your t-shirt game later, just, that’s a little clue for you. Um, we’re going to take a quick break. I’m here with Dr. David Johns. I cannot wait to continue our conversation. Dr. Johns is executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition.

We’ll be right back.

theGrio Daily: Y’all, come look at what Michael Harriot just posted. Black Twitter, come get your mans. It’s his podcast episodes for me. I was today years old when I found out Michael Harriot had a podcast. Subscribed.

I’m world famous wypipologist, Michael Harriot, and this is theGrio Daily.

That’s right. The Black Twitter King has a podcast. theGrio Daily with Michael Harriot. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on theGrio Black Podcast Network and accessible wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

Dr. Christina Greer: Okay, we’re back. I’m with Dr. David Johns, Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition.

We’re playing the Blackest Questions. He’s already, not only one for one, he’s like basically… Uh, you got the question before I even [00:08:00] finished the question. So are you ready for question number two since you’re hot?

Dr. David J. Johns: No, no pressure.

Dr. Christina Greer: No pressure. We’re coming in hot. Okay, question number two. Okay. This legendary congressman represented several districts in New York City for more than 50 years.

He was a leading opponent of the South African Apartheid, authored the low income tax credit to stimulate the development of affordable housing in urban areas, and was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Can you name this politician?

Dr. David J. Johns: I should be able to, uh, Charles B. Rangel.

Dr. Christina Greer: That’s right.

Congressman Charlie Rangel, who I just adore. Okay, we know that Charlie Rangel dropped out of high school to join the U. S. Army during the Korean War, where he was seriously wounded and received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. In 1971, his political journey began when he defeated the infamous Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in a historic election. I love hearing that story about how he flew down. Um, and said, Hey, I’m running for your seat. Adam Clayton Powell was like, sure, kid, go ahead. [00:09:00] Um, and the rest is history for the next roughly five decades. Charlie Rangel served on nearly a dozen committees. and focused on underserved Black communities, the war on drugs and tax reform.

And when Charlie Rangel retired in 2017, he was the second longest serving member of the House of Representatives, oftentimes known as the Lion of Congress. And I know, David, you were a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Fellow in the office of Congressman Rangel. What was that experience like and what are some of the lessons you learned and why did you want to go, uh, to Washington, D. C. and join that prestigious fellowship?

Dr. David J. Johns: So, prior to this moment, I had been interested in and really preparing to pursue a JD PhD to have a life of the mind and to really think about how to use law as a vehicle for change. And in this process of responding to these injustices, I found that a student organization was forced to make demands of the university, Bollinger’s and the trustees and realize that the laws really a lagging indicator for change.

Uh, if it [00:10:00] happens at all, it’s really much more about preserving precedent. So I found myself teaching elementary school, um, uh, sort of dejected and not appreciating that, um, uh, law school is a pathway forward for me. And while I was teaching, um, 2 things happened. 1, I was the only Black male classroom teacher in the entire building.

Right. Common experience. One taught art, one taught P. E. And then there were no Black boys in my kindergarten grade. And all of these questions I started to ask myself about, like, how this came to be. Everybody kept saying, like, oh, we’ll just wait for this policy to be passed, and it’ll all go away. There was lots of focus on No Child Left Behind, and the short of it is that I took a pay cut.

Um, from teaching in D. C. to move to D. C. to be a fellow, um, and and Congressman Charles Rangel and his staff, George Dalley was the chief of staff at the time gave me the room to run to figure out how people leverage policy or power rather [00:11:00] to influence public policy to create a literal table while he was on and chaired at the time, the ways and means committee, which has powerful tax influence and writing abilities to talk about and carve a space for myself out in the education lane. Um, it was one of the first opportunities I had to watch Black men in positions of power, operate and leverage that power. Um, and there’s so many lessons that I acquired in the tip the time that I was a fellow in his office that I still used to date.

Dr. Christina Greer: Well, I think, you know, what is going to be a long standing legacy of Charlie Rangel will be the number of Black men and women that he has influenced, mentored, not just through the fellows program, but you know, now that I’m a morning and public scholar at CUNY city college, you know, they’ve got the Charles Rangel Institute, so they’ve got their own set of fellows. And I, I’m just, I, I think need people need to understand the longstanding legacy, [00:12:00] not just a policy wise, but the people that have come through his office.

Such as yourself, who are continuing to do great work. Uh, I love having you on all the shows that I’ve done.

Dr. David J. Johns: To your point. One, do people appreciate that? He’s had a longstanding fellowship for folks interested in diplomacy at Howard university, which existed well before I was a fellow. And then fun fact, connected to our first question, Charles Rangel, uh, challenged and took the seat.

That was occupied by Adam Clayton Powell. The seats don’t belong to members. They belong to the people. And Adam Clayton Powell stood in the way of Brother Bayard Rustin and organizing the march on Washington in 63. And he’s portrayed brilliantly by Chris Rock in the film that premieres on November 3rd.

Dr. Christina Greer: Ooh, I can’t wait. I cannot wait. Okay, are we ready for question number three? You’re hot.

Dr. David J. Johns: Let’s go.

Dr. Christina Greer: Okay, you’re hot. This actress was the first transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award and is also the first transgender person to appear on the covers of Time Magazine and Cosmopolitan Magazine.[00:13:00]

Who is she?

Dr. David J. Johns: She is the brilliant, indomitable, also queen of the beehive, Laverne Cox.

Dr. Christina Greer: That’s right. I’m going to add stunning in there. We were at MMC together and I was like, uh, you’re stunning. Like I’m very rarely speechless. I was speechless. So for our listeners out there, Laverne Cox is considered a trailblazer in the transgender community and she’s won numerous awards for her activism.

She started her entertainment journey on VH1’s reality show, I wanna work for Diddy and several hosting gigs on television shows that followed. Including her most notable role as Sophia in Orange is the New Black. Laverne is also a twin, and her twin brother played her pre transitioning Sophia on the hit Netflix show.

And during the first season of Orange is the New Black, Laverne was still working as a drag queen in New York City. So, David, I know you have written about this, you’ve come on so many different Grio shows to educate us and our viewers, uh, about the LGBTQ plus community. [00:14:00] What do you think needs to change at some of the highest levels connecting it to some of the work that you did, you know, Washington DC, as we see so many people within the LGBTQ plus community still under attack, not just in the recent months, but the recent, you know, over the years, and we’re talking about everyone from activists to drag queens and how do we focus right on getting people to understand some of the issues and really work as far as coalition building on some of these issues.

Dr. David J. Johns: This year alone in 2023, we’ve seen more anti LGBTQ legislation that at any point in our history, nearly 600 bills have been introduced across, um, 42 states in our country.

The vast majority of these bills target children who didn’t ask to be born and most of them don’t identify with these terms that are political in nature that a lot of adults who engage in queer romantic relationships don’t even identify with publicly or [00:15:00] privately. Um, many of these bills target trans folks, and they do things like disrupt.

What should be decisions made between a doctor and their patient. Or in the case of a child, the patient and their parents. And and allow power for lifesaving and affirming care to be welded by elected leaders, many of whom never graduated from college, didn’t go to medical school and a little about development or gender diversity.

And so the last thing, as it relates to the burden that our trans, non binary, non conforming, and otherwise gender expansive siblings face. I hope people hear my heart when I say this. As long as there have been people, we have been beautifully, incredibly diverse. Before the terms lesbian and gay existed, Black people occupied those ways of being.

And what we know is that all of us gotta get free or none of us are gonna be free. And it used to be the case that gay folks I use the term same gender loving because gay is a white [00:16:00] male political identifier, and when people hear gay, they think devious, they think sex, they think that they’re entitled to know how I am engaging in being loved.

They don’t question if I’m loved, so I use a term that centers that, and I want people to appreciate that right now our trans and gender expansive siblings are being targeted. Black trans women are murdered, are abused. It’s being filmed and shared and celebrated at disproportionate rates. This is not to overshadow the fact that Black cis women are missing and murdered and abused as well.

And if we’re not mindful of the way that intersectionality works, if we’re not mindful of the disproportionate ways in which Black trans women are oppressed, and then that oppression is erased, we will never get any closer to freedom. And so I want more members of our community to appreciate pronouns and respecting people for how they show up and not feeling entitled to information about other [00:17:00] people when you haven’t demonstrated that you have a desire to increase your competence or to demonstrate compassion.

And all of this is especially true for our trans siblings

Dr. Christina Greer: Right. So what I love about talking to you is that you can always hold space for many ideas at once. And it’s never a competition. And so, I, before we move on to question number four, and I’m just so appreciative of you giving your time and intellect to our show today, and I, I wish, I do wish you were a full time teacher, um, because I would audit that class every day, all day.

Should we be focusing more on getting more LGBTQ plus community into political leadership? We’ve seen some great strides with… Members of the community as heads of organizations. But should we be focusing a lot more on political leadership? I mean, I’m thinking of Senator LaFonza Butler right now, who’s just appointed the Junior Senator of the State of California.

We’re seeing it here and [00:18:00] there. What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. David J. Johns: The answer is yes, and it’s always going to be. Yes. If the question is, can we do more to atone for provide reparations around and otherwise increase access to opportunities for Black folks who built this country and so many other countries for free and continue to power them with our ingenuity and creativity. And yes, specifically with regard to Black, queer, trans, and gender expansive elected leaders. What often gets missed and focusing on the political trauma and terrorism is this exchange. Um, and a failure to appreciate that in the last legislative cycle, we’ve also elected the most Black LGBTQ plus elected leaders that we’ve ever had in this country.

The vast majority of them are operating at the local municipal level, and it’s really important for us to continue to find ways to create more space for folks like the funds of all of the 1st openly [00:19:00] queer member of that body. I think it’s 242 years. of the Senate existing as a chamber, um, Richie Torres right now is the only openly Black queer member in the House of Representatives.

He and Mondaire Jones from New York made history last congressional cycle when they became the 1st openly Black queer members of Congress and we need to do more. The footnote here for me is that, we also have, I would argue, an opportunity and an obligation to create conditions where people feel more comfortable inviting us in.

I keep emphasizing openly because my sheer mathematical limitations, they can’t be the first, uh, in terms of those ways of experiences. But what we know is that there’s still more work to be done so that people feel safe, making themselves vulnerable to do that kind of work.

Dr. Christina Greer: Are you ready for [00:20:00] question number four?

You’re three for three. Okay, question number four. In the last 10 years, this civil rights attorney has become the face of police brutality and wrongful death cases. And St. Thomas University in Miami has renamed its College of Law after him, making it the first law school in the nation to be named after a practicing Black attorney.

Can you name this attorney?

Dr. David J. Johns: It is my brother, uh, the beloved, uh, honorable Benjamin C. Crump, Esquire.

Dr. Christina Greer: That’s correct! Benjamin C. Crump, Esquire. So Attorney Crump became widely recognized when he represented the family of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teen who was shot and killed in Florida by a member of a neighborhood watch back in 2012.

Since then, he’s continued to work with the families of victims in high profile cases, including Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, to say just a few of their names. Legendary civil rights activist Al Sharpton has called Crump, Black [00:21:00] America’s attorney general. So Ben Crump says he fights for the voiceless, which is similar to your mission that you all have at the Black justice, the national Black justice coalition.

What would you say are some of your biggest hurdles in your organization’s fight for equality?

Dr. David J. Johns: I appreciate the question and the naming of Ben Crump. Many people might be surprised to learn that Ben is a board member of NVJC, so he’s very much directly connected to supporting our mission to end racism and ensure that we all get closer to freedom.

What are some of the hurdles? One of the biggest hurdles is that the politics surrounding gender and sexual orientation and gender expression and the policing of those things are controlled by adults who some of [00:22:00] us have the ability to vote, run for office and otherwise participate in policymaking processes.

And I, I would argue, and my research has shown that too few of us understand how our actions and more often inaction impacts our baby. So, Ben Crump is responsible for introducing me to Nigel Shelby, who is a brilliant. Black boy, born in Huntsville, Alabama, who, like me, loved Beyonce, who learned his colors working in his aunt’s hair salon, who was a fierce protector of his friends.

And who was bullied for being Black and Queer with a capital Q, different. This is before he was able to fully develop, make sense of, and test out [00:23:00] possible sexual identities and relationships. His difference was enough of a threat to where not only was he bullied, but when he sought help, the adults around him, including a principal at a school, put on music in response to his cries for help and said, well, Black people love to, We don’t appreciate that Children don’t ask to be born and that for Black youth in particular, the suicide rate for them has doubled in the last 2 decades. MJC is really honored very much in part of our work connected to Nigel to have worked with Congresswoman body Watson Coleman, a superpower out of New Jersey.

On a commission, a congressional caucus commission on Black youth and mental health for this very reason, because for every other community of children, the suicide rates are decreasing. [00:24:00] We are figuring out ways to respond to this pernicious and ugly public health crisis for everybody’s babies, except black ones.

And what I know, based on the research that I was forced to acquire myself, because it doesn’t exist in the public. Is that Black Children with multiple marginalized identities, so those who also identify as members of the LGBTQ plus community with the vast majority of students in schools identifying is questioning more than anything else.

Students who are also fat…extremely black. The kids in my dissertation named toxic stress and colorism is something that is significantly impacting their ability to learn, develop and grow. We don’t think about how difficult it is for them to simply move through the spaces that they’re required to move through.

They’re required to go to schools by law. Often now with teachers who are [00:25:00] protected by states who don’t want to even say gay while they’re trying to question and make sense of this world that we’ve invited them into. And most of this data is collected before the novel coronavirus. So we haven’t even talked about the implications of the fact that kids had to sit with the reality of the lies that we tell them.

If you do good in school, you get to go to high school. You go to high school. You do good. You get prom, you get prom. You then get to graduate. You then get to go off to a four year university. They now know that that shit is a lie.

Dr. Christina Greer: Well, I know that the babies are much better off because they have voices like yours in the dark.

Um, okay. So before I let you out of here, we got one more question before we get to Black Lightning. You ready for a quick question? Number five. I just, I adore you so much. And I could listen to you for hours. I know our listeners are on the edges of their seat. Okay. Really quickly. Question number five. This well known poet and activist is a Columbia [00:26:00] University graduate. You know, we’re both Columbia University graduates who described herself as quote Black, Lesbian, mother, warrior, and poet. This woman’s work is known for its powerful calls for social and racial justice and its raw depiction of the queer experience.

Who was this woman?

Dr. David J. Johns: So wait, your first two words were poet and activist?

Dr. Christina Greer: Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet. But she’s a well known poet and activist and a Columbia University graduate.

Dr. David J. Johns: So the challenge here is that so, I have like… Is this person still living? No, do I get to? I can’t ask the question.

Dr. Christina Greer: No, no. You got four out of five so far.

Come on, baby. This is the last one. You know it. You know, this one, you know it. I know you are.

Dr. David J. Johns: They are– they’re also an anthropologist?

Dr. Christina Greer: I’m not saying anything else.

Dr. David J. Johns: My gut is saying that it’s Um, Zora Neale Hurston, that’s [00:27:00] why I’m asking, is she an anthropologist? Um, but you didn’t say anthropologist, you said poet, which all, which then has me wondering, like, is it someone else?

Dr. Christina Greer: Time is ticking, Dr. Johns. Give me a name.

Dr. David J. Johns: Zora Neale Hurston.

Dr. Christina Greer: No, it’s Audre Lorde.

Dr. David J. Johns: Audre Lorde.

Dr. Christina Greer: I was gonna, I was gonna say we were going to give you a question on Zora Neale Hurston, but we had used one previously at another show. So.

Dr. David J. Johns: It would have been Audre Lorde. Yep. That’s the third one.

Dr. Christina Greer: Audre Lorde was an educator and a poet whose work is used to teach the influence of Black arts.

She traveled the world performing spoken word about feminism, gay liberation, and systemic racism. In the late 80s, she lived in Berlin, Germany for several years and helped spearhead the Afro German movement. which empowered Black women in the country to create a community outside the negative stereotypes of Black Germans.

Lorde died of breast cancer in 1992, but she left behind an impressive legacy, which includes a community health center in New York City, a gay rights activism nonprofit called the Audre Lorde [00:28:00] Project, and she’s part of the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument, which is the nation’s first national monument dedicated to LGBTQ plus rights.

So. I know you know Audre Lorde dedicated her life to fighting for equality, not only for women, not only for Black women, but for all of those people who just wanted to be free and express their love however they chose.

Dr. David J. Johns: For folks who are like, what can I do? Um, I’m not a policy wonk. I’m not an educator. I would offer three things.

One is we should appreciate and respect people’s pronouns. Um, too often I’ve seen people respect people’s pronouns when it benefits them. And then when somebody doesn’t do what they want them to do, they dead name them or they use a name that they know inflict some form of violence. We got to be better and Black people know how to respect somebody who’s a doctor, who’s a brother, a sister, a deacon. Um, and so I know that we can do it. Um, I, I, I will us [00:29:00] to do it more for the most marginalized amongst us. 2nd is, we can all hold more space for and be better about supporting the development of young people. We often rush to project adult anxieties onto children who are dealing with different shit.

And often kids are dealing with stuff sometimes on the way to and from school that would break the average adult. So dealing with our own stuff again by having a good therapist and providing conditions that support them. And doing the tough work of figuring all of this out in this moment, um, is a second thing that I would argue that all of us can do.

Um, and then the third thing is that we should read more and appreciate that so much of what I’m saying is not new. Um, Sobonfu Somé, uh, wrote, um, A Spirit of Intimacy and in Chapter 13 of that book says, In my village in West Africa, the words lesbian and gay didn’t exist, but the word gatekeeper did. I connect the dots in real life, folks, you know.

We hold space for our [00:30:00] native indigenous siblings, and they have two spirited as a term, and hold revered space for them. Everything began in Africa, it didn’t just skip us, and so we can all do the work of engaging in what my friend CeCe Battle calls white supremacy rehab, or what James Baldwin described as vomiting up um, the worst parts of being Black in America or Black American, um, to hold more space for how we’ve always been, how we drop power in relationship to each other and beloved community and how we all get free together by supporting the least of us or those who are most marginalized, minoritized, victimized, whatever the term is um, that describes those of us who are under the weight of what Black feminists refer to as the matrix of domination.

Dr. Christina Greer: We’ll be right back. You’re listening to the Blackest Questions.

Writing Black: We started this podcast to talk about [00:31:00] not just what Black writers write about, but how. Well, personally, it’s on my bucket list to have one of my books banned.

I know that’s probably bad, but I think… Ooh, spicy. And they were yelling, N word, go home. And I was looking around for the n word because I knew it couldn’t be me because I was a queen.

But I’m telling people to quit this mentality of identifying ourselves by our work, to start to live our lives, and to redefine the whole concept of how we work and where we work and why we work in the first place.

My biggest strength throughout, throughout my career has been having

incredible mentors and specifically Black women. I’ve been writing poetry since I was like eight. You know, I’ve been reading Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, and Maya Angelou and so forth and so on, since I was like a little kid. Like the banjo was Blackly Black, right?

Mm-Hmm. for many, many, many years. Everybody knew. Because sometimes I’m just doing some– that I just [00:32:00] want to do it. I’m honored to be here.

Thank you for doing the work that you’re doing. Keep shining bright and we and like

you said, we gonna keep writing Black. As always, you can find us on theGrio app or wherever you find your podcast.

Dr. Christina Greer: Okay, we’re back. I’m with Dr. David Johns, the National Black Justice Coalition. I can’t thank you enough for joining us and gracing us with your brilliance. Are you ready for Black Lightning?

Dr. David J. Johns: I am ready, I think.

Dr. Christina Greer: Okay. And do not beat yourself up over that last question. You did an amazing job.

Dr. David J. Johns: No, I know .

Dr. Christina Greer: I know you’re, I I, I’m gonna gonna text you later on tonight, like, Hey baby boo.

Listen, I didn’t mean to ruin your day.

Dr. David J. Johns: I like, I shoulda just connected the dots and said, Audre Lorde.

Dr. Christina Greer: But you know what? There’s someone–

Dr. David J. Johns: The podcast that everybody should go watch. That’s why it’s on top of my

mind.

Dr. Christina Greer: And someone’s listening to this podcast who has never heard of Zora Hurston or Audre Lorde.

Dr. David J. Johns: You better explain it [00:33:00] for me, man. Go ahead.

Dr. Christina Greer: You are, you’re, you’re introducing folks. Okay, now, those of, uh, those of us who love Black Lightning, there are no right answers. These are just how you feel, Dr. David Johns. Are you ready? And this is flash. Just first thing that comes to your head. You ready?

Dr. David J. Johns: I’m ready.

Dr. Christina Greer: Somebody’s music catalog has to go. Is it Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, or Mariah Carey?

Dr. David J. Johns: Oh, you trying to get me caught!

Dr. Christina Greer: I didn’t say these questions were easy. What’d you say?

Dr. David J. Johns: Diana Ross. Tracee Ellis Ross, I love you.

Dr. Christina Greer: Ooh, I didn’t know that that was going to be the answer. Okay. If you were stranded on an island, who would you want to be stuck with?

Dr. David J. Johns: My partner, Andre.

Dr. Christina Greer: Uh huh. Okay, Andre. Hey, Andre. What’s your favorite time of day?

Dr. David J. Johns: Uh, when the world is quiet between the hours of like 2 or 1 a. m. and like 4 a. m.

Dr. Christina Greer: Mm hmm. It feels so special then. Like it’s just me and the universe together. Okay, you’re about to give a keynote. What music [00:34:00] are you playing to get you hyped?

Dr. David J. Johns: It depends on who the audience is. Okay. Um, um, my go to when I worked in the White House was often Donny Hathaway’s, Young, Gifted, and Black.

Mm! Um, but if I’m on my bag right now, it’s gonna be Victoria Monet, On My Mama.

Dr. Christina Greer: Yes! Okay, I often use the term Mount Rushmore, right? I have my Mount Rushmore rappers, I have my Mount Rushmore, you know, favorite artists, whatever it may be. Who is on your Mount Rushmore or your top four social justice warriors, past or present?

Dr. David J. Johns: Top four social justice warriors, uh, Bayard Rustin, Marsha P. Johnson. Miss Major and James Baldwin.

Dr. Christina Greer: Okay. I think that’s solid. Alright, last question. Your nails and t-shirt game are always on point. What’s your go to shop when you want to feel good?

Dr. David J. Johns: Oh, so I get all my t shirts from Stoop and Stank, [00:35:00] a Black owned business.

Shout out to my sister. You can find them on IG. Um, and one of my happy places is the spa. I am a Pisces, um, Pisces Aquarian, depending on the calendar. Um, uh, and I appreciate it very much. I’m recharged by water. I talk to the ancestors and… I often have loud, vivid conversations with them, um, and are connected to water.

So I really enjoy when I have the opportunity to spend time at the spa.

Dr. Christina Greer: Uh, well, Dr. David Johns, I want to thank you so much for playing The Blackest Questions with us, and thank you so much for sharing your brilliance. And please promise us you’ll come back and visit again?

Dr. David J. Johns: I will. We gotta do this again.

I want a redo.

Dr. Christina Greer: We, yes, you want a redo. I want to thank everyone for listening to The Blackest Questions. This show is produced by Sasha Armstrong and Jeffrey Trudeau and Regina Griffin is our Director of Podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to this podcast so you never miss an episode and you can find more at theGrio Black Podcast Network on theGrio app, the website, [00:36:00] and YouTube.

Toure: I’m Toure. Join us for crazy true stories about stars who I really hung out with, like Snoop, Jay Z, Prince, Kanye, and the time I got kidnapped by Suge Knight. Don’t miss my animated series, Star Stories with Toure, from theGrio Black Podcast Network.