Born in Jersey City to a poor, hard-working single mother from the South, Kevin Powell was a gifted young writer who earned a scholarship to Rutgers. Then things fell apart. He got expelled after a series of violent outbursts, two of which were directed at women. He’s not proud of what happened, but in some sense, he feels misunderstood. “Just because someone is in a college environment that’s supposed to be a positive space,” he told me, “doesn’t mean that they’ve healed from where they came from.”
After leaving college, Powell got an unexpected break when MTV cast him in the first season of The Real World. He says he didn’t think much of joining the show beforehand (“I didn’t know that all these years later, everyone and their mother would have a reality TV show”), but his profile exploded. He became a senior writer for Vibe, and made a lot of money—most of which he quickly spent. When he was fired from that job, he says depression kicked in. "I felt like a failure all over again," he says. "I call it my dark years."
Powell and I spoke in front of a live audience at WNYC's Greene Space about his rocky history with sexism in the midst of his activism for racial justice, what his mother taught him after getting kicked out of school, and how all these years later, he’s replaced drinking and fighting with yoga and veganism.