True Ture: Recalling Stokely Carmichael’s Revolution

Stokely Carmichael
Meshaun Labrone in "Power!" Stokely Carmichael. Photo: DJ Corey Photography.

Meshaun Labrone calls himself “an activist, a peacemaker, an artist and a human being.” He omits from that formidable and admirable description the fact that he’s also a police officer — and an actor. Labrone, his badge set aside for now, is portraying legendary and commanding “Black Power” civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael in his new solo play, “Power!” Stokely Carmichael.

“White supremacy is the enemy of all human beings…”

In the play, Labrone transports his audience back to the events of June 23, 1966, when Carmichael, who began his activism as a student, prepared for a standoff with state police during the March Against Fear in Canton, Mississippi. It was there, in part, that Carmichael became synonymous with the Black Power Movement, beginning a remarkable and, at times, profoundly controversial 30-year advocacy campaign for racial recalibration and social justice in the West and around the globe. Even after living for decades in West Africa, even after devoting his life to Pan-Africanism (and changing his name to Kwame Ture in 1978), the Trinidad-born, Bronx-raised Carmichael/Ture used the same phone greeting each time it rang:

”Ready for the revolution!”

“Power!” Stokely Carmichael is Labrone’s second solo play: Right to Remain…Tupac Shakur ran in London in 2011 and in the 2012 Capital Fringe. But the timing of the Carmichael play seems acutely well timed. Labrone has stated publicly that “Power!”… was inspired by George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin, but no doubt, too, by all the Michael Browns and Eric Garners and Akai Gurleys and Tamir Rices and Walter Scots and Freddie Grays and Philando Castiles and Alton Sterlings that have followed since then. And, of course, given Labrone’s service to the blue, surely he must perform his play by all the murdered police officers as well — over 30 nationwide during 2016 alone.

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Which is why perhaps it is easier to shuttle audiences back to 1966, and to introduce them to multiple characters that Carmichael knew or might have known in his day, all portrayed by Labrone. And for all to bear witness to that fateful moment when Carmichael famously changed the civil rights battle cry of “Freedom now!” to “Power!,” hence the title of the play:

Carmichael died in 1998 of prostate cancer (he argued to his last breath that the US government gave it to him), but his combative and aggressive spirit lives on in this play, as it should and as it must.

“Power!” Stokely Carmichael performs at the Kraine Theatre (85 E. 4th St.) on Sat., Aug. 13 at 1:15pm; Mon., Aug. 15 at 7pm; Tue., Aug 16 at 2:45pm; Fri., Aug. 19 at 6:15pm; and Sun., Aug 21 at 9:15pm. For tickets, click here.

And now, 5 questions Meshaun Labrone has never been asked:

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What’s the most perceptive question anyone has asked you about your work?

The most perceptive question? Honestly, I can’t recall a really perceptive question that I have been asked. I think most are afraid to go there with me. Maybe they are afraid of my answers. I’ve been told that I can be intimidating at times. Whatever that means.

What’s the most idiotic question anyone has asked you about your work?

The most idiotic question anyone has ever asked me is “Do I hate white people?” I have no hatred for those classified as white. I hate the idea/religion called white supremacy! White supremacy is the enemy of all human beings on the planet because it prevents the human being from reaching his full potential.

What’s the weirdest question anyone has asked you about your work?

“How do you memorize all those lines?” I tell them that I study my script! Memorization is the easy part, but to develop a believable character on stage is the challenge.

While you’re acting in your play and clearly portraying various characters, is your other life as a police officer — especially this year, of all years — very far from the surface? How do you do this show without being overwhelmed by a very 2016, very contemporary type of fury or sorrow?

To be a police officer means you believe in upholding peace, justice and equality. I have always believed in that, so that is never far from my work as an artist or police officer. This year has been overwhelming but this is something we’ve always known and experienced in America as Black people. The only difference is we have cameras everywhere capturing the brutality and modern lynchings of Black people at the hands of race soldiers posing as police officers. Telling my stories on stage encompasses all of the human emotions that we exhibit when dealing with difficult subjects or experiences: sorrow, laughter, fury, hope.

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What, if anything, should Stokely Carmichael have handled differently in terms of his activism, politics, or personal or professional choices or beliefs?

Nothing. He did and said exactly what we needed at that time! I am forever thankful for him.

Stokely Carmichael wants you to ask him three questions that he can answer from the afterlife. What three questions do you ask and what are his responses to them?

What’s heaven like?
His answer: “Freedom, Justice and Equality.”

Is it possible to have heaven on earth?
His answer: “You could have it within a blink of an eye.”

How do we make that happen?
His answer: “Stop living in denial and stop practicing white supremacy.”