Hasan Davis

Dealing Hope Transcript

Season 2 Episode 11

Ben Binversie (00:00:04):

Lawyer, author, poet, performer, motivational speaker and dad, to a Grinnellian no less, Hasan Davis and his son Malcolm on telling stories to create a better world.

Ben Binversie (00:00:31):

This is All Things Grinnell. I'm your host Ben Binversie. On today's show, the Davises: Hasan, who visited campus to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, and Malcolm ’21, a third year theater and dance and political science double major talking about stories, creativity, and finding their voice. That's coming up next after I remind you that the information and opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the individuals involved and do not represent the views of Grinnell College.

Ben Binversie (00:01:00):

Hasan Davis is a renowned educator who works with individuals, communities, and institutions, mostly to help kids achieve their dreams no matter the odds. Sounds like a lofty goal, but it's a fitting description for someone who bills himself as a hope dealer. He visited campus at the beginning of this semester to celebrate Martin Luther King Day. He shared his own journey of overcoming challenging circumstances and learning disabilities. Along the way, various people inspired him to see a version of himself that he could not. And now he brings that message of hope to people, especially youth through work in schools and the criminal justice system.

Ben Binversie (00:01:38):

Davis wields the power of stories to engage in difficult discussions about the history of slavery and racism in this country, and help people reflect on their own stories no matter where they come from. But if you would have told 11 year old Hasan Davis, that he would do any of those things as he sat at the police station waiting for his mom to pick him up, he would have called you crazy.

Hasan Davis (00:01:59):

Well, I think that, like all stories, the chapter before the event is always something. Growing up with learning disabilities and challenges and lots of home instability, food insecurity, there's a point where you realize you don't get what other people get and you start taking shortcuts. Well, we wanted the things that we saw that every other child had seemed to have and the life that they had, and that was the thing that led us into shoplifting.

Ben Binversie (00:02:33):

From there, it escalated.

Hasan Davis (00:02:36):

We would get into fights and we would do lots of things that, and you don't care about the consequences because you don't think you're ever going to be somebody who has to worry about consequences, that the world is going to never to let you be that other person. And you take what you can before somebody finally takes it back.

Ben Binversie (00:02:53):

And so at 11 years old,

Hasan Davis (00:02:55):

It actually started. My buddies and I at the store after the holidays, and one of them decided that he wanted some legos. His little sister didn't get a lot of toys for Christmas and that was a constant struggle with us. And he just wanted his sister to have something and I was like, "Yo, Gerald this ain't the time." And so it fell apart from there. And he wound up in custody and the rest of us fled. But over the course of the day, the police tracked us all down.

Ben Binversie (00:03:27):

And they all ended up at the police station.

Hasan Davis (00:03:29):

It was mamas starting to show up and all states of disrepair, trying to pick up their boys and frustrated and angry at a system that does this.

Ben Binversie (00:03:39):

One by one Hasan's friends come and get picked up by their moms.

Hasan Davis (00:03:43):

My mother was the last to show up and she came in very calm and very collected, and thanked the police officers, and did the paperwork. And in my head I was like, "This is not good."

Ben Binversie (00:03:55):

They left and she was still composed, didn't go off, no yelling, no punishments doled out.

Hasan Davis (00:04:03):

We got in the car that she had to borrow to come and get me, and I'm waiting for her to go off on me so I can find some way to justify my stupid by her anger, and somewhere in that long ride home, I finally got the courage to look up at her. And she was just bawling these huge tears. And she looked down at me and she said, "Baby, if you could see what I see every time I look at you, you would know how great you already are." That was it.

Ben Binversie (00:04:38):

Given what had just happened and the direction of his life at that moment, his mom's words didn't make much sense, but he listened to those words.

Hasan Davis (00:04:46):

And that gave me space in my thinking to say, "Well, maybe there's something else I haven't seen."

Ben Binversie (00:04:54):

In that 11 year old boy, Alice Lovelace saw the potential that her son could not, and that was Hasan's introduction to hope dealing.

Hasan Davis (00:05:03):

It's the idea of being able to plant a seed that we don't know will grow, that we don't know what bear fruit, but we know that if we don't plant it, there's absolutely barren land. And people like that were the ones who were able to help me slowly reclaim the sense and belief that I had a place in the world and something to give to the world.

Ben Binversie (00:05:22):

But it would be a long time before he could prove his mom right.

Hasan Davis (00:05:25):

And it got worse before it got better. But there was that moment where you could start to see where better was possible.

Ben Binversie (00:05:33):

His mom planted that seed of hope, but Hasan was still following his charted course to failure. Labeled a troublemaker at school, he was expelled multiple times. Throughout his childhood he moved around a lot and dealt with family trauma as well as his own ADHD and dyslexia. He was really struggling in traditional school and eventually enrolled in an alternative school called Horizons where he found another hope dealer, Lorraine Wilson.

Hasan Davis (00:06:00):

An amazing woman. She was a child of the 60s, long hair who wears these thick glasses that magnified her eyes because she was legally blind, but she was very soft spoken and I think she was psychic.

Ben Binversie (00:06:15):

Wilson welcomed Hasan into Horizons where he attended from eighth grade to senior year. She saw in him what he could not. Even though Horizons had more space for a kid with learning disabilities, he still struggled and managed to find himself in trouble.

Hasan Davis (00:06:31):

But it was a small school and she managed to help me navigate. She would give me special tools to navigate my own disability, and things that I didn't even recognize until much later when I would be bouncing in my chair and frustrated and she would say, "Hasan, do you think maybe you want to go outside and run around the school as hard as you can?" And I was like, "What, that doesn't ... Yes, I think that is what I want to do."

Hasan Davis (00:06:55):

And so she would let me leave class and go in. I would run around the building three or four times until I could barely breathe and I would come back in. And what I didn't know, and I'm assuming she did, was that part of my challenge, my ADHD is that my brain is hyperactive or hyper-focused. And so with all that energy, everything draws my attention. But if I can burn off enough of that energy, it slows my brain down and actually the world starts to make connected sense. And so when I would do those things, I'd come back in the class, and it would be like the whole world has sharp edges for like 30 or 40 minutes.

Ben Binversie (00:07:35):

Wilson could tell what Hasan needed and she gave him the tools to regulate his challenges and just as important, she saw him as a person more than just a troublemaker.

Hasan Davis (00:07:47):

She sat me down in her office once, I got called to her office often, but this one time, and I get in there and wait for her, she comes in, and she looks at me, and I'm waiting for the speech that I've gotten very often. "I know who you are. I'm just waiting for you to screw up bad enough for me to be able to put you out and I'm going to move on." And I'm always like, "I can do that by lunch. I know who to curse out. I know who to hit. I know this."

Hasan Davis (00:08:10):

And so I'm sitting there waiting for her and she comes in slow like she always does. And she sits right across from me, and she pauses for what seemed like an hour. And then she starts let me just like I planned it, "I know who you are." Here we go. And then she says, "And I think that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to." And she just stop.

Hasan Davis (00:08:32):

And it made me remember that she is legally blind, she can't see anything but shadow beyond two feet. I finally say, "Lorraine, you know that it's Hasan, right?" And she sat there for a second, and she said, "I know who you are and I think that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to and all you can do Hasan has made me a fool for believing such things about you." And then just like my mother, there was no context for this to be the conversation we would have, but it left me wondering what they could see that I couldn't. And so she was just that person. And that became the support that I had in school, well, until I got expelled.

Hasan Davis (00:09:15):

In my senior year, she called me to the same office and sat me in that same chair and then said, "Well, you have failed in the class this semester and there's no way for you to gain enough credits in the last semester to graduate. So I'm going to have to ask you to leave." And I thought my whole world was going to fall apart. This was home. This was my heaven away from the streets and the things that I had to survive before. And with the same love that she held me, she said, "But you have to go."

Hasan Davis (00:09:48):

And what I understand now is that she then contacted my mother and told her about Berea College and said, "There needs to be a way forward." And so I got my GED and started trying with a 1.67 GPA, juvenile criminal record, ADHD and dyslexia. I'm like, "Yes, college. That must be the next step."

Ben Binversie (00:10:09):

So on he went to Berea College, a liberal arts school in Kentucky that provides free tuition. It's also known for being the first interracial and coed college in the South.

Hasan Davis (00:10:20):

This was not where I was supposed to go, but because she and my mother Alice Lovelace could see these things from me. This made perfect sense, because if they could see it, then that just means that, I haven't gotten there yet. And that trust that you can have when somebody really invest in you makes a difference. And so it drew me into a whole other world.

Ben Binversie (00:10:42):

Sometimes it takes someone else to see what's inside of you and bring it out. And that was certainly the case for Hasan. He made it to college, but the struggle didn't end there.

Hasan Davis (00:10:51):

And then it wasn't a magical moment where all of a sudden, everything lined up and the world was perfect. I still had disabilities. I still was coming from a huge opportunity gap, and my access, and supports. And when I got into college, one of the hardest parts was trying to figure out how I could navigate this system that I didn't understand.

Ben Binversie (00:11:18):

And because of that he had to find other ways to prove himself at Berea.

Hasan Davis (00:11:23):

Most young people don't like talking, and so I made it an effort to always be the one to volunteer. I'd be the one to step up to do an oral book report in front of class. I didn't read the book, but I talked to the five people I know read the book, and when the bell rang, "Hey, I want to get my report," and I'd get up and I could impromptu, give a five minute report and cover all the things that I received from these people, the pieces together. And so that was my survival piece.

Hasan Davis (00:11:50):

I made it the first three semesters doing just that. And I'm still practicing my penmanship at night when my roommate went to sleep with my third grade pad, red line, blue line, red line reading over and over a couple of pages in each class so that I could make an intuitive leap, and show I deserve to be there. But eventually it caught up to me because you can only fake it so long without support systems. And I was too afraid to tell anybody I needed help, because where I come from if people know your weakness, they use it. And so I thought that the only way I do this is alone.

Hasan Davis (00:12:23):

And it finally caught up with me and I couldn't improvise fast enough, and I got expelled, I went back home. The classic, move into your mama's basement and running with my brothers back on the streets and realized that if I didn't do something dramatic, this was going to be the story everybody told. The story that they started and they thought they already knew at seven years old when the teacher closed me in the coat room because I was never going to be anything.

Hasan Davis (00:12:53):

And so, one day I wrote my mother a letter from Fort Knox, Kentucky, "Dear mom, I'm joining the army." I just had to make a break and find another place to be until I could figure out who I was going to be. I went through basic. I went to advanced training, came back out into the reserve and as soon as I got home, I went back to Berea and started a petition to get back in.

Ben Binversie (00:13:16):

And Berea told him no several times, but he would come back again and again, and ask them to reconsider.

Hasan Davis (00:13:26):

And after a week of this, the Dean was like, "Look, what are you doing?" I said, "Well, Dean, this is the only thing on my to-do list." And we finally worked it out and they brought me back on every probation. And I thought that I was really ready for this. And I ran into a massive conflict with one of the professors in one of my classes who had already decided that I wasn't the caliber of student that he deserved to teach, and everything about that dictated his response to me in the class until at the end of the semester. He made it really clear to me that he failed me in the class, and he failed me because he had created a circumstance that was absolutely proved that he was right.

Ben Binversie (00:14:07):

The professor believed Hasan didn't deserve to be there.

Hasan Davis (00:14:10):

And it really shook me and I wound up being expelled because I was on probation, and I left and moved just to the next town over because I couldn't go back to Atlanta a third time. I knew that I'd never get out. I started working in construction and coming back to the school to visit and helping ... I was teaching the martial arts class and kind of staying connected because I didn't want to lose that this is where I want it to be. I knew that I deserved to be here just that I didn't know how yet.

Hasan Davis (00:14:38):

And so after a year I came back and petitioned to get back in, and they were like, "Oh no, that's not going to work." But I asked to speak to the committee, the scholarship committee that makes that decision, which students don't usually ask for and don't usually get the chance to. And I went to them and I said, "Look, nobody is going to look at a place like this, that gave a guy like me three chances and say, what a terrible place that is? But what if I can do this? What if I can do the things that I believe is going to prove everything about what Berea's mission is and everything about what I believe in myself. I just need you to loan me $3,000." It was a hail Mary. So I just put it out there and they're like, "Really? Because Berea pays everything, right?" And I'm like, "On top of that, just give it to me, right?" And the student that has failed the most in your school invest here.

Hasan Davis (00:15:26):

And they said, "Well that doesn't make any sense." I said, "Well, no, there's this new computer called a Mac."

Speaker 3 (00:15:32):

Introducing Macintosh. It does all the things you'd expect a business computer to do. And it does some things no other business computer has ever done before.

Hasan Davis (00:15:43):

Is has something called Microsoft Write 1.1 with spellcheck. I'm not even quite sure what that is, but I'm pretty sure if I had something like this with spellcheck, I could finally get what's in here that I think is so good out so you could see it. And you could make the decision, but at least you could see it the way I see it. And then you can decide if I deserve to be here. And they said, "Okay."

Ben Binversie (00:16:15):

But on a few conditions.

Hasan Davis (00:16:17):

"You're going to be on academic probation, labor probation, social probation, convocation probation, and double secret probation, and if anything goes wrong, you have to promise not to come and ever talk to us again."

Ben Binversie (00:16:27):

Hasan talked his way back into Berea, but this time with his new 25 pound personal computer hauling it all over campus to each class. And that first semester back, he made the Dean's list.

Hasan Davis (00:16:41):

And then I went back to that professor in his major where he was chair of the department instead of his freshmen, I required freshman seminar course. And I took that class and I sat in front of him every day so he understood that he would not stop me.

Ben Binversie (00:16:56):

With the right structures in place, Hasan started to flourish.

Hasan Davis (00:17:00):

I was elected homecoming king and I was voted president of the student body. And so once the momentum started, once I finally found the structure and the supports, then I could be all the things I'd imagine whole life I could be, but the world always told me, "No, you don't get that."

Ben Binversie (00:17:15):

For Hasan school had always been a constant struggle, but through perseverance, luck and some incredible mentors, as well as new technology, he was able to overcome his learning disabilities and succeed in a traditional classroom environment.

Hasan Davis (00:17:29):

And so I really think about the tools that young people with disabilities have now, which is such a game changer. There is no reason any young person with a passion desire to be amazing can't do it because we have these tools now that I couldn't have even imagined when I was a child. I mean that was like, somebody had told me once, "Hasan, if you'd have had this stuff like in elementary school, I don't even know where you ... " Because I was making this stuff up, just trying to stay above the ground, and then finally technology caught up with me in a way that allowed me to finally excel.

Ben Binversie (00:18:05):

Hasan got back on track at Berea, graduated as senior class president, and set his sights on the next place he wasn't supposed to be, law school. He was moving fast and technology might have been catching up to him. But it was at this point that he decided to turn back and look at his story and what it could mean for others.

Hasan Davis (00:18:25):

For a long time, I tried to outpace my story. My life was changing and transforming in some amazing ways very quickly. And people looking at me and my accomplishments and my accolades were building very fast. And so at first it was a real temptation not to look back, right? Somebody had actually told me, "You know what? Hasan, if you didn't tell people about all that other stuff, right? You've got this amazing resume and all these great things, but when you start talking about that other guy, it makes people uncomfortable and ... "

Ben Binversie (00:19:00):


Hasan Davis (00:19:00):

Yeah. And then I finally realized that that was the point. That there were people, young people in particular who are going through the same struggles and some struggles greater than mine, but to some degree they struggle, and in some point in their life, people have told them that that struggle was the only thing they get. And I realized that if I was going to be a servant leader, if I was going to be someone who brought more light than darkness to the world then I had to be a role model. And in order to do that, I can't show up to kids in crisis and say, "You should be like me and just do great," because all they hear is like, "My life is great and you're just not working hard enough."

Hasan Davis (00:19:41):

But if I go all the way back to the beginning, and I usually start with all the accolades. My government appointments, and my presidential this, and I put all that out there, because in their eyes they're all great. Somebody else come and tell us, "If you were just a better person, you could do great." And then I say, "I tell you that because you have to hear that part or the rest of the story doesn't make sense. Now let's go to the front and I'll tell you how your story and my story is."

Hasan Davis (00:20:07):

And so that allows this book ending where they get to really see it. And I've had young people come up to me, "And it's like you were telling my story, and everything that you went through, I went through so many of those same things. And my question is always, and now what?" And I say, "And now I know that I got more to write." And that's the piece when they understand that this through line is, and I always talk about the present and the possible, right?

Hasan Davis (00:20:34):

We have to live the truth of who we are right now, but we have to always be aiming for that other person and doing the work to become that person. And the idea of hope dealers our job is to help those young people imagine and craft that. That's what Lorraine did for me. That's what my mother did for me. They painted this vision so broad across the sky that no matter where I was looking in this darkness, there was some light. And that gave me a chance to really write myself and figure out what my North star was. And I think we can do that. We do that more and we need to do that more for young folks.

Ben Binversie (00:21:05):

Yeah. You have to be able to imagine it and see it ...

Hasan Davis (00:21:09):


Ben Binversie (00:21:10):

... in someone else.

Hasan Davis (00:21:11):

And sometimes somebody else has got to speak it for you, before you go, "Huh. Okay. Yeah. Okay."

Ben Binversie (00:21:16):


Hasan Davis (00:21:17):

She said I could. That's how I always tell people. "My momma told me I could do this so I don't know why you all keep getting in the way." At law school, I got expelled from law school three times. I never missed a day of class. And it was like, "Maybe you don't understand how expulsion works." And I said and I said, "Maybe you didn't read my application, because it would not be the thing telling you that I was the guy that walks away because people tell me I don't deserve to be."

Hasan Davis (00:21:38):

My mama told me I was great. Dr. Loraine Wilson told me that as long as I didn't give up, nothing could stop me. And so this is just another challenge, but I know where I'm going to be and you can either be part of that and help me get there or you can be one of those people that got ran over because I'm going there. And we will have this in every semester, and finally they said, "Okay fine. Let's just go ahead and get this done."

Hasan Davis (00:22:02):

And I got the tools I needed to be able to perform there at a level that proved I deserve to be there. But the law schools in particular were so resistant because they're the elite institutions, and so holding them accountable instead of walking away, what happens to young people who come from disadvantaged, who experience disability, who are struggling in systems is too often they believe they don't deserve. They believe that anything that somebody gives them is a bonus and they should be grateful for it, and they shouldn't be speaking and demanding more. And one of the things that I learned is that I have a right to everything and I will fight for everything. And if you're strong enough to keep it from me, then I won't get it, but that's going to be a fight.

Hasan Davis (00:22:50):

And I think that for me, teaching young people that tenacity, that persistence is the thing that allows them to really push past the barriers that have been put up. Because lots of people are going to tell you, "You don't deserve to be in places." And too often, if you don't have a core that's powerful and centered, you're going to go, "Yeah, maybe I should go do something else because this must be too hard for me. And I'm not wired like that." And so, I said, "No, I don't think you know who you're talking to because clearly you haven't read the story because you're a couple chapters behind." Yeah.

Ben Binversie (00:23:30):

So now you've got tons of different job titles that you've done and have been involved in juvenile justice, and youth mentoring, and education, and an author, and you do these historical reenactments, you're just kind of all over the place.

Hasan Davis (00:23:46):

Yeah. I told you a construction worker.

Ben Binversie (00:23:48):

Right, yeah.

Hasan Davis (00:23:48):


Ben Binversie (00:23:50):


Hasan Davis (00:23:50):

People are like, "How old are you?"

Ben Binversie (00:23:56):

But one of the through lines is this idea of being a hope dealer.

Hasan Davis (00:24:01):


Ben Binversie (00:24:02):

Maybe not always when you were working on construction where you were dealing hope because you had to find it for yourself at that point.

Hasan Davis (00:24:08):

That's right.

Ben Binversie (00:24:09):

But in the more recent since law school and continuing on. And I love the idea that we can create hope and give it to people especially, because it isn't a given for everybody.

Hasan Davis (00:24:20):

No, it's not.

Ben Binversie (00:24:22):

But what does that work actually entail in the communities and with the people that you work with?

Hasan Davis (00:24:28):

Sure. So it comes out in lots of ways. When I work with professional communities, I'm usually building capacity in educators, social workers, youth workers, all those people that work with young people at some level. And part of it is giving them the skills to engage young people and give them a space to really grow. And then talking very frankly about ... I always tell people, "You have to actually have hope to be a hope dealer because you can't give what you don't have." Right? As in you can't write a check out of an empty account.

Hasan Davis (00:25:07):

And so sometimes it's about us going back and taking care of ourself. It's just like that message on the plane, "Put your mask on first before assisting others." And we have to do the work ourselves. We have to unpack our own traumas and dramas and things. And so I do a lot of work around that, giving them the tools then to engage young people and build structures around their classrooms or there meeting spaces that allow them to explore the world differently with safety and understand that somebody's there helping them navigate. And so a lot of my work is there.

Hasan Davis (00:25:44):

At the same time I'm going into schools, going into juvenile justice centers, going into group homes, and I'm working with students. I do a lot of hands on leadership development and engagement with young people, giving them the same skills that as high level administrator I received as a Rockefeller fellow and as an EKC fellow. One day I was like, "Well, why are we waiting until somebody gets 40 years old and they're already at the top of their profession to give them all these skills to be good leaders and to engage people?"

Hasan Davis (00:26:20):

And so my wife and I actually started creating leadership and youth development programs for high school students, for college students, to start giving them those skills and framework so they actually come into the conversation prepared to thrive instead of struggling until they struggle so much people want to reward them by giving them the skills to thrive. And it's amazing when you see that, because I've seen young people light up and start charging the world.

Hasan Davis (00:26:47):

And one time I had a young man, "Why did it take a special person coming to show me this? Right? Isn't this what everybody is getting every time?" And that was a great question. We ought to be doing more of that. And it's a social emotional engagement. It's understanding your own experience in a way that helps you translate that to the world in a meaningful way so that you ... And his goal setting, and the ability to imagine yourself greater, and all those things don't happen accidentally.

Ben Binversie (00:27:13):


Hasan Davis (00:27:13):

And so there's a lot of intention that I try to put into it. When I go in and do I do speeches for the whole class, the whole school. I come and do assemblies. I do those types of things too. And I love them because a lot of storytelling, a lot of interaction. And so those are the two main places that I work in with folks and professionals in the field. And then I work on the ground directly with young people.

Hasan Davis (00:27:36):

I've been going into schools more training education students, social work students, juvenile criminal justice students, because again, just like, they need to have these skills when they come out and we don't teach these anymore, right? We're teaching you how classroom management and classroom management is not you standing in the room saying you're in charge, because that's the quickest way for somebody to make you feel foolish.

Hasan Davis (00:27:58):

And so I teach them these same skills for how they build a classroom culture. How do you build effective engagement so that the young people feel safe enough that they can listen and learn instead of worrying about who they have to hit or how they act up so they get put out of this space that's embarrassing them. And so it runs the whole gamut. And also that's the great thing about being ADHD. I kind of ...

Ben Binversie (00:28:23):

Just run with it.

Hasan Davis (00:28:23):

Yeah. And people say, "Well, what is the one thing you do?" I say, "Well, the one thing I do is like everything because all of it is necessary." And there are not a lot of people who have had the number of experiences I have had. And I think that having that wide range of experiences has exposed me in a way that allows me to speak very specifically to lots of really interesting things.

Hasan Davis (00:28:48):

And so when we have these conversations when I'm coaching, I can speak to an amazing number of challenges because I had all of them. I had an amazing number of opportunities and types of work because I've been in those fields as a professional across the board. And so it has given me a chance to really be, not a Jack of all trades but a universal tool. Kind of the tool that you can adjust to fit most situations.

Hasan Davis (00:29:19):

And for me that's worked really well because it makes me feel like I'm actually being valuable and useful. And I can be valuable and useful in lots of places that people would normally fail. So I can go into deep rural Kentucky up into the hollers, and talk to a family about their kid's success, and ride the mule and chase the pheasants with the little kids while we're trying to work out something, and be authentic, right? And then I can go straight down into the downtown and say, "Hey, these are the things we have to do."

Hasan Davis (00:29:52):

And so I've had this range that's given me access to a very diverse spaces. And so I feel comfortable in all of them. And so it gives me a chance to work in all of them without feeling like I don't belong. Sometimes I show up and population of color, multiplies. I had to do, that's one story. "You must be the guy going to the school to speak this day." And I was like, "Yeah, well, what makes you say that?" He says, "Well, last week they said a black guy was coming to speak at the schools this week and you're the only black guy I've seen since then." I mean, and usually people would hope, "Well, maybe I need to get out of here." But I'm like, "Yeah, I'm that guy." And he's like, "Cool, I'll show you where it is."

Hasan Davis (00:30:32):

And so the ability ... When I say that my result is every child engaged, empowered, and provided a clear path to their success in education, and career, and across their community life, I mean, every. And so I go into the hollers and I go into the hood. I go into the skyscrapers and I go into the one room shacks. And I mean all. They don't have to look like me, think like me, talk like me, act like me, but as a hope dealer, I committed myself to making the world better every place I stand. And I can't do that if every time I do it, there's a comment saying, "Yeah, but except for them," right? Because they don't think like me because they have this political leaning, and then I don't know if they're right.

Hasan Davis (00:31:14):

And it creates tension sometimes because I'm not quiet about who I am. I'm clear that this is who I am and I'm still here for you. And I still, if you're willing to take the chance to take a risk of somebody that completely is different than you, there's a chance that I can help you get places that you wouldn't imagine just like I got places I wouldn't imagine. And building that kind of trust has been a thing that's allowed me to really do the work and feel like I do something well.

Ben Binversie (00:31:39):

Yeah, a lot of it I think comes down to being able to tell your story powerfully in a way that resonates with people ...

Hasan Davis (00:31:48):


Ben Binversie (00:31:48):

... and being in touch with your own stories is important.

Hasan Davis (00:31:53):

The story is absolutely the core of it.

Ben Binversie (00:31:57):

And I got a little taste of that last night when you did your performance as York, speaking of stories, and I think it resonated with a lot of people in the audience as well. So another thing that you do, we touched on it a little bit, but you've done this for a while, is you perform as historical figures?

Hasan Davis (00:32:13):

That's right.

Ben Binversie (00:32:14):

And you've got a few that you do, York we'll talk about, and then Angus Burleigh and Joe Lewis as well.

Hasan Davis (00:32:21):

That's right.

Ben Binversie (00:32:22):

So you bring these characters from history to life and tell their stories. And yesterday you performed as York. Now I doubt many listeners will probably know who York is. He's not quite a one name kind of guy like Prince or any of those.

Hasan Davis (00:32:36):

Yeah, that's right.

Ben Binversie (00:32:37):

Not yet.

Hasan Davis (00:32:38):

Not yet, that's right.

Ben Binversie (00:32:38):

But maybe deserves to be so. Most people are familiar with the Lewis and Clark expedition. It's definitely in most history textbooks.

Hasan Davis (00:32:46):

That's right.

Ben Binversie (00:32:47):

But as we so often do we only get the romanticized whitewashed and white centric version of the expedition.

Hasan Davis (00:32:53):


Ben Binversie (00:32:54):

I assume that was also the version that you knew as well?

Hasan Davis (00:32:57):

It is.

Ben Binversie (00:32:57):

So when did you first hear of York?

Hasan Davis (00:33:00):

I first heard of York probably about 22 years ago as I was doing living history and my first story was a story of a civil war soldier. And then someone suggested I consider telling the story for the Lewis and Clark 200 commemorations bicentennial. And they started talking about this guy York, who I was kind of embarrassed. I had never heard of a guy named York. Well, he's not in the books, so it kind of made sense.

Hasan Davis (00:33:30):

So I started doing research and it's just an amazing story that nobody was really paying attention to him. This guy who was there from day one to day done of the expedition. He was in every trial and tribulation, every victory, every failure, but he received absolutely no consideration for it. And so as I started digging through his story, it was just so compelling. And at the bicentennial I realized that this was one of those moments where literally the whole story could change.

Hasan Davis (00:34:06):

At the 200 celebration of this event that shaped our nation, we get to put an insert a new story and a new voice, and that almost never happens. And it's a voice that confirms so much about how we have been successful as a nation of diversity, a nation that has pulled on different strengths at different times. And typical of the story that's been told that only a few people engaged and sacrificed and created this great thing, right? Every moment in our history that we call pivotal there are these folks, right? Native Americans, African Americans, Latino people, white folks from all over Europe, some who at that time weren't even considered to be white folk. Right? And so there's all this drama, rich people, poor folks.

Hasan Davis (00:34:53):

And so I really started using that to unpack all of these stores and figure out at those moments where were the critical things going on that proved that declaration of independence. Where people, because people talk all the time. I get in this debate with scholars, "Well, the declaration wasn't actually written for everybody. It was written by white men who owned slaves." And I'm like, "Well, that's true. But it was also written by individuals who had this age of enlightenment idea of themselves to be better than their current." Again, that present versus possible. And so these most brilliant men in the nation sat down and drafted an ironclad statement of intent that didn't say, "We white men in America who own land and control slaves have the God given right, one God's given right to do anything," right? That would have been such an easy statement of independence, right?

Hasan Davis (00:35:47):

Instead, they said, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that cannot be stripped away, among these not limited to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." I mean just that statement alone, when you break it down, when I do exercise with students, I say, "Get the thesaurus and the dictionary, and we're going to break this word by word, and we're going to replace every word in this sentence, and then I'm going to read it." And it's amazing what they see when they do that, right? This document, this statement is a statement of universal possibility, and we have a right to interpret that. That's why they left those loopholes. I'm a lawyer. Loopholes are one of the things I love. And they left so many big old loopholes in there because they knew.

Hasan Davis (00:36:32):

Thomas Jefferson wrote about it all the time. He knew that he could not be the enlightened person he imagined himself to be, but he left these loopholes in there so that future generations, if they were brave enough, they could actually own that and we could finally be the thing that they set out to become. And I truly believe that. And if you look at it and you interpret some of his words, I mean, he said things like, "When God finally turns his eye back toward us, what a terrible day it's going to be?" Right? "God's not going to be happy where we've been." I mean, he was really clear about this. And then he said, "I'm going to keep these slaves because I'm really keeping them safe." Right? And so he was with contradictions. He couldn't imagine giving up all the power he had, but he could imagine a world where that kind of power didn't exist. And that was the thing that we started marching toward 200 years.

Hasan Davis (00:37:19):

You get me going like last night I just kind of start.

Ben Binversie (00:37:23):

It's all good. Why did you maybe personally connect with the story of York and the trials and tribulations that he faced on his journey? He was the slave of ...

Hasan Davis (00:37:37):

William Clark.

Ben Binversie (00:37:38):

... William Clark, leader of the expedition. And from the way you described it, and probably accurately so, he was right there with William Clark every step of the way ...

Hasan Davis (00:37:47):

That's right.

Ben Binversie (00:37:47):

... and sometimes in front of him.

Hasan Davis (00:37:48):

In front of him, yeah. And there's always this question about what enslaved people do. I believe that he grew up and was indoctrinated to believe that his job was to protect William Clark. And I believe that that was absolutely his mission and role when they started out. But as they encountered all these other communities that start to tell him, "Dude, really you're not security. You're like the guy." And he started and able to reimagine himself in ways that most people don't get. And I think that enlightenment started to impact him and the way he would return back to, "Civilization." But his role was ... William Clark was about to lead a band of rough necks into the wilderness on a death mission and I'll imagine somewhere in there he was saying, "If things go bad, I want the biggest and baddest dude behind me." And York's that guy, so he's gone. All the other stuff was bonus that he had this connection with the native communities, that they revered him. That was all bonus.

Hasan Davis (00:38:51):

Clark's first interest was this is my right hand and he's going to be there. When they docked in St. Louis at Fort Redwood River at Camp DuBois, before they took off from there, he had to go over in the St. Louis to do the formal transition of power from Spain to the US of the Louisiana purchase. When he left, he told the men, "York is my voice, when he speaks assume I'm speaking." That's a lot of power.

Ben Binversie (00:39:17):


Hasan Davis (00:39:17):

Right. And so his confidence that York was capable and competent was pretty amazing. But yeah, he was there from day one to day done. There was no question about it, but for so long he was just considered to be a footnote. Oh yeah, and York was there.

Ben Binversie (00:39:37):


Hasan Davis (00:39:39):

And Sacagawea finally started to get some traction and some attention, which she absolutely deserves to. She was like commando. If I had to choose the toughest member of the expedition, hands down, it'd be her. Right? Rolling through the wilderness with a colicky baby on your back and still handling your business. She was hardcore. And so finally we were able to start to get our head around that, and so I think now we're starting to expand and see the rest of the people there who were rag tag group of misfits that nobody would have pegged for heroes of a nation. And I say heroes, but I understand there's all of that other stuff that comes with it. Right?

Ben Binversie (00:40:16):


Hasan Davis (00:40:17):

They also were the harbingers of doom for so many nations. And I think part of reconciling that is reconciling the truth of the whole story. That's why we got to tell the whole story, because there are some celebrations but we also do damage and all those have to be part of what we tell.

Ben Binversie (00:40:32):

Yeah. It's fascinating to see how York's story of ... Because eventually he comes back and is not granted his freedom. He's still a slave of William Clark, but certainly he tasted something different when he was ...

Hasan Davis (00:40:50):


Ben Binversie (00:40:51):

... out West and is yearning for something more. And the end of his story fizzles out into the unknown and it's no longer at least documented historically.

Hasan Davis (00:41:02):


Ben Binversie (00:41:03):

But I think we can safely assume that he had imagined a life that he was not able to see it out ...

Hasan Davis (00:41:10):


Ben Binversie (00:41:10):

... manifested in the world that he currently lived in.

Hasan Davis (00:41:13):

That he lived in, and that's right.

Ben Binversie (00:41:16):

And it just feels parallel to your story except you're ...

Hasan Davis (00:41:20):

I got to the end then. Yeah. And when I think about his story, the idea of somebody else ordering your world and telling you what value you're going to be in the world. And then walking into places where people say, "No, no, actually you could be a lot more and we've got the tools to help you." And at the same time, people like Clark said, "No, no, that's really not you. You can't be more, right? This is all you get to be." And that struggle between the people who want to convince you they know you better than you know yourself. And then you just should just sit there and then be okay with it. And there are the ones saying, "No, you have all these things and you need to go out there and give them to the world."

Hasan Davis (00:42:03):

And I do feel that, I think that the thing that ties me emotionally when I do this work in character is I do draw on my own experience a lot. Right? And that's the thing that really helps me take the work out of storytelling into living history, is that I get to embody, and I draw on my own experiences in so many ways to drive the emotion of him to really connect with the audience.

Hasan Davis (00:42:31):

And it's been interesting because I've taken York and my other shows into elementary, middle school, high school, having access to such a wide range of folks to be able to do this work which has really given me a chance to be an ambassador in some ways of stories, and encourage young people to go and look for the other stories that they don't know, right? And to dig deeper and see what's the story behind the story? And then that's been exciting. That's been pretty cool.

Ben Binversie (00:43:06):

Yeah, so what message are you going to share tonight when you speak to people about your personal journey and how to encourage others to find and tell their stories and be hope dealers for other people?

Hasan Davis (00:43:23):

Yeah, tonight I'm going to talk to them about my own experience. I usually do that because it's a good frame to get the whole story. Then I'm going to lay out some strategies that when I think about Dr. Lorraine Wilson, when I think by my mother Alice Lovelace, and how they, and then others helped help me move along my trajectory, there have been some lessons and some aha points. And so I really worked the last 10 or 15 years to pull those out and be able to really magnify those when I'm working with other folks to just show these are the things that, if we were doing these kinds of strategies, if we were having this kind of mindset and attitude, I think it'll help us move toward that track of being hope dealers.

Hasan Davis (00:44:10):

And I also have another series of points where I think about my own transition points and the thinking that I had to have to really grasp the opportunities and create those opportunities to transform so dramatically. And so the first set I call "Pages From a Hope Dealer's handbook," the strategies for reaching and teaching and engaging young people from challenge. With the other parts are Hasan's rules, right? These five rules that, do something, stop playing small, change your friends or change your friends, forgive yourself then forgive the world and deserve victory.

Hasan Davis (00:44:49):

Number five is deserve victory. And in everything we do, do it in a way that everybody watching knows that you should have won. You may not win, but everybody watching knows that the heart, the effort, the passion that you put to it on any given day, that could have been the thing that got you the golden ring. And if you can put that kind of work into it, you can get up the next day, you can brush yourself off and you can charge it again because you know that your commitment is solid.

Hasan Davis (00:45:13):

And sometimes that's all we have, is this commitment that we hope somebody else can finally see, and see like we see, and then doors open. Because people had to see me because he's not stopping, he's still running. Somebody opened the door, right? He seems like he's beating his head. And so sometimes it's part of that, "Wow, he just will not let go." So maybe we ought to figure out how to do it.

Hasan Davis (00:45:35):

And so part of that relentlessness is showing people that your commitment is complete and eventually, they have to decide if they want to be a part of helping you reach that thing or the thing that continues to stifle you. And most people want to be part of the story. Most people want to be in the box where the heroes sit ... Everybody wants the opportunity to become the hero in their own story and the chance to see themselves in the growth and the greatness of other folks.

Ben Binversie (00:46:08):

Thank you Hasan.

Hasan Davis (00:46:10):

My pleasure. I'm so glad to be here. I appreciate it.

Ben Binversie (00:46:12):

Thanks. Hasan Davis is a lawyer, performer, author, educator and hope dealer. He visited campus for MLK day and performed as York, the enslaved, unsung hero of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and shared his own story. You can find links to his books on the episode webpage or check out his work at Hasandavis.com.

Ben Binversie (00:46:32):

When I was talking to Hasan, he mentioned he had a son that goes to Grinnell. This was news to me, and then I finally made the connection. I knew Malcolm Davis. I imagine growing up in the shadow of his father's story brought with it a few challenges, but Malcolm has managed to cultivate his own voice and story influenced by his background, and growing up in Berea, Kentucky, our music lover and podcast comrade, Gabriel Schubert sat down with Malcolm to talk about his music, and other creative work.

Gabriel Schubert (00:47:02):

Grinnell college is home to a robust community of student artists of all sorts. This week I got a chance to sit down with third year theater and dance and political science double major, Malcolm Davis. Malcolm is a poet, playwright, rapper and producer. He opened and performed with Oompa on January 29th in Gardner Lounge.

Malcom Davis (00:47:20):

I guess I started making music, I started writing poetry, which I think is a very similar step in the process for me. In about 2016 and 2015, and to this nice summer camping, I learned about poetry and black art and stuff. And then I really stepped into the music world this past year, I picked up the bass guitar again, and started playing, and then got a laptop for school that had Logic Pro on it, and that basically was my newest step into making music. I'd use other DAWs and stuff to produce, but this is what really stuck with me.

Malcom Davis (00:47:56):

And I have just been obsessed with it ever since. I don't know. I think there's something about music that I'm so proud of in everyday life. I have taken vocal lessons like one of them I took piano lessons, but I don't remember the piano lessons. So I guess the only instrument I really play is bass, but I consider myself a lyricist as well as a producer I guess.

Gabriel Schubert (00:48:15):

Yeah. Awesome. You're from Berea, Kentucky, correct?

Malcom Davis (00:48:18):

Yeah, Berea, yeah.

Gabriel Schubert (00:48:18):

How did growing up in the South influence maybe your outlook on the world overall and just more specifically your music as you've made more music as that's going on?

Malcom Davis (00:48:30):

Yeah, so growing up in Berea is a really interesting, a really unique experience. As one of the few people of color, one of the few African American people living in a rural somewhat conservative college town, much like Grinnell actually with the bubble of the college of liberals and my parents both went to, and then the surrounding conservative community in Kentucky, it was kind of crazy.

Malcom Davis (00:48:54):

And growing up as a biracial child as well with the interracial parents is a whole another set of things. But I think it always made me hyper conscious of my race, hyper-conscious of the way that I'm seen, the way that things impact me differently than my other peers. And also I think I realized how beautiful that is and the way that it influences art, and the way that art comes from struggle, and it comes from that unique experience.

Malcom Davis (00:49:22):

So there's not like there's not really hip to a tradition of Eastern Kentucky musical artists, but I think there's an interesting fusion about the duality of identity that I have growing up there specifically, and I hope that bleeds into my music. I think that one song that I had, the Don't Remind Me 'Bout Slavery piece was about living and loving a place that displays such incredibly openly symbols of hate, symbols against you that they might not love you back, "Cruising back roads of Kentucky, trying my best to stay lucky. In a whip named Hailey and we're passing Confederate flags on the daily. I think the white man wants to remind me about slavery."

Malcom Davis (00:50:18):

And that sort of sums up the relationship I have with home I think in that song.

Gabriel Schubert (00:50:23):

Yeah, absolutely. I was planning on asking you about that song, specifically the video, because it's shot with these beautiful takes of Kentucky scenery and back roads. What was your vision originally for that song? Did that include a music video? What did you want to show audiences with both the music and your lyrics and the visions as well?

Malcom Davis (00:50:45):

So the idea for the song really was rooted in the music of Gil Scott-Heron, who has been one of my biggest musical inspirations, like an icon, the grandfather of hip hop music. He wrote songs like or pieces like The Revolution Won't Be Televised et cetera. And I wanted to follow in this fusion of spoken word poetry with music, with percussion specifically, which resulted in me making of that song.

Malcom Davis (00:51:12):

And it was really inspired by me and my buddy in the video. It's him driving his car. Just driving around and admiring the beauty and then seeing the way that it's so incredibly contrasted with. And in the video it's basically just iPhone footage, just driving. Didn't expect to see a Confederate flag. I was literally just taking video of how awesome because there's a beautiful day and we were having a great time. And then managed to capture a Confederate flag, but I wasn't surprised by it.

Malcom Davis (00:51:44):

So the video was really lucky because I was like, "Oh wow, I made this song and then I have this video that I can make it fit." And I think it did really well. But I really wanted to try to capture what that's like, because I think that you can still see the physical beauty. And if you know the area, you know the culture, you know the people, the cultural beauty that is in Kentucky, that is in the South of America, in the United States, but also see the struggles that it is being there.

Gabriel Schubert (00:52:11):

What are you trying to get listeners to hear in your music and what goes through your head when you're in the process of production and everything?

Malcom Davis (00:52:18):

Yeah. I think I really just try to express myself. I've always found that ... Well, people have always said things to me like, "Oh, you should talk or narate something. You have a great voice or et cetera." I'm not really entirely convinced yet, but I'm still riding that wave. But I think the idea that I just ... I don't know.

Malcom Davis (00:52:39):

The feeling of creating music I think it's something that needs to be expressed. It's like poetry where maybe it's like I have a political or a social reason for it. I think I express a lot of my discontent with the world, discontent with the way that things happen politically and socially, just the way that our world is, and we were talking about just a while ago on how crazy the world is getting. Just like that's my way to cope with it, and I think that other people can hear that too and maybe they will find something in common with it.

Gabriel Schubert (00:53:07):

Absolutely, so maybe a little bit more specifically towards Grinnell now.

Malcom Davis (00:53:12):


Gabriel Schubert (00:53:13):

What do you find special about the community of Grinnell student musicians here that maybe you haven't found on other places?

Malcom Davis (00:53:19):

Yeah. So this is my first time really being myself as an artist or really being creating the persona or whatever, being an artist. And part of the reason is because of how easy it seems to be at Grinnell or how comforting the community is. The reason I really started wanting to perform and write lyrics was because of my good friend DeMarco Saffold who goes by Marco Sieve. I would see him having this amazing platform and showing off for all his peers, really being like ... I don't know, using this to his advantage. Because what you're given here is a lot of equipment, a lot of opportunity, and a lot of people who are willing to support you or at least show up.

Malcom Davis (00:53:57):

So that's what I found was really enticing about it. And how welcoming Marco was, a nice community, and then people like Ian Donaldson who are just willing to sit down with you and help you figure out how to record, how to mix your music, et cetera. And then just the people who are willing to listen to your stuff and give you feedback. And I think that you can find a lot of that here at Grinnell.

Malcom Davis (00:54:20):

We have a nice young hip hop community as well. Million Hoodies has done some open mics and we've been able to have people like Mushadda Morocco, who is a first year who goes by YBNG rock, and then people like Marty Allen, who is another first year, but people who are out there doing the same thing.

Malcom Davis (00:54:34):

So I think that there is, what I'm really interested in doing is solidifying that community more because I've found that it's so helpful and it's here.

Gabriel Schubert (00:54:42):

Yeah. How do you plan on trying to solidify that community? Do you have plans for collaborations with those artists?

Malcom Davis (00:54:49):

Yeah, absolutely. I've been talking to Marco and Mushadda and a number of other people, and just about creating the community. And a lot of times it has to do with the young black men on campus I found. There's this group called Men of Color Empowered and Engaged, we're trying to solidify the community that is one of the least represented groups at higher education institutions versus black men.

Malcom Davis (00:55:13):

So I think it's a community thing as well as ... That's how hip hop and music is tied into that community as well. But yes, definitely some collaborations or performed collaborations, and hopefully some events as well as I'd like to get in the booth and record something with some people.

Gabriel Schubert (00:55:28):

Yeah, absolutely, and that'd be great. When do you write your music? Do you have like a strict process of getting into the mindset, getting into the right mood or is it just something that comes whenever the spark hits you?

Malcom Davis (00:55:41):

I think the largest part of the music creation process for me is taking that music, and then there is listening. So I often find that I'll be listening, whether it's to like my Spotify Discover playlist or to my playlist of songs I just listened to constantly, and I'll hear a beat or I'll hear lyrics and I'll be like, "That's really clever."

Malcom Davis (00:56:00):

I'm in a hip hop class right now with Mark Laver and just realizing the vast expanse of music out there. And the fact that to make music you have to be able to piggyback off of ideas. Sampling is just basically that in an instrumental sense but also in terms of writing. Free styling is also a good way, just listening to the beats or producing beats. Oftentimes it's just procrastination, and sitting down on my laptop, and opening up Logic, and seeing what happens.

Malcom Davis (00:56:27):

But also the way I've written my poetry has always been I just write a poem. I don't plan the poem. I don't think about what's the beginning of the poem is going to be or the end of it until it's done. And then I have a poem and then I change it, because that's just how been how my mind works in terms of shoot of consciousness. I have ADHD so the creative process I think is sporadic in that sense in a lot of different ways. But just engaging the urge when it comes and then seeing what happens.

Gabriel Schubert (00:56:59):

You mentioned sampling a little bit and I know you've got some cool found samples from sounds and noises around Grinnell, on that beat, 14322.

Malcom Davis (00:57:10):


Gabriel Schubert (00:57:11):

When you're creating that sort of project, how do you think, "Oh, I hear that, and that's something I want to include?"

Malcom Davis (00:57:19):

Yeah, and I think that part of it comes from the fact that we listened and engaged in music in a lot of different areas with a lot of different noises. So if you're listening to a song, for instance those in beat headphones that you're wearing right now, unless they're noise canceling, you're still going to hear other stuff. I think for me, specifically one of the sounds is, Lazier's elevator.

Gabriel Schubert (00:57:45):

Yeah, that's one of the first one, yeah.

Malcom Davis (00:57:47):

... this is only the first track of that beat tape. And I think for me it was just something that I hear every day, and I'm thinking people probably don't really know what this is so it might be interesting to throw it in. But I think environmental sounds, and I like the rain sounds right, whether it's like vehicle sounds, whatever, I think that we have so much technology in terms of like you can make people feel as if they're in an environment when they're listening to music. And do you listen to music differently when it's raining and you hear rain on your windows or when you hear birds chirping or whatever? Lots of different things you can play with besides the actual instruments.

Gabriel Schubert (00:58:20):

Yeah. So I want to congratulate you on your awesome set ...

Malcom Davis (00:58:24):

I appreciate it.

Gabriel Schubert (00:58:26):

... before Oompa at the concert last week. I loved your presence on the mic, on the stage. That was ... It was just great. It was just really fun to watch.

Malcom Davis (00:58:32):

I really appreciate that.

Gabriel Schubert (00:58:33):

Yeah, and you're welcome. And I'd heard you perform in Gardner before at Showvember last semester, was this your first time performing on an actual Grinnell Concerts "ticket?"

Malcom Davis (00:58:46):

Yeah, and it was also my first time performing my solo work or work that I had actually written, produced, whatever, because Showvember I was with Write-in Candidate I believe I was performing with him, Sunday Candy and Turf by Amine. But this was my first outside of covers, outside of poetry performance. And to be able to do it on the same poster as a 100 gecs and be able to open it for Oompa is just like a dream come true.

Gabriel Schubert (00:59:15):

Yeah, it was amazing. Maybe what was that whole experience in the buildup to the concert with booking and everything that people probably didn't see when they actually showed up at the show?

Malcom Davis (00:59:27):

It was probably one of the most stressful few weeks of my life. And that was because I didn't exactly know when, because the concert schedule hadn't yet been confirmed, so the last two or three weeks of winter break, I was like talking with Lucas who was probably running the concert's committee and trying to figure out when it was going to be. And then I was like, "Hmm, do I have enough songs? I actually do." And then I ... I don't know. There's a lot of self-doubt I think as well when it goes into, "I'm going to be going out on there performing," and the flake gets terrible. "It's going to suck. It's going to ruin my life or whatever." So I was just like, "Well, whatever happens, happens. I've committed to this, can't get out of it now."

Malcom Davis (01:00:06):

That week I worked with Ian and I worked with a lot of friends on solidifying a track list, solidifying the beats. I actually had, like the last song I performed, I wouldn't just think of just that week and I was trying to just see what I could get out. Because I have a lot of stuff that I've worked on, but I wanted to have stuff that I felt proud of and I felt like represented where I was at currently in my creative process. But it was great. No, I was extremely excited to have it over with as well as just a great feeling because of how stressful it is. And it shows you how much it takes to be a performing artist too. It's like, it takes a lot out of you.

Gabriel Schubert (01:00:44):

Did you get a chance to interact with Oompa much before or after the show?

Malcom Davis (01:00:48):

So I got a chance to go in and say "What's up?" to both Oompa and their DJ, DJ El Sid, and they were awesome. And they really showed love which was what really made me feel really good. And it was very affirming to know that they mess with me. And I was very happy because Oompa absolutely killed that. It was crazy.

Malcom Davis (01:01:08):

I got to follow them on social media and I talked to the DJ El Sid about maybe we'll work together one time in the future. But it was just super cool to step into the industry and be received by people on that first step in.

Gabriel Schubert (01:01:20):

Yeah, with open arms.

Malcom Davis (01:01:22):

Yeah, exactly.

Gabriel Schubert (01:01:22):

That's awesome. That's definitely an essential. So I noticed when you were performing you were wearing this shirt, and please correct me if I get the date wrong, but it said 1619 ...

Malcom Davis (01:01:32):


Gabriel Schubert (01:01:32):

... correct? And I think I remember Oompa also shouting you out for that shirt. And so I wanted to ask, is that connected to the criminal justice reform project that I think The New York Times is running?

Malcom Davis (01:01:46):

Yeah, so The New York Times has a 1619 project where they did, and it was about re-recognizing or recognizing the history of slavery in the United States. The first enslaved Africans were brought over in 1619 which last year was just exactly 400 years.

Gabriel Schubert (01:02:04):


Malcom Davis (01:02:04):

It was the 400 year anniversary of slavery. And I think that that's a history that, as oftentimes we don't realize that that was so close and we also don't realize that it ended so close to us as well. People have great-grandparents who have great-great-grandparents who were enslaved people.

Malcom Davis (01:02:22):

So the shirt, well, I was just like I need to have something that connects with the message I'm trying to send as well as I think I mentioned 1619 in one of my songs. Because I think that, although I'm not entirely familiar with The New York Times project, I was doing a program in Chicago and it was at a historically black museum and I saw that shirt and it was just strong history I think everyone needs to know that number so close.

Gabriel Schubert (01:02:47):

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, and it definitely creates a political message that when you're on stage as well.

Malcom Davis (01:02:53):

Yeah, exactly.

Gabriel Schubert (01:02:54):

Is that something that you hope to continue carrying with you and this Malcolm or MXLCXLM?

Malcom Davis (01:03:03):

Yeah. It's pronounced Malcolm.

Gabriel Schubert (01:03:04):


Malcom Davis (01:03:05):

I think it is. I think I also don't want to throw too much into my wardrobe choices. I was just like, "Hmm, what do I wear? I've got this shirt." But I think fashion is a part of, and you're creating an image and you're trying to send a message.

Gabriel Schubert (01:03:23):

Yeah, it's definitely essential to hip hop for sure.

Malcom Davis (01:03:25):

Yeah, absolutely.

Gabriel Schubert (01:03:26):

Fashion and everything.

Malcom Davis (01:03:26):

But I do hope to continue it. Yeah.

Gabriel Schubert (01:03:29):

Awesome. So your father is a storyteller and his personal story is integral to his career and the way he engages in the world. Do you consider yourself a storyteller? And is it storytelling your goal, maybe at the end of the day when you create art, whether that be your poetry or your music, your plays?

Malcom Davis (01:03:51):

Yeah, I think so. I think that that's something that he definitely has passed down to me or my family has made him. And he works in solo performance which he performed a piece at the Loft Theater I think while he was here. And then my grandmother, his mother, also has a history of performing solo performance pieces. And I think that it's something that, whether it's writing my plays, doing research and my own, solo performance which I hope to do in the future, or just making music, whether it be instrumental or lyrical, I think that a song is a journey and it's a story. A poem is too. And you have the audience's attention for just a little bit and you want to be able to take them somewhere. So they're a little bit different when they come out on the other side or have experienced something that maybe they didn't expect to. But absolutely, I think that storytelling is my main goal in a lot of things.

Gabriel Schubert (01:04:43):

Absolutely. Awesome, so like we've talked about, you've got the beat tape, you've got a couple of singles published, what are you looking at doing next?

Malcom Davis (01:04:51):

Yeah, so what I'm really looking and what I'm really interested in doing is refining the quality of my releases while working on mixing and mastering. Just because I want to be more proud of the quality, specifically the Hi-Fi quality of the music I put out. But the music that I performed at the show, I had about seven songs, I'm looking at putting together and cleaning up an EP of sorts which was my first entry as a lyrical piece of volume of work. So I'm interested in that.

Malcom Davis (01:05:22):

And I had seven songs, so I would say I had put all the songs that are performed on there. But unfortunately I have to get the sample cleared because I sampled a range against the machine song which is not allowed. They will take your music down if you do that and you don't have licensing for that. But definitely I'm looking forward to releasing maybe some more singles and then like EAP or something.

Gabriel Schubert (01:05:42):

Awesome. Yeah, well, I'm looking forward to and I'm sure many other students at Grinnell are and people hopefully outside of Grinnell that are hearing your work.

Malcom Davis (01:05:50):


Gabriel Schubert (01:05:51):

Thank you so much for coming in and ...

Malcom Davis (01:05:52):

I'm glad to be here.

Gabriel Schubert (01:05:53):

... thank you for your time.

Malcom Davis (01:05:53):

Thank you Gabe.

Gabriel Schubert (01:05:54):

No problem. You can stream Malcolm singles beat tape and upcoming music on SoundCloud and Spotify where he stylized his name as MXLCXLM. Check it out and support Grinnell's artists.

Ben Binversie (01:06:10):

And that will do it for this week's episode. On the next episode, we're talking about the late great Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison, whose name will soon me inscribed into the walls of Grinnell's newest academic building. Next to the likes of Shakespeare and Plato. We'll talk with Shanna Benjamin, associate professor of English, about Morrison's legacy, and alum Johanna Giebelhaus will offer her insights from editing and producing the documentary film, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am. President Kington will also join us to discuss the decision to honor Morrison as the first name inscribed on those walls in over a 100 years.

Ben Binversie (01:06:50):

Music for today's show comes from Brett Newski, Podington Bear and Malcolm Davis. If you want to contact the show email me at podcast@grinnell.edu or check out our website, grinnell.edu/podcast. Make sure you subscribe to the show so you don't miss another episode. And drop a review on there while you're at it. Maybe leave some nice things to say to pump up my ego. Thanks for listening. I'm your host Ben Binversie. Stay weird Grinnellians.

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