Martinez Hillard – Podcast Interview

Marty Hillard
I couldn’t think of a better person to launch this podcast with than my good friend

Martinez Hillard.
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Marty Hillard

Brail (3)

Brail smiling
Brail smiling
“The science behind racial studies initially was all geared towards separating and creating a white elite class of human beings. There’s nothing good about it. Ethnicity, culture, nationality, history, all of that’s great, but there’s nothing good about race. So I started thinking, ‘How do I reconcile these things? How does Christ look at these things? How did he address them?’ Seeing how the Israelites were treated in Egypt for a long time and then they started becoming productive and successful, so this new pharaoh comes up and doesn’t remember what the God of the Israelites did and he’s like, ‘Who are all these people? Who is these niggas? Who are these people that seem to be doing well? They could take us over.’

That fear then takes over and they decided to destroy them and they did almost the exact same thing that we did here in America. This isn’t new. This isn’t a white people problem. This is a sin problem. And so how does Christ address sin? He addresses it pretty sternly, but he addresses it in love. Now I can look at my brother and sister and go, ‘Man, just how I have sin in my heart that I have to fight, you have sin in your heart that you have to fight.’

We’re living in a world of sin and the only way to reach them is with love, not with complacency, not with compromise, but standing on the truth with love and grace. So going into school out there turned me into a racist, but it’s also where I began to understand what it means to be a Christian. I began to understand what it means to work toward reconciliation and started understanding that reconciliation only happens within the confines of relationship. It doesn’t happen outside of that.

The only way to have racial reconciliation is to have a relationship. My entire approach went from, ‘Man I gotta show white people how much they hurting us!’ to ‘Dude, I need to establish relationships with these people.’ I need to be the one that they come to when they go, ‘Is this racist?’ I can’t fire off on them every time and say ‘You crossed the line,’ because if we don’t have any relationship my words fall on deaf ears. Pain is not finite and neither is empathy. You need to build relationships.”

 

Brail (2)

Brail looking at camera

Brail looking at camera

“I had a really good friend who was kind of an outcast in the music department and he was also an atheist. So we had a lot of deep conversations about Christ and religion and later on about race. He was also a military kid, so he grew up with all sorts of races and ethnicities so he said he didn’t get why black people were complaining about racism. I had to explain it to him in a different way that wasn’t ‘I hate them!’ I had to think about it. I told him, ‘There are two reasons why black people don’t like white people. Number one; white people don’t like black people. You see the way that they treat us. We don’t believe that they like us, so why would we become loving and friends with people who we think hate us? Number two: white people don’t understand why black people don’t like white people.’

And I gave this example, ‘Man, if your brother set my sister on fire, literally on fire, and I ran into you and you’re holding a bucket of water and I said, ”Bro, let me get that water man and throw it on my sister, she’s dying.” And you’re like, ‘I don’t see any fire. How did she catch herself on fire anyway?’ And I’m like, ‘She didn’t catch herself on fire. Your brother did that.’ And you’re like, ‘My brother wouldn’t do that.’ So now I’m looking at you like you’re the enemy too because you’ve enabled for this to happen and I’m in desperate need and you’re just sitting here telling me that there’s nothing wrong. We talked about that and from there we started building a friendship.

Unbeknownst to me, this was also helping me see things from a different perspective because he grew up in a situation where he didn’t see people being set on fire, but I grew up in a situation where I did and I was expecting him to have the same of perspective that I had. He’s white and I’m black and I see white people set black people on fire every day. He must have seen it, but maybe he didn’t, so it’s hard for him to see the flames because he’d never seen the fire. It didn’t make sense to him. So then I’m like ‘What if other people always see other people set others on fire but because it’s the way they grew up, it doesn’t make sense to them either?’ I started to understand why some of my ‘friends’ would act the way that they would. I started taking world history classes at Washburn.

I started learning about the beginning of slavery and how these first slaves who came as indentured servants started outnumbering the powerful white people. So they were scared about losing their power and changed the rules so now if your dad or mom were slaves, you were a slave for life. So how did they justify that? Well, then the Church came in and twisted Scripture to kind of fit that, ‘You know maybe they’re not image bearers.’ So then you get this perverse religion that is taught to people who grew up swimming in racist waters and they don’t understand that this water is toxic and their brothers and sisters are drowning.

So I started gathering this perspective that racist people are sick. They don’t understand to what they’ve been exposed to and it’s become a part of who they are. I also started learning about systemic racism, about the systems of racism that exist today. They just don’t know. My goal became to educate others. I even had to re-educate myself on the factors of systemic racism even though I have the life experiences. I had the experiences reaffirming what I had been learning, but I still started questioning myself because it’s much easier to go ‘Maybe it’s not a thing. Maybe if I work hard enough things could be different.’

Because who wants to spend their days thinking, ‘I’m a victim, I’m a victim, I’m a victim’? No one likes to live like that, so you tell yourself that you’re strong and powerful only to realize that the system is trying to destroy you. That’s a harsh reality to live in, but I’m like, ‘If that’s hard for me to live with it and I can’t ignore it, how hard is it for some of my white brothers and sisters to step over that line and acknowledge the problem and how they benefit from it even though they didn’t start it?’ So now I’m like, ‘Okay, my whole perspective on race started changing and I started understanding how race was invented for racism.’”

Brail

Brail looking at camera pensive

Brail looking at camera pensive

This is Brail Watson. He’s a recording artist, as well as the Worship Resident at Fellowship Bible Church – Hi-Crest. You most definitely should check out his EP, the Demo at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-demo-ep/1453031808.

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(1/3)

“Right now what I’m focused on is cultural and racial reconciliation. Everything I do feeds into that. Everything about me is more about message than music. I was raised in East Topeka and when Topeka was viscerally segregated, that part of town used to be called Mud Town. My grandfather was on the NIA that actually got my entire neighborhood built. The white contractors didn’t want to build on that side of town. Everything moved; everything kind of went west. The black people were pushed east and all the expansion went west. When I was about two months old, my mom moved in there, so I grew up in that same house.

I went to Highland Park North. At one point the school closed down so I went to Scott. Back then it was a computer technology magnet school. I went there and I was in the gifted program, but around fifth or sixth grade they told me that there was a better gifted program at French Middle School, which is far west side. There was a loophole in the system and because of that I was able to get free busing. Then in the eighth grade I was just in the orchestra, but I did really well in some of my other classes, so they would let me leave class to go help out in the choir. So, I would assist in the choir, even though I wasn’t in the class. And one my best friends in the orchestra was sick and they were supposed to do choir auditions for Topeka West, so I offered to audition with him to help him out. They ended up wanting us both to go that school.

And this all ties up to the story of how I became a racist.

So there were experiences that I had that were really defining for me when bitterness set into my heart. I had this open attitude of loving everybody, giving everybody the benefit of the doubt, but I experienced things that changed that. One time I made it into ‘Singers’ as a sophomore, which is kind of the elite group at Topeka West, and we’re sitting there talking about a concert where all of the elite groups of the high schools come together to raise money and they do a concert at Washburn. So these kids were talking about Highland Park in a very negative light. I lived in the Highland Park district. So I was like, ‘What’s wrong with them? I know some really good singers out there.’ And they’re like, ‘It’s not really about the singing. You know, it’s those kids.’ And I didn’t really understand what they were trying to say. So then I asked, ‘Is it because most of them are black?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, but you’re black and you’re not like them. You’re not like those black guys.’ So I started getting upset and defending my friends and they were like, ‘Come on. Let’s not make it a race thing. You know, they get pregnant and smoke weed,’ which is an interesting thing to say because a lot of that was happening at Topeka West. All the stereotypes were coming out and I was blown away by that.

So all of these things start coming out and then I get to Washburn and apparently it was the year of the black jokes. So everywhere I go it’s ‘fried chicken this; grape drink that; watermelon this and the n-word this.’ And these are all of my white friends making these jokes and because I’m so loving, they thought it was cool to say that around me. At the same time I’m an artist and I’m doing a lot of shows in these small Kansas towns and I’m hearing, ‘Hey man, do that new Soulja Boy dance’ and so everywhere I go, I’m a minstrel show. So I started reflecting on the world and I came to the realization that white people think they own everything. I started seeing white privilege in action without understanding at the time what it was. And then if I spoke out against it I was the angry one even though I was the one being offended.

So then I started thinking back about these bullies in middle school, who were white, and they threw me in a trash can once and I said, ‘You niggers go in the trash!’ and no one ever did anything about it, there was no outrage about it. It was treated as that’s what bullies and mean kids do. Then I got to high school and there was still some of that. One time in high school all the seniors on Facebook got together and changed the Spirit Week and they made a ‘Gangster Day.’ So what ‘Gangster Day’ meant is that you came to school dressed in gym shorts, Jordan’s, tall tees and you’d have a fake grill, so hip hop culture, black culture. That was ‘Gangster Day,’ dress like a black guy.”

Marty (3)

Marty profile view

Marty profile view

 

(3/3)

“How can we best put into practice the idea of being active in our communities, not just being vocal on social media?”

“I think the easiest thing people can do is ask each other how they’re doing. Whether that’s your coworker or close friend or family members, one way to put that in to practice is toask how we’re doing and be okay with whatever people say for an answer. We have an obligation to one another, to acknowledge each other and acknowledge each other’s humanity and to be kinder to one another and to give room for one another to grow. I don’t think we have enough space or time in this world to just cancel each other out. That’s not to excuse behaviors. There are a lot of gaps in our society and a judicial system that doesn’t hold people accountable the way that they need to be held and I think it’s good that we’re having those conversations.

I think it’s good that people are given platforms to be able to speak freely about what they’ve experienced. I know for me that’s very important. But I also know that before the Internet was poppin’, I had plenty of people in my life as a young man that were willing to correct me but not throw me away. And if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today.

So everyday I’m trying my hardest to be that person to other people, just short of tolerating their hatred, bigotry or racism. I’m trying my best to extend as most grace as possible, knowing that there are a lot of people who gave it to me when I needed it the most and didn’t deserve it. That’s my biggest advice. Just start there and then follow your heart, wherever it takes you, in terms of filling other needs in your community. Figure out what you have a passion for and do it.”

 

Marty (2)

Close up of Marty

Close up of Marty

(2/3)

“Last summer there were a lot of people in the community that were trying to have these conversations with local authorities and elected officials and they quickly derailed. I was always disappointed with myself that I at least wasn’t there to bear witness to what was going on. I think, if nothing else, it’s really important to be there. It’s important that people take advantage of opportunities to have these difficult community conversations and to make themselves present because these are issues that affect us all. Even if they affect us differently, they certainly affect all of us.

In particular with Dominique (White), I happen to know some relatives of his and my heart just broke for his family. And when he was murdered on September 28th until when there was a subsequent protest on TPD in November, I think I was just sitting back and waiting for something to happen, waiting for something to be done, so when I found out that there would be a protest at the police department, I remember having a lot of difficult emotions that morning. I remember holding my daughter before I took her into daycare and just crying and thinking like of how scared I was, of how afraid I felt to speak up in that moment, but I also knew that I was alive, in full capacity and that I had the privilege of making a choice, that I could choose to engage in that moment and be a part of what was happening, or I could not. I chose to engage and it wasn’t nearly as much as a sacrifice at that point, thinking about what happened to Dominique.”

“Have you had any personal encounters with police officers?”

“Too many to count. I think a lot of people are aware about the first time I was stopped by the police when I moved here. I was 10-years-old, in front of my neighborhood grocery store. But I think that a lot of people don’t understand is that I’ve spent the next 15 years pretty regularly harassed by the Topeka Police Department.

Just one example: I offered to give a ride home to two high school friends of mine. A young man and a young lady. The young lady was 15. Around first or second at Fillmore there used to be a newspaper dispenser for the Capital Journal, so I saw it and happened to hop out, grab a paper and keep going. I think someone in the neighborhood alerted the police officer who was canvassing the neighborhood of what they had seen, so that officer and others began to follow me. I pulled over at Ward Meade Park and asked them why they pulled me over and they said that there had been a lot of prostitution in the neighborhood. Mind you, this was on a Tuesday at 4 in the afternoon, because I had just picked up my`friends from Topeka High. What an insult to all of us, but especially to this young lady. Clearly these were school children. They both had their backpacks.

So, we go around and around and I told them that I wasn’t going to give them consent to search my vehicle. That was a big tactic back then with TPD. It was to wear you down until you gave consent to search your vehicle and so they were probably expecting to find a bag of quarters from the newspaper dispenser or something. They kept saying, “Well, if you’ve done nothing wrong, then why wouldn’t you give consent?” And I told them, “I don’t have to. I don’t owe you that. I haven’t done anything wrong.” And so, that’s just an example. And that’s the sad part. The frustrating part is that when I’ve tried to explain this to friends and family over the years, they would say, “Well, what did you do? Why were you anxious?” And that’s what for me shows the disparity of experiences between what certain people experience when they’re engaged by police officers and what others like me experience.

Just because you’ve never had a reason to feel anxious around law enforcement, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t.”


Marty

Marty looking at camera

Marty looking at camera

(1/3) This is Martinez Hillard. He goes by Marty. This is part of his story. “Like” the page to be notified for the following two segments throughout the day.

EBONY TUSKS has been around in some shape or form since the fall of 2010. Marty wrote his first rap when he was 11 and started his first rap group “the Orijinal” in high school. He’s also a rising voice in Topeka as the community deals with the mistrust between its citizens and the local government.

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“Geese and Daniel have been a part of Ebony Tusks as far back as 2011 and 2012 and that’s something that we take a lot of pride in. Music has been a huge important part of my life and it has taken me in many directions that I’ve never would have dreamed of.

What I realized about Ebony Tusks in 2013 is that it could be an outlet for me to experience catharsis in a very literal and visceral way. Up until then I wasn’t using the group as an outlet for my emotions, it was more just as a hip hop project. But at some point that wasn’t fulfilling. And I felt that lyrically I wasn’t saying anything that was drawing any truths out of me. So then at some point, I was lamenting that and getting really frustrated at the lack of response we were getting from the community and how not fun it was for me. And then I started writing songs that were a reflection of what was going on inside of me. It felt truer. It felt freer. And that was something Daniel and Geese could identify with and get behind. And also, just to look around assess the state of the world and actually have a productive outlet to express how I was feeling about it. I’m really grateful to have band mates that understand how important that is for me personally.

Our live performances started drawing out a lot from people and that’s what I wanted with live performances, to feel that this wasn’t just us on stage and that this wasn’t just you as an audience, but that this is all of us together engaged in this moment.”

Kyle

Kyle looking at camera

Kyle looking at camera

This is Kyle. 11 years ago, Kyle Moreland gathered a couple of friends and started what has now become an annual Christmas concert. The show outgrew its original location and this year is looking to be another success. For more info on the concert, please read the comments.

“I’ve always loved Christmas, but in 2006 it’s when Sufjan Stevens’ first Christmas collection came out, I think that’s the first time that I realized that ‘Oh, you can write original Christmas music.’

Almost every Christmas album that comes out it’s the same 11 or 12 songs and all done in the same arrangement. So this was the first time that sparked the idea that I could make this my own thing. So I wrote several songs and got a couple of friends together and the first concert was born out of that.

The concert started at World Cup coffee shop and just started as a thing for my family and friends, but every year, everyone was like, ‘This is great! I’m bringing everyone I know next year.’ And so by the fifth or sixth year it was packed like sardines in there. But I hang on to tradition really tightly, so we stayed like that for a few years, but this last year we wanted to get as many people as possible, so we moved to Serendipity in Noto and it worked out really well.”

“What are some of your favorite things about the concert?”

“One of the things that I like about the concert is new people that come almost always go, ‘Wow. I wasn’t expecting that.’ And so I’m always trying to do things that bring out that kind of magical reaction. And this show’s become part of many people’s yearly traditions, which is something I wanted it to be, but I never anticipated it happening.”

“Do you have any cool, or funny anecdotes from these past 11 years?”

“Well, one of the things that have evolved is that we do a white elephant gift raffle, so everyone gets a ticket at the door and end up getting random, crazy things. So, last year one little girl won a potato peeler with a potato, so really, she got a double gift.

In the second part of the show, we do a Christmas around the world mini-set, where we do songs inspired by other parts of the world. So we were doing Christmas in Killarney, which is an Irish song, and the little girl was holding the potato high, waiving it to the song. That was one of my favorites from last year.”