Karega grew up one of eight children on the rough side of Sacramento, California. Much of Karega’s childhood was spent learning from the eldest male in his house, his brother Keon. Karega confided, “I am the summation of my three older brothers, and this is the first time I’ve really looked back and told my life’s story comprehensively.”
I had the opportunity to sit down with Karega at the Langston Hughes inspired restaurant, Bus Boys and Poets in DC on 14th & V. It seemed like a comfortable place for one of DC’s most popular spoken word artists. He was accompanied by his wife, fellow Hamptonian, Felecia, who was stylishly dressed for the occasion. I was enthused to see the young couple in action. As we were seated it didn’t take us long to get into deep conversation. Karega, much like myself, loves to talk! We quickly began to discuss family, culture, and analyze some of the more prevalent issues that our generation faces today. They also wasted no time in reminding me that of course I am part of the family, “The Bailey’s”. Once the menus closed and dinner was on its way, we finally got down to this week’s #ShineHard Conversation.
What motivates you to succeed?
Karega: It can take a few generations to bring a whole family out of poverty and we’re not out of it yet. My family is still struggling. That’s what guides me more than anything with the belief that God sent me to do this one thing. I’m a 90. A 90 on my worst day. An A- on my worst day. As an Orator, as an MC, as a Poet, I was born in hopelessness and I found hope by giving hope to others through my work. I will succeed for my family.
What would you say frustrates you the most about today’s culture?
Karega: Selfishness and consumerism. Why the heck is a bottle $400 in the club?! Some things just don’t make sense. That ain’t no revolution. So many 20 somethings are wasting when we could be building. We’ll all be lacking as a society until giving becomes a larger priority.
What would you say is your greatest strength?
Karega: My self awareness. Having three older brothers, I was able to use their success and mistakes as a model for myself. I am the summation of my three older brothers. Keon is the Master MC, highly passionate. Taariq has a business degree in logistics. My brother Kareem is just a great guy at heart. Having older siblings raised my level of expectation for myself. Hoops, academics, and the struggle for seconds at dinner time. I wasn’t looking at the kids my age, I was trying to beat my older brothers.
So when did you realize education was your passion?
Karega: Man, I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Early on at Hampton, I would speak to groups on campus simply because I was passionate about it. Then I began looking for opportunities to mentor youth and I started in Newport News at a school called Huntington. I was a sociology major and I became fascinated with the study of Education. Trying to understand why I ended up in college and my neighborhood didn’t. I came to the conclusion that it is all about ACCESS. These ideas inspired me to become an educator.
So Tell me about your book and album, “Surrender”.
Karega: A compilation of truths is inspired by my childhood and also the experiences of the kids that I work with. I felt like some of my more introspective pieces could probably use explaining because of how critical they could be. So I wrote essays for every poem and song that I wrote.Giving insight to where I was, what motivated the writing. In that moment, where was my Head, my Hand, and my Heart. How did my faith inform me, How did my education inform me, and how did I approach the situation.
So why the title “Surrender”?
Karega: Because “Surrender” is what I want people to do when they come to that irrefutable truth. So often in our lives we say, “Not me, Not now, Not yet,” when we know exactly what God has called us to do. But we’re not ready because we think about the required sacrifice or change of being outside of our comfort zone. But such things are required for anything that is Great. I want people to abandon the “Not me, Not now, Not yet.” One of the greatest tragedies is when your “Not yet” meets your last moment and you never changed.
So what have you found to be the biggest challenge in your work?
Karega: What I need to do is make a better business of making my work available, which will be one of my biggest shifts this year. I realize how unique things are. My work, it’s Hip Hop, it’s Poetry, it’s Soul, Roots and Culture Reggae influence. It has no genre, it has no box. The support is there, now it’s time to centralize and push.
Felicia: He also does this for his students and a lot of people don’t know that. That shifts some of the focus. Plus so many things are digital now, so its all about packaging the work and preparing it for a “Download.”
Johnny: Good point the world is at our fingertips. It behooves us to use these gadgets as tools and not toys.
What’s been your most rewarding experience as an Administrator in the education field?
Karega: Studying education at a sociological level and I realized it was either Jails or Schools, and I don’t do jails too well. Back at Hampton I was an interim counselor for the Newport News United Way. Because of my life experience, I was the first non-degree counselor to ever be hired. I would do home visits, school visits, and visit juvenile detention centers as well. Those experiences have been paramount.
Share with me one of your most memorable moments as a poet..?
Karega: Just recently after a show I did in Atlanta, things winding down backstage, discussing a few upcoming shows. I met an artist named “Dom Patrice.” She asked me, “How long are you here? What other shows do you have?” We exchanged info and I gave her a CD on Saturday. Now today I hop on Instagram to see “Im Riding out to Real music. Its an Emergency. Can we all come together and change the world we live in!Positivity, Hope, Dedication, and Consistency @solspoken making great music keep inspiring us!” Dom posted this on her IG! Bruh Im like, Ohhh what! Followed by 3 other Atlanta artist showing the same type of love. It was so unexpected and it felt Amazing.
What advice do you have for the up coming social educators of the world?
Karega: Giving is a vital part of Living. God took care of me because I was willing to serve. Find a way to serve. Be steadfast, This may require you to face the thing you fear and turn it into a greatness.
Me: Absolutely! Everything we want is on the other side of Fear. Karega, proud to have you as the very first member of the @ShineHardFamily!
Interested in learning more or connecting with Karega?