Fearless Five | Baltimore
Rashad Staton, self-proclaimed catalyst of change, a man of many hats, a man that does a lot of work, a man of purpose, growing and evolving.
That changed my life…three months, working on Capitol Hill, seeing these Black men in the Senate chambers, the Congressional chambers, hearing them pass laws, hearing them advocate.
Youth Engagement Specialist, Baltimore City Public Schools
Founder, Catalyst of Change, LLC
There’s a new role for the role model and Rashad Staton breaks the mold by simply being himself.
Our Fearless Sports video crew arrived to meet Rashad at his father’s barbershop on Baltimore Street. As we set up, music filled the shop. A young woman in the stylist’s chair scrolled through her cell phone while having her hair braided.
“Barbers are the cornerstones of the community,” Rashad stated, as he settled into a black leather chair. You sense immediately that this is a young man who never subscribed to the myth that only a few voices should be heard.
At age 26, Rashad is the voice of the future. He is intentional and grounded by a wise spirit that was carefully poured into him by his father and other older Black men who understood their purpose. And, it’s his self-awareness and relentless commitment to “being more” that allow him the ability to relate to younger people. He creates space where they can learn, advocate and be catalysts for change.
Rashad Staton breaks the mold by simply being himself.
I was introduced to politics at the age of
when I became a U.S. congressional page for Congressman Elijah Cummings.
Baltimore City Public Schools
In their own words
One thing about our Fearless Five role models: They are always on the move. We’re grateful they slow down long enough to drop diamonds of insight and share what motivates them. Check out the videos.
His Fearless Story
Rashad Staton is a…
self-proclaimed catalyst of change, a man of many hats, a man that does a lot of work, a man of purpose, growing and evolving.
You had an early start in politics and advocacy work.
I was introduced to politics at the age of 16 when I became a U.S. congressional page for Congressman Elijah Cummings. That was my first time out of Baltimore City, my first time seeing other men besides my uncle, grandfather, coach, and my own father, who walked around pridefully and had something to be prideful of. I’ve always seen prideful men, but I had never seen prideful men in a prestigious setting. Right? They come into barbershops, but when you come into barbershops, you’re stripped of your title. Now you’re just your first and your last name and you sit next to the same guy that probably didn’t have the same title, but you can’t jump in front of him in that chair.
When I worked on Capitol Hill, I saw Black men with suits, Black men that walked upright, Black men that looked at other Black men and women and white men and white women in their eyes. It was jaw dropping to see a John Lewis, to see a Congressman Cummings and other elected officials. When I was there, President Obama was Senator Obama at the time, and that was his first term.
That changed my life…three months, working on Capitol Hill, seeing these Black men in the Senate chambers, the Congressional chambers, hearing them pass laws, hearing them advocate. Having them invite me for one-on-one lunches was like, “I belong here. This world is not a world of abnormality.” To see them debate and understand how important words are. It can change everything. Going up on the congressional rooftop and lowering and raising the flag: They’re joking around, “Get up there in 30 seconds and down before the snipers look at you.” That was exciting to me, because I’m like, “We could have got shot anytime we’d go out on our porch in Baltimore.” To get hit by a sniper, I must be Malcolm X. I’m up there, wasting a little bit longer time. “You take me out and I know I’m going into history books now.” It was funny.
The terms “advocacy” and “politics” can seem hefty, and in Baltimore it can be damn near overwhelming. How do these things change a young person’s personal trajectory?
Politics, to me, is as simple as us communicating on the basketball court, trying to figure out who got next. That’s what politics is. It really is just making your space to get what you want, showing your own leverage to influence.
To me, advocacy is the integrity part of it. To do the work of advocacy means you have to be willing to speak up, but you also have to be cognizant not to become everyone’s spokesperson, because we want to work for communities. We want to serve communities, but you have to know how, and having the will does not mean you’ve got everyone’s solution in your own mouth.
That’s one thing that I’ve learned through my growth for advocacy work. I knew what I wanted as a young person, but now as a young adult working in youth engagement, I can’t speak for them. For me to do my advocacy work in the most intentional way, I have to make space for them, right?
I love how you described politics in one interview. You said, “It’s all of us telling each other our interests and needs and holding each other accountable.” That made politics approachable. Can you share an example of how the youth you’ve reached have taken your level of thinking and impacted change?
I remember when we first created our Youth Up Next engagement strategy for young people, and met them three years ago, right? We go back, and now they are matriculating or at their senior year, and these young people are entrepreneurs, right?
[During a virtual meeting] one of the young ladies gets on the screen and says, “Hey, Mr. Rashad, I bet you can’t guess where I am holding this meeting?” And I’m like, “Where?” She’s like, “Impact Hub.” I said, “What?” She’s like, “Yeah, I got my own office here.” I’m like, “That’s amazing.” She was like, “You introduced me to the Impact Hub.”
I remember being one of Impact Hub’s first community liaisons and saying, “This space is so big, you all can have art performances. You all can hold spoken word sessions. And you all can hold them at the same time.”
They’re like, “How can you open up all three spaces?” and I’m like, “Art flows.” I’m like, “Let’s bring in the young people,” and they’re like, “Are young people going to understand this?”
Not only are they still having this type of intimate space, but the young people are now saying that they are deserving of that space. She was so proud. They’re joining these meetings about programs that they now lead, that they were once a part of, and they’re creating their own spaces and their own initiatives in the Healing Youth Alliance.
Now they’re changing policy and law themselves. Now they’re like, “I’ve grown bigger than my phone. Now I need a physical space.” They’re back to relationships in places of accessibility like, “I belong here. I felt like I belonged here when I came here the first time with Mr. Rashad. Let me see if it’s my own space.” It brings that full circle.
Everyone says they want to empower our youth. Everyone says that the youth are our future. But they don’t leverage the lived experience of the youth that they say they’re fighting for. By not doing this, what benefits are people in power missing?
New ways of thinking. The problems are consistent, and the system is going to maintain itself. To eradicate a problem means somebody is out of a job, right? That’s one thing that I’ve learned. If we were all to heal everyone, will a doctor not have another patient? Sometimes systems are there to maintain the status quo but being a hero or being that servant that wants to save the world, you’ve also got to understand that sometimes the powers that be aren’t going to allow you to change and save the world every day.
What can you do to make these intermediate steps? Some of those things are exactly what our young people offer every day, a new way of thinking of different approaches, a refined approach. Even more importantly: Something I learned this year that made me value our young people more, was to know that although some may think that they don’t get it, they totally understand it.
When we first went into a virtual space [because of the pandemic], as an educational system we wanted to try to address the academic gap, the disparity gap of learning and retention. But our young people were saying, “I’ve got to keep an eye out on social and emotional well-being. No one asked me how I was doing.”
When everything forced us all to lose human connection, the young people said, “Enough with you trying to ask me how to excel as a student. Ask me how am I OK, what got me here? Why am I still here? What keeps me engaged?”
Understanding Their Experiences
It wasn’t until the rest of the world and the rest of the adults that are around and engaging with our young people had to face themselves, that they faced the reality that our young people are experiencing.
It caused us to shift priorities and say, “You know what? Your wholeness matters before your grades.” We, as systems, started to apologize and say, “You know what? I can’t score you on this year because I failed you. I failed you before you could even show me that you succeeded.” We are learning to be more human in today’s world, we’re willing to admit our fault. We failed them. They didn’t fail us.
They didn’t fail this year, because before we were forced to go into a space where you’re by yourself 24/7 out of a day, when a young person was around you and yearning for relationships or for you to just shut up and listen, you weren’t open to it. You wanted to just hit these achievement gaps, hit these outcomes, hit these metrics, and use them as a specimen to this experiment. Now it’s like, “What happens when they no longer want to be tapped in?”
Now we’ve got to go beyond to re-engage them when we could’ve had them already there.
You’ve got to…be self-aware. Fearlessness comes with a level of self-awareness.
Campaign For Black Male Achievment
Rashad Staton, is a 26-year-old community organizer, social justice advocate, and self-proclaimed “catalyst of change.” Read More…
Community Organizer and Entrepreneur
A Baltimore native, Rashad D. Staton is a 26-year-old community organizer, entrepreneur, and top graduate of his class. Learn More…
The purpose of this interview is to motivate and inspire the folks who understand that the system is broken, but don’t feel strong enough and smart enough to impact change. What do you say to them?
“You may not be able to change the world, but you can spark the mind of those that will.” Tupac Shakur. That’s my slogan. That’s my mantra. I’d say the modernization of that is, “The Marathon Continues…” by Nipsey Hussle. Every now and then, you’re going to get an ancestral spirit that just remixed the words, the message, and I think that’s what it is. Someone said that you can’t break the system. Well, the system is working. It’s not broken, it’s working. In the sense of that, what is your work and what is your value to do? Mine has been shifting one by one.
I remember when we weren’t reading Baltimore literary giants in our curriculum, but I knew them. So any time we had an opportunity, and One Book Baltimore came up, “Hey, we need to look at D. Watkins. We need to look at Kondwani, we need to look at Tata Ray, we need to look at these Wes Moore books, because they’re mentioning North Avenue and they’re mentioning East Down Da Hill and D.D.H.”
My goal right there was, “No, I can’t create a new school building, but I can help influence what our young people are reading so that they can see themselves in their literature and don’t go fall asleep on Shakespeare because we don’t understand that was our original tongue as well, but it’s not our fault either.”
The next one was saying, “You know what? Baltimore was once “The City That Reads.” Well, we are still reading, we just have new ways of expressive art. We can’t be the capital of arts across the country if we don’t have it translated in the same spaces where we have our young people the majority of the time out of the day. Yes, let’s create Youth Up Next and let’s create platforms and do pop-ups and let the rap artists introduce them to literacy.”
If you can write a verse, you can be a poet. If you can be a poet, you can be a screenwriter. If you can be a screenwriter, you can be a videographer. I always say that. Start them where they are and reintroduce, let’s go backwards. Let’s create a blueprint. Let’s look at this and redirect their energy.
I may not be able to start every student government association, but I can pilot a youth ambassador program at the district level that says that our young people should be trained in the same manner that all adult professionals are. They should be given professional development courses and check-in biweekly for a monthly basis, and get paid to do it –because young people’s intellectual property is worth money, and if they continuously give you ways to solve your job, you’re getting paid as an employer by the State or agency, and who you’re getting this information from, they’re just being asked to do it, which is unconsciously exploitive.
Yes, now I can help change policy and say, “Hey, the normal State hourly rate, when we convene our young people to ask how we’re doing, they should get paid to tell us how we’re doing. You’re getting paid during the time when you’re asking them how we’re doing.”
I wouldn’t want anybody to carry the burden of trying to save the world but do your part in trying to change their direction. That’s all I’m here for.
What is fear?
I think fear is a space of uncertainty.
Fearless is a space of: Despite the uncertainty, I’mma walk on faith and I’m going to just see the best outcome I can get.
Fear is a space of you wanting to do it, but not doing it for the bigger purpose. You get distracted by self-greed. That shows up in fear that is misunderstood. Someone that’s a fearless leader or servant doesn’t have to describe it. It’s an energy. I think most times, that’s my faith and that’s my grace that I have over my work. People know I’m not willing to compromise. People know how real I show up. I’m going to be me. I learned that through other fearless leaders that came before me, and that I’m now working with and helping to build up.
What is being fearless?
Fearless is, even when you’re misunderstood, keep going. Fearlessness is a space of acceptance that you may be alone at some point, but your lonesomeness doesn’t mean that people are not watching. I often take my journey by myself, but I know I got people that are watching, people that are admiring, people that are even hating and misunderstanding. Once I accepted that, I was like, “I’m doing too much good for me to have a hater. Energy just doesn’t work like that. You’re doing too much positive for negative to be attached to you.” You’ve got to protect that and be self-aware. Fearlessness comes with a level of self-awareness.
Now, as a dad, Tupac said it again. He said, “You got until the age of 30 to be a fearless leader as though you don’t care about any repercussions or anything else, because now you’re out there living life for you. But once you have someone else to take care of, another life that looks up to you, you start to understand God more. Once you just fear God and no one else, then you become fearless.”
I’m in a different space now than what I wanted to become. So, who am I becoming? I don’t talk as much now. I’m more willing just to do, because it’s in a space where we can get distracted by not knowing the truth, telling you which words are being spoken. It’s better just to do and let people judge you by your actions rather than what you’re trying to say to them. I think we’ve got to get back to that, fearless doers, because we’ve got enough speakers and we can all get muzzled at some time. Nobody can stop you from living in your purpose and living in your action and just being present.
I’m in a space of learning how to be. I can’t tell you the next project I’m working on because it’s going to be a calling that I didn’t ask for, but I’m going to be willing to do it. In a space of being me and simply being, I’ve learned to be fearless.
Where do you find your joy? What do you do when you find yourself in the middle of the storm and you need to be encouraged?
What keeps me joyful in the work that I do with Baltimore?
Baltimore. If you had to paint a picture of what Black America is, I would paint Baltimore. That’s this Baltimore, right? This Baltimore isn’t going nowhere [it’s here to stay]. We don’t understand that we’re the epicenter to culture, to arts, to dialect and slang. Devin Allen captures it in his books. The work of Aaron Maybin, when he crowns our young boys and girls as kings and queens for just being themselves. The way of D. Watkins saying, “We literally have to speak for ourselves because if we don’t, no one’s going to understand it, and if they try to say it for us, it’s just not going to resonate in a manner that’s Baltimore in and out.”
I love Baltimore club music. I love the grittiness. I love the pockets that Baltimore has. I bring my friends here all the time and I just show them different pockets where I know we can sit down. You can go into Sandtown-Winchester and catch a different rap and then you can go over to Northwest Baltimore and catch a different vibe. We literally have a whole strip of Black-owned businesses on this street, Baltimore Street, here on 25th Street. I go to other cities now and they’re saying, “You know what? We only got this on the south side. We only got this in this part of Atlanta.” We literally have Black-owned pockets in each part of Baltimore that we patronize. It might not be the most beautified, but these businesses have been here forever. It can be repainted, but it’s here with the little investment that they do get. Just like us, you can’t kill God’s people and you can’t get rid of Baltimore.
Interviewed by Dionne Joyner-Weems, Director of Brand and Social Impact, Fearless Sports