Radical Honesty: You Alone Are Powerful

Muta'Ali, director of the documentary Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn, takes a frank look at how each of us can impact the present moment.

I believe in radical honesty.

Let me give you an example of radical honesty.
Sometimes I’ve daydreamed about what I would do if I was on a plantation.
Being on a plantation working the fields and enslaved.

And I imagine myself breaking free.
Not being afraid. Being more like a Nat Turner.

I’m certain I’d break free. Certain I wouldn’t be
one of those enslaved people who didn’t have the courage to do something.
Anybody else ever wonder what they’d do?

That’s what I imagine I would have done.

Last few months, I’ve imagined several times being there
as those police officers were killing George Floyd.
I imagine myself being a bystander and deciding to intervene.
In my imagination, I’m not afraid to risk my life for George Floyd.

The things I imagine myself doing, I can’t say out loud
but ultimately I imagine doing something dramatic
to distract those officers and deescalate the situation.
Anybody else ever imagine what they would do?

But I wasn’t there when George Floyd was being killed.
That’s what I imagine I would have done.

I never had to ask myself what was I going to do
as my friend was getting killed right in front of me.
“What am I going to do?”

I have the luxury, much like in my imaginary slave rebellion,
of only having to wonder what I would have done.

But if I take a look at what I’m doing now,
while my people are in the process of being killed by police,
if I take what I’m doing now in the face of that, and apply it to my imagination,
I’d have to see I wouldn’t have done a thing.

I wouldn’t have done a thing in the face of enslavement.
I wouldn’t have done a thing standing there watching George Floyd slowly be killed.

Well, that can’t be true.
That’s not how I want to live my life.

But what have I been doing while my brothers and sisters are getting killed post George?
I’m not sleeping. I cry about it,
talk about it, read about it, debate about it. I donated money.
I was mad at Starbucks for not allowing their employees to wear Black Lives Matter T-shirts.

Nothing heroic like I imagine myself doing in the face of racist killings.

And it is happening right now; the killing of people I care about.
Not four feet in front of me, but in my hands, on my phone, I see it pouring in.
Hate and murder.

We shout their names as a collective body and the names keep piling up.
So there is a killing going on right in front of me.

That begs the question: Am I just full of it, or am I a courageous person?
Am I really the brave protector I feel I am? Am I really the revolutionary I imagine myself to be? I hope you ask yourself the same. Did you ever ask yourself?


I’m not a psychic, but I bet I know something about you.

I bet you have imagined yourself taking action against police violence. Have imagined organizing a march, boycotting a store,
demanding a meeting with a city council member, organizing a sit-in,
handcuffing yourself to the mayor’s office door knob until they reform the police department, calling the DA’s office and demanding they investigate,
or calling your police officer friend and having a heart to heart.

I bet you imagined yourself doing that.

I also bet you talked yourself out of it.

Well I’m not an organizer. I’m just one person.
I’d be marching down the street alone with a sign looking like a fool.
What if I’m the only one boycotting and I make an announcement and everyone still shops at the store?
What if I don’t have all the answers?
What are the answers: Vote? Local elections? What district are we even in?
Can I protest any time I want?

I bet you are confused about how to best change things.

Me, I’m the same way. What do I do with the anger I have in me?
What do I do with my flesh and bones?
Who do I scream at to stop these police from killing my people!

I’m just one person. What can one person do? I’m just a filmmaker.

Radical honesty. I can let you in on one secret.
The Civil Rights Movement as we see it in documentaries isn’t true.
It wasn’t mostly speeches and marches. Crying, and water hoses.
It’s exciting footage. So, as a filmmaker, we lean on that (maybe too heavily) to get your attention, but sometimes to our detriment, because it makes it look like one-on-one action wasn’t part of the equation.

It makes it look like the individual might not have power.

The real movement and change takes place in quiet meetings.
Meetings between the comfortable and the uncomfortable.

But one thing you see in these films is true:
Progress requires pressure.
Persistent public pressure by everyone who cares.

And you and I have the power to apply pressure.

Don’t be afraid of anything when you do so. Don’t think for one second that you’re alone.


This is our life.
This right now is your life. Don’t let fear stop you from being all you dream yourself to be.

I’m not going to let another year of police killings take place while I stand on the sidelines.
And I’m not going to let a lack of leadership leave me too confused to apply pressure
So that I end up next year talking about what I would have done.
I’m not going to let another day go by.

I’m excited to let life show me what I will do now in the face of danger. What will you do?

You are courageous and you are the brave protector you feel you are.

Each and every one of you has an idea to help stop racist police policies.
And each of you should carry out your idea. Save a life.

I want you to do everything you’d imagine yourself doing if your friend was four feet in front of you, being slowly killed.

Like homework or an assignment at the job. Do it regularly. I’ll commit to the same.
And maybe we can check on one another.
And keep these marches going, share our progress along with our frustration,
and support and lean on one another.

Don’t let another day go by without making a commitment.
Commit to a year of keeping the pressure on our city … on an ongoing basis … in your own way. Do it all alone if you have to.

If you want to speak up about police reform at every city council meeting,
I encourage you to do it. All year.
If you want to pressure these real estate developers gentrifying our city
to speak up for police reform … I’m with that. Just do it all year.
And if I see you out there picketing alone, I’m gonna cheer you on and do what I can to be the wind at your back.

Are we understanding the power that we each have to pressure the system into what we need it to be?

Are we understanding that one person can make a difference?
If you’re like me, though, you probably want to bring a friend.
I’ve always been a fan of the buddy system.

Right now, I want you to think of something.
Something you can do to put pressure on the system in any way.
Something you can commit to for one year.

And think of a friend who will ride with you and get it done.

Step into your power and let’s put pressure on these people until these police stop killing us. Until these D.A.s investigate the police killings, until these police stop turning off their cameras. Until these mayors start protecting us.

Be the hero that you are.
Be the supporting shoulder that you are.
Do not submit to fear.

Muta’Ali is an award-winning film director from Westchester County, NY. His latest feature documentary, Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn, airs on HBO at 9PM on August 12. His past documentary films include the award-winning Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee, which featured notable guests including Harry Belafonte, Alan Alda, and Spike Lee. Muta’Ali is determined that his artistic body of work be wholly focused on what he calls “Love, Art & Activism.” (Image by Jihaad Muhammad.)