Berkeley’s Uncharted festival features hot takes, cool conversations
By Lou Fancher
A thermometer inserted into “Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas” would likely read anything but “lukewarm.”
The fourth annual event, Oct. 14 and 15 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in downtown Berkeley, offers everything from cool conversations about what’s cooking in the kitchen of Serious Eats’ Kenji López-Alt to hot topic discussions about food justice, the 2016 election, police violence, global warming, gender politics, racism, space exploration and more.
Debate, dialogue and discovery are the focus of 2016‘s thought leaders: astronomer Alex Filippenko, food writer Mark Bittman, Google digital strategist and podcaster Aminatou Sow, Tony Award-winning playwright, activist, performer and author Eve Ensler, political activist and writer Kevin Powell and others.
“Number one, we’ll be three weeks away from the presidential election,” says Powell, already pumped about the topics he intends to introduce. “People are nervous about where this country will be going, depending on who wins.”
A conversation led by Ensler and Powell, “Violence or love? Rape culture, race, and building social movements” (2 p.m. Oct. 15), will serve as the launchpad for subjects Powell will bring to the table.
“More black males have been killed in the last few weeks. I’m talking about Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Tyre King, (the 13-year-old boy fatally shot in September by police in Columbus, Ohio). It’s sickening to me as a human being. As an African American, it’s traumatic.”
Domestic violence, the prevalence of the “n” word and sexism in academia are also heavy on his mind.
“Every woman around me is a survivor of some form of sexual violence,” Powell says. “Kids saying the “n” word have no idea where that word comes from. Women like Bell Hooks, one of the most important scholars that we have — what male author in the ’80s produced 40 books across such a range of topics? She’s overlooked. The sexism is real.” (Gloria Jean Watkins is an author, educator and social activist who uses the pen name “Bell Hooks.”)
And don’t even get Powell started on the response to 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s “kneel-down” protests during the national anthem.
“People call him unpatriotic,” Powell says. “No one calls people who are killing black men and women unpatriotic. That’s the issue I have. People of my color have fought for this country in every war there’s been. I find it insane that we’re called unpatriotic. We’re wounded and people say we’re making it up.”
Of course, the weight of the world would smother all hope if it weren’t for love, Powell says. The response to his 2015 autobiography, “The Education of Kevin Powell,” and an education program he has launched that is directed at men and boys in America cause him to say, “You can overcome anything with love and be triumphant.”
Powell plans to visit Fremont High School in Oakland during his Bay Area stay.
Perhaps there, or during Uncharted, he’ll meet another child like the young girl who recently approached him at a book signing. She was in awe, he recalls, astounded that a real person, a writer she could “see and touch” had overcome disadvantage by telling his story.
“I want my work to mean that something is possible. I’m a child of sadness, but her response was liberating. Now, I’ve felt freedom,” says Powell.
That low-to-high trajectory is inarguably Uncharted’s purpose. Along with two days of onstage conversations produced by online news site Berkeleyside, musical and dance performances, hands-on workshops, a celebratory opening night party and countless “uncharted” interactions offer the community a promising maxim: Ideas shared lead to healing, a better tomorrow, future hope.