Kendrick Sampson has been a familiar face as of late. In addition to returning for the fourth season of HBO’s popular series Insecure and co-starring in the film Miss Juneteenth with Nicole Beharie, he’s been making headlines for hitting the streets to protest systemic racism.
Protests have popped up all over the country (even across the globe) in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Several high-profile celebrities have been on the frontlines. Sampson was even pelted with rubber bullets at one protest. In 2019, the actor/producer founded a nonprofit called BLD PWR, which according to the mission statement, “engages culture, education and activism to build and train an inclusive community of entertainers and athletes to advance radical social change.”
BET interviewed Sampson by phone to talk about the added importance of Juneteenth this year and how his work and activism intersect.
BET: You’re from Texas, did you know about Juneteenth when you were growing up?
Kendrick Sampson: Yeah, I’m from H-Town! In Texas, folks were delayed their freedom for three years after the Emancipation Proclamation which is super fucked up, so that’s what Juneteenth celebrates is our actual independence than we did grow up north. Now, I probably didn't join in celebrations until I was in middle school, high school, but that's just because my family didn't do a whole lot of holiday stuff. Juneteenth was always my favorite holiday because I grew up knowing that Independence Day was a bs holiday that wasn’t for black people, our ancestors who were not free. And they, you know, there's so much history behind it but, but, you know, there's a creole food, and, and, and barbecue and smoked meats and collard greens and, you know, sweet potato pie, just dope times. There’s also a parade. So, filming Miss Juneteenth, it was nice to have a chance to highlight the culture that I grew up in and something that's very specific to Texas
BET: With so much focus on systemic racism today and lots of people just now learning about Juneteenth, how would you suggest people celebrate or acknowledge the day?
Sampson: They can support the Movement for Black Lives by texting “Defend” to 90975. They’ll get sent ways to get involved. You can really strive for liberation. That's what Juneteenth is about. It's the from the concept of, we're not all free. If one of us is not free then none of us are free right we're not all free until we're all free kind of thing. If one is still in bondage, we all are still in bondage. Our liberation is linked together. We deserve that holiday. We deserve Black History year every year. I'm excited because Juneteenth is my favorite holiday, it’s when Miss Juneteenth comes out and it's going to be the biggest Juneteenth that has ever happened in the history of the United States.
BET: How does your activism and your professional work as an actor and producer intersect?
Sampson: In producing and acting and being an artist, there is no revolution without art. I didn’t make that up, that’s a long-standing saying. You have to have art to communicate effectively the things that you are fighting for. We can change hearts, minds, and culture and affect change through art. I believe that our purpose in life is to liberate other folks, especially if you're a Christian. Jesus was a liberator. Jesus, who was Black by the way, went in and was like “Who is the most vulnerable person in this room? Who needs healing? Who needs liberation?” We should all should be participating I think what Jesus represents and that is liberation culture. We need to fight for we need to actually fight for collective liberation, radical love of our community.
BET: Jesus was known to flip a table or two.
Sampson: Yeah, I love that you brought that up because one of my favorite sayings in the Bible is “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” It doesn’t say don’t get angry. There are intentional actions in rage that are strategic and are absolutely warranted right now, which is why I don't condemn any form of protest as long as it's for collective liberation.
BET: You’ve talked about activism, art, and collective liberation. For you and your career and values, how does this manifest in your life in the future? What will Kendrick Sampson be known for?
Sampson: I'm built to create roles for people that I love, Black and brown people are being left out of stories. What I do love is producing, so I'm gonna keep doing that. I'm gonna keep rolling in those areas and keep choosing roles that I believe are beneficial to the world. With Nathan (on Insecure)
I’m able to talk about a Black man with bipolar disorder, and not look like some violent portrayal that Hollywood is known to do, mischaracterizing mental health. I have mental health issues so do many people in my family do and so do many of y'all. So, I'm going to keep on fighting for change through art and pushing the revolution through art.
Miss Juneteenth starring Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, and Alexis Chikaeze premieres on June 19th (Juneteenth) Digital and On Demand and will be available on all the major digital and VOD providers.
PHOTO CREDIT: JUSTIN VASUER