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My Detroit Story: Day with Congressman Conyers

in My Detroit Story by

Contrary to the current political pulse of what’s happening in Detroit, it has stood as one of the anchors for Black political leadership in America. The storied tradition of Black political leadership from Detroit (from my understanding) begins with the architect for international diplomacy, Ralphe Bunche. Throughout the Civil Rights and Labor movements this scope expands to include legends of the likes of Judge George Crockett & Claudia Morcom, Mayor Coleman Young, Council members Erma Henderson & Ken Cockrel Sr., and County Commissioner Deloris Bennett. Bridging the gap between the Civil Rights & Labor movements till today is one political figure, Congressman John Conyers.

I believe Congressman Conyers is a politically polarizing figure. For Congressman Conyers perspective towards leadership, change, engagement, and political action helped develop the blueprint for the way Detroit, Michigan, and American politics are handled. Thus arguments can be made about the effectiveness to reach all political constituents this way. Albeit, before Congressman Conyers Black Detroit had very limited access to any US representative to engage our community, church, and social agenda.

Congressman Conyers personable attitude, and ear to any and everyone who approaches him is something that I believe he’s built his career upon. For in 1965 when John Conyers was first elected to congress Black people in America were extremely oppressed and suppressed. He was elected in 1965. 1965 is the year the Voting Rights Act passed. The Voting Rights Act granted voting rights to Black people beyond the racial discrimination that legally existed in this country. So John Conyers demeanor to meet, greet, listen to, and speak with all people, and especially Black people, is something that didn’t exist before him. I’m humbled by his commitment to engage everyone he meets. With that being said, here’s my story of my day with Congressman Conyers.

Voting Rights Act signing President Lyndon B Johnson, Congressman John Conyers
Voting Rights Act signing President Lyndon B Johnson, Congressman John Conyers

Congressman Conyers and I shared a mutual friend in Chokwe Lumumba (RIP). So when Chokwe Lumumba ran for City Council in Jackson MS he asked a favor of me to record a promo spot of John Conyers. I gladly accepted the task.

Catching up with Congressman Conyers is tough. We finally met on a Sunday afternoon at his Detroit Congressional office. I lugged in all my recording equipment. Too bad for me that’s not where we recorded the promotional spot for Chokwe Lumumba’s campaign (it was against Congressional rules to record a political spot there). Congressman Conyers asked me to record the political spot before his next engagement. I accepted. So for an hour I sat in Congressman Conyer’s office and watched him work. First Congressman Conyers drafted a speech on a legal pad, then he made some phone calls, decided which tie to wear, all while having a conversation with me about Chokwe Lumumba, Hip-hip, & Jazz. Finally he told his staff to leave. He decided that he would ride with me (in my car) to his next engagement. John Conyers next engagement was to the Teamsters Union in Detroit. It was for a mayoral campaign rally. Then Detroit City Councilmember Ken Cockrel Jr. was campaigning against Dave Bing for Mayor of Detroit.

Nothing’s cooler than cruising around Detroit with a Congressman riding shotgun while playing your own mix-tape. Add that to your bucket-list.

We arrived to the Teamsters Union and were greeted by Isaac Robinson. Isaac showed me where I can record the commercial. Soon after within minutes the Teamsters Union was packed with people and media. I double parked to load out my equipment. Congressman Conyers drafted three different commercial spots as I set-up the recording equipment. We then recorded each commercial two times. Between commercial takes Congressman Conyers was delegating his staff, talking to Isaac Robinson, talking to Ken Cockrel Jr., and shaking hands with the rally attendants. In the matter of two hours Congressman Conyers did more than I did that weekend.

Congressman Conyers delivered his speech in support of Ken Cockrel Jr. speaking to facts about his Cockrel Sr., Dave Bing not being a Detroit resident (kind of like the current Detroit Mayor as well), and Cockrel Jr.’s political experience. As Conyer’s speech closed the rally Conyer’s was given a list of two more events to attend. He asked me to join him. It was a fundraiser at the Roostertail Restaurant, and a meeting at Wayne State University. I declined and told the Congressman I had plans that night. What I never expected was for Congressman Conyers to ask “what are your plans young man?” I actually did have plans. I was going to be on Minced Meat Radio with hip-hop producer Nick Speed in Windsor Canada. Congressman Conyers response floored me. “Let me be on that interview with you,” Congressman Conyers. At this point I had to explain a lot to Congressman Conyers. Imagine explaining underground hip-hop to a senior citizen or US representative. Now imagine explaining to both.

Emily Copeland, Nick Speed, Teamsters Hall
Emily Copeland, Nick Speed, Teamsters Hall

Minced Meat is an Underground hip-hop show hosted by Emily Copeland on 99.1fm CJAM. Emily is a promoter and supporter of Windsor & Ontario Canada’s hip-hop scene. Minced Meat mixes many underground hip-hop artists interviews, music, and acapella performances into one show. Minced Meat conceptually is a hip-hop mix-tape that is produced and aired as a radio show live. I explained that to Congressman Conyers. He not only understood, he stood his ground about being a guest for my interview (he also explained that my music he listened on the ride over to the Teamsters Union from his office has ties to Jazz, and the mix-tape concept isn’t as innovative as I described it to be … not much is new under the Sun). So I agreed to give Congressman Conyers a call from the radio station when I was being interviewed.

Picking up Nick Speed to drive over to Canada I told him about my day with Congressman Conyers. Nick Speed kept telling me “that’s so Detroit, and that’s so WAE (my hip-hop title).” Finally I told him Congressman Conyers requested to be a part of the interview on Minced Meat Live. Nick Speed laughed out loud and said we have to do it.

So we arrived to the station and told Emily the story about my day with Congressman Conyers as well. Her reaction was similar to Nick Speed’s reaction too, laughing and exclaiming we have to! So Emily’s producer pulled up the longest biography on Congressman Conyers from the internet. I told Emily I’d introduce Congressman Conyers and not to worry about it. I called Congressman Conyers from the radio station and surprisingly he was ready for the interview. After his introduction Congressman Conyers spoke about improvisational ties between hip-hop and Jazz. Nick Speed and Emily spoke about their favorite Blue Note artists (Blue Note is a famous record label to release Jazz). It was an interview about music.

I closed the interview asking Congressman Conyers about his declaration in Congress about Jazz being America’s first art form. He shared the process and how it all came about. I then boldly challenged him to make hip-hop America’s next art form. In true fashion he counter challenged me to draft up the documents to do so. I have yet to work on that but one day will.

This day with Congressman Conyers took place years ago. Since then we’ve crossed paths numerous times. Moving forward I will always remember his humility and tenacity.

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