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'His Pedagogy is Dope'

Ameer Hasan Loggins and his star pupil, Colin Kaepernick, are bringing black studies to the masses.

Ameer Hasan Loggins with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaeper nick and Nessa Diab at a Know Your Rights Camp event in Oakland in October 2016.

 

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Ameer Hasan Loggins had already told his students to be cool. He prides himself on allowing nonregistered students to audit his class if they’d like. Even still, the 20 undergrads in Loggins’s UC Berkeley summer school class on African American representation in reality television couldn’t help tittering in anticipation of their newest classmate. Please, Loggins asked, don’t treat him any differently. And do not put his photo on Instagram.

The new student was six foot four, sported a giant Afro, and had a growing interest in the teachings of Malcolm X. “He showed up on time,” Loggins remembers. “He wasn’t on Berkeley time.”

Ameer Hasan Loggins

So it happened that Colin Kaepernick, soon to become the most divisive figure in the National Football League, if not the nation, began the latest phase of his education. Within months of walking into Loggins’s classroom in 2016, Kaepernick touched off a still-raging debate about police brutality by sitting, then kneeling, during the national anthem. Throughout this now yearlong controversy, which was re-inflamed this season after President Trump suggested team owners should fire players who decide to kneel (“Get that son of a bitch off the field” were his charming words), Kaepernick has been consistently radio silent, letting his actions, like the hundreds of thousands he’s donated to social justice organizations so far, speak for him.

But by keeping mum in the media, he’s also deflected the spotlight onto a series of allied activists and academics, none more than Loggins, his onetime instructor, whom he frequently retweets to his audience of 1.5 million followers. In turn, Loggins has become a leading black political voice online, penning articles for publications ranging from the decidedly academic (a publication of the African American Intellectual History Society) to the mainstream (the Guardian). “He’s one of the sharpest knives in the box,” the Nation’s Dave Zirin has said of Loggins.

The narrative that has typically accompanied Loggins—that of the professor radicalizing a star football player—irks him. “It allows people to go safely to that stereotype—to put it all on the professor guy,” he says. Loggins insists he’s nobody’s puppet master. Nonetheless, he has effectively leveraged his friendship with and proximity to Kaepernick to expose a whole new, and wide, audience to black political theory.

Loggins didn’t originally envision a career as a public intellectual. He grew up in hardscrabble Parchester Village, south side Richmond. Both of his parents were drug addicts—though his mother has since gotten clean—and when he was seven, he and his sister moved in with their grandmother, an executive director with the West Contra Costa Youth Service Bureau and a former follower of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. As a kid, Loggins played on the Oakland Soldiers basketball team, a club that has featured future NBA players Chauncey Billups, Drew Gooden, and Le Bron James. Loggins remains confident about his hoops game (“I’m-a beat the shit out of you,” he told six-foot-four Cal quarterback Jared Goff of a proposed game), though his former coach, Hashim Ali Alauddeen, says that may be wishful thinking. “He was not, like, recruitable material,” Alauddeen says.

Still, Loggins’s experience on the Soldiers in the mid-1990s was formative. Most of the coaches were classmates of Alauddeen’s at Cal, where he was president of the Black Student Union and had been active in the South African protest movement. “Our first uniforms had a picture of Huey P. Newton holding a shotgun,” Alauddeen says. The team took the court to Public Enemy and never stood for the national anthem. (Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, the NBA player who refused to stand for the anthem in 1996, was close friends with Alauddeen, who introduced the then-teenage Loggins to Abdul-Rauf.)

Though talented, Loggins had a stubborn independent streak, his coach recalls. He instead gravitated toward hip-hop, and he and a childhood friend began recording as the Frontline. The duo had a series of modest hits—their 2005 album Now U Know reached No. 46 on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart—but by the time the group had found its footing, Loggins had enrolled at UC Berkeley in the African American studies department and had a son. He eventually withdrew from the group.

After graduating in 2007, Loggins began pursuing a PhD in African diaspora studies, which he expects to finish next year. As both a student and an instructor, Loggins focuses on bringing rigorous academic theory to areas of pop culture often ignored by researchers. “Malcolm X said, ‘Make it plain,’” Loggins explains.

The primary focus of his research has been the phenomenon of black Twitter, the de facto repository for African American cultural exchange. “This is where social activism takes place,” Loggins explains. “It’s where cross-cultural diasporic interaction takes place; where socially mediated mourning takes place.” Loggins rattles off a litany of academic theorists: Erving Goffman, Walter Lippmann, Michael Omi, Howard Winant. “All these theories come together when you’re dealing with this black Twitter space,” he says.

Loggins began teaching at Berkeley, then at USF in cultural studies, and later at Mills. As an instructor, Loggins says, he enjoys working with athletes, whom he empathizes with. He’s since hosted several star players, including future NBA draft picks Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb and Goff, the No. 1 NFL draft pick, in his Berkeley classroom. (“Jared was the only white dude in the class,” Loggins says with a laugh.) Brown, who now plays for the Boston Celtics, counts Loggins among his favorite instructors. “I can’t watch a movie now without seeing what’s problematic with it,” Brown says. “He teaches you to see things differently…. His pedagogy is dope.”

Rabb, now playing for the Memphis Grizzlies, describes Loggins’s class as a primer on black representation. “People are scared of people wearing hoods because of what they see on TV,” he says. “They see murderers, robbers, good-for-nothing people. Basically, the class was all about [how] it’s up to us to change what they see.”

But Loggins’s most important entrée into the sports world came through a side door. Nessa Diab, the New York–based DJ and MTV host and a former classmate of Loggins’s at Cal, had begun dating Kaepernick and invited Loggins to meet the quarterback, who she said was eager for substantial reading material. Loggins obliged, and he and Kaepernick clicked. “He was spongelike,” Loggins recalls of their first visit. “At the same time, he had his own shit he wanted to say—it was this back-and-forth.” He offered the quarterback a hacked-together syllabus of sorts: Patricia Hill Collins’s Black Feminist Thought, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Carter Godwin Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Eventually, Kaepernick asked if he could sit in on Loggins’s class.

The two became tight, and Kaepernick shared an idea for a series of “Know Your Rights” camps for children, which Loggins encouraged. As Kaepernick’s anthem protest became a national news story, Kaepernick and Loggins, without much publicity, began staging the camps. The first was held in October 2016 at Oakland’s Impact Hub and included breakout groups dedicated to economics, education (run by Loggins’s wife, a college counselor), and health. A second was held in New York, and a third in Chicago. Zirin, of the Nation, covered the Chicago camp. “He was fantastic,” Zirin says of Loggins. “One of the kids said to me, ‘I wish school could be like that.’”

Meanwhile, Kaepernick was making good on a pledge to give away $1 million to grassroots organizations—among them 100 Suits for 100 Men (which gives free suits to at-risk people for job interviews) and Mothers Against Police Brutality. Loggins and Kaepernick also traveled to Ghana to reconnect with Kaepernick’s heritage.

All the while, the quarterback continued to point to Loggins’s work online. The sudden ability to speak to an audience beyond his own classroom seemed to resonate with Loggins, who has responded by writing even more voraciously on the intersection of race, politics, sports, and entertainment. Alauddeen says he envisions Loggins appearing on TV someday—becoming a translator of black identity politics for the masses, a sort of Cornel West for the millennial crowd. For now, the roster of athletes and entertainers in Loggins’s orbit continues to grow and spread his message. “[He wants to] get more of these athletes and these artists involved in human rights,” Alauddeen says. “He’s good at that. He likes being an ambassador.”

Loggins downplays his access to celebrity, though he acknowledges its uses. “The goal, for me, is to make things that are secured in the academy accessible,” he says. “It’s like, ‘You can understand this shit! That concept we’re talking about? That’s Fanon!’”

A few days after our conversation, Loggins put his connections to work. A mutual acquaintance invited Loggins backstage at the Shoreline to meet the rapper Nas, Lauryn Hill, and comedian Dave Chappelle.

Two weeks later, Loggins posted a video on Twitter showing Chappelle being asked about the ongoing NFL protests. “Those who take a knee on the field are standing for me,” he said.

Then Kaepernick retweeted it.

 

Originally published in the December issue of San Francisco 

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