LC: Was there a pivotal moment or experience when you were in the police department that made you want to jump to politics?
EA: I believe that when I was in the police department when the police officers rallied against Mayor Dinkins, and they were calling him a washroom attendant and using other code terms, that I realized that if you really want to impact change you have to be one of the changemakers. Changemakers are those who write the laws and the policies, and so I said that I'm going to eventually transition to be an elected official.
LC: With all of what's going on right now with the youth and their view and perspective on the law and law enforcement, what is somebody like you who has done that for, what, 22 years, and now you're here, how do you educate young people, specifically young black men about why the law enforcement's not a bad thing? Or how do you alleviate all this uprising right now with the people versus cops?
EA: Well I think that the first thing to do is we must meet people where they are and take them where they ought to be. Often times, particularly with our young people, we attempt to speak over them and at them instead of having a humble conversation, and allow them to see that we are not perfect and we've made mistakes. It's empowering to really control your destiny. As I spoke to a group of young people who were over aged and under credit, I spoke at their graduation because they were in a alternative school, and I shared with them that I'm an alternative borough president. I graduated, it took me a year longer to get out of school, and my good years in high school I was a solid D student. There was nothing special about me, but I never thought I would beat people with brilliance, I would beat them with endurance. The endurance factor is, how do you deal with a police department that is extremely aggressive to people who look like them; you do it by having the skill of de-escalating their tension and using their street smarts to navigate that relationship.
Sometimes young people believe that their street smart is only used to navigate the gang member, the drug dealer, the person who's carrying the gun. No, that street smart can teach them how to navigate all situations. Their wisdom is in learning the skills of navigating a police officer who already has predispositions of who they are based on their ethnicity.
We teach that a lot. I taught that when I was a police officer and I do it now. It's allowing young people to use their natural talents in the right way to be able to navigate police encounters. Right now they're not using their natural talents. Their natural courage, their natural gift of conversation, their natural ability to sense when something is not right and sense danger. These young people can do it very well but we now need to meet them where they are, train them how to use those skills to escalate. That's why you can get the Serena sisters, who can grow up in Compton and then dominate the tennis environment because they took those natural skills and applied it.
LC: If you had to step outside of yourself and see other people, whether peers or people you look up to. What do you think is the recipe for leadership? I know that's a big question.
EA: Actually it's not. To be like a camel. Start your day and end your day on your knees, and then when you stand, rise above everyone else, but be humble and be a servant leader. I say often when I come in front of an audience, I say it all the time, I was not elected to be served, I am elected to serve. People should not applaud me, I applaud them. I think there's not a lot of humbleness. The most humble position is the elected official and we have turned the meaning of that upside down and we made it believe that we should be deified and not dignified. We should be humble and happy to serve. You'll come in here sometimes and you'll see me sweeping the floor, bagging garbage, tidying up the restroom.
I remember one elder I went to visit and because she was homebound. Oftentime I used to go visit the elders at home because they couldn't get out. When I got there she shared with me that she's always been embarrassed by her home. "I was cleaning my bathroom because I knew you were coming but I just got tired." When I went to use the restroom and I saw the Clorox, and the Ajax, and I slipped on the gloves and I cleaned it up for her. I got on my knees and cleaned around the toilet and cleaned around the basin. Because if we can't clean the toilets for people who made it possible then who the hell are we? Too many people in these positions believe that they need the chauffeur, they need all of the trappings, but then they get trapped into believing that they are no longer serving. I'm a servant. I'm a solid, solid, humble servant. I think that's the key to leadership, knowing how to serve.
LC: Well there's that. Thank you.
EA: Thank you.
LC: Thank you. Gosh, I feel inspired and blessed with that wisdom you just shared. Wow.
EA: Tell me about that tattoo you got there.
LC: Oh, well, let me just turn this thing off.