Fidel Verdin: Guiding TRUE Skool to do the real work while others reinvent a broken wheel
Given a politically impactful name by his self-described revolutionary parents, Fidel Verdin uses hip hop and other urban arts to engage Milwaukee’s youth in social justice and personal healing. As the creative force behind TRUE Skool, he seeks to uplift the most vulnerable kids in the community through empowerment and leadership workshops. But for all his program’s success and impact in the lives of the young people it serves, the work done by his organization is often marginalized instead of supported in the same way as the generation of local youth have been discarded by institutional racism.
Q&A with Fidel Verdin
Q: What experience or individual was the biggest influence on your youth?
A: My parents and my extended family, Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, and Grandparents were the greatest influence on my youth. I have a huge family, and I have a humongous community family. We are very close. No particular one experience, but an amazing upbringing in general of the good, the bad and the ugly.
Q: What is the story behind your namesake?
A: I’m named after El Comandante, Fidel Castro. My parents are unapologetic revolutionaries; today, tomorrow and forever.
Q: What achievement are you most proud of, and what is the biggest personal goal you have yet to accomplish?
A: I’m most proud of my family, my children. My biggest personal goals that are yet to be accomplished are in the making.
Q: What does art mean to you? And if you had to give it up, what other form of expression would you follow?
A: Everything is art to me. Art means air to me. If I had to give that up, it would be like death.
Q: What is the most valuable lesson you learned from your involvement with TRUE Skool? And why is community work so important to you?
A: There is no single lesson. We host a very unique, lean, open source styled, Hip Hop culture-based operation. There is always a surge of new learning. We have so many collaborative partners in our network. We are involved in many different sectors connecting youth, community and business development. Service is important to me, legacy is important to me, teaching culture is duty.
Q: As an artist, how does your craft express your political views? And is your work designed to change the public narrative?
A: I think everything is political. As an artist, my approach isn’t expressing my views about the government, it’s more about expressing emotions and visions. My work is really designed around immortality, I want my work to live forever. If it can be included in a public narrative of our time and space or beyond, I’m with that. I think creativity should be used for changing reality as we know it, and I am just sharing my ever evolving narrative.
Q: How is faith a part of your life and the work you do?
A: For me, my existence means faith. I am the result of faith. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck a few times when I was born. I was almost a miscarriage before I was born. Faith is fighting for life and accepting the inevitableness of death.
Q: How do you measure the impact and success of your efforts?
A: I don’t. I let everyone else do that. Let history do that. I try to create things that never existed. I just apply my gifts, I put in my time and work. I just spread love. I’m not into managing measurements or expectations in public. For different organizational or business related purposes that’s different, than for me personally.
Q: What is it like to be a young African American in Milwaukee today? And what is your hope for the future of the local community?
A: I would hope the local stereotyping and generalizing can be replaced with compassion, understanding, and some actual investment in all these poverty infested areas in our city. I would like to see those conversations more. The police terrorism in this city is and has been out of control for how many years. It should be exposed for what it is. We see the racist and segregationist economic sanctions, the militarized tactics used against young unarmed residents in this city. We’ve seen this horrible lead water scandal unfolding recently. We also see many people highly active in this crisis. People in the eye of the storm trying their best to deliver services and assistance in our community. Our youth see community leadership and voices outside of government politics as their representation and help. Locally we need to produce several young millionaires from our culture, I want to help make that happen.
Q: What question are you most often asked about racial issues in Milwaukee, and what does no one ever ask that you wish they would?
A: I do get asked many questions about solving problems related to the racial dynamics of Milwaukee, from people all over the country. I think most of the questions regarding racists and their politics in Milwaukee are rhetorical. People just don’t want to admit that there has been so many diabolical generations of racists in Wisconsin, and America as a whole. I don’t understand why it’s supposed to be a secret. ‘Racial issues’ partially persist because of voluntary ignorance.
Q: Do you face personal discrimination in Milwaukee, and if so what is the most common form of it?
A: Of course. It’s far too common.
Q: Why do you think people of privilege can ignore issues of poverty? And what could they do support your efforts?
A: In this case, I would say it’s about humanity. No person alive can deny that. As soon as you ignore what makes you human you will die, no matter if you are rich or poor. The only people of so-called privilege in the world are the ones who understand civilization in this current time and what must be done to advance it, the ones in real poverty and deprivation are the empty, destructive ones that are forced to survive as parasites and feed off of destruction, manipulation and misery. If people want to support our efforts, they can contact me directly, let’s have a conversation, we can take it from there.
Q: While TRUE Skool has been supported by major foundations, why are those organizations not investing more to expand the program?
A: Ask those foundations that question. Ask City and State and the Federal government that question. We need answers.
Q: In your experience, does local media coverage contribute the role of racial misunderstanding in Milwaukee and reinforce the city’s segregation?
A: That’s a rhetorical question. Milwaukee mainstream media is racist, just so we are clear. It’s no news flash. I think everyone around journalism knows that in 2018, unless they are in denial and choose to be ignorant. Media conglomerates thrive on stress, division, sensationalism, and conspiracy. There is a effort to maintain the delusion of white supremacy on every level, government, media, education, religion, public health, entertainment, justice systems, you name it.
Q: What advice would you offer youth who face abusive environments about finding a path to safety?
A: Fight to win. Fight to win and then Fight some more. Freedom is safety. Fight for your freedom.