Q&A with Player/Poet Etan Thomas (Part 1 of 2)

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Etan@Antiwar small Etan Thomas is the editor of, and force behind, the WEbook project Voices of the Future. Etan is a professional basketball player, published poet and political activist. He regularly works with youth groups with a focus on creative writing as a form of expression. He has campaigned on behalf of President Obama, blogged for The Huffington Post, and is sometimes known as the “gentle giant” of the NBA. In addition to his stewardship of Voices of the Future, Etan will occasionally be weighing in on the WEbook blog. By way of introduction, WEbook hit Etan with a few questions about his project on WEbook and life and politics offline. Check back next week see Part II of this Q&A.

Describe Voices Of The Future in your own words.

Voices of the Future is a project that will allow young people to express their opinions, beliefs, and thoughts to the world. The book is going to be broken down into chapters ranging from the War in Iraq, racism, abortion, and President Barack Obama, etc. I will begin each chapter with a poem on the particular subject, and all of their writings will follow. And just to be clear, it’s not about getting a lot of young people who agree or view a certain topic the same way I do. I want to get all opinions and beliefs no matter what side of the fence they are on. I want them to speak with passion and present their position through poetry, a speech, prose, or whatever method they choose.

What advice can you give to potential contributors who want to submit to your project? What should they write about? How should they decide?

I want them to just go with what they are passionate about. That’s what I’m looking for in submissions. I want them to express to the world how they feel about the particular topic. I don’t really care which side of the argument they are on, just as long as they speak passionately about their opinion. Sometimes when I go to schools and speak, I love when some of the young people disagree with me and present their position. I guess that’s the speech and debate coming back out of me. But whatever they believe in, I want them to dig down deep and express that opinion. I’m not looking for fluff poetry. Nothing against imagery or poems about the trees or sun (unless they are relating to the ozone layer or the environment or global warming or something), but I want them to present their thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc. to the world.

You chose some hard-hitting topics (HIV/AIDS, race, religion, police brutality, etc.) as inspiration for contributors to your project. Since the book is being written for, and by, people age 13-25, are you worried that these subjects are too sophisticated?

Definitely not. I think that adults don’t give young people enough credit. Adults think that young people are only interested in BET and MTV and video games, but that is far from true. That’s why I want to show this side of young people that often goes unheard. I wish people would be able to see what I see when I go and speak at some of these schools. These young people are up on current events; they know the issues, have well expressed positions and present their arguments well.

Can you give us an example?

I remember going to a charter school in DC, and I asked the audience what they wanted to talk about. I do that sometimes because I would rather know what’s on their minds then stand up there and talk their ears off for whatever time is allotted. Well, I asked this question, and they wanted to talk about gay marriage. I looked at the teachers and they said, yea that’s fine with us. Then, the debate started. Hands started shooting up all over the audience one after the other. These were teenagers expressing positions for gay marriage and against it. They presented the same arguments you would hear on CNN or MSNBC. But adults for some reason don’t believe that young people have opinions on these subjects. Even WEbook (no offense) was a little hesitant with some topics that I wanted to include, but my manager, Carlisle Sealy, made a good point to me in saying that hopefully, if this project goes well, we will do a Vol. II and then we can include those topics such as gay marriage, health care, pedophiles and repeat sex offenders, etc. I was thinking about having an entire chapter on R. Kelly because he was the only topic young people wanted to discuss on a few occasions.

I need to ask an obligatory NBA question for the basketball fans on WEbook. You were recently traded from the Washington Wizards to the Oklahoma City Thunder. What are you looking forward to most playing with a new team this year?

I am very excited to play for the Thunder. I just returned from getting my physicals and meeting the staff and looking at schools for my son and a place to live. I am really excited. I am going to a great ActionEtanorganization with very good people. The team is a young team filled with guys who are humble and all work hard. That’s what you want. Kevin Durant and Jeff Green both reached out to welcome me to the team. I have played pick up with them around DC, so we already knew each other. I grew up about an hour and a half away in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After news of the trade surfaced, I received calls from all of my friends, old classmates, even one of my old teachers. I have been blessed to have been with one team for as long as I was. In the NBA, guys move around a lot. I am settled in Maryland, so that’s still going to be my off-season home. I have done a lot of work off the court in DC and will continue doing that. You’ll still see me pop up at a rally from time to time, but if I was going to get traded anywhere, I couldn’t think of a better place.

--Etan

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Check back next week for Part II of this Q&A.

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