Welcome to the second part of WEbook's Q&A with Etan Thomas, the editor of, and force behind, Voices of the Future. For those not familiar, 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 on WEbook, Etan will occasionally be weighing in on the WEbook blog. If you want to ask Etan a question for future installments, leave a comment below. (If you haven't read part 1, check it out first.)
One of the topics that you suggest contributors to Voices of the Future write is “Haters” For everyone who doesn’t exactly know what that means, can you explain?
Sure. Its simple. Haters are people who want to keep you down. Want to discourage you from achieving your goals. In my first book I told the story of Doug Collins, who told me my rookie year that he didn’t feel that I would make it in the NBA. He told people around him, other coaches and media people as well. He was a real piece of work. But I wrote a poem about how his words wouldn’t defeat me and that I would make it despite what he thought. I used that poem as motivation for quite sometime. I would read it or listen to it and it would remind me that there were people who expected and sometimes hoped for me to fail. Why you ask? Because they are haters. That’s what haters do; they hate, like it’s their job or something. I want young people to write about the haters in their own lives and how they were going to make sure that they proved them wrong. That’s the best feeling in the world. To prove someone wrong who told you that you couldn’t do something. My message to young people when speaking about haters or people who did you wrong or people who you thought were on your side but turned out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing so to speak is to write about it. Poetry can be therapeutic. Its not good to keep all that inside. You have to have some type of an outlet and this is one that is positive. I utilize this method when having sessions with my guys at the Free Mind Book Club at D.C. Prison. Everyone can relate to haters because they have been around since the days of Jesus. I always quote my mother in saying,” If they hated on Jesus, what makes you think that they won’t hate on you too”? But getting that anger that frustration out in a positive way can really help, especially if you prove them wrong.
A topic that you added late to your topic list for Voices of the Future was “relationships.” In what ways do you think this is especially important for younger people?
I made the decision to add relationships after speaking to a group of young women at a school in D.C. with my wife. I sat on a panel of all women including Dominique Dawes, Ms, Black D.C., my wife Nichole Thomas, and a few other women and we spoke to an all-female group. I was a little uncomfortable at first being the only male, but my wife always tells me that I only speak to young men and that I can’t leave out the young women, so I decided to give it a try. There were so many issues that they explored dealing with relationships, and when I told them about the project, that’s really all they wanted to talk about. They went from Chris Brown and Rhianna, to For the love of Ray J, to divorce and growing up without a father in their lives to Steve Harvey’s book, or their children. It’s a different time now and sometimes these kids have kids of their own. They want to talk about the relationship they have with their children or the struggle to raise them by themselves. It was a whole different type of dialogue than what I was used to. They had a lot that they needed to get off their chests. So I encouraged them to write about their feelings and thoughts and that I would add a section mainly geared toward them.
Beyond the content, how will Voices of the Future be unique?
The book will also contain an insert of a CD with tracks of me reciting some of my poems to beats, similar to the one you can hear on WEbook. I did this with my first book More Than An Athlete and it seemed to go over pretty well. Sometimes, young people like to hear poems as well as read them, its just good to have that option. I remember when I was younger listening to poets like the Last Poets, Gil Scott Heron, and Shakespeare on CDs. Even now listening to poets like Saul Williams, Black Ice, Talaam AC, Queen Sheba, 13 of Nazareth or Nathan James on CDs, you just get a whole different feel for the poems. So therefore, I like giving that option of reading or listening.
Do you have political aspirations? If not, what do you see yourself portraying when the beard is gray?
I have always had a strong interest in politics. I don’t know if I would want to run for congress or anything, but at the same time, I wouldn’t rule it out. There are just a lot of things that I see that aren’t fair, and that’s what drives my passion for politics. Whether it’s the war, the school system, health care, police brutality, and the death penalty, there is just so much in society that isn’t the way that it’s suppose to be. Not to mention foreign policy, immigration, the environment, abortion, gun control, which are topics that simply cannot be ignored. I could definitely see myself looking into becoming a professor at a HBCU. I am going to continue writing regardless. I could also see myself coming back to Maryland and running for Executive of Prince George’s County. I am actually going to shadow the current Executive of Prince George’s County Jack Johnson for a day early in August. I want to learn as much as I can and really see everything his job entails first hand. Who knows what will happen in the future. I am going to try to stretch out my basketball career for as long as I can, and then we’ll see what happens when the next phase of my life begins. I have to say, I am blessed.