Photo: John Sturdy
Pastor, rapper, and activist Julian “J. Kwest” DeShazier is telling his story in an effort to change the bullying game. A former victim of bullying, the Chicago-bred and Jesus-fed leader of University Church recently released the video for his latest hit, “Don’t Push Me.” Inspired by countless stories from the victims of bullying, the 2015 Emmy winner wrote the song in an effort to help the 64% of victims who typically remain silent. He wanted them to know that they have something to say. JET caught up with J. Kwest to talk about this important platform and the message his newly-released video attempts to send.
JET: Why did you decide to take on the challenge of bullying in this country?
J. Kwest: [As a former victim of bullying,] everything that I wanted to say, I was just yelling at them in my head, but it wasn’t changing anything. The song is hopefully a vehicle for young folks to now have some sort of tool so they can talk about it. It’s not going to end bullying, but it is going to help people feel that they’re not alone in this. They at least know one other person who has been through it, and was able to come out of it.
JET: What message are you trying to send to those who bully and to those who are being bullied?
J. Kwest: There are a lot of bully songs out and some of them address the bully and say, “Hey, stop pushing people.” But I wanted this to come from the perspective of the bullied and to speak to the bullied person. In some ways, this is a tough question to answer because I’m not talking to the bully at all. I’m really trying to talk to folks who’ve been through this to say there is a thing you can say. And I know it seems tough to say, but “Don’t push me” are words that you have to stand up for yourself and take it from me ‘cause I’ve been there.
JET: You are a pastor, activist and rapper. Ironically, the rapper in you seems primed for bullying thanks to some in the religious or pastoral community who don’t embrace rap music. How do you handle that?
JKwest: The journey of my entire life has been to be myself and be comfortable being who I am. When you do that, there will automatically be some people who don’t agree with it. So it’s moving into authenticity and beyond that search for consensus [and the] need to be liked by everybody. Once you get over that, you really find the people who you know…your voice resonates within them. I found those people more quickly once I decided that I’m just going to tell my story.
JET: Is the message the same regardless of the platform you choose to use, whether as a rapper, activist, or pastor?
J. Kwest: The message that I’m sending regardless of whether I’m rapping, or preaching, or out there with the activists is to love who you are and strive to be better. That’s sort of the motto for my life.
JET: Do you think that music can have a lasting effect on the way people think?
J. Kwest: Oh Yeah. We know that people don’t hum sermons in the shower. They hum songs and melodies that stick with them and if there is something positive inside of that melody that can help build people up, then I want to do that. I think music has a way of being a portal into deeper truth unlike a lecture or sermon. Music is so powerful because people carry it in their spirit and in their soul in a really profound way that I don’t think I can describe. I just know it’s true.
JET: As a victim of bullying, what was the turning point for you to begin feeling empowered?
J. Kwest: I think it was waking up one day and saying that I didn’t want this to be the rest of my life. I didn’t want to live every day being defined by others. I was fat ‘cause they called me fat. I was a nerd ‘cause they called me a nerd. I took on my identity because of what other people called me. But then, waking up one day, I said, “What do you think about yourself?”
JET: Did you have a mentor and do you recommend getting one?
J. Kwest: Yes. I had an older step-brother and I should have spoken to him sooner, but as soon as I did, the situation changed and I felt like I wasn’t alone. That was the turning point that really helped me and it really became the whole point of the song. I just want people to know that they’re not alone. I’ll be the person who will advocate for you.
You can learn more about J. Kwest and his story at www.jkwest.com. You can also catch him at Morehouse College on April 1st for a free live event.