The actor is also a committed campaigner. He chatters about being freed from the evils of capitalism and police brutality. But he may also act like a complete idiot from time to time.
Kendrick Sampson and I are relaxing in a calm, albeit sterile, corner of the James Hotel lobby on an early winter’s evening in Manhattan. In a pair of black sweatpants and a gray mask, 33-year-old Sampson seems comfortable and happy despite operating on just one hour of sleep. Then, not twenty feet away, a white woman in a silver dress starts setting up a business just as we’ve finished the small chat and are about to get to the main stuff. An evening vocalist! She begins to sing along to the music, “A scrub is a man who is incapable of receiving my affection.”
Fortunately, Sampson’s voice is too harsh to ignore when he speaks.
You might recognize him from The Vampire Diaries, How to Do Away with Murder, or, most recently, as Nathan from Insecure, who is always trying to do better. Perhaps you’ve heard of BLD PWR, an organization he cofounded that focuses on mental health and abolition and aims to train the next generation of athletes and entertainers to free communities from capitalist violence, racism, structural inequality, sexism, transphobia, and police violence, as well as the intersections of these issues. If none of this seems familiar to you, you most likely recall the 2020 demonstration where he was shot seven times by rubber bullets by police in response to George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police.
From top to bottom, clockwise: Sergio Tacchini’s Tracksuit ($225). Tank top ($190) at Society Archive; cardigan ($2,480) and pants ($1,830) by Prada; Fendi Men’s sweater ($1,100); Homme Plissé Issey Miyake pants ($385); Veja sneakers ($120); Shihara ring ($6,145) tank shirt, available at the Society Archive for $190 .Livingston, Jennifer n
I was impressed when I informed a friend who works as a full-time activist and lives in Los Angeles, much like Sampson, that I was meeting with him. She told me she couldn’t remember any events against police violence that summer of 2020 that she hadn’t seen Sampson. This is a man who backs his words with both his body and his wallet. Speaking with ease and clarity, Sampson discusses justice, exploitation, and his involvement in Hollywood, which he calls the “biggest propaganda machine in America.” His “mind works in systems,” he claims. The complexity of his ideas on liberty and our obligations to one another cannot be overstated.
He gives me an example: looking around your neighborhood and asking yourself, “Who are the vulnerable? Start creating safety strategies that put them first. Understand that the police are frequently the ones grabbing and stealing here. Police officers occasionally target the most defenseless individuals. “Whoever that most vulnerable person is,” he says, holding up my recording device to ensure I’m hearing above the notes of a blackbird singing in the middle of the night. “Take these broken wings and learn to fly.” Every day, imagine what the world might look like for that individual.
How sometimes earnest individuals can be, to put it politely, a little bit of a terrible hang? Kendrick Sampson is not that person. He once led a group of his buddies through Denny’s late at night. He hosts gatherings of people playing spades regularly. These academics are leaders of the union. Pious individuals. He continues, “And we act like damn fools.” We had a wonderful time, smoked some cannabis, and did a little butt-shakin’. Pleasure and laughter are crucial to the revolution.
On the other hand, top to bottom:
- Sweatpants ($200) by Soif de Luxe
- Tank top ($190) from the Society Archives
- Cardigan ($2,275) by the Elder Statesman
Dior Men sweater and pants ($1,050)
It should come as no surprise that Sampson has no use for capitalism or its most devious tactic: to get us to believe that our passion and mission are the same. “Capitalism really comes down to ‘our profit is our purpose,'” he claims. He fears that some individuals confuse their enthusiasm with their calling. You can have intense excitement and enthusiasm for the piano. However, I would be extremely saddened if, upon my passing, I discovered that the piano was my calling in life. He claims that all of this makes it hard to fight back. Thus, “liberation is me leaning back on this couch and feeling great,” adds Sampson occasionally, grinning broadly when he does so.
Now it’s Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.” Sampson is entirely literate. Lying low, searching for the less upscale areas frequented by the run-down individuals, searching for locations only they would be familiar with. He remarks, “This song is lovely.”
From left to right: boots ($179) by Moral Code; pants ($1,995) by Zegna XXX; and cardigans ($1,350) by Salvatore Ferragamo. Zegna XXX ($2,295) for the tank top; Elder Statesman ($1,650) for the shorts; Boonper ($621) for the shoes; Shihara ($6,145) for the ring; and Sabah ($28) for the socks.
pause in action. It’s the vocalist! She apologizes profusely and says, “I just wanted to say how much I love your work.”
Oh, that’s amazing, he exclaims. “As I thought, ‘This is such a dope song,’ you must have heard me.'” Glamorous, she tiptoes back to her station and begins singing Muna’s “I Know a Place.” Observing the time, Sampson offers an amiable “Let me get the fuck out of here.” We’ve stayed twice as long as we had planned. The musician suggests that our mission is never to give up while we’re headed in the right direction as he exits the foyer.