Sade Sellers
Sade Sellers on Sunset. Photo by Tony Pierce.

Sade Sellers: No Ordinary Community Organizer

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On Magic, cops kneeling, Kid Rock, covert racism and the Insane Clown Posse.

Sade Sellers is a force. She didn’t set out to become a community organizer, but in retrospect, who could be better? With a background in organizing film shoots and writing screenplays, she’s a pro at communication and making things happen.

Earlier this month, Sade was the soul behind two extremely successful Black Lives Matter rallies on Sunset Boulevard in front of the Laugh Factory, both of which made international news — for positive reasons.

As you will see from our chat, Sade is sharp, smart, frank and funny. And best of all, she’s not afraid to tell it like she sees it.

Crowd gathered to hear speakers at Black Lives Matter protest
A crowd listens to speakers in front of the Black Lives Matter Conversation Truck. Photo by Tony Pierce.

You’ve probably met so many people over these last few weeks.

I’ve met more people in the last two weeks than I have met in 10 years in L.A. It’s been really, really cool. I am originally from Michigan but when you get here, it’s just working-working-working. You don’t actually get to meet people. So this has been really nice.

Sade. Are you a fan of your namesake’s music?

I am. As I have gotten older, I have learned to appreciate her more. … I have become a fan of her soothing music during these stressful times.

Now, you are from Lansing, Michigan. I am not looking at a map, is it close to East Lansing?

It’s literally next door. There’s no difference between Lansing and East Lansing except for money. East Lansing is where all the rich white people live. [Laughs.]

That’s interesting because I always thought of East Lansing as the home of Magic Johnson. Was his family wealthy?

He is from Lansing. He is not from East Lansing. He went to Michigan State, which is in East Lansing. But funny enough, Magic Johnson’s father and my grandmother were very good friends. My grandmother used to give Magic my dad’s old shoes because they were so, so poor. Magic went to the same high school my dad did, but only a few years apart.

Well, have you tried to pull those strings? Have you tried to get the Laker great to one of your rallies?

Magic Johnson with Sade Sellers' mom
Magic Johnson with Sade’s mom.

You know, it had never crossed my mind until now. Which is funny because on our refrigerator back home in Michigan is a picture of Magic and my mom when they briefly, briefly went on one date, years ago, before she met my dad. But it’s never crossed my mind to try to reach out to him.

So is it true that you started this rally in front of the Laugh Factory on June 1 because some well-meaning white people sorta dropped the ball?

Yeah. I heard about this rally from one of my best friends, E.J. At the time, it was being organized by a white gay man with his boyfriend. Two days before the event, they canceled because they were terrified of the National Guard and others who they thought were ruining things. Then, an Asian woman picked it up. And there’s no hate to these people, it was just silly to me. But she canceled it a few hours before it was supposed to happen. And I got so mad.

Her excuse was, “the National Guard were told to shoot and they will shoot us.”

National Guard patroling Los Angeles streets
National Guard officers on the corner of Crescent Heights and Sunset boulevards. Photo by Tony Pierce.

It’s a privilege to say, “I’m afraid to go outside, so I am not going to because there might be something dangerous happening.” Whereas I have to wear this skin every day. I have to go outside. I have no choice. So I thought it was important and not to show fear.

And we started with five people: me, E.J. and a few people I met from Twitter. And two hours later 200 people just came and joined us. And it spawned from there.

Is it shocking to you how this is all playing out?

It’s not shocking that it’s happening. It’s shocking that so many people are doing it. We’re so used to marching by ourselves. Seeing all these other cultures come out is what I am most impressed by.

A few days later, on Friday, June 5, you had a lot more than 200 people show up. You had the Black Lives Matter Conversation Truck on the south of Sunset. Did it exceed your expectations?

Sade Sellers with friend
Sade with a friend in front of the Laugh Factory.

Completely. The first one was just five of us, but it was the Bystander Effect: If you see people acting, you’ll act. The second one, we knew we wanted to do it again.

I come from a background where I work in production. I am a unit production manager on movie sets. So I know how to talk to department heads, location managers and people like that. So I reached out to The Laugh Factory and said, “Hey, I know we left a lot of trash last time, and I want to apologize for that. But would you like to partner with us because we really like your location and your marquee.” And they immediately got back to us and said, “Absolutely. Yes. What do you need?”

So we knew we would get a big response from social media, but I never expected 500 people to show up and stay for hours. And even when I left, they were still there.

It went perfectly. We kept everyone safe. We had an art space. And kids came, which made me so, so happy to see children there. They were safe and got to see how democracy works. Marching is wonderful, but our disabled brothers and sisters can’t march.

Memorial for Breonna Taylor
The art space. Photo courtesy of Sade Sellers.

Back to the rally you led on June 1. Some may remember that as the event where the first LAPD officer knelt. But you weren’t happy with that. Why?

The captain introduced himself to the crowd, not to me or E.J., who organized it, and he said, “If I kneel on one knee will you all go home?” But we had already told everyone that it was wrapping up by curfew, so there was no need to make this deal.

And if you watch that video, I’m the only one not kneeling because of the fact that [if] a cop kneels [it’s] only for the media and to try to appease us. But the way to be on our side is to stop killing us.

So it doesn’t matter to me if you take that performative knee that Colin Kaepernick got dragged for and lost his job over. He made the deal with white protesters. He didn’t make the deal with me because I would have said, “No deal. Do not kneel.” And then you find out that officer is problematic.

And that’s why it’s performative. They kneel, they look good on CNN and then you go home and find out it’s a lie.

In this video you made, you put it out there that when white people show up at an event like this, they’re guests, and they should act like guests. Can you expand on that?

This is the Black — Lives — Matter — movement and all lives can’t matter until our lives matter. There’s a video of two white so-called allies defacing the Grove, where one of my really good friends, Katie, owns a restaurant called Monsieur Marcel. And Katie works really hard to keep that family business going.

This ally is writing, “Black Lives Matter,” and in the video, a Black woman is calling her out saying, “Stop. They don’t show your face when they show that. They show ours.”

So, when I come to your house as a guest, would I spray-paint your bathroom? Would I toss your furniture around? No, I wouldn’t do that. So, as a non-Black person, you are a guest at these protests. You are here to help us, not to cause any more stress.

Totally understood, but are you nervous about scaring away actual white allies by telling them this?

No one knows how to not scare white people like a Black person from the midwest. We assimilate our entire lives to make white people comfortable. Listen to my voice. People think I’m white when I pick up the phone. They don’t know I’m Black until they see me in person. I assimilate my body, my voice, my clothes, everything, to make white people comfortable. And now, I’m over it because they need to feel the discomfort because this is how I feel every day.

So if someone gets offended that I’m calling them a guest and they shouldn’t spray-paint my bathroom, then you’re not a true ally. A real ally would act accordingly to uplift these Black voices and not drown them out.

That’s another thing I’m noticing as a pattern in these protests. I see white people with bullhorns yelling and giving speeches. And I think, if you don’t hand that mic over to some Black boy or girl, man or woman, [a] trans person who has not been heard — they have been living their whole lives in silence because they have had to assimilate, I’ll take it from you. Give me that bullhorn, what are you doing?

Protestor standing on top of a car.
Spreading the word on Sunset Boulevard. Photo by Tony Pierce.

Your location in front of the Laugh Factory was so good. But I saw two cars in the middle of the street and a young lady was standing on one of the cars holding a sign. Did you have a problem with them doing that?

I didn’t because they were blocking off one of the turn lanes into the street next to the Laugh Factory where we had also blocked off. We didn’t have cones so they were helping, actually, by blocking a lane, and that helped make people safe. Traffic still flowed down Sunset, which is why I think the cops didn’t interfere.

OK, you grew up in Michigan and have lived here for a decade. What’s the difference between living there and living here while Black? Are people cooler to you here or in the midwest?

They’re definitely not cooler in the midwest. Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin are all racist even though they’re in the midwest. I like saying Michigan is the South of the North. There are people who fly Confederate flags on their porch and I think, “That’s not Southern Pride, you live in Michigan. You’ve never been to the South. That’s just racism.”

But there’s pockets in Orange County that are racist. The difference is I have to assimilate less out here. In Michigan, I feel pressured to dress a certain way, talk a certain way because I feel I am being watched. Out here, there’s such a diverse collective. I feel a little more free to express my “Blackness.” But again, racism lives everywhere.

Someone from Michigan who confuses me is Kid Rock. He started out with a Black female drummer doing all these rap tunes and then rock tunes. But as time went on, he seemed to have turned.

Either he turned or he was always that way. I remember when Kid Rock came out. I was in middle school. Black people, my friends, were big fans of Kid Rock because he was rap and rocking. But he was also wearing a Confederate flag belt buckle. So maybe he’s always been this way? And maybe our perception of what racism is has evolved? I like to call it covert racism. It’s never in your face.

And it’s unfortunate because one of my favorite, favorite songs in this world is his duet with Sheryl Crow. I love that song and still sing it to this day, but it doesn’t feel the same because he’s terrible. [Laughs.]

My heart breaks for fans of Kid Rock who look like me, who felt connected to his music, because I can’t listen to it anymore. It’s lost that feeling.

Likewise, isn’t it weird that another Michigan band, the Insane Clown Posse, is way more enlightened?

Yes. They’re advocates! I was really shocked. My best friend, Chelsea, was really into ICP.

I wasn’t into it because they were too hardcore for me. But I assumed that because they wore the clown makeup, they were super racist. And how dare I assume that! They seem to be very lovely and very much against racism.

It goes to show you that perception is bullshit. Kid Rock presents himself as an ally and he’s not, and ICP was so scary that I assumed — wrong. So good for them.

Now that racism is over, are you finished with events? [Laughs.]

Black Live Matter protest on Sunset Boulevard

Hahaha. No. Our next event is Friday, noon to 7 p.m. in front of the Laugh Factory. The Conversation Truck will be back to allow people to speak or sing from their hearts. We also have some really great comedians who are coming who I have to keep secret right now. But it will all be at Sunset and Laurel.

Los Angeleno