Actor Kendrick Sampson Talks About His New Activism-Focused Organization

"We're either complicit in oppression or we're not.”

Kendrick Sampson is excited. The actor best known for his roles in The Vampire Diaries, How to Get Away With Murder, and Insecure, just missed a flight to Los Angeles where we were supposed to meet for coffee and talk about his new initiative, BLD PWR. Instead, he's calling from the Las Vegas airport for what is supposed to be a 30-minute chat, but we end up talking for an hour. Why? The topic is activism, and for a word that’s become myopic in a time of performative empathy, Kendrick is passionate about what activism means in practical application.

“I think that whatever privilege we have on this earth — whether it be the color of our skin or just male or straight or whatever — we're supposed to use that to help liberate those who don't have that privilege,” Kendrick tells Teen Vogue. “I always have to think that there are so many people who don't have the platform; a lot of them who are doing the work every day and don't necessarily have the same protection of platform. I use my platform to liberate those in my community. We’re on this earth, and at the end of the day, I think it matters more. We can go through life and not do anything or we could do something. That's pretty much it. We're either complicit in oppression or we're not.”

Born and raised in Houston by a black father and white mother, Kendrick has been at the intersection of arts and activism since childhood. Before moving to Hollywood, the 31-year-old showed an early interest in civil rights, which was reinforced by his socially conscious parents.

Becoming an actor changed nothing about Kendrick's desire to create a better world for disenfranchised people; it emboldened him to do more. But with so many urgent causes to address in the current political, social, and environmental climates, Kendrick saw a need to streamline efforts made by public figures through an organized, educational process.

Cofounded by organizers Tia Oso and Mike de la Rocha, BLD PWR provides training for artists, athletes, and entertainers to use their voices “to create a groundswell of positive social change across all sectors of society.”

It’s a smart idea: Educate influencers through individualized training sessions and mentorships with grassroots organizers to get a full scope of all aspects of their most passionate causes.

“A lot of people who want to get into activism have to have that fundamental understanding first,” Kendrick says. “It has to come from a place of wanting to heal; heal yourself. Part of the work of healing your own generational trauma is getting involved in the work to liberate others. I believe that.”

The actor is working with individuals like the Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrisse Cullors, UCLA professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez, and Cal State L.A. professor Melina Abdullah to provide a knowledge base required to effectively talk about systematic oppression and societal dangers. Kendrick has his hands in a couple of different pots that include immigrant rights, prison reform, and police brutality. When asked to list the most pressing issues affecting the future of this country (no small question), Kendrick answers eloquently:

“I'm just going to kind of break it down into four things: education, housing, health care, and jobs. Those all intersect,” he explains. “When you're looking at public safety — a term that should be redefined — you make huge investments in those four areas. If we look at that narrative from an intersectional lens, and looking at reproductive health, for example, that's health care, right? Banning abortion is a form of criminalization of poor people and especially people of color. If you see the places where this bullshit is being instituted, it's an attack on poor people. It's an attack on people of color."

"If we're talking about transforming these things," he continues, "it looks like a shift in the narrative and the way that we're thinking, especially of things like public safety. So the health of our community depends on that shift in there, I believe.”

Given how varied every person's life is, Kendrick understands that there’s not one right way to approach change-making, but as we say goodbye, he leaves sage advice: “The most important thing to me is the community aspect. People don't even have to be involved in the training. But as long as they don't feel siloed, they have this community, the BLD PWR community, to come to, to foster that; that radical love to counter all that radical hate out there, that imagination; imagine a different world.”

Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue