Keith Howell is the Father to Many Young Fatherless Black Men in Camden
You could say that Mr. Keith Howell is just a teacher, some would say that he is a business man, others would say that he is a historian. But to the residents of Camden, NJ, that have had the opportunity to learn from him he is all of those things and more.
So many others like myself and my two older brothers grew up in a single parent home, not always having our father or a positive male role model around that cared enough to go above and beyond; with the exception of those who were presented on television.
Mr. Howell changed that for us, as well as other children who lived in the city, making it a rarity in finding a teacher that actually cared and took pride in his work and even gave students access to their first jobs and a chance to experience the power of earning their own money.
Instilling in us a sense of culture, discipline, and confidence along with daily affirmations which encouraged us to believe, “I am the head and not the tail, I am a winner and not a loser, I am above and never beneath, and I am a success and never a failure.”
Can you tell the readers and myself more about you?
My name, is Keith Howell and I consider God to be first place in my life. He is a constant power in my life. For twenty-four years, I have been a teacher. First, in the Camden, NJ school system for twenty-three years. Currently I am teaching in the Newark, NJ school system. I teach Social Studies which includes; Black History, World History, African American Studies, History of film, and Black economics.
I am also the owner of Khowell Enterprise, LLC. We are the owners of Nubian Essential lotions and African Natural oils. We also distribute and sell one-hundred percent of African American owned products such as; Nappy Style hair pomades, Yandain all natural soaps, and Nile valley whipped shea butters. Nue Straight Ahead is our jazz promotion company where we feature professional jazz musicians while mentoring amateur jazz musicians accentuated by Afrocentric poets. Our venues are located in Philadelphia and coming soon, there will be a venue in Newark, NJ.
Growing up and currently speaking, who have been some of your influences? How did they impact your life?
Throughout the interview I will mention various influences in my life, but the most influential people were my mother, father, family and the Mount Airy community of Philadelphia where I was raised. My mother was the epitome and essence of love. She was a positive person who inspired me to never quit. When she stated to me “reach for the moon and you will be amongst the stars”, that still inspires me to this day. The stories of her and black people’s accomplishments and determination still arouse me. I had the privilege of taking care of my mother her last 7 years on this planet. I am moved today to tell people who have an elder to “Take care of them”. I was further blessed to give the eulogy for my mother. I recited the love chapter in the Bible, I Corinthians Chapter 12 and showed how she paralleled each verse. As I fight for the liberation of black people I have my mother’s spirit.
My father showed me how to give stage presentations. For twenty-three years, I have produced Black history and Latino history stage presentations in the Camden school district. It was my father who lit the fire in me. From the ages of seven to nine years of age, my father would take me to R&B stage acts at the Uptown Theatre in North Philadelphia. This theatre Philadelphia’s version of the Apollo in Harlem, NY. Those performances inspired me. Many administrators and students in Camden have complimented me on my productions. I never realized it until recently, as I was speaking to my brother-In-law, who talked about the performances that he saw at this great concert hall. I then remembered my dad taking me there. I called my sister and explained to her excitingly what I had discovered. I then asked her “Do you think daddy knew what he was doing?She replied “yes he was setting you up for the future.” My father drove me around on my first paperboy routes. There were three newspapers that I delivered; The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Bulletin and the Philadelphia Tribune (a black owned newspaper which is still around today. I am a subscriber of that newspaper).
So my entrepreneurship started with my dad. The impact of having a Black man, a father to show me things as a young boy was phenomenal. Later his fatherhood at that stage along with one of my uncles inspired me to be a role model to you and so many other black and Latino males and females. That uncle was very influential in helping many young black males who had no father in their lives, become success stories in Philadelphia.
Some of my other uncles would talk to me about the need for blacks to have their own businesses and the importance of supporting each other. As a five year old boy listening to this, it also inspired my quest to be an entrepreneur and teach the necessity of black ownership and having ties to the community. One of my favorite subjects is teaching about “Black Wall Street”, which was located in Tulsa, OK. It was an independent black community within a twenty-one block radius that had millionaires; movie theaters, airplanes, grocery stores etc…that was destroyed by a jealous white community.
The community I grew up in, a black middle class neighborhood, still sustains me and I still have many of my childhood friends. We support each other, the community and musicians from the Mount Airy community supports my jazz enterprise “Nue Straight Ahead”.
My brother who I still look up to inspired me by introducing me to Malcolm X, with a book called 100 amazing facts about the negro by JA Rogers and letting me hear “Out Of This World” a record album by John Coltrane. Malcolm X is my daily influence for liberation and black manhood; I teach black history because of this book “100 hundred facts about the negro” and I love jazz because of John Coltrane and Miles Davis (my mom introduced me to Miles Davis). I have a Nue Straight Ahead because of their influence. In Fact I dedicate 3 jazz performances to their memory and the great pianist Thelonius Monk each year.
My daughter and my grandchildren are the light and future of my life.My wife is the person who keeps me going. She is the signature of a Nubian Queen. I wonder if Akhenaton and Ramses (Kings of Kemet (Egypt), had it this good with Queen Nefertiti and Queen Nefertari.
Last, but certainly not least, God through His Son Christ (Yeshua) and the Holy Spirit. Faith in God is my greatest resource and I begin each day by praying and reading His Word.
When did you get the passion to become an educator and community leader?
I think that I have always wanted to be a teacher even though like many young black males I aspired to be a professional basketball player. After high school I went to Jersey City State college which specialized in teaching. I played for the basketball team. I also majored in History with a specialization in Black History and I minored in African-American Studies. It was here that I was influenced and mentored by Lee Hagan, the chairperson of African-American Studies at Jersey City State College, Author and great historians John Henrik Clark, Dr. Yosef Ben Jochanon and Dr.Ivan Van Sertima. My vision for teaching was forming even then. When aspirations of having a basketball career were not fulfilled, I was employed at The Philadelphian Electric company. There I worked for twelve years as a customer service representative. I was actively involved in community affairs by helping to sponsor and serve on a food co-op program to help impoverished families through the Share Program. I was also the Commissioner for the Peco Basketball League and served on the Athletic Governors Board. But my greatest joys came from serving as the Chairperson for Black History Month and as a representative for the Black Grievance Committee. In all those endeavors I taught and shaped my community ideas.
One day I was conversing with my colleagues about dreams and I stated that I would like to be a teacher and a role model for black youth. Well, our words and conversations are powerful. Peco instituted a buy out where an employee would receive early retirement benefits and compensation for leaving the company. I accepted the buy out. I then took the test for social studies certification and elementary education certification. I passed and was now able to seek employment as a teacher. New Jersey had a program where anyone who had a college degree and who was working in corporate America could become a teacher in New Jersey. Upon acceptance the person would take an accelerated training course in teaching for one year called, Provisional teaching and they would be hired as a full time teacher. The city of Camden offered a caveat that they would pay for the provisional teaching stipulating that a certain amount would be deducted each pay period to pay them back. I prayed and God revealed to me that Camden is where the vision of helping young black men and later expanding the vision to include black girls and Latino youth would occur.
I became a shaper of the community by standing on the shoulders of my great icons.The three main figures that shaped my vision for the community were; Marcus Garvey, Ida B Wells and Malcolm X.Specifically, Garvey’s vision of black unity for the African Diaspora & collective entrepreneurship, Ida B Wells action against lynching and the fight for justice and hospitality for black orphans and Malcolm’s philosophy, activism and fatherhood are my constant focus!
My family at Mount Airy Community, professors in college along with; Harriet Tubman, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, Martin Luther King Jr., Adam Clayton- Powell, Fannie Lou Hammer, Kwame Toure and countless others have been and continue to inspire my commitment and vision for our communities.
How long have you been in the education field?
I have been in the education field for twenty-four years. I have taught at US WIGGINS family school, Woodrow Wilson High School, Camden Big Picture Academy, Camden High and currently at Weequahic High School in Newark, NJ. My foundations in classroom teaching are my first two principals at US Wiggins; Aisha Johnson and Juanita Worthy where I taught for twelve years. Mrs. Johnson fought to place me in the fourth grade, convincing The Camden Board of Education to not hire a white female for the position and further convincing me not to go to high school because the black male influence was needed more in the primary grades.
Going to high school was where I felt I was most needed. She was prophetic and right in her observations. I will elaborate a bit later. Mrs. Worthy taught me about professionalism. My current classroom format is based on what she instilled in me. Wiggins, I feel is where I have had the greatest impact because I was seen as a positive black role model to my black and Latino students. Most of the students that I taught came from single mother homes. These children were seeds that germinated and developed into outstanding people and productive members of their communities. I often proclaimed to them “You are the seeds of the colorful cream of the planet earth”, it was also at Wiggins where I developed my stage production ability that my father placed in me from the “Uptown” theatre observations that I had at an early age.
I taught at Woodrow Wilson High for twelve years where I continued to produce quality multi-cultural stage presentations for black, Latino and Asian students. I also transitioned into the Social Studies Department Chairman and Senior Class Representative. Towards the end of my senior year the state of New Jersey took control of the Camden school system and allowed the corporate charter school system to influence and take control of some schools in Camden. An invasion is an accurate analysis of the takeover. I fought then and still continue to fight the influence of corporate charter schools and their intentions. Under the leadership and counsel of now retired University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, professor Dr. Farrell, I learned a lot about the meaning and objective of corporate charter schools.
In a quest for change and better teaching skills, I taught at an advanced pubic school, Camden Big Picture Academy. Here I witnessed excellent teaching skills and a staff of dedicated individuals of black and white teachers. Although I did not master and do not agree with the project based teaching model of Camden Big Picture Academy , the experience was invaluable. I was transferred to Camden High and will elaborate on the time I spent there in a later on.
Today, I teach in the land of Amiri Baraka’s influence in Newark NJ At Weequahic High, I am part of a social studies team of black males that are dedicated to the enrichment and liberation of our people. Besides having the teaching icons of Mrs. Johnson and Mrs.Worthy who are my primary teaching influences, there is also; my sister, Dr.Theresa Battle who is The Superintendent of Burnsville -Eagan-Savage school district in Minnesota, my deceased mother Theresa Howell and former my mother-in-law Newark school educator the late Joyce Byrd. I know the latter two are in heaven praising God and celebrating the children that I have taught with their influence.
As a former student you had a saying that I can say at least 90% of us remember: I am the head and not the tail, I am a winner and not a loser, I am above and never beneath, and I am a success and never a failure. What was your thought process when creating that saying?
The beginning quote comes from the bible in Deuteronomy 28:13 “The Lord will make you the head and not the tail, placing you above and not beneath if you obey the command of the Lord your God.” In spite of any situation we face in life if we say good positive things about ourselves we will win. This is consistent with God wanting us to win. We believe in ourselves when we say good things about ourselves.This is God’s will for us. So no matter if we face racist exploitation, bullies…etc any negative circumstances we should have the attitude of David and defeat the Giant Goliaths that we face. Never ever give up! Faith in God is our greatest resource!
I was and am still inspired to say these words by my Spiritual Faith mentors; Crenshaw Christian Center Frederick Price Sr., Kenneth Hagin Ministries, George Hilton of Church of the First Born, Christian Cultural Center Pastor Dr. A.R. Barnard and Pastor Edgar Alvaraz of High Place Church who are all men of God who have talked and lived the principles of faith. The main thing they emphasize is having faith filled words to overcome any negative situations and to speak what you desire. They always tried to instill and implement the scriptures of Mark 11:22-25 and Proverbs 18:20-21.
You were monumental in more ways than you know in most of our lives teaching us about ownership in our early childhood and giving a lot of kids their very first job. Was this your way of being a positive male role model in kids lives that didn’t have one?
Yes. I was called to be a role model. I had the choice to stay at The Philadelphia Electric Company but took a $25,000 a year pay cut in becoming a teacher. I can truly state that I feel good that I have helped many students as an icon in giving them their first exposure to entrepreneurship. I feel honored that some students used this business venture to help pay bills for their families. One student was able to get an apartment and furniture through my mentorship. Although I believe I was called by God to help and have seen the fruit of those endeavors, I have my critics. One critic who I admired shocked me when she stated my vision was wrong and at best immature. She stated that the students of Camden have business models and courses to show them the way and that I just needed to be a Social Studies Teacher. Furthermore my vision was short sided in that her vision was better because it included all of Gods children not just black and Latino children.
This reminds me of the time I was a member of a predominantly black church that did not consider themselves to be a black church but inclusive of everyone. At a meeting with church officials I gladly stated that I was taking the Pastor’s teachings to my classroom and that I was called to teach young black men. The congregation prayed to get me out of this church and I left. Please do not get me wrong, God’s message is for all mankind but God gave me a specific call to the young black men and then expanding to black girls and young Latino’s. I never teach them to hate white people but to love themselves. We have already been programmed to love whites but not ourselves. I teach my students do not give into oppression but fight for your human rights. Hate oppression and exploitation. Through the teaching of corrective black and Latino history many students value themselves. I do not criticize other people’s visions because God gave them a specific vision. Many of these same critics value white cultures but disdain the teaching of black history. Where would so many black men and women be without the vision of The Honorable Elijah Muhammad? You do not see Elijah’s specific vision no Malcolm X, no Muhammad Ali, no Louis Farrakhan no Naim Akbar, no advancement for the black man here in the United States. Where would we be if Harriet Tubman did not have a specific vision for the slaves freedom?
With having done so many great and monumental things in your life and community, what inspired you to create your company?
The desire for entrepreneurship started with me listening to my uncles cry for the necessity of black business around six or seven years of age. My father groomed me by taking me to newspaper delivery centers. I started Howell Enterprises in 1990 because of a product called ‘Ashaway’. One day I decided to go to a Black Expo at the Philadelphia, PA Convention Center. The Black Expo featured black businesses from the African Diaspora. While shopping there I met the owner of Ashaway Products, Charles Johnson. I purchased two of his lotions; the regular and the cocoa butter lotion. These lotions were geared toward black people.
“Ashaway right away” is still our motto when we have people of color (melanated people) sample our lotion products.
Around 1995 at a black expo in Atlanta GA, I met Cyrus Jackson the owner of African Natural hair and skin products. African Natural shea butter lotion became the major product of Howell Enterprises. Cyrus Jackson was a major developer in my growth as a business owner. Because of my philanthropy in helping a homeless student I was given ownership of African Natural 10 n 1 oils in 2012. This is a product is multi-functional for the hair and skin. Around 2006 I became a distributer for Shea Moisture hair & body products and Nubian Heritage products. The black soap from Nubian Heritage became one of the leading sales products of the Howell Enterprise era at that time. It was during this time period that a mango butter lotion was being developed by a Nigerian Chemist for Howell Enterprises. I started KHowellEnterprisesLLC. in 2014 with Nubian K Essentials Body Milks (lotions). The Nigerian chemist formulates the products Mango Butter lotion as our lead selling lotion. We distribute Nappy Style Hair products (owned by a black woman Gwen Hill; and products from Nicholas store in Brooklyn). After Nubian Heritage and Shea Moisture products were purchased by a white company, we began distributing A black owned company “Yandains” 30 all -natural soaps’ We also feature and distribute Nile Valley Whipped Shea Butter creams.
The vast majority of business ventures have been with 100% black owned and operated businesses. Maintaining the model and spirit of Marcus Garvey has been our torchlight. My integrity and love for people of color propels us to have fair prices, honesty, superb ingredients in all the products I sell. I treat my employees with the highest respect. Currently we market at various African Diasprora Festivals on Saturdays at Cowtown in Woodstown, NJ and soon on the internet at [email protected] For product information contact [email protected] Although a small business with aspirations to become bigger, we have employed at least 60 people. and contributed to the business development of the mentioned people and companies in this part of our interview. Family members, friends and students have profited from Howell enterprise and Khowell EnterprisesLLC. We serve melanated people with the highest value and most definitely appreciate our customers. We are enhancing the communities we love!
What great words of wisdom and advice can you give to the millennial’s and to the readers?
This I feel is the most important part of this article because it deals with our future.
One must have a vision to succeed in life. Your dreams and visions come from God. This is your calling in life. I teach in my Kemetic (Egyptian) classes about your pineal gland. This is the place where God gives one his dreams and creativity. In Kemet (land of the blacks) they call this the Third Eye (Eye From God). When you get your vision and purpose in life be careful with who you share it with. As stated before I was criticized for the vision and purpose God gave me. It was specifically for me. What would have happened if I had stayed at the Philadelphia Electric Company? How would the many students I have taught been successful? I believe my calling has affected many students. What would have happened if I would have followed the path of many teaching colleagues? I would have gone on to the greener pastures of teaching in the suburbs. Who would have taught the many black & Latino students their history? If you do not have a vision you will work for someone else who has a vision. Amen-Em-ope of the 20th dynasty in Kemet and later copied by King Solomon in Proverbs informs us “Without a vision people perish”.
Be yourself! You are unique Create your own environment. Be creative draw your future Sketch your life!
Have integrity and values above just making money. Money answers a lot of problems but it should not be the totality of you. Because I had values and integrity to help people I became a teacher. “The love of money is the root of all evil”. If you just go after the money a girl can become a stripper or a porno star, anyone could become a drug dealer, a gold-digger, a rich athlete without values, a slave to other people. Much of this can lead to drug addiction and the killing of our communities.
Stop listening to gossip and use social media to inform and bless people and not to spread rumors. Recently in Philadelphia two sisters were stabbed and killed because of a feud on Facebook. A vicious lie was spread on facebook about me where students from a former high school that I taught at, had personal vendettas against me and helped to spread the rumors. However a student that I mentored from that school heard those rumors and knew I was incapable of such things and they informed them that the Camden police department, upon investigating the matter immediately closed the case for lack of evidence. It became apparent that certain school officials wanted me removed because of my outspokenness and commitment for real education of our children. Think for yourself and get all the facts before you speak!
Read and write. Reading gives us knowledge and should be utilized in all facets of life. When we read a multitude of different writings our perspectives are enlarged and common sense is elevated. Writing expresses our thoughts and helps us to remember. Instead of using anger and a bad temper to hurt others we can channel our thoughts on paper. The paper can become the vessel of receiving that anger and lets us get out our anger without suffering the consequences of harming others and yourself. Respond and do not react! Think! Let your thoughts rule your actions instead of your actions ruling your thoughts.
Respect Elders. We must respect, love and treasure our elders. They are monuments of wisdom and can help us in our future. In order for our neighborhoods and villages to be restored we must elevate our elders. They are our griots. Do not curse around or to your elders.
We must respect each others. Do not call women bitches and do not call each other niggers or niggas. Instead call each other royalty, kings and queens!
Know your history. In order to know where you are going you have got to know where you have been. History is the study of where you have been which leads to where you are and doing what you do now will make your future! We built this planet! All of the major religions and accomplishments and achievements have been primarily by us. Know thyself in the words of Imhotep and build!
Set goals and plan. Education is powerful. Life can be a constant flow of knowledge. This is where we continually grow from one level to the next. If you fail to plan, your goals will not be reached. When people fail it is not because they planned to fail, it is because they failed to plan.
Support each other financially and build your own communities. Become entrepreneurs and employ your people. Buy real estate and beautify your community. Besides going to college and seeking jobs (just over broke) develop a trade. Architects, carpenters, electricians, plumbers etc… are essential.
Give to each other. Help the down and out in our community Resurrect the spirit and powerfulness of fatherhood and motherhood. Fathers get your sons and daughters. Mothers be all that you are called to be. Stand on the shoulders of Fannie, Nefatari, Nzingha, Harriet and Betty. Along with the countless other black and brown women For you are Humanity!
Faith and belief in God is our greatest strength. We have gotten this far and beyond as we seek God like our ancestors did. I would prefer that all men be saved by Christ the Messiah. However many of my icons are Muslims, Jews and other religions. But they all believe in God. Unless God builds the house, we labor in vain. We are stronger than any other people, even with all of the oppression that we have been through. God has kept us and even though it appears that Donald Trump and white racists appear to be winning God will take care of them. As we pray and seek direction from God for strategies, we walk in faith like our hallmark of faith characters in the Bible and faith anchors of liberation like Malcolm, Denmark and Fannie Lou Hammer. We will win with God on our side. When they tried to take my teaching license God flipped the devil’s purpose and plans to his glory and gave me a position in Newark with an increase in salary. Teaching now has been God’s purpose and plans for twenty-four years. To God be the Glory! You are the head and not the tail. Above and never beneath. A winner and not a loser. A success and never a loser. I can and I will have what it takes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!