EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: LEO MERCER, YOUTH LEADER AND RAPTIVIST

APRIL 7TH, 2018 | BY MICHAELA P. SHELTON

Leo Mercer, the Founder of the MERCER Brotherhood, is a Bay Area youth leader and raptivist who is passionate about helping his people and his community. Despite his busy schedule, he took the time to meet with us for an exclusive interview:

1. First and foremost, tell us about yourself and your passions.

 

My name is Leo, born and raised in the east bay area. I am Passionate about my people. I am also a passionate writer and poet, which is why I weave into music so strongly.

 

2. What inspired you to form the MERCER Brotherhood and what is it?

 

The MERCER started off as a rap group in high school. Me and like 3 others would always hang out, cypher, talk shit to each other, and support each other. We actually had a few names before coming up with the MERCER Brotherhood (but I won’t say them LOL).

 

One day I was at a girls house chilling, watching the movie Four Brothers with her family. The movie touched me by how all 4 guys were from destructive backgrounds, and all came together for what they thought was the right cause: to avenge their mother. I took that movie and used their last names to represent the fire of my group. I approached my boys with the name proposal. Some liked it, they are here now. Some didn’t, they are doing their own thing somewhere else.

 

We would match the personalities of the characters in the movie. Cap Fitted was Bobby Mercer, because he was like the big brother advisor of the group. Dee Bell the cool and collective one (Andre 3K). My little brothers were always Jack Mercer. My boys usually always call me Angel Mercer (Tyrese Gibson), because I was the one always with a different girl. Watch the movie and you will know what I am talking about. Trust me.

 

3. What is the DetermiNation Black Men’s group?

 

DMG is a black men's group that engages young men ages 16 to 24. This group provides a weekly circle for leadership development, social justice education, cultural healing, and a sense of brotherhood. It is a partnership between United Roots and Urban Peace Movement, two organizations who focus of the development of young people and people of color.

 

I was able to release “Free Young Baby Huey”​ as well as other musical elements as a collaborative music video effort between the Mercer Brotherhood, 393 Films, Urban Peace Movement, and DMG.

4. On your website we see that you refer to yourself as a “raptivist.” What exactly does that mean?

 

A “Raptivist” is a term that I use that combines an activist with a rapper. The word “Rapper” doesn't really sit well with me. There is an automatic implicit bias that comes with the name. One would think that since I am a rapper than all I talk about is what the typical mainstream rapper talks about...which is bullshit. I also wouldn’t refer to myself as a complete activist, because at the current moment I am in no position to save others, as I am trying to make a way for myself. Even then, I put in countless hours in the mud of my community trying to change it in terms of music, policy, culture, gentrification, mass incarceration, amongst other factors. To blend the term is a way for me to create my own lane. Sometimes you can't be yourself if your an activist. Sometimes you can't be yourself as a “Rapper”. I’d rather be myself, and allow it to carry a positive label by controlling the narrative.

 

I created 3 music videos to express my ability as a “Raptivist”

 

  1. Free Young Baby Huey - Connected to proposition 57 which talks about the DA not being able to try young people as adults so vigorously. A community success in getting it passed.

  2. PLUS - A story about a young man who is decompressing from life after a long day of work, speaking to the amount of time used on labor with no return on energy (most of our 9-5 lives) This video won 2 awards last year.

  3. 3AM in Oakland - A lens on what the culture is like in Oakland, when it comes to our disenfranchised young people. We make a way of no way.

5. We witnessed you speaking at the March for Our Lives Rally in San Francisco. How was that experience?

 

I was called to speak at both the Oakland and San Francisco rallies a day before. I didn't even know the rally existed, so I was extremely unprepared. I have never spoke in front of so many people before. I was hella nervous. I didn't know if what I was going to say was going to piss all these people off or not, though that is what I am used to in smaller crowds.

 

When I stepped on the stage and saw this huge crowd of people looking at me, I was in awe. I started dropping tears. After I dropped my last tear, I kind of blacked out like I always do when I perform. Next thing you know, I am walking off the stage and the crown is giving me a standing ovation. I had no script, just an end goal.

 

Gun control relates to Law Enforcement more than communities of color. A poor person trying to survive with no resources WILL commit crimes in their own neighborhood. Law enforcement comes into the community and adds to the crime when they are able to justify killing us because “they may not know what we have in our pockets”

 

REACH Ashland youth center is in crisis right now, Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley has made a unilateral (without the community) decision to had over leadership to the Alameda County Sheriff Office. The community is in extreme rebuttal for many reasons, the main reason being the amount of distrust within the community with police brutality. The LAST thing we need is law enforcement in Leadership at a youth center. We have created a petition and it already has a lot of signatures.

6. Do you feel that change is coming for gun control?

 

It depends on how much we care as a people. We have been forced into a very contradictory society. We have experienced numbers in many ways like this with no follow up. We have been fighting for gun control for a while now. Of course in our own communities, but we don't want all the focus to go into our communities, because they will make us suspect to our own victimization (black on black crime) and not focus on anything else. They just acquitted Sandra Bland's murderer, they just murdered Stephon and Saheer and I bet you they are going to get off. We want the focus on Law enforcement. Not only do we have to be angry in an organized way, we have to beat them at their own bureaucracies as well while recovering from oppression and trauma from them. So it is an uphill battle, but I am willing to do it for my people. Gun Control is one avenue.

 

My cousin Dajon Ford or “Baby Huey” was arrested for robbing a carpool area where no one was hurt. They tried to give him 109 years, where he did 4 years before I helped get him out. A young white man actually kills students at school, and is treated like a victim of a mental illness.

 

7. It seems that you are well connected in the Bay Area. In what ways do you network and get involved?
 

I wouldn’t say I am as well connected as I want to be. But I try my best to connect with everyone. I am waiting to connect with the right person who sees my potential enough to invest in me. I don’t want to sound selfish, but support by itself without any tangible investment does not help me, it just makes me feel good. With all due respect to my supporters, please invest in me. Withing Oakland, I try my best to be at a spectrum of events, from wineries, to parades, to conventions, to community discussions. Many of my opportunities have come with being at the wrong place, right time.

 

8. Can you share with us who are your inspirations and why?

 

I have a few. One is Tupac, of course. He paved the way for RAW EXPRESSION to be considered. He is a complicated creature, as I feel I am. Before Tupac, and even after Tupac, those who speak up are shot down. Aside from his music (which is also great), he is a tremendous personality. I can't look up to Kendrick Lamar or anyone like him without Tupac. ○ Tech N9ne is one of the most underrated artist in the industry for one reason, everyone is intimidated by him. Throughout the years, he has been denied by the urban community. I can relate to feeling exiled by my community, even with the talent and resources necessary to vitalize it culturally.

9. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? Do you see yourself staying in California or eventually relocating?

 

I have been talking about moving to Africa for the longest, If that opportunity presents itself. I will be making change out there. Until then, I will be making change out here in Oakland. I have touched other cities too (Omaha Nebaska, Boston Massechusets, Ithica New York), I have to be where MY people need me. Oakland California.

 

10. What does a typical day for Leo Mercer look like?

 

Well I don't have a car. So I wake up extra early in the morning. Around 5am. I am out the door before anyone, I am usually at my meetings or at work before anyone, unless there is a hiccup in the public transportation services (there usually are). I am in the house usually after 10pm, ready to go to bed immediately. Honestly, I make more moves than people I know with cars, so I am unwilling to use that as an excuse to prevent me from moving. I like to never forget where I came from; AC Transit. If I had a car, I probably wouldn’t use it much.

 

11. Are there any projects or endeavours you wish to partake in that you haven’t participated in already?

 

I used to fight the powers with extreme goals. I try to chill off that now, and just go wherever the wind takes me. I have a purpose here, and sometimes I think I fight my purpose because it may be uncomfortable of unfitting at the time. I usually take the words of Bruce Lee when thinking about my future endeavors: “Be like water.”

12. What goals do you wish to accomplish before the end of 2018?

 

Right now I am into film. Three Gig Goals I have set for myself for 2018 is to 1) release at least 5 music videos or films that express myself or my people. 2) Get into cryptocurrency as another avenue to help me become self sustainable (or just getting into the stock market in general) and 3) Is to gain sustainability this year so I can help others to my maximum capacity.

 

13. What advice do you have for youth who want to get involved and make a difference?

 

It’s going to be tough. In my experience it is a lot of “ put out your hand and get it slapped down”. Persevere. And if it aint really for you; this fight, then please move out the way so real warriors to go to work.

 

You're going to see a lot of wolves in sheeps clothing here (people who claim they care about their people, but don't). Try your best not to become one yourself.

 

14. Do you have any upcoming appearances?

 

My music Video “PLUS” will be viewed at the Oakland International Film Festival this week, April 4-7th.

 

We have our upcoming show mid april called “Tribal Passage​” Details TBA.

 

I released my first ever EP in Novemeber last year. “Rent Money​” by Leo Mercer is available on all platforms. Here is the apple music link. Here is the spotify link. This project talks about my perspective on gentrification and how I have been affected by it.

 

My next project “The Lost Element​” will be my sophomore project coming out this year. Show updates are available on Mercerbrotherhood.com.

 

15. If our readers want to follow you and stay in touch with what you’re doing, where can they find you?

 

I can never keep a phone number. So my Facebook messenger is Leo Mercer Terry.

 

To connect with Leo, follow him on Instagram @leo_mercer and check out his website at

Mercerbrotherhood.com!

Michaela P. Shelton is Managing Editor of CSUITEMUSIC.com

Read more from Michaela at Darealmichaela1.com

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