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We’re calling it now: Our Jaugust cover star—just like this moment—will go down in the pages of your future history books. Because Keke Palmer isn’t just waiting for change to happen from *waves hands* all this. She’s standing up, marching, and screaming for it. It’s time we listen up.

 

If you’re a human being with a heart, with breath in your lungs, it’s just too much to bear,” says 26-year-old Keke Palmer over (of course) a Zoom call on a Monday afternoon in early June. She’s sitting in her sister’s room, quarantining with family in Chicago. The world—Keke included—has been protesting the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and too many others, and calling for painfully necessary dialogue and policy changes to eradicate racism.

j'august magazine cover of keke palmer

Influencers are sharing infographics about defunding the police. Moms are posting about white privilege on Facebook. America is finally facing its generational curses.

You can hear it in the sound of Keke’s pleas to the National Guard to march with her at a protest, when, surrounded by a halo of iPhones, she spoke passionately for two straight minutes, the sky bright and clear, her glossy red nails punctuating her words like exclamation marks. You can see it in the millions of times the video of this moment has been viewed, posted, retweeted, and shared.

It’s impossible to watch without feeling Keke’s fervor. Not that she considers herself an activist—she’s just an actor (and, for the record, a singer, author, and talk-show host) with a platform. And she doesn’t know how not to speak up. “I feel as if we can’t go back now,” she says. “It’s only going forward.”

keke palmer

Just like most of us, her eyes and thumbs are glued to her phone, refreshing Instagram, tweeting about not being able to fall asleep. She’s thinking about deaths that become hashtags, the Black Lives Matter movement, and how she fits into it all.

 

We’re in the middle of this one-two punch: A lot of us are leaving our homes for the first time in months to participate in protests. How are you managing your emotions right now?

I don’t know how good I’m doing with the balancing thing. I’ve felt very tense, kind of obsessive in my mind, ruminating on it all. Coronavirus and quarantine were already making me anxious. I don’t like not knowing what to do with myself, being somebody who’s always working. My family has been a big part of me unloading. They’re my support system—plus my friends, people in my life I can really talk to.

keke palmer
keke palmer
How did you first respond to the protests?

With a lot of different emotions, when I saw some of the violence. I couldn’t actually see myself doing that because I work from a different place, but I understand it. There are people out there who feel like that is their only option in order to be heard or their only way to have access to something they feel represents value. If the language for so long toward you has been violence, how would you expect someone to respond? I feel like there’s such a lack of compassion.

keke palmer pull quote

I want to dig in to the moment when you asked National Guardsmen to join a peaceful demonstration. How did it feel to be out there?

I can’t even tell you. It was so euphoric. I just felt so united with everybody. It wasn’t no celebrity-type shit, you know what I mean? I’ve never felt like that before. If I sit and think about everything that’s happened in this country, I wouldn’t get out of fucking bed in the morning. So for us to have that moment of just helping each other heal, just standing by each other, marching and saying, “No justice, no peace.” That’s so powerful.

And then eventually you come face-to-face with the soldier…

So, we’re marching, doing a call-and-response, and we get to this point where we’re not able to cross because the National Guard is being told to protect the nearby buildings. To me, it’s just such a slap in the face. We’re the ones that need to be protected, not the damn buildings! The buildings can be rebuilt.

When we start to approach them, I’m literally just thinking aloud, “Why are they not with us?” Honestly, for me, it went back—I’m sorry, I’m getting emotional because it reminds me of my niece. When I look at her and she asks me such simple questions like, “Why is the sky blue? Why are there clouds? Where do planets come from?” that’s what it felt like: “Why are they not with us?” I really, honestly wanted to know why. I was overwhelmed with the emotion of everybody knowing what’s happening, that it’s not right. And this is something that, as a Black person, we’ve known.

It’s so powerful for me because I’ve been through it. I know what it feels like to be hated for your skin. It’s so silly and it’s so stupid, but it’s so cruel. I know what it feels like when somebody is racist toward you, and you literally go to a sunken place, you can’t speak. It’s so hard to explain if you’ve never felt it, but I know you have. It hurts. And we get so strong that sometimes it’s like we don’t even realize it, because we’ve been carrying the weight of it for so long.

keke palmer

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