The Stockton Kings had the chance to catch up with, Stockton native and America’s Got Talent Winner, Brandon Leake! We asked him about his social justice initiatives, how it feels to win, and what it means to represent Stockton on the big stage!
Can you tell the people who you are?
What’s up everybody? It’s your local neighborhood poet, Brandon Leake the winner of America’s Got Talent season 15, and I’m here collaborating with the Stockton and Sacramento Kings. We’re going to talk a little bit about my run on America’s Got Talent as well as some of the social justice reforms and which I’ve indicated and talked about in my spoken word and just about my journey in life.
How does it feel to be a hometown hero, and represent a positive role model coming from Stockton, CA?
To be a to be the hometown hero is kind of like a lifelong aspiration. I never thought it would come from spoken word. Growing up in Stockton I was always a hoop-head. I played basketball, I grew up a Laker fan, sorry!
But to now be in the shoes where there’s youth in my city who are inspired by my story, inspired by my success, and can see themselves within the success that I’ve accomplished. It means a lot to me because, if I can be a source of motivation for them to continue to chase after their dreams, continue to pursue after excellence, then my work and my efforts are are coming into pass the way I hope they would. So to be a hometown hero is a very humbling experience.
When did you know you had a gift of spoken word, and how have you honed your craft over the years?
I knew I had a gift in poetry about four years ago, but I knew I liked it middle school when I wrote it for girls who I thought were cute.
The moment where I really began to understand how real spoken word could be in my life and others lives through me sharing it, was actually a show that I did in Modesto. I had a person walk up to me and they said, “hey, you have no idea like what type of a day I’ve had, I honestly contemplated no longer being here. But listening to you gave me hope to continue to push through.” To hear somebody say that my words gave them encouragement to keep living. That’s when I knew that God had blessed me with a really immense gift to do this.
What was your experience like on America’s Got Talent (AGT), and there has never been a spoken word winner of AGT, what did that feel like to be the first?
My experience on America’s Got Talent was beautiful. It was different than what I hoped for because, non-COVID you get to experience the fans and hanging out with everybody. I wanted to do all those things, but with COVID and whatnot I had to be responsible and make sure that everybody was a socially distant.
But what made that experience so beautiful was the other contestants. From Shaquira McGrath , Double Dragons, Selena, Alan Silver and Malik Dope, all of these people in which I’ve gotten the beautiful opportunity to know and love and care for. And yeah, I’m the first ever spoken word artist not even just win but to just even make it to the live shows. So to know that I was able to accomplish that meant the world to me, because even if it’s just for a brief moment, I got the chance to be the face and the representative of spoken word to the world and helped bring it to the stature that it deserves to be recognized in, such as like hip hop, rap, comedy and more.
What are you doing to advance social justice causes in your life?
Both before and now I’ve been organizing and participating in rallies. My friend here in Stockton, Damar Johnson has done a phenomenal job of being a pillar for us in terms of those types of protests and civil engagements where we have to disrupt the normality of what’s going on and being able to serve with him, my friend Brittany, Aaron, and more who have done phenomenal work. Being able to partner with them has been immense.
Where I see my lane moving forward one way is in the educational sector. I’ve led spoken word poetry workshops with youth in my city for the past three years and we published over 700 kids. I hope that with what I’ve done now, I can expand that and get into all the schools to help re-instill passion and desire for reading and writing. Secondarily, the economics. I long to be able to open up a black owned grocery store in my town, and being able to end of the food desert back in my old neighborhood that I grew up in, and being able to really bring a needed resource.
The battlefield is multifaceted in social justice. We’re not just fighting against policy, we’re fighting against lack of resources and access to things that we need. So for me, I want to take my stance in those two areas, finance and economics as well as education.
What did performing at Team Up for Change mean to you?
Performing for that was my buzzer beater. That was a that was my game seven shot.
Hopefully I get more of those to be able to do in collaboration with you all, because for me to know the mission that [the Kings] have in terms of trying to inspire change and create positive outlooks for these types of social justice initiatives and for me to just play my small role in sharing my gift, it’s an opportunity that I prayed for, that I’ve waited for and that fortunately was given and I couldn’t have been more ecstatic.
How did growing up in Stockton shape who you are today?
I think what I think what Stockton gave me was the ability to be an optimistic realist. The ability to look at the world and see what it can be, because Stockton has always been a city of potential. If we were to fulfill these things, we could really be everything that we desire to be. But, Stockton also simultaneously has given me a realism to understand everything is not roses and peaches. We have to grind, we have to work, and if you want anything to come to fruition, you’re going to have to take some major steps in the right direction to make that thing come into reality.
Even bigger than that Stockton gave me a real sense of community. A place that I could call home.
A place that I can honestly say, I feel accepted one-hundred percent and that I genuinely don’t want to leave. People have asked if i’m going to go Hollywood and move to LA, now that i’m “big time.” I don’t have any intentions on that. I have intentions on always having a home here. To be able to say Stockton is not where I’m from but it’s where I reside.
Do you have any final words you want to leave with?
To all of my dreamers out there, no matter the circumstance, whether it be the way society looks at you due to your race, sexual orientation, religion, or gender, no matter what, if you have a dream and you have an aspiration in your head and in your heart do two things: Love it and respect it. Love it enough to practice it and do it respected enough to learn it and grow better at it.
As you continue to do those two things you get closer and closer to that dream and it won’t be chasing it anymore. It’ll be truly actualizing it. I look forward to seeing how many of you all are inspired by this and joining in the efforts of team up for change because this isn’t a moment, this is a movement and we’re going to continue to do this work.