Episode 91: Amir Whitaker: Free the Youth!

Dr. Amir Whitaker weaves together his experience and knowledge as an educator, musician, and human rights lawyer and spoke about how those things have inspired each other throughout his life. I loved how he talked about following a question, which led to more questions, as he pursued degree after degree. He spoke about how his multiple titles and roles really come back to passion for justice and the arts and his mission to free the youth. He touched on his own personal background with the (in)justice system, which he shares more of in his book, “The KnuckleHead’s Guide to Escaping the Trap.” He also offered some advice for teachers in connecting with students and breaking down barriers. Amir was very generous in allowing me to share clips of his music on the podcast. I love being able to use this audio format to the fullest! You can hear more of his work at www.drknucklehead.com/musician.

Amir is an educator, author, civil rights lawyer, and musician. He is the founder and director of Project KnuckleHead,a nonprofit organization empowering youth through music, art, and educational programs since 2012.

Often referred to as “Dr. KnuckleHead,” Amir was introduced to the criminal justice system as a child when he visited both his mother and father in prison. At age 15, Amir himself was arrested and entered the juvenile justice system. Problems at school eventually led to him being expelled. Despite these hardships, Amir went on to complete five college degrees.

As a lawyer referred to as a “civil rights and education stalwart” by the Daytona Times, Amir has negotiated settlements and policy changes that have improved the lives of thousands of youth across the country. Amir is currently a policy attorney with the ACLU of Southern California and a researcher with the UCLA Civil Rights Project. At the Southern Poverty Law Center, Amir worked on a class-action lawsuit on behalf of incarcerated youth receiving inadequate education, mental health, and rehabilitation services. Within the Juvenile Division of the Miami-Dade County Public Defender’s Office, Amir represented incarcerated youth and developed training materials.  He has taught varying grade levels and in different educational settings for over a decade, and has held teaching certifications in Florida, California, and New Jersey. He has delivered keynote speeches to thousands and written for leading publications across the country, including Washington Post and TIME Magazine. Amir’s recently released autobiography has been featured on ABC News and in The New Yorker. As an artist, Amir has worked with musicians around the world and has traveled to over 20 countries tracing the influence and music of the Afro-diaspora. In the process, he has taught workshops on Hip Hop and Beatmaking in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Jamaica, Guatemala, and other countries. He is the co-founder of the Afro Unidad, a cultural movement that united Afro-descendants around the world through art and justice. Dr. Whitaker is also a published author and his “Encyclopedia of Afro-Diaspora Music ” compiles over 200 styles of Afro music across the Americas. He received his doctorate in Educational Psychology from the University of Southern California, juris doctorate from the University of Miami, and his bachelors from Rutgers University.