If you knew my friend, motivational speaker Nate Howard, you would be just as impressed with him as I am. He is the kind of guy that just carries purpose with him; it’s in his speech, his walk, his mannerisms. And he’s the last person who you would expect to be associated with criminal activity.
On Monday, Nate was convicted of resisting arrest after a video of an altercation with him police was released. During the incident, police described him as “endangering their effort to control the crowded streets.” They beat him with a baton several times, and arrested him.
The video of him being beaten is something that will haunt me for life.
To understand the shock of the ordeal, you first have to understand the Nate I know. We attended the University of Southern California together, where we worked together on our campus talk show, Platforum. Although he was one year my junior, I was always watching how he interacted with guests and celebrities as if they were his best friend. I definitely took notes on the steps he took in his career, and the tools he used to connect with people.
Fast forward five years, and I’m waking up in New York City, 3,000 miles away, and I see a video of the man I know so well being thrown to the ground and brutally beaten by the police. My heart sank as I saw his face, my mind repeating ‘this can’t be my friend, Nate.’
I called him as soon as he was able to speak, and here’s what he told me of the events:
In true Nate Howard style, the poet and activist was giving a commencement speech at the University of San Jose last May. He centered his talk around empowering the masses. Using a statue that stood in the middle of the school’s camp yard that paid homage to the ‘Black power’ Olympians, he crafted a message to empower young people in America.
After the commencement exercise was complete, Nate joined his friend at a Black grad party. Like any normal person after a long night, his friend temporarily separated from Nate to pee behind a building before heading home.
Before Nate could even blink, he watched police grab his friend and throw him against a cop car. Immediately, Nate told me he approached the scene and simply asked, ‘What’s going on?’
The cops ignored him. He asked again, ‘What did he do? What’s going on?’
The cops asked him to back up.
He obeyed, and then asked again, ‘What’s going on?’
It’s at this moment that Nate says the police officers accosted him, threw him to the ground and cruelly beat him with batons.
He was later released, with, thankfully, minor bruises, but the mental scars of the attack are forever ingrained in his brain.
Around two months later, Nate was forced to relive the attack when footage came out on the internet. It was then, seeing it from an outside perspective, that he realized just how bad the assault truly was. He immediately decided to file a complaint against the San Jose police department.
But Nate wasn’t the only one looking at the incident differently. And his decision to file a complaint likely incurred deep repercussions for him. Upon receiving the case and seeing the video released on the news, the SJPD decided to put a warrant out for Nate’s arrest.
The case went to trial last week, and Nate Howard, graduate of one of the best universities in the country, TED Talk speaker, motivational teacher, and thought leader, now finds himself having to add “criminal” to his description.
During his trial, Nate Howard had to sit through the police officer’s lies, including one claiming he yelled ‘I’m going to f**k you up.’The officers alleged that Nate was trying to fight them, and they felt threatened and intimidated by his 5’7, 140lb frame.
As often as I hear stories of Black men being brutally beaten, hunted down and killed, attacked and victimized, I always knew it could be someone I personally knew next, but I never actually thought it would be.
‘I’ve learned the law is against anybody that speaks for the truth,’ he told me of his ordeal. ‘What happens is, we created a society based on law, not a society based on what’s right.’
Nate went on to explain how simply asking questions to protect the livelihood of your friend, in the age of #Michael Brown, #Tamir Rice and #TrayvonMartin, should not have elicited such a violent response from trained police officers.
But it did. And their excessive response has forever stained a good man’s reputation.
Having gone through the trauma, I asked Nate what advice he would give to people faced with a similar situation.
‘I wouldn’t do anything differently, I don’t regret anything. But be safe. I don’t want anybody hurt or killed. I’m still educating myself on what’s right,’ he explains. ‘I wanted justice for my friend for treatment that I felt was not necessary. But the prosecutor labeled me as some activist who had an agenda to rile up police officers. I’m not against police officers. I’m against police brutality.’
Nate is one of the lucky ones, because he was fortunate enough to live to tell his story, which is his life mantra as a motivational speaker.
His slogan ‘Tell your story before they do‘ has motivated students and professionals to express themselves in both their arts and their careers. His calling, which has many branches in motivation and leadership, will now include creating a curriculum for students to educate them on their rights.
‘The law is against anybody who is speaking for truth, so i was convicted because i was standing up for what was right,’ Nate concluded.
I trust, and believe, my friend will never stop speaking for what is right. His voice will not be drowned beneath law procedures and injustice. He’s the kind of guy that always carries purpose with him, and his purpose is now clearer than ever.