The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday August 18th

Stephens Unites Cultures, Races With `One Love'

He is a writer, teacher, public speaker, disc jockey, activist and Rockefeller Fellow. While he spreads himself over a wide range of occupations, Stephens' roots are in journalism and writing.

Stephens uses many creative mediums to spread his own philosophies and those of Bob Marley.

He stares intently with his blue eyes, his chair creaking beneath him, as he discusses Marley, culture and the three R's -- race, Rasta and writing.

Stephens works in the University Center for International Studies as a visiting scholar in the "Creating the Transnational South" program, studying the cultural influence of Spanish-speaking immigrants.

He is an expert on Marley and has written numerous articles about him, including the 1999 book "On Racial Frontiers: The New Culture of Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison, and Bob Marley."

In early October, he gave a presentation for students entitled "Bob Marley: Real Revolutionary," which highlighted Marley's attitude on being biracial, the Rastas and more.

"There was a great reception to the Marley presentation," he said. "The youths here are hungry, I feel, for an education that represents the world they're going to live in.

"Marley is the starting point -- he brings a wide diversity of people together to talk about their commonalities and differences."

Stephens speaks passionately about Marley and the Jamaican culture. He, like the Rastafarians, said he believes the idea of "one blood."

"The Rastas -- this culture that Bob came out of -- they put it in these terms, they talked about one blood," Stephens said. "They weren't hung up on who you can date, who you can't date. They were focused on the question of what is your culture, and on what unites us as human beings, which is one blood, united through our African roots."

This message of "one blood," of not letting racial boundaries and "mental slavery" bind people, is why Stephens has kept Marley in his writings.

"I love his music, but when I go beyond the music I think that Bob is an interesting figure who challenges us to rethink a lot of things," he said. "Above all he calls on us to judge each other without regard to race."

Marley is an artist whose music has impacted the world then and now. Time magazine named his Exodus the Album of the Century, and the BBC named "One Love" its Song of the Millennium, all 20 years after his death.

The similarities between Marley and Stephens go beyond philosophy and music and extend into family. While Marley himself was biracial, Stephens is the father of two biracial bilingual children -- Sela, 7, and Samuel, 3. Stephens lists parenting as his top priority, referring to it as "joy and labor without measure."

With two biracial children and his expertise in Marley, Stephens is less concerned with racial differences than with those of the culture in which people immerse themselves. "What kind of music do you listen to? What kind of foods do you eat?" he asked. "I think that stuff matters a hell of a lot more than what your skin color is."

Stephens' message is clear and is one he says should be embraced by the University community. Stephens' work reflects his personal respect for Marley and his own multiculturalism.

"What I'm really trying to do is help people develop a sense of intercultural kinship, to have a multiethnic sense of community," he said.

And if Stephens could say something to Marley? He thought of the song "Sun is Shining" and replied with a smile, "I would say thank you, Bob, (and I) want you to know I'm a rainbow, too."

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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