Freedom from America: One Black Man’s Escape into Self-Actualization
Born of a Black Panther and a self-made almond orchardist, Calvin Gaskin came of age in Oakland, California in the Bush Era when tensions between the community and the police were high. A sneaking sense that government agencies were not on the side of the people they claimed to “protect and serve” was made glaringly clear the day his home — where his mother had been running a pre-school for the past decade — was ransacked by the police who attacked both him and his aging mother.
Because of the Patriot Act, old case files had been reopened for all “terrorist” groups which included the community activists from Oakland who called themselves the Black Panthers, and his mother who had never committed a single crime, became the target of a long defunct investigation, brought back from the dead. She was eventually acquitted of all charges, but no formal or informal apology was ever made.
It was this pointed act of violence against his family that solidified his belief that this country, the so-called greatest in the world, was perhaps not so great at all, at least not for people like him with brown skin and unruly hair who actually stand up for justice, fairness, and the pursuit of happiness for all.
“I had a map of the world in my planner for school. It was right around that time that it started calling my name. I would be doing my homework, penciling in my progress, and this undeniable urge would keep pulling me to those back pages where countries I’d never even heard of would speak to me. I knew that there were rich cultures elsewhere, beautiful places where things weren’t perfect, but at least they were different.”
Visualizing the world from a distance, Gaskin dreamt of his freedom, the freedom to leave behind the oppressive weight of his homeland, the United States. He prayed with his imagination, day-dreaming about all different kinds of people, interacting with them, learning of their struggles and their traditions, their magic, and their beloved stories. Little did he know at that time, that the universe has ears for people like him who yearn for change, agency and personal growth.
When the reality TV show he was working for was cancelled after the deranged star finally lost touch with reality and murdered his playmate ex-girlfriend, cutting her up into little pieces and leaving her remains in a parking lot dumpster, Calvin was faced again with the brutality of an upside-down culture and he was also out of a job. It was then that he decided to drop out of the mainstream and have a go at this life on his own. He sold his car and bought his first camera.
“I didn’t even have enough money for the lens, but my mom had faith in me and lent me the money for it. She knew that me working for myself, doing the kind of work I wanted to do, and that I felt was important, would come back in a big way and pay off for my family, my community, for the people. She shared my vision when it seemed like no one else did, when my world was crumbling apart. I’ll always be thankful for that. Love you, Mom!”
Out of nowhere, connects came together and Gaskin was making LA money with his own camera, on his own terms, bringing his unique sensibility to rap videos and commercial projects that usually typecast individuals into played-out roles. And then, after he’d almost forgotten his days of dreaming, the world called in a big way, and he answered.
Philanthropic projects — filming as a documentarian and activist in Haiti which led to an equally moving and important project in Thailand — filled his heart and his schedule. After that it was Canada to France to Dubai and back to Oakland for a youth sports program with Colin Kaepernick and Stephen Curry.
Impressed by Gaskin’s singular work as a cinematographer, Dr. Victor Pineda (social development professor, activist, and founder of World Enabled) recruited him to be an integral collaborator on his forthcoming film 12 bends. From there it was Varanasi, Havana, Washington D.C., Black Rock City, Berlin, Chichén Itzá. Calvin Gaskin grew wings.
Traveling the world, as he’d always dreamed of, he was able to create meaningful and transformative works for many different organizations. Now he wants to tell his own story.
“So many people want to leave an unhappy workplace. They want to see new things, learn new things and travel, but they don’t know how. They think, I’m not a trust-fund kid, my parent’s aren’t rich, I’m stuck. But that’s just not the truth. I want to show people what I’ve done starting with next to nothing, with next to no help from anybody.”
Gaskin’s Youtube Channel which launches today — featuring his new web series, called semi-ironically, “Don’t Be Like Calvin,” — showcases his jet-setting, international lifestyle. It aims to encourage other people, people of color in particular, to pursue their dreams by showing them that it is totally possible to work for one’s self, travel for cheap, leave behind the violence and negativity that can feel so suffocating, and enjoy life.
The first episode follows him on an adventure through Tulum, Quintana Roo, setting intentions for the new year and exploring the remnants of México’s ancient past, including a trek to sacred Mayan temples and a boozy boat ride through the crystal clear channels constructed by the Mayan civilization thousands of years ago. With a new episode posted every Wednesday night, we’re all invited to join in on a wild ride and, as he says, “pick up some free game” along the way.