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On this episode of Queue Points, we delve into the book, "When Crack Was King: A People's History of a Misunderstood Era” with author Donovan X. Ramsey. Donovan discusses the tragic legacy of the crack epidemic through the eyes of four individuals, illuminating the vulnerability and resilience of the Black community. We discuss topics like harm reduction, the vital role of community, and the significance of having authentic representations of the people impacted by the crack epidemic. 

Sharing deeply personal experiences, we explore the continuous ripple effects of the crack era, the failure of the criminal justice system, and the intersections between historical events like the Great Migration and the onset of the crack crisis. This episode confronts the disparities, the stigma, and the systemic negligence that fueled the crack epidemic. Join us on a journey of understanding and compassion of a misunderstood and misrepresented epidemic.

Check out the Queue Points Playlist “Streets of Rhyme: Crack Era Anthems & Anti-Drug PSAs:” https://qpnt.net/crackeraplaylist



00:00 Queue Points Support Video

00:50 Intro Theme

01:21 Welcome to Queue Points

02:41 Donovan X. Ramsey Bio

04:16 Welcome Donovan X. Ramsey to Queue Points

06:53 Donovan remembers his neighbor Michelle

07:14 Michelle would play Patti LaBelle's "If Only You Knew" on repeat (DONOVAN SOLO)

08:32 What was the most challenging thing for Donovan writing this book?

11:03 How did crack use begin in the Black community?

17:59 The rise of crack was precipitated and aided by Black despair

21:03 Transition

21:09 Our childhoods and neighborhoods changed all around us.

22:14 The crack epidemic affected Black women in so many difficult ways

24:58 Lennie, one of the characters in the book, experienced a lot of abuse as a child

26:29 "Many of us grew up in these neighborhoods that were like steel towns where nobody talked about steel." - Donovan X. Ramsey

28:37 Transition

28:42 "What Chester Makes, Makes Chester" is dismantled and Jay Ray's hometown descends into chaos

30:03 Many cities are still dealing with crack's residue

31:54 Black folks left the south for better opportunities to places that weren't prepared for and didn't want us there.

33:14 Black folks were committed holding communities together against big odds.

38:51 There was a tenion between what was said about the crack epidemic and those who lived through it.

39:54 The "gentleman dealer" gets locked up, and the streets are destabilized

41:12 Transition

41:18 Donovan X. Ramsey on "When Crack Was King" as a testament to Black resilience

44:02 Black people do community better than anybody.

46:20 We didn't do right by Whitney Houston at a time when she really need us.

51:09 Who would Donovan like to narrate "When Crack Was King" in his wildest dreams?

53:50 Closing

56:02 Outro Theme


Donovan X. Ramsey is a journalist, author, and an indispensable voice on issues of identity, justice, and patterns of power in America. Ramsey has covered Black American life as a staff reporter at the Los Angeles Times, NewsOne, and theGrio. He served as an editor at both The Marshall Project and Complex. His freelance reporting has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, GQ, WSJ Magazine, Ebony, and Essence. In 2023, he published When Crack Was King: A People's History of a Misunderstood Era, a work of narrative nonfiction exploring how Black America survived the crack epidemic for One World, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House, the world's largest trade book publisher. Ramsey holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Morehouse College. He lives in Los Angeles.

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