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Interview: Master Donte Branch (part 1)



LACM: Mr. Donte


Master Branch: Yes sir


LACM: What are you? And by what, I mean, who are you, where are you, and what do you do?


Master Branch: Well I guess the short way to define that is I'm, I'm a leader. Like I said, born in Washington, DC. Raised in Brookland, right up the street from Catholic University. Michigan Park area. Just, been here my whole life. Currently just tryna, tryna find my place in leadership.


LACM: That's what's up. That's what's up.


Master Branch: Yeah


LACM: How old are you?


Master Branch: 23. Just turned 23.


LACM: 23? Man, I been lying on you man. I been calling you 21 like a ...


Master Branch: (laughter)


LACM: But nah, that's vicious. That's actually, uh ... somehow that makes it more ... impactful. I don't know how yet, but we’ll talk about that in the next episode.


Master Branch: (laughter)


LACM: So, I know you got some hot topics and things that you focus on in your daily walk, and some of the goals that you wanna accomplish. So we’re gonna start off with a couple of those hot topics. I’ma put the sun on you, as it were. So, education. Where are you in your education? Why are you there in your education? And what do you hope to accomplish?


Master Branch: Right now I’m in grad school. Currently doing an online program at Concordia University of Portland, getting my master’s degree in educational leadership. I got my undergrad in sociology and peace and justice studies. The reason I chose, there’s a couple of reasons, I chose to get my master’s because when I was looking for jobs and career paths I started to notice that the career path that I’m trying to be on is … very specific in terms of educational requirements.


LACM: Yeah


Master Branch: It requires a lot of educational names … a lot of letters behind my name. I’m just getting my master’s. You know I was a first generational college graduate. So, I just wanna see how far I can take it.


LACM: Hey, that’s what’s up man. That’s what’s up. So, that trajectory that you’re talking about … what is that specifically?


Master Branch: So, when I got my degree, I wanted to do social work. And so, initially I was working with kids a lot. Just doing summer camps, after school programs, social work with those kids in after school programs. I noticed that those social work jobs require a lot of knowledge about education and the process of education itself. And so I started to get more interested in the actual process of education.


LACM: Especially that specific US standard by state, city and yeeeaahh …


Master Branch: Exactly, exactly. And you know, there are some things in there I disagree with. There are some things I agree with, and things I wanna change. So I feel like, my place to change that has to come from a place of experience and working from the ground level in that.


LACM: That’s interesting. You gotta become part of the beast to kill that. That’s … that’s a warrior’s path. Real talk. So what about your present or your history has you focusing so much on education?


Master Branch: Well, honestly, when I was a kid, one of the things my dad always pushed me to do, was to be me. To be smart. To be the leader in the classroom, outside the classroom. Cause you know as kids, you get made fun of for being smart a lot. You know. My dad, he kinda told me don’t do that. Embrace that. Accept that. So, the older I got, the more I started to see why that’s important. The more I started to see that education, especially for black people, that education is probably the biggest … freedom boost.


LACM: Ooooooo …


Master Branch: I saw a quote, that said uh … If you can read, you’re free forever.


LACM: Oooo …


Master Branch: You’ll be free forever … something like that. So, I started to realize that that’s true. If you can read, and you can analyze things for yourself, you’re free.


LACM: You can grow. You can go get whatever it is that you want.


Master Branch: Exactly.


LACM: Hey, and I’ma pitch two pennies at you on that, specifically for black Americans. Learning your current situation is the key to changing it. Your situation. Anyway, we’ll talk about all that later. That’s a whole other interview for a whole other blog. Um … so, so … I’d like to … go from, where you’ve been and why? Right? To … what changes would you like to see? Right? Because it sounds like the underlying momentum, is in change of some sort. Utilizing who you are, who you were born as, grew to be, who you learned to be. We are always evolving … mass, or cells. So, as you go there, change, education, black America, who would you like to see yourself working with?


Master Branch: Uh, Wow.


LACM: Yeah.


Master Branch: That’s a good question. Honestly, I wanna work with people who are like me, and unlike me. In the sense that, I wanna work with my peers who are raised the same way, but also people I know who are struggling, who didn’t necessarily get the same experiences that I got, that I’m tryna help. But, they wanna be the same place I am. So I wanna get to work with people who want the same things, but don’t have the same experiences, and the same kind of support and help. But also, people who are like minded and similar experience. I like to listen.


LACM: I see. Jazzy even.


Master Branch: Yeah.


LACM: Alright. Well let’s jump to something else. Cause I heard you were an artist.


Master Branch: Oh yeah.


LACM: Somebody done messed up and told me you create stuff.


Master Branch: Yes sir, yes sir


LACM: So what type of artist are you?


Master Branch: I’m a poet. I’m a writer. I love writing, pretty much anything. That’s the one thing that’s gotten me through school, is my love for writing.


LACM: I can see that.


Master Branch: I write poetry mostly, right now, just because that’s where my heart is right now, in terms of my art. I got three books out …


LACM: Oh, I was gonna get to it.


Master Branch: (laughter)


LACM: So where those books at? Where can we find them?


Master Branch: So if you go on Amazon, just search my name, Donte Branch.


LACM: Ok.


Master Branch: Go on there, all three of them are right there. It’s “Lullabies Behind my Eye Lids”, “Sun Kissed Soliloquies”, and “Love a Healing Hand”.


LACM: “Sun Kissed Soliloquies” … I actually read a little bit of that one. I wasn’t gonna tell you for real for real. But that’s a jazzy jon’t.


Master Branch: I appreciate it.


LACM: So … why poetry? And where would you like to go with your art if at all? Matter fact, I’ma get personal for the camera … but your father is an artist as well.


Master Branch: That’s right.


LACM: And I’ve had several conversations with him, and his art is just for him.


Master Branch: Yeah.


LACM: He creates cause he has to.


Master Branch: Right.


LACM: That’s that junkie-ism right there where you gotta get it out. So what’s your art for?


Master Branch: Honestly, my art is therapy.


LACM: Wooow …


Master Branch: It’s in the same sentence. I can’t draw the same way my dad can draw, and stuff like that.


LACM: Whole different conversation.


Master Branch: Right, but, my art, I write poetry because poetry is my way of expressing my deepest feelings and my deepest thoughts in kind of a hidden way. So not saying, “I’m saying” or “I’m happy” or whatever. You gotta figure it out between the lines.


LACM: You gotta read a little bit.


Master Branch: Exactly. You gotta understand what I’m trying to say.


LACM: Hey. That’s commendable. How long have you been writing?


Master Branch: Since I learned how to write. But, I’ve been writing poetry specifically since fourth grade.


LACM: (laughter) That’s goes almost back to pencil in hand.


Master Branch: Yes sir.


LACM: So you’ve had time to craft your expression.


Master Branch: Yes sir.


LACM: That’s powerful man. Time in trade is what creates experts and savants.


Master Branch: Yes sir. Yes sir.


LACM: So we’ve talked about education. We’ve talked about your art a little bit. Let’s talk about one of the things that kind of merges the two, which is your martial art. Which martial art did you choose to pursue? Why? How long? And where you at with it?


Master Branch: Those are good questions.


LACM: I ain’t got nothing but good questions.


Master Branch: (laughter) The martial art I’m in is Tae Kwon Do. It’s Korean. It’s not a very

old martial art. It’s very young. And, tae kwon do specifically because when I was seven years old there was a tae kwon do spot that just opened up like a year before on 12th street.


LACM: Opportunity.


Master Branch: My dad actually is a genius. He walked in and talked to the guy that ran it and walked in and told him, “I got three kids that need to do something positive. Maybe this could be it.” I started by myself first, and I loved it. I started competing, doing tournaments …


LACM: Oh wow, you went all in … both feet, ten toes.


Master Branch: Yes sir, yes sir. Since I was seven I’ve been doing it. I’m 23 now, so 16 years.


LACM: Some consider that a subject matter expert.


Master Branch: Yeah. I’m working on getting my fourth degree black belt. Which is consider a master of tae kwon do. Like the International Panam Foundation consider you a master of tae kwon do. My instructors instructor was taught by the guy who founded tae kwon do. So I’m fourth generation.


LACM: Fourth generation original.


Master Branch: Yeah.


LACM: That goes on some of that paperwork we were talking about earlier.


Master Branch: Yes sir.


LACM: So, what else do you do. I heard you mess around in your semi-master role in educating some of our babies out here as well with your tae kwon and your do.


Master Branch: So when I was a kid, I was doing the summer camps, but when I turned 12 I was a black belt. I wanted to do the summer camps, but my instructor told me, “You’re a little too old and you’re a black belt now. We kinda want to stray away from that.”


LACM: Don’t want you to hurt somebody …


Master Branch: Right. Instead of the summer camp he told me he wanted me to start helping to teach. So I use to come to summer camp and help teach the kids and stuff like that. And I just came back every year after that. And when I turned 17 he asked me to actually help teach teach, like seriously. I went away for college, came back, and now I actually instruct classes. Tiny Tigers, 3 and 4 years old, all the way to adults. It’s honestly one of the things in life that makes me the most happy.


LACM: That’s vicious. That’s one of the real reasons why we introduced it that way. Like you were saying earlier off camera … we don’t have to share all our conversations with the public, right. One, educational piece, not only did you go in to learn it, but you’re also involved in the educating of others in that specific other category of an art in a form. But even more than that, with what you and I know, the martial arts are more focused on self-control. And being able to do what you want with yourself whenever you want, and we’re just choosing by which way we pursue to do that. I salute you sir. That’s pretty vicious. Quick question … how often do you train as a master, or sub, semi-about to be … how far do you take your students in instruction?


Master Branch: I train three times a week. That’s because I train in-depth three times a week. I train my students 2-3 times a week as well. But, I’m up there 5 days a week. So, there’s 2 days where I’m teaching, but I’m also training while I’m teaching as well. And my students, I take them in-depth in terms of their level. So with white belts, yellow belts, orange belts, the beginners, I give them the basics. I give them the things they need to know the foundation of tae kwon do. Then when I get to teaching my black belts, it’s a whole different level. I teach them the art of defending themselves in a real situation. I teach them the art of defending themselves in a sparring situation. I teach them the art itself.


LACM: I love that you stated the difference right there.


Master Branch: Oh yeah, there’s a huge difference.


LACM: We can play around all day and gain points … or you can make it hum. That’s real life.


Master Branch: Yeah. So with my adult students I teach them more of a realistic approach. I train them based on, when you walk out of here, these are the things you need to know. You know, we’ll teach you the patterns and things that you need to know here. But, when you walk outside this door, you’re a real person.


LACM: Real life gonna see you.


Master Branch: Exactly. Kids are a little sheltered from that. Well not really. But, adults are not at all. So I give them that real world experience that they crave.


LACM: That’s vicious man. Again, I commend and salute you. We need more, not only knowledgeable in those arts, but a level of education sharing. Because if we don’t protect our own community, then someone else is gonna have to.


Master Branch: Exactly.


LACM: Then we have a problem. That’s what we’re talking about now. Last thing I’ll take your time up with today is to incorporate it all. The education, creative and martial arts. It sounds like you have a goal of impacting your community and your environment for the better. So let’s talk about government, and one of the best, and maybe only, ways to truly impact anything around you outside yourself. So again … one of these birdies out here told me, you got some lengthy plans of incorporating yourself into our local government. So what does that look and sound like to you?


Master Branch: So when I was 18, I scored an internship at the DC Council with Council member Vincent Orange for the summer, and I saw a lot of ways that DC government impacts the lives of DC citizens. And I thought about getting into that in my own way. So I saw that there are certain communities in the city that are definitely affected by a lot of things. From education, to development, to business arrangements that happen in and out of the city.


LACM: Especially DC. We are a bubble in and of our own.


Master Branch: We’re like the heart of development on the east coast. So what I want to do is, I want to work on this community, Brookland specifically, Ward 5, because I see a lot of it here. There’s a lot of displacement, gentrification, just …


LACM: So, two pennies at you, I just read in the Post Express maybe 2 months ago, that Brookland is the number 1 area in the whole city, for those changes. So you being from here … I was birthed, born and bread here too, I’m a Riggs Park bastard, my cousin obviously across the street … we’ve been seeing it from its’ beginning. Like ’04ish, ‘05ish, when we heard the skateboards on Michigan Avenue at 3am, like I don’t even know what sound that is. So you really hit it on the head that you were in the heart of what our city’s going to look like.


Master Branch: Yes sir.


LACM: So you’re also pursuing that council member role as you had observed?


Master Branch: Yeah. That’s the ideal. To get in the big seat, the council seat, and implement those changes from there. That’s probably the most impactful place I could be. ANC is nice. School board is nice. But, those are so streamlined and directed. But, I kinda want to get the overview of the problems that we’re fighting. So for example, the Providence Hospital issue. That’s a big issue that I want to touch on, that I want to help with, that I can’t really do from a school board perspective. It’s troublesome to even think that’s a reality. But, that’s something that’s driving me to be in that seat. To be there.


LACM: Well shoot, let’s go down a quick list. Let’s get what your campaign points are. So obviously we’re not going to ignore what we already talked about. We know that you’re heavy on education. We know that you’re involved in art and all that that means. Expression, mental and social health, the interaction of the community. Art does all of that. Education allows for the understanding and communicating in all of that. We got to the martial, which then goes to the strengthening of the community. The bringing together of generations and so on and so forth. We already know all that. Once you sit in the seat, what don’t we know about all the changes you want to make in this wonderful, magnificent city that we call our own?


Master Branch: Well, I’ll just say specifically, we have a … this is something that I don’t really hear a lot about in politics in the city, is the homeless problem. We have a huge homeless problem. And I want to blend the two, education and homelessness. Where we build more homeless facilities, we get more development companies coming in here focusing on homelessness, versus focusing on gentrification.



LACM: Condos where we had housing already.


Master Branch: Exactly. Instead of that we work on the displacement of our black citizens, and our minority citizens period, in general. Because I see a lot of us on the streets, versus in a shelter somewhere. I want to work on that. And I want to work on transportation and education for homeless students. So the homeless students that we do have in the city, I want them to be able to make it to schools that are not necessarily within their own neighborhood. Because if those are not the best schools that are bringing out the best in them, then why send them there. Get them a way to get to schools that they need to shine. Even if we have schools that are not the best for them, let’s work on those schools. Let’s get the curriculum there the same as the curriculum in other neighborhoods so that we can see similar shining stars from different neighborhoods. You don’t have to wait ten years to see a kid go to college to see his shine, you can see it when he’s 7.


LACM: Wow.


Master Branch: Yeah. Cause I know a lot of kids from this city, that were way too smart, and couldn’t get to the proper environment to let that out.


LACM: Yeah. We are a unique bubble over here. They have to be here to understand it. I’m with you man. Anything else you’d like to share?


Master Branch: I mean, everything’s pretty much laid out on the table. I’m not the type of person to be like I’m a celebrity, I’m just a regular neighborhood guy. I’m trying to do things that supplement for the things I want for my mind, my body, and my soul. I’m just chasing the three pillars of who I am. I think that’s probably the most important thing for human development. And, I just wanna share that.


LACM: Well we appreciate you. And even if they don’t know it, they appreciate you.

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