He suffered from epileptic seizures as a young man, and created a form of self-hypnosis to prevent them. He went to George Washington High School in San Francisco.
He became known as a longtime activist for middle class, immigrant, and minority rights, and spoke at the Occupy Oakland protests in 2011.
His parents, employed as postal workers, were active supporters and members of the NAACP during the Civil Rights movement. He had a daughter named Mandisa with his first wife Asake Bomani, whom he was married to from 1975 to 2000. He then married Eliane Cavalleiro in 2009.