28, Poet, Performer and Educator
When I step into a classroom and when I work with young people, I’m fascinated by the response they have to learning about poets who have used their voices and their words to tell stories. I think about June Jordan and all the work that she’s done in the Bay area. I think about Amiri Baraka and the work that he’s done in the Northeast. Across the country, there are so many ways in which they have used the word as a tool of resistance. When young people can look at Black poets and think about them in their twenties and thirties, I draw parallels to who they are and where they are at this moment.
You start to see them realize that their stories are important, that their voices matter and that there are ways in which they can create shifts and movements in the world around them.
They are realizing that poetry is not a thing that old white men did or just do, exclusively. That’s one of the first myths that I want to dispel when I walk into the classroom. They are seeing that these people come from similar hoods as theirs or they’re seeing the ways in which Black poets specifically have always been very creative with the use of language, capitalization, and punctuation. We’ve always been very crafty with our tongue and they’re seeing the ways in which they can use language to really empower themselves and the world around them.
Black history, the present and the future, is centered in all the work that I do because I’m really invested in centering our stories and our narratives. And so when I’m working with young people, I’m constantly reminding them that no one can tell your story like you. That’s the only story that can be told. I’m constantly encouraging my young people to draw from the past, to draw from their communities, and to look at people who paved the way before them as examples to help them shape the way in which they want to tell their stories now.
You start to see them feel comfortable voicing their opinions. You start to see them realize that they don’t necessarily need anybody to give them anything, but their power is within them.
When I think about artists who were birthed through Brooklyn streets, I think about what it means to have lived in Brooklyn in the ‘80s in the ‘90s. I think about the ways in which a lot of artists were really just responding to the world around them. A lot of my work is a homage to the streets that I grew up in Fort Greene, Clinton Hill or Bedford Stuyvesant. We talk a lot about the Harlem Renaissance but there was a renaissance booming in Brooklyn.
I took for granted that I can walk and see a black-owned pharmacy next to a black-owned clothing store, next to a black-owned private practice for medical practitioners, next to a black-owned record store next to 40 Acres and a Mule, next to Night of the Cookers, a black-owned restaurant.
A lot of my art is a bit of nostalgia, taking the past and thinking about ways in which we can bridge that gap to the future. When I’m thinking about my Brooklyn, the Brooklyn that I know, and I’m thinking about all the historical figures, landmarks and artifacts that have impacted my stories. A lot of my art is really investigating not only my neighborhood history but my family history. Investigating what it means to have uncles and parents that really understood summertime Brooklyn and growing up on a stoop and having the johnny pumps out during summer time.Then thinking about the struggles and what it meant to survive in Brooklyn. I’m thinking about survival, I’m thinking about resistance, I’m thinking about my mom who made many sacrifices to walk me through these streets, but also made sure that I could have flexibility and autonomy over the life that I want to build today. There’s a rich legacy of artists and poets, musicians, actors, dancers who are a direct product of Brooklyn. There’s a certain level of hustle and grind that exists here - uniquely here - that has informed the way in which I turn to the page to really help articulate these stories.
I’m thinking about preservation. Preservation of culture and preservation of history because Brooklyn is changing so much and it’s changing rapidly. I’ve been able to witness what it means to have people come in from the outside that have no idea of the history and almost attempt to wipe it away. When I’m discussing the places that I grew up or I’m building opportunities in workshops or working with outside institutions to create community events, I’m really thinking about the ways in which we can hold on to the magic and the essence of what Brooklyn is and has always been.