When I entered the poetry community 18 years ago, it was an electric scene, at least, on the south side of Chicago and the south suburbs. There were several open mic sets and the level of talented emcees was amazing. As I came in, an influx of poets came in with me, causing a shift in the poetry community. There were those veterans who had already been on the scene for 3-5 years before me and a handful who had been around a little longer. As I began to grow in popularity, there came some resistance from the more established poets at that time. The community was very political. If you were not in the in-crowd there was little to no opportunities on the table for you. Most of the content at that time was conscious poetry about black struggle in America. I brought a unique style of entertainment, show business, and stage production to the poetry community.
At that time there were no poetry groups organized for community outreach purposes that I could remember, there were no Kings and Queens of Poetry, no Heirs To The Throne, nor the many honoring shows you see today. There was beef, even with my brands and I, which caused fear in many poets to distance themselves from me, thinking that if they associated with me, that they would lose favor with other popular and influential poets. Some of that beef still exist to this day. However, the success of my organization P.O.E.T and my solo career began to remove some of the fear of association with my brands. Despite attempts to boycott my shows, by some in the poetry community, they continued to be sold out. I have one philosophy, counter hate with love.
Today, because of the model of P.O.E.T, more groups are popping up and are beginning to do community outreach work with their art. There were no National Spoken Word Awards NSWA, no International Spoken Word Month-ISWM, no P.O.E.T UNITY FEST, no P.O.E.T RADIO or stations solely dedicated to Spoken Word. I see a lot of change today. I thank God that I have been a part of that change. Our hard work is finally paying off. The Grammys have recognized us, the Chicago Music Awards have recognized us and the Spoken Word community is filled with new faces, new open mics and is continuing to grow.
I founded ISWM in 2017, but it didn’t start off as a month. It started out as a Spoken Word Day, then week, and now month. It made sense to have it in the month of September since the National Spoken Word Awards (NSWA), which I also founded, is in September. There is a national poetry month and it is only right to have an ISWM that honors performing poets. It hasn’t caught on everywhere yet, but it is moving quickly.
You released several videos with POET at the Impact Center and East-West University; why is community work of so much to you and your organization?
If this gift that we have been given is just all about open mics, occasional features, hand claps, standing ovations, releasing CDs and books, then it’s all vanity. This gift that we have is powerful. Our most challenging work with poets is changing their mindset from I to WE. You can achieve nothing alone. When we get to the point where we forget that there are others less fortunate than us that need our help we are failing as a community. The leaders of the community should know better. God entrusted you in leadership to lead.
When the leaders can’t come together, the community will never be united and if we refuse to unite, not for ourselves, but for the community, no good will come from us. This is why P.O.E.T has set an example of how several individuals, could come together as one, to uplift, build, inspire and encourage others with our personal testimonies. At the end of the day, no one will remember how many shows you did, how many open mics you performed at, how many books or CDs you released, but the individuals who saw you come to their school, to their shelter, to their community or visit them in prison to encourage them, the memory of that will last a lifetime. Your life will be purposeful and your existence will not be in vain.
How can people get a hold of POET for community work?
P.O.E.T has a website, which includes all of our upcoming community work and events. It also includes videos of the work we have done in the community. If nothing else, we would hope that we would inspire those who watch these videos to get involved in the best they can. If you can’t physically get involved, then donate to help us do more for those in need. Also, if nothing else, share the work to inspire others and to give them hope that despite what you see on social media every day, that there are still good people doing good work. Check out our website at www.iampoet.org and contact us at 312.719.7310
If there is a Chicago artist you would like me to engage in a conversation please email me at Endurer@gmail.com with a subject line of BLOG THIS!