Tuesday, February 28, 2017


A Tribute To Black Poets and Writers
by Tony Boyd

February is Black History Month, a time of the year we set aside to remember, teach, and learn about the contributions of African Americans to United States history and to honor their achievements. Black History Month was established in 1926 (originally just a week) by Dr. Carter Woodson. It became a whole month in 1976. Dr. Woodson’s impetus for creating “Negro History Week”, as it was called then, was the lack of recognition of  the contributions of Blacks being taught in U.S. schools.

“He noted that African-American contributions ‘were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.’  Race prejudice, he concluded, "is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind."

It is because of the tradition that we gathered on February 4, 2017 to honor our forbearers. In this instance, we chose to honor them through poetry. Umoja Soul Writers Group in conjunction with Crystal Bridges Museum presented Poetic Justice Open Mic at Crystal Bridges “A Tribute to Black Poets and Writers”. Poetic Justice Open Mic is an open forum poetry slam that encourages all people, especially people of color to come to the mic and express themselves about anything that moves them. Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening was Ms. Lakeesha Nicole Shaw.

The program began with an introduction of  why we were there and what we were doing by Stacy “L.I.F.E.” Harper. With her usual theatric flare, she  spoke in lyrical tones of the importance of poetry in her life and indeed, all our lives.  She was followed to the stage by Leron Jackson, son of Leora Jackson, one of the original founders of Umoja Soul Writers Group and its driving force. Leron chose a work by Langston Hughes for his tribute to Black poet history entitled “I, Too, Sing America”. Mr. Hughes was known for his insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties.

Leora took a little mic time afterwards to discuss Nikki Giovanni, Margaret Walker, Maya Angelou, and other Black female poets

Michael Day, local poet, vocalist, activist and more, came with an original work entitled “A God Is Dead” speaking to the ills of racism, pain and struggle in today’s world. His projected voice reverberating around the room, the passion about his subject matter clearly evident. I feel like his homage to those that came before him is one that both he and they can be very proud of. This young man has important things to say. It would behoove us to listen.

“We Wear The Masks” by Paul Laurence Dunbar is a poem that is near and dear to my heart. It was one of the first poems I ever heard by a…Black person (say what!!) … read to my siblings and me by my favorite aunt, Ida Henning-Wilson. So when C. J. Beavers came to the mic and uttered the first phrase I was taken back in time to those days, those na├»ve days. Mr. Dunbar’s work inspired my aunt. In turn, she used it to inspire us. We learned a lesson about creativity and expression that day. Thanks for the memory, C.J.

Maya Angelou, Stacy Harper’s choice for recognition, was a world reknown, prolific, and talented writer/poetess/teacher/singer/actress. Of her many works, Stacy chose “Rainbow” to be the piece to represent her with. Steve  “Mr. Ladebac” Toston also decided to pay homage to Mr. Langston Hughes by reciting “Let America Be America”.  Leora performed her original piece called “Say Her Name” about lifting up the names of the female victims of police misconduct. Madia Willis performed an original piece entitled “Tonic”.

All in all, it was a pleasant, insightful, educational event. Kudos to Crystal Bridges Museum for being apart of making it possible.

Monday, February 20, 2017

2017 Umoja Soul Kids Showcase Sponsors Wanted

Umoja Soul Kids Showcase Sponsors Wanted

The 2017 BHM Showcase is right around the corner on February 25, 2017 and the Fayetteville Boys and Girls Club Kids Showcase is coming up on March 11 and the Fort Smith Boys and Girls Kids Showcase will be Saturday April 8.

And we are excited to produce these events for you!!!

On Saturday February 25, our youth will be dressing up as Famous African Americans of the Past and Present. Some notable individuals are Madam C.J. Walker, B.B. King, Coretta Scott King, Wilma Rudolph, the Tuskegee Airman and many more.

On Saturday March 11, 2017, youth will choose from diverse lineups from Super Stars such as Adele, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Bruno Mars, Barack and Michelle Obama, Stephen Curry, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Martin Luther King, Jr, Rosa Parks, Michael Jackson, and many more

On Saturday April 8, youth will also choose from Super Stars of the Past and very few of the present with people like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, George Washington Carver, Anne Frank, Dr. J., Larry Bird, Selena, Prince, Whitney Houston, Maya Angelou and more.

All 3 of these Showcases require a lot of help and support to make this the best event possible for our kiddos. This Saturday, we have 14 youth who have been practicing really hard for 8 weeks. Some youth will participate in all 3 showcases, or 2 or just 1 and they are welcome to do as many as they like.

We anticipate each showcase will yield 15-25 youth, sometimes more. All of our volunteers have been working to make sure our kids have fun being a historical person of the day.

We would like to your support with a donation of $5, $10, $20 or $25 or whatever you would like to give. Your donation will help with items, such as snacks, gift bag items, black history paraphelneia and more at each location. 

Please attend any one of these showcases or attend all 3!

Thank you in advance for your assistance with helping our kids to DREAM and BECOME a SUPERSTAR!!!

For more information on how to get your child involved in the showcase for March 11 or April 8, please contact Leora Jackson at umojasoulnwa@yahoo.com or call 901-340-1966. Deadline signup for March 11 is March 3, and deadline for Fort Smith Kids Showcase is March 31, 2017. Thanks!

To Donate, please click below

Michelle Obama

Coretta Scott King

Bruno Mars

King of the Blues BB King

Olympic Track & Field Gold Medalist Wilma Rudolph

Katherine Johnson-Hidden Figures played by actress Tariji P. Henson

Saturday, December 10, 2016


by Tony Boyd

            The eleventh incarnation of the Poetic Justice Open Mic night brought with it a new venue. PJOM was held at the fledgling theatre called Artist Laboratory Theatre. It is a smaller, homey, more intimate venue. It’s the brainchild of Erika Wilhite and her partners to provide a neighborhood type venue to provide a diversity of artistic expression.

            Our MCs for the night were Jared Carter and Steve Toston better known as D.J. Jockstrap and Mr. Ladebac. The atmosphere was subdued. Patrons trickled in at their leisure. The MCs got the night started off by discussing how and why Umoja Soul Writers’ Group (the spearhead of Poetic Justice Open Mic night) puts on the poetry slam. One of the main purposes of PJOM is to provide an open forum for anyone to discuss their experiences with and feelings of social injustice. It can be therapeutic.

            With all of that out of the way, our first performer steps to the mic and its Jared Carter with one of his always though-provoking untitled pieces. It had no name but if you listened you could glean a sense of what he was trying to convey. In this case, I felt he was conveying the difference between the privilege of white people vs. the lack of privilege experienced by so many people of color. The sentiments he wanted to convey were conveyed as a verbally painted tapestry. So awful is social injustice.

            Not to be outdone, our other MC, Steve Toston, step to the mic to drop some knowledge and understanding. His piece was entitled “Race Was Invented for Division. He seemed to point out the stupidity and futility of race proven by science to be just a made up thing. It’s a source of so much separation, divisiveness, mistrust, and conflict. Not to say there wouldn’t be any of those things without the artificial construct of race just that they might be based in reality.

            I have been to all of the PJOM nights. I have seen some incredible performances. So when I tell you a young lady named Regina blew up the stage, you can believe me. She blew up the dang stage. Regina sang a riveting, soul-stirring, a cappella song with the assist of just one key to start called “Sadness Dismiss”. It was a touching look at the sadness of loss and the strength to face it. Her voice was so very moving inducing you to feel as she felt. I guess you can tell I was impressed by her performance. Did I point out that she was a newcomer?
            We had other poignant performances including a young gentleman by the name of Dillon who brought political discourse to the night, reflecting on the recent presidential election. Yolanda waxed poetic about Black men being in danger and the Black Lives Matter movement. Jared sprung a named piece on us called “America The Beautiful”. Here’s a hint: Its not like the song. Another newcomer, Lola B. laid bare her soul and poured out her heart to us as she spoke of her bouts of depressions and the causes behind them. It took a lot of guts to open up like that. Being able to express openly in a safe, supportive environment is one of the main things that Poetic Justice Open Mic night is about.

            Lady Jazmynne, singer, poetess, and activist, opined about what it meant to be a house n—ger vs a Uncle Tom back in the day. Then she compared it to what’s going on today. She pointed out that her perception of a 20th century House Negro is someone who feels they already have a piece of the proverbial pie and identify with the oppressor.

            The night carried on with many heartfelt revelations of heartache, pain, and childhood strife. Speakers were able to share without judgment. We also had some lively freestyle from our MCs.

            All and all it was a good night. It was an intimate gathering in an intimate setting that encouraged the participants to open up. There was a take away for each and every one of us. Thanks to Erika Wilhite and the Artist Laboratory Theatre for hosting. Be one the look out for announcements about future events.
Erika Wilhite
Jared Carter

Lady Jazmynne Matthews

Lady Jazmynne & F.L. Jones

F.L. Jones

Steve "Mr. Ladebac" Toston



By Tony Boyd

            Hello dear readers. This installment marks the tenth incarnation of the Poetic Justice Open Mic poetry slams. Yay, Poetic Justice!!! Once again it is being staged at Club Lush just off the Fayetteville Square. Our hosts tonight are Jared Carter (a PJOM staple) and newcomer host, Danette Simmons. They are introduced  by PJOM creator, Leora Jackson. Before letting the MCs take over the show,  Leora read a couple of relevant poems. The first one she read was “Ka’Ba” by Amiri Baraka and the second, “I Too Am American” by Langston Hughes.

            First up, Danette Simmons stepped to the mic to perform Oh God Forgive Me When I Whine”. This poem extols the virtue of being humble and to always appreciate what you have. Afterwards her fellow MC Jared Carter performed an original untitled piece of his own. Mr. Carter’s soul is bourne out through his written word and performance of said word. His affinity for the plight of people of color and other marginalized populations is apparent in his work.


            Lady Jazmynne (Jazmynne Matthews) ascended the stage to perform a piece of her own called “Dear White America”. In it, she discusses the dichotomies of America, how we speak of equal and fair but in reality its not equal nor fair. We preach of tolerance and acceptance but practice intolerance and exclusion. She also spoke of the myriad of issues that plague Black America and the lack of progress to resolve them. The mood of the room was one of acknowledgement of the knowledge given and weariness of the truth of her words. Following Lady Jazmynne, F. L. Jones stepped to the mic with “Psalm 23 For The Workplace” about working for God. Then Steve “Mr. Ladebac” brought his own poetic lyrical nature to the stage to perform “Hunger Pains” discussing starvation, poverty and a poor childhood. He followed that up with “Trapped” (Being trapped by life’s issues and problems) and “My Pleasure & My Love” (a love poem to his wife).


            Minet Black, a newcomer to the PJOM stage, broke us off with “The Will Of A Woman”. It was a no holds barred biographical tale of being a single parent and the difficulties of coming up on her own. She also performed a second piece entitled “Justice” about the fact that suffering injustices while seeking justice is no justice at all. A string of performances followed. F.L. Jones reprised her original “Why Can’t We Say Her Name”.  Jared Carter performed his titled piece called “The Beginning of Me” about the injustices perpetrated on Black America and the false views about us down through history.  Not stopping there, he also performed “Walking With No Hitch To Your Own Rhythm” advocating individuality and independence.


            Things switch up a little at this point because for the first time at Poetic Justice Open Mic night we are treated to the freestyle stylings of Mr. Ladebac (Steve Toston) and D..J. Jockstrap (Jared Carter). It was a crowd pleaser. Bodies were moving. Hands were clapping. Attendees were grooving. Good stuff. Afterward Lady Jazmynne stepped into the spotlight to sing “Jericho’s Wall”. The song spoke of virtues of cooperation and working together. To put it more succinctly, it was about understanding that “ a house divided can not stand”. The next song she performed was a cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Gone Come”, poignant in its own right but Lady Jazmynne also educated us on the short, troubled life of its originator. Mr. Cooke was killed 11 days before his most famous song was released. It was ruled a justifiable homicide.


            Another newcomer to the PJOM braved the stage. Her name was Kaylee and the poem she performed earned her an A+ at school. It’s entitled “Shattered”. “Shattered” tells the tale of a bad relationship and how great, how sweet it was to escape it. In keeping with that theme (sort of), Jared Carter performed an untitled work of his that says that love is patient. I took that to mean that love has no condition and that it doesn’t leave when the going gets tough.


            Bringing up the rear, so to speak, Minet returned to the stage to perform a couple of more pieces. The first is a personal one about hurting over a lost love but finding salvation in God and one about hiding your real self yet finding and being your real self.


            With that, PJOM X was in the history books. It lived up to its billing. It was an open mic to voice opinions, heal souls, lift spirits, fellowship and have fun. Sharing is caring, people. Up next, PJOM XI.


By Tony E. Boyd

            As I sat in Club Lush watching people slowly amble in for the poetry slam, I am struck with a sense of melancholy. Poetic Justice is an important for being a creative outlet for angst, anxiety, depression, expression, joy, beauty, and so much more. I am a little disappointed at the meager attendance numbers. I know you are out there, creatives. I know there are feelings in your heart dying to be expressed. Well, at least in my opinion.

            The night starts off with our fearless leader, Leora Jackson, doing the open. She then switches to her F.L. Jones persona to deliver a reading of Langston Hughes’ “I Too Am America” followed by another of his other famous works “Mother To Son”. Next up, Leora introduces the host, Lady Jazmynne. She is a local singer, performer, poetess, and activist. You can learn more about her at www.ladyjazmynne.com. Lady Jazmynne got things started by discussing the meaning of Umoja. (If you don’t know, now would be a good time to look it up.  It will stick with you better than if I just tell you.) Afterwards, she performed an original work about current events including the devastating massacre that occurred in an Orlando nightclub and the scourge of racism.

            The meat of the show begins. Coming to the stage are brave souls willing to grace the stage and share their souls with us. First up is Jared Carter with an original piece, untitled as usual (I think it’s a style decision maybe?).  He weaves a tale of the ills of police brutality, profiling and racism. He is followed to the stage by a new to me poetess going by the stage name of “Ms. Yolanda”.  She weaved a poignant story of infidelity and its downfall. It also serves as a lesson to current and would-be “side chicks”.

            Next up, we were graced by a musician/singer who shared with us two original songs. The first was a little ditty called “Sinners” about a woman, a wife arrest for not paying child support even though she was too sick to work.  It was a passionate rendition, a bit angry if you asked me. You could tell it was a very personal piece to him.  The second song, “Never Found: Lisa’s Song” was a sad ode to a young lady who was lost and never found. As a parting shot, he put in a plug for his own upcoming open mic night.

            Leora “F.L. Jones” Jackson returns to the stage to regale us with an original piece entitled “The Blacks Will Rise”. With this piece, she expressed her sadness in the travails of Black people and pointed out the things that need to change. Not being done yet, she pulled “Why Can’t We Say Her Name” out of her bag of tricks. She engaged the audience, imploring them to say their names. Whose names you ask? She was talking about Black women who were murdered unnecessarily by police. She wanted to bring their plight to light. To drive the point home even further, she read aloud the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us”. The title itself pretty much says it all.
            More musical entertainment came up next as Lady Jazmynne sang an original song written by her husband called “Coping With Life”. We all are trying to cope with something, mental, physical or emotional. She was followed onstage by Stacey “L.I.F.E.” Harper. She performed her original piece called “God Put A Rainbow In The Clouds” which was filled with life advice.  Stacey works as a life coach and can be reached through her website, www.speakinglife.info.

            Washaka Matthews, Lady Jazmynne’s husband, stepped up next to deliver his own original piece entitled “Awaken Within”.  It was a very ethereal piece that spoke of the absurdity of life, of holding on too tight to conventions, separations and inane rules that we abide by that hinder our happiness. His point, to me, was that life is too short to let those things keep you from your happiness.

            Things tooled along.  Jared Carter read us another of his “Untitleds” about life’s trial  and tribulations. Lady Jazmynne sang a tribute  to Michael  Jackson. We had a newcomer going by the name of Sweet McCoy who read a couple of original pieces. The first piece she read was called “Jesus Wept”. The second was called “Relationships” about ones that go bad. Ms. Yolanda returned to the stage to read her “When I Was Five, Was I Alive”. It was a tragic , heart rending poem about child molestation.  F.L. Jones returned with her original work “Oh Valentine” about one woman’s abuse, driven to murder, falling into depression and madness. Jared shared another “Untitled” about the misunderstood. Bringing up the rear, Clay Cole returned to the stage to sing “Out of Hand”, an original song about being miserable and in denial about your life.

            The night actually turned out more lively than it began. Ask anybody who performed, I believe they will tell you it was a positive experience, therapeutic even. Poetic Justice Open Mic has a theme for performers to draw from but open expression is the name of the game. If you have something to share that does not fit the theme, it’s not a deal breaker. Poetic Justice IX  was a continuation of all the others, a safe haven for open expression and acceptance.