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.