#ProjectPoem [A street poetic art installation]

#ProjectPoem is a street poetic art installation centered around community engagement and connective dialogue.

#ProjectPoem is a street poetic art installation centered around community engagement and connective dialogue created by Joi Sanchez.

What is Motivation/Inspiration behind #ProjectPoem?

As a black woman who is raising two black people in to this world, I hurt everyday. As a poet, I can’t, not speak on it. Last month, immediately after my return from Cali, I had the opportunity to participate in a writing workshop called #defineblack. I gathered with a group of approximately 12 other black writers of varied sexes, orientations and ages; talking about blackness.

Define:Black, a creative project of Awake Storytelling. A day where black writers, poets, educators, and youth came together to discuss & workshop creative writings around the reoccurring tragedies happening to black people in America. For almost 4 hours we discussed as much as we could from the re-emergence of church burnings & how cultural appropriation perpetuates the erasure of black women  to current feelings & future possibilities  of true equity and liberation.

It was a very hard conversation to have even with other black people. Our varied experiences serving as a scaled version of the spectrum of the black experience in America and internationally. One of the moments that stuck with me since that day, came shortly before we broke for meal and writing time. We went around the room checking in our thoughts and feelings so far. Each of us expressing individual perspectives of the trauma black people are living with daily. The answers of feelings ranged from “inspired” to “hopeless”. The latter came from a young woman of only 17. That moment made me cry because immediately I thought about my own daughter and got even more scared. At 17, you should be excited for life. At 17, you should be planning to be your phenomenal self. Our daughters shouldn’t be hopeless at 17. Our sons shouldn’t be “expecting death at any moment”. Our children should still be dreaming themselves into who they want to become.

That day we wrote epistles to a person (younger self or someone else) who has not lived through any of the recent tragedies. As if we knew what will happen and preparing them for it. I wrote mine to my daughter. After we all shared our stories for a mixed audience. We communed with one another and the audience after, eventually all exchanging information & parting ways to our various paths back to life.\

I remained stuck on the young writer’s hopelessness. The workshop took about a week to process. And then Sandra Bland happened. 

I found myself, along with many others, wondering “what can I do?” At my job as a teaching artist, we split up the kids attending the program. 3 days out the week, I’m outside  attempting to recruit neighborhood residents, specifically young women to attend my creative writing class.  On this particular day, I worked with a couple young ladies on roundabout poems.  It was a Thursday, I felt emotionally exhausted.  The humidity of the city’s heat only exasperated my feelings of despair. With every step through the park, I thought of the young writer and echoed her hopelessness. Finally overwhelmed, I took a seat on a park bench.

The noise of their argument pierced through my wallowing silence. I look up to see a younger couple of black youth; no more than 19 years old. They’re arguing and fighting in Marcus Garvey park, the Tempest is  playing in the nearby bandshell theater. I watch them escalate, de-escalate, re-escalate and  finally plateau in the anger of their petty argument. His 2 friends, also boys, also young, stand by and watch him chase her down to physically fight. While her “friend” is holding the hand of a younger 7(ish) year old girl, waiting for her to stop. But they d0on’t stop, they continue making a path of rukus through the park.

As they pass me, I feel a twinge of fear for their lives; Knowing that this neighborhood, Harlem, is no longer ours. Harlem, an area in mid-gentrification, is not a place for us and our public displays of broken cyclical  love. More and more this  is becoming  a neighborhood of folks disconnected, unacclimated, & unfamiliar with the boisterousness inherent in black culture. Not everyone is accustomed to all the possible sights & sounds of Harlem. They are easily scared. When they are afraid, even if their is no immediate danger to them, they call the police. Law enforcement has proven that in black neighborhoods, they more often react to perceptions then respond to present facts. All of this floods through  my brain until I hear myself yelling aloud and beginning to cry. Looking much like a crazy woman, I walk to the bus stop and wait, holding back tears. It is there that I happen to encounter an older black woman actress. As is the nature of black people, we engage in conversation that lifts my spirits. I ask her about her life, how she has navigated the entertainment field for longer than I’ve been alive. She tells me of her life’s experience. She recounts the 60’s and 70’s, relays the parallels of our different times in life. Before I leave, I( mention my day, ask her how do I not cry all the time? She gently takes my hand with the same sincerity as my mother when she gives me advice; looks me in the eye and says “Baby go ahead and cry. We used to cry all the time back then. The difference came because we got back up and kept going. So go ahead and cry, just make sure you get back up

That night, I cried myself through sleep. The next day, I came to work refreshed and determined to make some sort of impact with the privilege I have been given. Walking through the project’s pathways that day, on my way to the office, it hit me.. Names are words! AND words hold power! Thus #projectpoem was created. 



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