During my college days at Wesleyan, I was blessed with the opportunity and challenge of serving as the editor of Expression, an annual poetry magazine that showcased the brilliant words and art of Black and Latinx students which I write about in I Too Am America: On Loving and Leading Black Men & Boys on pages 76-78. One of my favorite aspects of this leadership assignment was organizing regular poetry readings in the Marcus Garvey Lounge in the Malcolm X House. There was soft music, wine & cheese, incense, low lights, and an ethos of love, safety and belonging in those spaces. And, of course, amazing poetry readings.

While I was a mediocre poet at best, serving as the organizer of the poetry readings ensured that I was on the program, and provided a place and platform to recite my poetry before a family audience, like the proverbial little boy shoved before the congregation to deliver a memorized scripture on Easter Sunday (no audible boos or hisses could be heard). It was in those spaces that I was able to nurture my love for words and creative expression.

Yet, what I truly loved most about organizing the poetry readings was the chance to convince classmates that had written for Expression – or disclosed secretly that they were poets but didn’t want anybody else to know it – to recite their poetry before an audience for the very first time. One such classmate, Sonia, was rather bashful when it came to her art and balked at the mere suggestion of reading aloud in front of an audience! Ultimately, however, she relented and took to the stage, a day that I will not soon forget.

Perhaps it was the wine and cheese, but when she debuted her work in front of a live audience it was thrilling to witness her literally light up as her personal, penetrating prose moved the audience. The glimmer in the eyes, the bright smile of both relief and revelation after performing for the first time, in that space, has always remained with me. Sonia’s lyrical leap into the live performance space gave others the courage to do the same.

So today, I am sending #ThankYouThursday love to all of the Sonia’s of the world, who take risks to share their art, cultural expression, and vulnerable stories with the rest of us.

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In Their Words…

While you’re there, I also urge you to check out and support some of the inspiring Black male authors who motivated me to write and publish my story. These authors, who are also dynamic, dedicated leaders within the national Black Male Achievement movement, include (listed below from L to R): Jason Wilson, Author of Cry Like A ManShaka Senghor, Author of Letters to the Sons of SocietyGregory Corbin, Author of Breathing Ashes: A Poetic Guide To Walking Through The Fire And Coming Out RebornRichard L. Taylor, Author of 31 Days of Power: A Simplified Approach to Everyday Mental HealthChris Wilson, Author of The Master Plan: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose; and Benjamin Carlton, Author of I’m Black, I’m a Minister, and I’m Gay.

Each of their books, to borrow from Shaka’s words, “expand the narrative” of Black men as vulnerable, comprehensive, nurturing and creative contributors to our collective stories. For this, I am grateful.

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