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Take the initiative!: Students take the reins at Blackstone Academy Charter

The students Blackstone Academy Charter School reacted to the media spotlight on the plight of brown-skinned people by saying they’ve had enough. They took the initiative to create real change — starting in the classroom and reaching the entire school. They created a safe space where people with brown skin are no longer at the mercy of the media. A space where they create a future for themselves, not asking society for help but showing society what they can do on their own. They created marches, opportunities,  crafted conversations and continue  to take the initiative!

The Black Youth Initiative is a collective of young Black voices coming together, regardless of individual beliefs, religion and sexuality, unified under one cause. The rest of us can learn from these students to reinvest in our own community, spark hard conversations that create lasting change and unite in more than just hard times, but at all times. They write, dream and bleed the America dream and demand the right to live a happy and free life without seeing someone like themselves dying to just to live, and I commend the teachers who have made a difference in these students’ lives. 

Let us recall the great words of Langston Hughes. “We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased, we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful.”




Black Culture in the Classroom: An interview with educator Phoenyx Williams

I recently had the opportunity to interview two amazing educators at the Providence Academy Middle School, Andreana Thomas and Phoenyx Williams. This is the second in a two-part series of interviews that will take you on a journey through Black joy, Black culture, educational struggles and more using film, poetry, and education as the tools for success. 

Phoenyx Williams is an educator at Providence Academy Middle School.

Damont Combs (Motif): How are you using art and poetry in your classroom and why is it important?

Phoenyx Williams: Currently I am teaching an enrichment course on the poetics of hip hop.  This course is important for several reasons.  Hip hop culture has been diluted over the years, and although it can be a very effective tool for communication, it can also be used as a distraction and can hold young people back from reaching their full potential.  It is also important for young people to be able to identify their feelings and emotions in a creative, constructive outlet.  

DC: How have the students grown learning this art and how have they improved the community?

PW: The students have been able to write original haikus, spoken word pieces, and even a limerick or two. We have also put together a Beat Tape that you can check out on our SoundCloud Page, featuring students from our Beat Making Expedition course. 

DC: What is one lesson you try to teach to every student?

PW: One lesson I try to teach every student is that they all have a unique story to share with the world. They matter. They have something worth saying and worth listening to.

DC: What is the importance of Black culture and learning that in the classroom?

PW: The importance of Black culture in the classroom is something that cannot be understated. For far too long black culture has been left out or villainized in the classroom. It is important for all students of all cultures to understand and appreciate the contributions Black culture has made to the arts and the various fields of education and study.

DC: How can we support the school system and help improve the lives of our youth?

PW: We all can support the school system by showing an active interest in our scholars. This interview is an excellent example of that. By showing interest and investing in our scholars we all help improve the lives of our young people.

Below is a student-written poem called “Black Joy.”

Black Joy 

A collaborative poem by D. London, C. Richardson, T. Miller, P. Williams and AF Scholars

sunday dinners at nana’s house, arguments with my brother, the smell of my mother in-laws cooking

Black Joy is A FRESH HAIRCUT!

black joy is music arts actors athletes and food 

black joy is hopscotch and manhunt

family

black joy is fatherhood

baby hood

black is loud!

black joy is being a big brother

hard working

black joy is family reunions and cook outs

celebrating one another

dancehall music

black joy is what the world needs

shoes

hbcu’s

activist

information spreaders

black joy is knowledge!

black joy is art

love

clothes

jobs

taray

black joy magical

black joy is black love 

we need more black teachers and doctors 




Black Joy: An interview with Providence Academy Middle School dean Andreana Thomas

I recently had the opportunity to interview two amazing educators at the Providence Academy Middle School, Andreana Thomas and Phoenyx Williams. This is the first part in a two-part series of interviews that will take you on a journey through black joy, black culture, educational struggles and more using film, poetry, and education as the tools for success. 

Andreana Thomas is the dean of motivation and investment at Providence Academy Middle School.

Damont Combs (Motif): What does black joy mean to you? 

Andreana Thomas: Literally the word joy just spreading throughout the black community in a positive way.

I think that sometimes, our communication, our community can be deemed in like a negative way or the type of music that we listen to, but we bring so much more joy than that. We contribute our culture, and our culture is actual joy and it allows people throughout the world to connect. So yeah, that’s black Joy.

DC: You’re working on a documentary. Can you tell me more about it?

AT: We’re working on a showcase for black history month and the theme of it is black joy — just bringing out that black joy, finding people in the Providence community who are doing things within their community to show that black joy and excellence. We have had many events throughout the black history month, paint and sips, yoga sessions, panels, wellness Wednesdays.

We’ve done a lot of different things to bring black joy into our school building regardless if we are virtual or if we’re actually in person. It’s been able to connect, not just the black community, but all communities within the school. To come together and just learn more about the black culture in a positive light.

DC: What is black excellence?

AT: When we go above and beyond. When we go and do different things that one does not expect us to do as a black culture. Being a principal, being a dean, being a poet and doing things for the community, being a producer, being a president and being vice president is going above and beyond the ordinary that they put us in the little box to be.

DC: I know that COVID has been very challenging on teachers and deans and school staff. How can we help our youth’s educators and encourage teachers during this time?

AT: Yeah. I think that people don’t really recognize that teachers are essential workers as well. Teachers have probably one of the most underpaid jobs yet. It takes a lot of their personal time and investment. This is different. It’s a different atmosphere. It takes a lot of partnership with families. It takes a lot of connection with families to really bring on that idea of that.

It takes a village to really, you know, raise a kid and provide them with the right education that they need. I think that teachers need support during this time from people because we’re human beings too. And we have days when we’re upset or it’s hard for us to get through. We’re going through our personal things.

And I think that people just always expect them to show up with a smile on their face and just get the job done. But this is more than a job. If you’re in this field, you want it because you care and you love the kids and you want to see them do great things. So just making the space for teachers to like mentally be supported through this process is huge.

DC: I met you through Phoenyx Williams, a wonderful performer and is also a fellow teacher here at this wonderful institution. How is poetry used in education here? 

AT: Yeah. So Mr. Phoenyx brought a great program here, hip hop and poetry. Kids are allowed to join in the class, different trimesters.

So he gets a different rotation of kids, so they have the different experience. They do things like make beats, and then they learn about the different types of poems and then they end up doing a final project on what that poem is. We also have a writing unit based off of poetry.

I do think that we can do more, as far as like poetry slams and things like that for the kids to allow their creativity to come out more rather than it being so much structured. But I think that as a school, as a charter network, we have the freedom to do things like hip hop and poetry and create those type of courses for individuals.

DC: What positive change can you make right now?

AT: Use your social media platform. Use it in a positive way. Build your community. Don’t break them down. Continue to use your voice because your voice is powerful. No matter what age you are, continue to use it in a positive way. 

Please check out Andreana Thomas’ amazing documentary called BLACK JOY here: youtube.com/watch?v=bxE5EVi5zyA&feature=youtu.be




Living Legend: Sylvia Ann Soares discusses her life lessons

Ms. Sylvia Ann Soares is a legend in RI with many accolades, including a certificate she received this year from the mayor for her hard work and dedication in the arts. She is an actor, poet and historical educator, and I recently spoke to her about some of the lessons she’s learned throughout her life.

Damont Combs (Motif): For those who don’t know you but should, can you please introduce yourself?

Sylvia Ann Soares: I am Sylvia Ann Soares, second generation Cape Verdean, Rhode Island native and the second Cape Verdean girl in Rhode Island to attend college in 1959. I am an actor, writer, director and historian. I belong to SAG-AFTRA and Actors Equity Association. One of the first members of Trinity Repertory Company, I left Providence in 1965 to pursue an acting career and returned home in 1981. More about career later. I earned an honors associate’s degree at CCRI in 1993 and an honors BA in theatre from Brown University in 1995 at 54 years old. I will be 79 in November 2020.

DC: Can you tell me about some of the important projects you’ve been a part of?

SAS: There is far more public cultural activity than when I was young here in the ’50s and ’60s. With funding from the RI Council for the Humanities (RICH), I give researched illustrated talks on local history and create solos enacting historical figures. RISCA and Art, Culture and Tourism have supported my projects. My creative contribution thus far has dealt with Cape Verdean and African American history in Rhode Island. All are searchable online. I’ll give you some highlights. 

I have always been available to read my poetry or pertinent poetry for charitable or activist events. For example, in 1990 for the Rape Crisis Center Art Exhibit, I read poetry of those not ready to read their own in public. In 1991-2, I read for Rhode Island Working Women and the Minority Recruitment and Child Placement Program, and in recent years for the Refugee Dream Center in Providence and others. As an actor and poet, I have performed solo in libraries from Woonsocket to Westerly, including the Athenaeum and RISD Museum a few times, at Newport Museum of Art, Tomaquag Museum, Cape Verdean Museum, Cape Verdean Progressive Center, URI Cultural Center in Kingston and Providence Feinstein, RI College, student events at Brown, Bell Street Chapel, The Mediator, the RI Black Heritage Society, the RI Historical Society, John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities, at the RI State House, at local churches including the First Baptist Church for the RI Indian Council and other organizations. I have performed in Providence Black Repertory, the Perishable, at AS220, Mixed Magic, Wilbury Fringe, PVDFest, WaterFire Arts Center, Stages of Freedom, Westerly Shakespeare, Southside Cultural Center for RI Black Storytellers, for Langston Hughes Community Readings, at Pell Chafee Center, Culture Park of New Bedford, New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center, at the Nora and the New Repertory in Boston, Brooklyn Museum of Art, on Zoom readings, and notably Rites and Reason Theatre at Brown’s Department of Africana Studies, performing in their highly significant social plays addressing diverse ethnicity. Rites and Reason offered beautiful roles. There, I have played a Spirit Guide; a tree hosting birds of all feathers; the mother of an ostracized lesbian; ‘Mama Africa;’ John Quincy Adams in Ifa Bayeza’s String Theory; and much more. Okay — a few additional significant projects. In the mid-80s, I joined an activist group RI Mobilization for Survival, later called RI Survival Education Fund, and performed poetry at anti-war demonstrations and events. In 1990, I joined an activist group, RIDivest, promoting divestment from Apartheid South Africa, and run by Representative Joe Newsome, Carol Bragg, Prudence Mashile of South Africa, Isabel Barten and others. I read for them at Pond Street Church and at a RIDivest local conference of African Ambassadors including Randall Robinson. In line with that, in 1992, I created a show titled Mayibuye iAfrica/Black South African Poetry, Song and Slides. The poems were from the book of poetry of the same name by South African women. ‘Mayibuye iAfrika’ means ‘Let Africa Come Back.’ Along with the reading, I played recorded South African music, popular and traditional, and showed slides, some of which were loaned by Phil West and Ann Grant. Also, did the show at the Warwick Museum in Claude Elliot’s “Black, Brown And Tan Exhibit.” 

Another great project: the same year, 1992, I was a mentor for  Rhode Island Children’s Crusade. Children who remained with the Crusades’ after-school program through high school earned a scholarship to college. So, working under Crusade director Linda A’vant Deishinni, who ran the RI Black Heritage Society then, I designed and directed A Kwanzaa Celebration featuring multi-ethnic students. Also, while at CCRI that year, and funded by RISCA, I designed a Kwanzaa program engaging local storytellers, entertainers and community leaders. I had met with elementary school teachers imploring them to engage their students in creating Kwanzaa art. I gave them all the information. Then I drove around, collected the art and hung it in what was the Atrium of CCRI Providence Campus, where we held the Kwanzaa. I went street by street placing fliers at the neighborhood homes. A local supermarket agreed to donate refreshments, which I picked up. I did all this alone because a  woman Dean of Students at CCRI at the time forbade anyone to work with me, even after my description of this cultural African American project. On short notice, she had scheduled a meeting with me during my class time to discuss the program. Requesting a different time, I opted for class and she responded in anger. She sent around a notice that no one should participate with me on my Kwanzaa program. Jack White, President of the Providence Campus, was appalled and iterated that the woman had no jurisdiction in his campus. He encouraged me to do any project that I wished at the Providence Campus. The Kwanzaa evening opened with an African drum procession and we performed for 200 people. The children came to see their art. Everyone went home with snacks and Kwanzaa reading material. I brought the program to Brown a few years later and Black students did it one year. They kept my script and likely have done it elsewhere since.

Also, 1992 was the Quincentennial, 500 years since Columbus’ invasion. I researched and designed a show: Native Americans, African Americans and American Quakers:  A Quincentennial Celebration of Love-Stories, poems and songs. In it were writings of Langston Hughes, Joy Harjo, Chief Seattle, Quaker founder John Woolman, and a Harriet Tubman song. I performed the piece for Providence Friends Meeting (Quakers) and later at the Friends Yearly Meeting at Hampshire College, Amherst, and at St. Paul’s in Wickford. I did a similar one at CCRI called  Encounter: Native American Poetry with Historical Comment on the Columbian Legacy. And I laid Columbus out.

I was at Brown from 1993 until 1995 performing in student activist events and then I was out of state until 1997. I returned to care for my mother who had Alzheimer’s until her passing in 2002. 

In 2003, under a consortium of the RI Historical Societies, I was funded by RI Council for the Humanities to write a play on slavery in RI that I titled Plantations Complex: A Harvesting of Souls. I directed four staged readings, one at the Newport Colony House. The piece is undergoing edits for an upcoming project. Also, in 2003, at Trinity Rep, under Oskar Eustis, artistic director for theatre from the Four Directions on Native American theater, I directed a staged reading of Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers by resident playwright William S. Yellow Robe, Jr. 

In 2008, RICH funded my oral history project on the Local International Longshoremen’s Association, ILA Local #1329. I interviewed 14 men and transcribed the texts, including Traudi Coli’s tape of my father Arthur S. Soares, who was president of ILA #1329 for 16 of 20 years, 1954-1974. I created bios of the leaders. My presentations displayed numerous donated images of related people and dock work.

In 2013, RICH supported my research to become the ‘Living History of Nancy Elizabeth Prophet,’ the first woman graduate from RI School of Design. She was African American Narragansett Pequot, and I have performed her diary and numerous solo versions of her story, adjusted to the venue and occasion. I performed in a number of places from RISD Museum to Brooklyn Museum The first performance was at RISD Museum for Stages of Freedom’s three-day event and exhibit for the RI Black Heritage Society and most recent being in 2019 at the Newport Art Museum (see it on YouTube.) There were more attendees than usual, almost 200. My previous Prophet performances had different titles, versions on the title Defiance! This performance accompanied NAM’s exhibit “Sculpture: Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney” because Whitney had supported Prophet. Whitney purchased Prophet’s wooden head ‘Congolais’ and placed it on permanent display. I have seen it there. Newport Art Museum worked with a local non-profit that serves low income populations, and they gave free tickets to people. The Black attendees were thrilled to learn about Prophet and were audibly responsive throughout the show. RISD Museum has hosted me as Prophet a few times. 

Also in 2013, RICH funded me to do illustrated talks: “Kerosene Lamp Church” about Sheldon Street Church in Providence, the First Cape Verdean Protestant Church in America, and then in 2015 for “Eddie Soares Tribute: RI Ambassador of Jazz” on the famous local jazz pianist who was my uncle.) 

Besides Prophet, I discovered an enslaved RIer named Sylvia Torrey and I began my ‘Silvy Tory Stories’ having her deliver lively historical narratives about Rhode Island. As ‘Silvy Tory,’ I presented at art exhibits curated by the Committee for the Commemoration and Study of Slavery in RI, one at URI Multi-Cultural Center and another at Center for Reconciliation. At the Southside Cultural Center Holiday Bazaar of 2018, my ‘Silvy Tory’ compared historical RI Yuletide enslavement duties to the present day empowerment of Kwanzaa. Silvy Tory also takes on the persona and deep voice of a historical RI Black Regiment soldier and delivers a lively poem on the induction of the Regiment.

In 2016, I first performed my bilingual (Cape Verdean) Kriolu/English poem “Kenha Ke Nos;” for the President of Cabo Verde Jorge Carlos De Almeida Fonseca, and later in 2018 in my first extended bilingual Cape Verdean poetry show at Southside Cultural Center, with Santos Spenser on guitar, vocals. 

My Board affiliations are as follows; Mt. Hope Learning Center for which I put bands in Billy Taylor Park, 2008, 2011—Zili Mizik, Carlos De Leon, Paul Williams, Johnny Miranda, Al De Andrade Dixieland. During that time, I served on the Board of RI Rhythm and Blues Preservation Society, founder musician Ed Coates, Ph.D., and created programs with them at Roots Café and elsewhere. I am the Board of Cape Verdean Museum Exhibit that has hosted one of my Cape Verdean presentations. With excess of work pending, I had to step down from the Refugee Dream Center.

DC: You recently received an award from the Providence mayor can you tell us about that?

SAS: On, February 12, 2019, the city honored me for my exhibit in their 2nd annual Black History Month Celebration and exhibit, “Pillars on Race: The Story of Race in Providence.” I was ecstatic. What a surprise! One citation was a State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations City of Providence Official Citation: “…In recognition of being honored for your commitment and dedication to the community at the 2nd annual Black History Month Celebration. The members of the City Council extend their very best wishes on this memorable occasion and express the hope for continued good fortune. Signed by Sabina Matos, Council President and ‘Sponsored’ and signed by Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris Deputy Majority Leader. The second is a: “Citizen Citation presented to Sylvia Ann Soares. I, Jorge O. Elorza, Mayor of the City of Providence, do hereby confer upon you this citation in recognition of all the tremendous work you do for our community in the City of Providence. An honor reflecting your visionary and creative work, as an educator and African-American Artist. I join the residents of Providence, friends, and family in congratulating you as one of the 2020 Black History month Honorees, wishing you the best in all your future endeavors.” 

Now, as Cape Verdean I do not claim to be African American. However, most official forms have no line for ‘Cape Verdean’ and even though my DNA is 51-54% European, I align with my African heritage, so on these forms I check off “African American” or “Black.” 

OK, how did I get into the exhibit? In January ‘20, City Archivist Caleb Horton contacted me about using a photo that he saw in a 2010 Projo article about my traveling illustrated oral history talk on International Longshoremen’s Association Local #1329. Titled “By the Sweat of Our Brow;” the project had been funded by RI Council for the Humanities in 2008. The photo Caleb saw was of former Local ILA #1329 President John ‘Jackie’ Lopez who was the father of Earl Lopez, who is presently of Providence Mayor’s Security. When I informed Caleb of the numerous images loaned by families, that accompanied my talk, he invited me to join their 2020 Black History Month Exhibit in Providence City Hall. My exhibit, located just outside the Council Chambers, contained images and bio blurbs of ILA #1329 founders Manuel Q. Ledo and John F. Lopez and noted longshoremen and veterans, some who had additional jobs. Images included Arthur S. Soares (my father) who served as President for 16 years between 1954-1974; Matthew Bento, Business Agent; Sidney Lima, RI’s first Black fireman who rose to Lieutenant. Displayed in the exhibit and present for the opening was 96 year old retired longshoreman Avelino ‘Chapette’ Rose, RI’s first Black processing sheriff. The exhibit was to run a month, but City Hall closed due to COVID-19. 

DC: I know you have read some poetry over the years. Can you tell us the importance of poetry in society?

SAS: People are drawn to and respond to aesthetics. New brain imaging technology is bridging the gap between art and science. As for music, technology has shown that music lights up the entire brain. It is healthy for the brain, the psyche and great for the immune system. Poetry, which is musical word weaving is right behind that. Technology has shown that poetry, versus prose, is like music to the brain. Technology found evidence that poetry activates brain areas that have been linked to introspection. It gets you thinking. Combining poetry with music you are speaking the soul and the intellect. Poetry an exquisite effective tool for education, for effecting beneficial social change, for supporting justice, promoting the environment, for storytelling and fun, and for healing.

DC: Is there anything you can say to the youth of today?

SAS: Discover who you are. Others may reflect their opinion of you or advise you, but allow no one to define you. Humans are basically similar, but since the beginning of time to the end of time, there never has been and never will be another human exactly like you. See how beautiful you are? You belong here on this planet. You were born with the means to discover your particular talents and mission(s). Continuously investigate your talents. Fame is not a goal. Self discovery and honorable evolution brings the ultimate prize. People become famous because it’s their destiny, not because of what they do. However, what they do along the way and on arrival is the significant lesson. Respect the difference in others. Never hurt anyone and never allow anyone to hurt you. Utilize compassion wisely. Find the safe way to help others in need, especially of psychological healing. You have the permission to point them to pertinent organizations. This is the best help you can offer. In these situations, you are not seen as an authority, and feeling the guilt or need to change their behavior may be to your detriment. Forgiving does not set you free. Forgiving may remove from the perpetrator the onus of changing. Saying, “I am sorry you have been through this, but I know that you can change and do better,” is more effective for both parties, for you are encouraging them to evolve. There is truly more to you than meets the eye. Move out of your comfort zone, go the distance. Don’t run from the difficulty. It’s in the difficulty that lies the opportunity. Stay well informed on local and global matters. Learn what came before you, what influenced your present situation and thoughts. Observe history and your closest influences. Allow your emotions to flourish, yet learn to be objective. Let not emotion be your reasoning. Yes, exercise caution, but find the joy in your heart and let it shine. You will inspire others. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” If it’s knowable you can discover it.

DC: COVID has affected all of our lives. How are you adjusting?

SAS: I am grateful to have my usual minimal needs met. I intend to remain truly socially distanced until January. I’m close to 79 with no health problems, no meds, I am avoiding public transportation, so I walk everywhere. My naturopath, Dr. Joann, takes good care of me physically and spiritually. I am used to sheltering-in developing my researched public projects. Trips to libraries and historical societies can wait. There is loads of internet info available. Of eclectic propensity, I am enjoying diverse online journeys from the arts to science, and watching far more documentaries. Doing some reading. Zoom meetings are awesome and I hope they continue. My family is fine. Yet, deeply saddening are the deaths local and worldwide, and the financial devastation. Sadly, some will always ignore advice, ignore reality. Ironically, after the police murder of George Floyd, due to unemployment caused by the pandemic, we witnessed enormous support in the massive outpouring of peaceful protesters of all ethnicity. 

DC: What works can we look forward to in the future?

SAS: Much of my past work can be found by Googling my name or on YouTube or at Brown University Media Lab. My recent project funded by RISCA and Arts Culture and Tourism, slated for May 2020, was postponed due to COVID. In it, I use the name ‘Nha Silbanha.’ I was named for my maternal grandmother whose name was ‘Sylvania,’ hence my first name is ‘Sylvia Ann.’ However the Kriolu pronunciation excludes the ‘v.’ Cabo Verde (official name) was started by the Portuguese Slave Trade. The African language had no ‘v’ so I knew my grandmother as ‘Nha(our) Silbanhia.’ (phonetic spelling) I narrate bilingually the origin of Cabo Verde in an opening spoken word poem, and tell stories of Cape Verdean immigration to RI, our culture and RI Cape Verdean leaders. It includes a live Kriolu band some of who have played with Cesaria Evora, and a huge slide show of RI Cape Verdeans of note. It is complete and will be done. Future holds more Cape Verdean projects with music. More ‘Silvy Tory’ and Nancy Elizabeth Prophet as needed. A few other ideas on injustice and dramatizing RI history are floating around between my ears. I may actually try to get into some plays. Being in plays certainly a lot easier than researching, constructing a program and composing text. Still, this brain keeps babbling…….. 

DC: Can you share with us something that isn’t well known about you?

SAS: You mean, besides how gorgeous and talented I am! 1) I love you all and wish you health and success. 2) I am exalted in nature especially suspended in the cool of the ocean. 3) I keep no secrets, only yours. 4) I have never been engaged married or given birth — in any order. The world is my family. I hold the world in my solar plexus. 5) I have studied astrology, metaphysics and comparative religions, but Buddhist philosophy resonates best with me. 6) Besides art, I am ever curious about everything, world history and cultures, science, archeology, the cosmos and on and on. 7) My work is fueled with the sanctity of justice for humanity and nature. 

Okay, here’s some acting work you don’t know: In 1965, I toured in a musical revue to all the Service Men’s Clubs in Germany and returned to DC joining Actors Equity as an initial member of  the Garrick Players. In the late ’60s, I joined the New York Black Theatre Movement. My first off Broadway show was in the great Woodie King, Jr.’s A Black Quartet originating the role of ‘The Madame’ in Gentleman Caller. I worked at the Public Theater with founder Joe Papp in Richard Wesley’s Black Terror a play of Black revolution. I performed Sonia Sanchez’ Sister Son/ji in Negro Ensemble Company’s NEC workshop. Major regional theatres included McCarter at Princeton, Cincinnati Playhouse, Ford’s Theater in DC where Lincoln was shot (every performance we could see from the stage the box where he was shot). There was LA’s Mark Taper Forum, LA Shakespeare Festival. National tours included Charles Gordone’s 1st Black Pulitzer Prize play, No Place to Be Somebody and the NEC’s Tony Award play River Niger. While in LA, I guest appeared in scenes with the stars of Kojak, Baretta, Doctor’s Hospital, Nancy, Good Times, Delvecchio, Police Story, The Rookies. Back in RI, I played ‘Tituba’ in the 1984 PBS American Playhouse mini series Three Sovereigns for Sarah about the Salem witch trials. In 1989, with the Providence-Niquinohomo Sister City Project, I helped build two small cinder block schoolhouses outside the Niquinohomo, Nicaragua, the birthplace of the revolutionary Augusto Sandino. At that time, I gave up an apartment to become Resident Volunteer Staff at Amos House for two years before returning to school at 51 years old. 

DC: How has RI culture changed over the years?

SAS: I will address minimally a large question. I’ll let you compare. Even after slavery was abolished in RI in 1843, racist laws persist. Redlining was abolished in the US in 1968, but discrimination in housing still exists. After RI slavery was abolished, freed people from other areas in Rhode Island were denied ‘legal settlement’ in Providence. Without owning land, men could not vote. Women could not vote. Blacks, Natives, Mulattoes had to step off the boardwalks (the ‘sidewalks’ then) to allow whites to pass. Gathering in public was considered ‘loitering’ and punished. There were 9pm curfews. Dancing and playing music in their own homes was punishable. Use of alcohol was curbed. Constant overbearing police presence in their communities. If a woman owned a boarding house, it was automatically targeted for prostitution. Equality in RI has been a gradual process and still evolving. 

DC: Do you think it’s been a positive change or negative? If so explain. 

SAS: US has higher percentage of incarcerated in the world. The highest number are Black. This is the same for Rhode Island. Google the facts. As for acting, in 1962, I was one of the first members of Trinity. Because of my brown skin I was given a tiny role of a few words in “House of Bernarda Alba,” when my acting was as good, if not more skilled that some of the others who played the sisters. When Adrian Hall finally arrived that year he began total non-traditional casting, which has lasted since. I left RI from ‘65 until ’81. Since returning, I have witnessed a radical change from when I was young here in the ’50s and even ’60s. Retuning home, I availed myself of free education at CCRI and was awarded full scholarship to Brown, which by that time was hugely diverse. In my absence and continuing, there has been a gradual emergence of non-profits that support social needs and the arts. There are far more free and inclusive cultural events. Many humanitarian organizations have arisen. There is now a wider diversity of ethnicity contributing to RI’s rich cultural family. Still, we must alter generational programming within cultural groups. More need to know that programs at institutions of higher learning, museums and libraries are open to the public. All are not made aware of opportunities and their right to attend or apply for free education. Reaching into neighborhoods and minds of disenfranchised is a challenge calling for further development. For every positive humanitarian step, there are visible and covert counter measures, countrywide and globally. 

DC: When did you fall in love with poetry?

SAS: My first recollection of poetry was at Hope High in 1954. They were all the white classical poets that I don’t need to mention. I recall writing little pieces. My father was very strict and I was constantly on punishment for maybe getting one ‘C’ or mispronouncing words or something. Writing poetry was so much fun, I was afraid to get caught, so I threw them all away. I wrote some play scenarios and threw them away. At 25, I went out into the world not realizing that I had such very low self esteem but I manage to get work in professional theatre and television. Still, I was not able to write for years. I didn’t know I had blocked certain aspects of my psyche. I wrote occasional scenarios but threw them away. That may be normal for discerning artists, but I truly felt inadequate. Then, in the late ’70s I attended a workshop in the hills south of LA and in that safe, encouraging environment I wrote pieces that I still have, some edited, etc. I returned to Providence in ’81 and eventually learned that it is possible to rise out of limitations and recapture the self. Believe it!

Generally, a few highlights of my experience with poetry went as follows. Over the years, I have read free for local human interest organizations and protest poetry of other writers at activist events. It wasn’t until I was at Brown in ’93 and taking a class with Elmo Terry-Morgan that I was empowered to venture my own pieces. I performed them at events, such as his Mama Etta’s Chittlin’ Circuit shows, or a benefit for Leonard Peltier or other cultural events. At Brown, I began and have performed, and still editing a huge poem about my rape at 13 years old by several neighborhood boys. Having rescued myself psychologically, I hope the piece will alleviate that trauma from others and encourage the assaulted to come forth and reclaim themselves. 

Later, in my 2003 play on slavery in Rhode island, I wrote a huge spoken word piece on the 1824 Hardscrabble Riot, a white against Black riot in the Black hamlet of Hardscrabble, located near the RI State House, before the State House was built. That poem was publicly read a few times. Then, in 2004, at the National Black Agenda Convention convened by Senator Bill Owens at Roxbury College, I performed one of my poems on slavery in Rhode Island preceding the main talk by Reverend Louis Farrakhan. I have read poems of refugees for the Refugee Dream Center’s Annual International Refugee Day in Providence. In 2017, I enjoyed reading Sonia Sanchez, Joy Harjo and other activist works in Joyce Katzberg’s Pete Seeger’s Birthday Celebration at Lily Pads. My last reading was in 2019 at Listening Tree Coop in Chepachet “Politics of the Moment” where I read as usual poems on anti-war, racism, justice, immigration, environment, poems by classic & modern poets, and one of my own, which is included here. I have fewer poems than I should have. I have lots of notes, but one never stops evolving in the understanding of effective word weaving, so I now find it easier to express succinctly. 

I must add that since I am primarily an actress, SAG_AFTRA and Equity, which adds drama to my poetry readings, and therefore, I must tell you when I became aware of acting. 

I fell in love with acting around 1949 in a French convent boarding school in Woonsocket, no longer there. Couvent de Jesus Marie—St. Clare’s school. At nine years old, in my first semester there, for the Christmas play, I played the piano, the marimba, the glockenspiel. I also played a little African boy who visits the newborn baby Jesus and delivered a monologue in French. Then, in 1954, when I was 13, I saw a movie Carmen Jones. Starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, it is a sensational Black version of Bizet’s opera Carmen. Watching them act, I thought, “I can do that.” Later, interesting note on my 4th grade costume as the African boy that I played in that boarding school Christmas show: a black beret, a pea coat and red plaid slacks. In the 1972 on a national tour of the Negro Ensemble Company’s Tony winning play River Niger, I played ‘Gail,’ the girl in the revolutionary gang. I wore a black beret, a pea coat and red plaid slacks! 




Collective Creativity: An interview with Contessa Brown

Cafe S.O.U.L is an open mic night created by the incomparable Contessa Brown and Janne’t Brown, affectionately known as Momma Brown. I recently sat down with Contessa Brown to talk about Cafe S.O.U.L. and its importance in the community.   

Damont Combs (Motif): For those who don’t know, what is Cafe S.O.U.L.? 

Contessa Brown: Cafe S.O.U.L. is a portal of collective creativity, integrating, healing, education, sanctuary, music, art, and inter-connectivity. It creates the experiences of the spirit of giving continually through the multicultural expressions of artists through many mediums of art (eg, spoken word, authors, motivation speakers,  business owners/entrepreneurs etc.). We classify this as a multi-dimensional platform to allow people to creatively express their individuality, and continue to pursue their living dream. Allowing the expression of one’s passion, using many diverse art forms as tools, allows one to continue the spirit of giving and each voice to be heard. We present commerce: Cafe S.O.U.L. as a vehicle for insight and for action in the aid of creating a better world.

DC: How has Cafe S.O.U.L. lasted more than 10 years as an open mic and therapeutic outlet for artist?

CB: First and foremost, it is a vision and assignment given from God. I am a firm believer that anything that you do for the Lord and His Kingdom will last.  Cafe S.O.U.L. was birthed out of a need to provide a safe space for persons of all walks of life to come and express themselves, come to share their gifts, talents, businesses, testimonies, etc. You name it! Because of our genuine service in the community, people continue to come and support Cafe S.O.U.L. As they say, word of mouth spreads fast. It is the experience that people remember. Our goal is to leave an indelible mark on each soul that encounters our healing and expressive space.

DC: How has Cafe S.O.U.L. expanded beyond being just an open mic?

CB: Over the years, we have seen Cafe S.O.U.L. become a birthing ground of visions, dreams and businesses from published authors and business owners to amazing collaborations between creative and professional people. We also noticed that certain nights would be an intimate healing session for an individual or individuals. Once I noticed this trend, this urged me to want to take it a step further and seek a degree in holistic clinical mental health counseling. The next goal is to have a private practice under the umbrella of Cafe S.O.U.L.  

DC: Let’s talk about you Contessa. Can you tell me more about yourself?

CB: Well where do I began? I am a renaissance woman who wears a lot of hats. I have passion for people and a desire to see people become the best version of themselves. I am a motivational speaker, spoken word artist, business owner and soon-to-be-published author. I also enjoy hosting poetry expression and writing workshops as well as personal branding and holistic healing workshops. I am a very self-motivated person and I just want to achieve all God has purposed for me as well as become all that God desires me to be. I love LOVE. My favorite holiday is Valentine’s Day and my favorite color is red — for love and passion. I enjoy nature; my favorite park is India Point Park. I enjoy writing; I have a lot of journals. I also recently started painting again as a way to heal, express and relax.  

DC: What inspires you? 

CB: God. I know it seems simple, yet it is really Him that gives me the strength to keep going even when I do not feel like going. Even when things do not appear/seem to be going in the direction He has spoken to me. I hold on to those words, I write them down and I reflect on those words in hard times. Also, my mom. She has been my strength through the ups and downs in many aspects of my life — personally and professionally.  

DC: I know that you’re deeply rooted in your love of God and have overcome some obstacles in the church. Can you tell me more about that?

CB: Well, I had to go through a lot of healing. I endured church hurt and had to totally rely on God. People can disappoint you no matter what title they may hold. That is why is it important not to put them on pedestals and realize they too are fallible and make mistakes. I had to learn that in my walk with God. This journey I have scribed in a book that will be released in 2021. A few scriptures to hold onto while going through trials in this Christian walk are:

  • To whom much is given, much is required. Luke 12:48
  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
  • Work with excellence as though working for God and not for man. As man will certainly disappoint you Colossians 3:23

DC: Have you found it hard in this industry to be treated equal to your male counterparts?

CB: Honestly, I never noticed in it the business entrepreneur sector. I feel what God has for me is for me and who I am meant to reach I shall reach. We all have our own lanes and we each do it uniquely and differently. Now I know in corporate America, being a Black woman statistically we get paid less. But I don’t pay it no mind. I get what is mine and what is due to me, 100 times fold.  

DC: You had a poem published in Motif last month that really speaks to current society. What does that poem mean to you? 

CB: “Dear Black Brotha Part Deux” is a reflective and healing piece. I originally wrote a poem back in 2017 titled “Dear Black Brotha,” and it was my expression about my experience with dating Black men. It was valid and it was raw. Throughout the past few years, I have gone through a healing journey and come to see my Black brothas from a different lens. I started to see how generation patterns and upbringing/ surrounding environment(s) can impact how they view and treat woman — respectfully and/or disrespectfully. I also began to see the many Black men who love and respect the women in their lives, who are faithful and take care of their kids. I feel like when we lean in with curiosity and truly take a moment to learn new perspectives, the filters in our lens begin to change and widen.  We are able to see more peripherally. That is what happened with me during my healing process with being hurt by both church and by Black men.

DC: Any messages you want to relay to the youth of today?

CB: Be you and never compare yourself to anyone. Your destiny and your path are unique to you. I don’t care about what your family’s history may have been — good or bad — your destiny is your destiny. Surround yourself with like-minded people now. Friends will come and go. Not everyone is going to like you or get along with you and that is okay. Just be respectful and stay focused on what you are called to do. Don’t strive for the likes on your social media pages. Strive to make an impact within your community and society that will have a long-term effect that will last longer than the 24-hour stories posted in your Instagram or Facebook pages.   

DC: What is next for Cafe S.O.U.L?

CB: The next step is to own our own commercial building that will house my private practice, lounge and my mom’s bistro all under the Brand of Cafe S.O.U.L. I am excited for what is to come next!

DC: When did you fall in love with poetry?

CB: Well, I have been writing in journals since I was young. First starting with my mom encouraging me to always write down any complex words I didn’t understand in a notebook. She also encouraged me to express my emotions in a diary. I then come to learn about writing poetry in high school.  It wasn’t until I met my boy Yunus Quddus back in the early 2000s that I was introduced to the whole phenomenon of spoken word poetry. I recall going to my first open mic ever at Black Rep and being enamored by the word play of the lyricists on stage. I attempted my first slam at AS220 and kind of bombed. But I kept learning from the greats like Christopher Johnson, Yunus, Lawrence Nunes, Marlon Carey, Rudy Rudacious and Ryk McIntyre. I then started to create my own flow and style, incorporating song and poetry. I gained confidence enough to perform spoken word at various open mics around the New England area and developed a business from the love of poetry expression. The rest is history on a continuum. 




Making Magic: An interview with Ricardo Pitts-Wiley

Mixed Magic Theatre is a non-profit organization in Pawtucket with a mission to create more literate and arts-active communities. Mixed Magic often combines expressive artistic forms, such as poetry, acting, singing, dancing through plays and open mic. I recently spoke with Ricardo Pitts-Wiley and we delved into the importance of artistic expression, discussed what’s happening in today’s society and talked about the importance of understanding language and the craft and inner workings of Mixed Magic.  

Mr. Orange Live: I’d like to start this interview by thanking you for all that you have done for this community! I know you personally and have shared the stage with you a few times, but for those who don’t know you and Mixed Magic Theatre, can you give a brief introduction? 

Ricardo Pitts-Wiley: I have been a theater artist for almost 50 years. Apart from being an actor, director, playwright, composer and teacher, I am also co-founder and past artistic director of Mixed Magic Theatre

MO: How does Mixed Magic Theatre stay relevant and crucial in these changing times? 

RP: We stay relevant by staying focused on our mission “to build more literate and arts-active communities by presenting a diversity of ideas and images on stage.” We also stay committed to developing and presenting African-American talent.

MO: What were the hardest challenges you’ve faced and overcome as a nonprofit?

RP: Lack of funding resources and no dependable feeder system for theater artists, administrators and technicians.  

MO: You’re so amazingly talented. You’re a singer, poet, author and more. Can you talk more about your own work?  

RP: I think of myself as a natural artist in the sense that as an actor, writer or composer, I don’t worry about rules our conventions as much as I seek to tell the truth.

MO: Thinking about George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests, what do you think about what is happening? How we can rise as a community and people?

RP: More now than ever we have to prepare ourselves for the loud, demanding and dangerous road that will lead to real and lasting change. We have to make a place for everybody to protest in their own way.

MO: What do you want to pass on to the next generation?

RP: The belief that you are entitled to everything the world has to offer. To prepare themselves and be ready to manage the benefits of committed work and an unleashed imagination.

MO: How has Mixed Magic Theatre adjusted to the COVID-19 pandemic?

RP: We began early in the pandemic to prepare for a new and better future.

MO: When social distancing ends, what can we look forward to from  Mixed Magic Theatre?

RP: A new and exciting brand of performance events celebrating the human experience. We will not delve into spectacle as much as not be afraid to be spectacular.

MO: Let’s talk about poetry and acting. Some of the best poets I know also are some of the best actors I know. How would you explain this?

RP: Poetry and acting both demand that you put a value on language — what you say, how you say it and what you mean.

MO: Do you believe poets are the voice of the community and why?

RP: All artists must be voices for and in the community.

MO: When did you fall in love with theater and poetry?

RP: Age 15 — the first time I stepped on stage.




Numinous materfamilias

She has the silent strength of hope, like in a hurricane

The quiet voice that guides your fears from reality

The kind of strength that stretches bends and twists like two pieces of hair that never break

Bonds that never sever but connect muscle tissue and brown skin

Brown skin that bears the weight of Queendom

She loves beyond the scopes of her own creations

Yearns to be entangled with the unconditional

So she offers all crown and glory, gut and testimony

For her kingdom

All air for her heirs

Even if It means she suffocates in silence

Her words of advice may have fell on deaf ears

But she will not release the weight of responsibility no matter the heaving.

Heavy is the light of her glow

Praise, is the prism of her reflection

She is the original image of what it means

And what it takes to be an artist

A queen, befitting her throne

A symbol of what empowerment looks like

She is the perfect cast to mold

The perfect role to model

What I mean to say is…

If I could use one word to describe her — magnificent

One word that tried to destroy her — cancer

One word that ensued — battle

Your battle gives hope! 

There are battles scars

Where scar tissues are reminiscent of a heavy heart

Like your treasure chest has been through a few things.

A few things to note — hope at a bar in an 8 second conversation

The facts of life…is unexpected

About the facts of life — you lost your hair…

But not your crown, warrior still proud, my divine lady.

Everyone will know not the battle that waged

Under your skin but remember
The poet!!! Your personality!!! The character!!! Of a queen

Who sits on her throne making those who pass by aware of the happiness life has to offer

So never give up! We depend on you! This cancer you speak of?

It only affects your mortal frame, showing us how human you are.

Reminding us that Life is short, that the battles are long and to win will come at a great cost

But you have learned its secrets… Family –- stands by your love — surrounds you, and its value — is immeasurable

2day I have learned one thing — it wasn’t that you had cancer; it was the strength you possess,

The kind of woman you are — QUEEN and no single cell or entity can rip that from your breast

So If I could use one word that describes your outcome with cancer — Conqueror 

For you will always be more than a survivor … but a Conqueror  

I dedicate this poem to my poetry sister Marie Michaelle Saintil. Since the first time I met her at her book signing, we supported each other with love, poetry and dedication to the arts. It was always a blessing for me when we got together and I will continue to carry her legacy in the arts forward. I want to thank her for living her truth, sharing her life’s work and changing so many lives along the way — including mine. I’ve had the honor of sharing this poem with her live and I hope it encourages all those who face similar circumstances.

“For you will always be more than a survivor, but a conqueror” 




Youth and Poetry: An interview with RI Youth Deputy Poet Laureate Eugenie Rose

Eugenie Belony, aka Eugenie Rose, is the 2019 Galway Kinnell Youth Poetry Slam Champion and the 2020 RI Youth Deputy Poet Laureate. She is a young teenager who is a true rising star in our community. I recently sat down with her to discuss her art.

Damont Combs (Motif): When did you fall in love with poetry?

Eugenie Rose: I fell in love with poetry when I was about 11 years old, listening and reading into the works of Maya Angelou and Audre Lorde along with Def Jam records as they would perform poetry that always interested me. Seeing how the performers used their emotions and pain to give the image in your head of what they were trying to portray. So from those points on, I began trying it out, seeing if I could portray my emotions with my words. And with time I’ve come to be where I am now. 

DC: Can you create a short poem for us using the words orange, Rhode island and advanced?

ER: As my cocoa butter skin awakens from the glow of an orange sun. So bright and pure it made my life fall into a spectrum of gods and goddesses. Remembering the taste that Rhode island coffee milk left on my tongue. How advanced was my spirit if my soul could dance through a celestial drive by. Did I really understand the matter of gravity, or was it the history of pain that weighed me down. 

DC: What are some important topics you talk about in your poetry? 

ER: Some of the important topics that I talk about in my poems are of social injustices, racial discrimination, youth empowerment, female empowerment, global warming, history not entailed and the future (technology, advanced systems, new ways of learning).

DC: So you’re officially the youth deputy poet laureate of RI. Can you tell me more about that? 

ER: Not only do I get to hold the title of Youth Deputy Poet Laureate of RI, but I also have an amazing opportunity to meet so many incredible youth poets and advocates from Rhode island who have the same mindset as me to get more youth into the poetry community. I also have my partner, who is the Youth Poetry Laureate of RI, and together we are starting to plan more events and places to gather with more youth from Rhode island who either haven’t had the resources to put themselves out here in the poetry community or newcomers who would like to start their own poetry journeys.

DC: How is it working with Tina Cane so far?

ER: Working with Tina Cane has just been amazing. For her to have created such an amazing opportunity for the youth of Rhode island in the poetry community has impacted my life and the lives of many others with such helpful resources and guidance.

DC: Do you have any other talents and passion you like to share?

ER: Yes, I do have other talents besides poetry, like singing and producing my own beats along with dancing (all styles and gymnastics), also a very high capability with math skills and I’m multilingual.

DC: Where do you see yourself in 10 years ?

ER: I would hopefully like to graduate from my high school at Providence Career and Technical Academy as valedictorian, go on to attend either MIT or Princeton University to then become an astrophysicist and aerospace engineer. Then work for NASA, but throughout my years of schooling and working, I would like to help other young girls of color to aspire to be whatever they want to be and make sure that they have the right path and take the right steps to get there. Also I would like to have a nice house and enough money to give back to my mom and church for everything they have done for me. Along with giving back to my community and high school.

DC: Why is poetry important to the younger generation?

ER: Poetry is important to the younger generation because it’s an outlet. Not just something like roses are red and violets are blue, but truly a way to express your feelings through past and present aggressions and oppression throughout society today. We see all of the protests, marches and rallies held all by the youth of today who have seen nothing but hatred and violence, especially among young kids of color.  

DC: Is poetry integral to the culture here in Providence?

ER: I believe that poetry is integral to the culture of Providence because it gives youth a place to put the anger we have against the school systems, or how certain things in Providence communities aren’t up to par with what kids would like them to be. Poetry gives people a sense of being or balance within their lives. And with everything going on from the State House to the Senate, I think having this outlet to show our best qualities and our worst really shows the truth behind smoke and mirrors.

DC: If you could inspire/encourage someone to start writing today, what would you tell them?

ER: If I had the chance to inspire/ encourage someone to start writing today, I would say to them that life isn’t perfect. We see what’s on tv, on social media, in the newspapers, but you could be the change that happens. You could write out your feelings and express your pain into words that others could feel, words that somebody might need to hear. It doesn’t matter if you don’t share your work with the world, but to know that however you’re feeling is being mirrored by someone else. Somebody somewhere, whether it’s your friend or teacher or maybe a complete stranger, is feeling the same way you do about the same topics. Don’t ever let somebody yuck your yum because they can’t taste the same things that you do. We’re all different, so let’s enjoy and explore each other’s differences and similarities. Whether we like it or not, poetry is a universal language, so start talking.




Spit, Poet!: An interview with Anthony DiPietro

Anthony DiPietro is a prose poet from Rhode Island, who currently lives in Massachusetts and teaches prose poetry at Frequency Writers. His poetry prose has been accepted into multiple magazines. In a recent interview, we spoke about his methods of writing and poetry’s importance.

Damont Combs (Motif): When did you fall in love with poetry?

Anthony DiPietro: There are many ways I could answer this question, but I’ll say that I started out trying to be a songwriter. Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Madonna’s first albums came out when I was a tiny kid, and I would carry around a cassette player. When I was 14, I tried to teach myself how to play keyboard, but I wasn’t very good, and I also tried to write song lyrics. They became my first poems. At 15, someone gave me a massive anthology of all the best-loved poems in the English language, and I still have that original copy of that book, with playing cards bookmarking my favorite 40 or so poems. That was the beginning of my love of poetry. It took me much longer to admit it was a lifelong love and to consider myself a poet.

DC: Who your favorite poet and why?

AD: The one who always jumps to mind is Sylvia Plath. She was always taking on a powerful voice, but with a certain kind of restraint. And once you start learning about the sonics of a poem, she’s hard to beat. She loved her hard consonants and knew how to marry them together in a way that added a whole other layer to a poem’s meaning. It even affects the way her poems feel in your mouth when you read them out loud. She just had it all.

For contemporary poets writing today, Sam Sax is the one I most admire. He’s a queer Jewish writer who first got recognition in the slam poetry scene, what’s now called spoken word. He’s prolific. He’s younger than me and has four chapbooks and two full-length books. His poems take sexuality and identity as their base, but they grow out from there and become about so much more — psychology, history, insanity, oppression. I try to read everything he writes. I think it’s good to know what poet you’re comparing yourself against. It keeps you pushing yourself forward. What’s also great is that the poetry world is so small that you can easily meet your heroes. I’ve gotten to meet Sam and hear him read in person a few times.

DC: I know you live in Massachusetts, but Providence is your home. What are you doing for the Providence community?

AD: I love Providence. I’m so proud that it’s my hometown, and because I’ve traveled and lived and met people from all over, I know that it’s a city that has a great reputation. People know that Providence has a historic feel and good food and a vibrant arts scene and down to earth people.

At the same time, I feel that I got to know the city as a community really well because my career started there. For 10 years I worked in the nonprofit sector, including areas such as nonviolence and affordable housing. So I understand how Providence can be a tough place to grow up, how hard it is to get ahead financially and career-wise.

When I worked in Providence, I was writing grant proposals as part of my work, and to do that well, I had to know the city both on in an anecdotal way, the feel of it, knowing what it’s like to grow up there and be raised there, and also had to know it on the level of demographics, history, and economics. So I feel really intimate with the city of Providence. It’s where my roots are, and it’s still very much part of me, and I’m excited to be coming back to teach a course in the spring through Frequency Writers.

DC: Why choose prose as your main form of expression?

AD: Prose poetry is one of many forms I use to express myself. I’m also working on writing a screenplay, which is a totally different way of thinking and writing and has a different kind of power than poetry. In a screenplay I can write, “Mars crashes into Earth,” and let the film director figure out later how to show that, but the audience has to accept that it just happened. As a writer, sitting at my desk, I just made planets collide.

Prose poetry is really a hybrid form, and I don’t think that I appreciated that before I got to know it well. Many people would look prose poems as, “Oh a poet was trying to be cute” or “They wrote a paragraph and were too lazy to break it up into lines and stanzas.” But it’s more intentional than that. Some of my poems are definitely poems with lines, and others are definitely prose poems. They’re different animals.

With prose poems, I still use all the other tools at my disposal as a poet, other than lines and stanzas. And at the same time, I get to pull in some different things. I get a different pace, a different voice. And in a way, prose poems can be more unexpected. Because the form isn’t going to vary, it’s going to stay in that boring looking prose block all lined up like a newspaper column, it means that within the text, I can take wild leaps of logic and content that I might have to control more if I were trying to fit that in a stanza with just so many lines. And the control would not serve the piece.

DC: Why is poetry even relevant in today’s society?

AD: Often the public debate is, “Why do we even need poetry?” or “Is poetry dead?” But the fact is that studies came out in the past couple years showing that poetry readership has been way up in the last decade. Poetry right now has its biggest audience maybe of all time.

It may be partly because of the Instagram poets, and some people reject them as “not real poetry.” I think that anything that exposes people to poetry and creativity is a good thing. I think our lives are more emotionally based than we like to think, and usually emotions make us struggle for the right words, and really that is what poetry is all about. How did you struggle to articulate that feeling, and how did you both succeed and fail in the same piece? That’s why you can still have people writing poems about love and loss, which may be two oldest and simplest subjects out there, and they’ve been written about for thousands of years. You can write a poem about those things today and make the feelings new, because you’re grappling with your own individual way of expressing something that’s relatable to everyone.

More broadly speaking, the arts and creativity are basically under attack in 2020. I know all about this because I work in a museum. Public arts funding is always on the chopping block, and every year thousands of organizations have to advocate and mobilize and prove why we have the right to exist, and that we’re adding some value to society. And that has to be stated in terms of what we really value as a society, education, jobs, money. All you hear about education nowadays is STEM, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It turns out that creativity is equally as important to every person’s education and development, as much as knowing math. And that makes sense, right? You can understand math and science, but you can’t really make a new discovery or design something new without having the creativity to solve a problem outside the box, or to take a risk. The arts help teach those things.

And beyond education and just as important, I think, self-expression is something I value very highly, as well as aesthetic experiences, the kind I have when I look at art, watch a play, or hear music or read poetry. It expands my soul, it teaches me empathy, it helps me understand how I feel and think about things I encounter, as well as things I will never encounter firsthand myself. We need more of that in this world. It’s a way of building bridges and understanding each other.

DC: What people can expect in your class at frequency writers?

AD: It’s a creative writing workshop, so anyone who is looking for practice or writing prompts or feedback from other writers will find that. I want people to find their way to being comfortable in the form and write new material in the course of the class, whether they use class time to do that or just take inspiration from it. The way I’m designing the class is to balance three major elements: reading and discussing great examples of short prose poems, practicing our own writing, and sharing our writing to get useful feedback. I love discussing the great examples of the form as a way to learn, so that as writers we can play and imitate and apply the principles that are at work in these short pieces. I know some people will want more of one element of the class or another, so I’m planning to be flexible. When I meet the class members and find out more about what they need and their preferences, I can lean more in one direction or another.

I’ve been in many community-based workshops, because that’s all I did for 10 years before going to graduate school. In those workshops where everybody is at a different experience level, inevitably it’s somebody’s first time ever sharing their work and getting feedback. So I’ll start by setting expectations and modeling respectful, appreciative feedback so that everyone feels comfortable to share and can respond in a way that builds people up. I think it’s useful to read and listen to each other’s work for appreciation first. I’ve learned a lot about writing workshops over the years and what makes them successful, and I’m excited to bring that to Frequency’s audience and people who may be trying it for the first time.

DC: Can you give us a short prose using the words orange, Providence, and historical?

AD: Here’s a try!

the dream is always the same. it has a ground zero where red brick turns orange in sunlight, the place where my mother left me to find my own providence. I was eighteen and didn’t know I had no history yet. this was benefit street and the dream is really a memory. when I was twenty-three I met my destiny one rainy day. the day I go back to most often. or maybe the day is what can’t escape me. it’s just a useless thought experiment. what if I stayed home instead? would he and I have eventually still met? would we have fallen in love the same way? how long would it take? how many days of drinking in that surreal version of his life would wither his liver? his liver that melted and bled through his skin like wet brick.

I usually title my pieces last and often throw away the first title. So keep in mind this is a first draft. Right now I would want to title this piece “high noon in the desert womb of pleasure.”

DC: How do you inspire the next generation of young poets?

AD: Thank you for the opportunity to geek out on my favorite topics!

I think that I inspire people by helping them realize the power of aesthetic experiences. When I was teaching college courses, I would always build in what I called “favorite media day.” I would have students bring in examples of any art or media they found compelling, that resonated for them, and they would introduce it and share it with everyone else in class. They showed them on their laptops or tablets, and some brought an image of their favorite painting, or a page of their favorite novel. Some brought a song. Some even brought a video game they’re obsessed with and played the intro to it. 

The point is that understanding what is compelling to you about these aesthetic experiences helps unlock the creativity that’s already in you. And also, these experiences bring us together. There is something to appreciate in absolutely any art form, and when you’re sitting there just looking or listening for what you appreciate, rather than what you want to judge, you’ll find something. Or if not, at least you’ll understand that person better who brought and shared that. And it brings everyone in the room a little closer. I like to think I’m building a community of writers on a micro level, and I like to think it creates a better world outside the classroom as well.




Orange will Rise: Local poet Mr. Orange describes his philosophy

What comes first the color orange or the fruit? For me orange is a symbol I seek every day. I have a saying, “Orange will rise in the poem Orange.” It symbolizes hope, positivity and progress each day. I’ve always considered the glass half full because we choose our perceptions.

“In life and business, don’t let your failures keep you down, fail better each time until you succeed.” This is my motto. In my humble beginnings, I was a simple poet learning how to perform in Providence on Thayer Street. One time I failed so badly at a performance that I was banned for a few weeks. I didn’t understand the power of words. The importance of how to wield them properly and the effects they actually had. I learned some of my most important lessons through failure. 

Before I started “Tell your Truth” open mic, I failed over three times to run an open mic. Each time I learned something new; one lesson I learned is location is everything. Sometimes these lessons created a deep sense of urgency; one time a venue changed negotiations at the last minute so that night I walked venue to venue trying to find a new one that night. Sometimes settling isn’t what you’re looking for, which means changing strategies. 

Poetry has been underground — hidden from the public light. Poets tend to be the pioneers unsung. The foundations written onto the backside of history. Sometimes we are simply songwriters behind your favorite song. Shakespearean sonnets and powerful monologues. In fact we are embedded into almost every historical frame and language written. Words spoken since ancient in tongues unknown.

When my career as a poet started, it brought so many doubters. They didn’t realize I had so many leaders before me who paved the way. What the doubters deemed impossible was already achievable as long as I didn’t doubt myself. If you have doubted yourself and your dreams, take some time to reflect, change strategies and double down on following your dreams. 

Many times I found that I have not dreamed big enough. Many times reality’s path brought me to places where I needed to learn something new, challenge myself mentally and grow as a person to meet that challenge. Now after enduring the “No’s” I’ve been accepted as the poetry curator for Motif, received a grant from RISCA, and I’m the poet in residence for multiple organizations. My goal with my future articles is to show you artists, poets, spoken word kings & queens who rise beyond the call. Showing those who are always there; ever present like the rising sun. Orange will rise.