Location: Multi Media Studio, (lower level of Columbus Hall), Columbus State Community College, 291 Jefferson Ave, Columbus, OH 43215
I arrived a few minutes early planning to support an event my friend, since the fifth grade, was hosting. Light refreshments were provided. There were over twenty presenters (I think the final count was 24 and Dr. Clark made 25).
Here are a few of my favorite presenters from the event:
The poem was too long to include in this blog. I starting paying attention when I heard this excerpt from Countee Cullen’s “Heritage”:
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
So I make an idle boast;
Jesus of the twice-turned cheek,
Lamb of God, although I speak
Sidebar: I love the community this group modeled.
Pat Parker’s, “For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend”
The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.
You should be able to dig Aretha,
but don’t play her every time i come over.
And if you decide to play Beethoven – don’t tell me
his life story. They made us take music appreciation too.
Eat soul food if you like it,
but don’t expect me to locate your restaurants
or cook it for you.
And if some Black person insults you,
mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,
rips your house, or is just being an ass –
please, do not apologize to me
for wanting to do them bodily harm.
It makes me wonder if you’re foolish.
And even if you really believe Blacks are better lovers than
whites – don’t tell me. I start thinking of charging stud fees.
In other words – if you really want to be my friend – don’t
make a labor of it. I’m lazy. Remember.
Sidebar: I had to give her “dap” (a fist bump) after this reading. Enough said.
Assotto Saint’s, “Heart and Soul”,
they shield like second skin
to drape my dreams
one floats rainbow
the other wings tricolor
both bold with movement
i am not ashamed
of what they stand for
when their meaning is
Sidebar: Regardless of what makes you unique, embrace who you are. Enough said.
Tell me about the event.
It started in February of 1999. I was working with Dr. Al Simmons who is now retired.
Every year he tried to come up with a different project that would speak to black history month but that was positive. At some point we were brainstorming. I suggested we try a poetry and fiction reading and have it showcase famous or African American writers that I am familiar with. It wasn’t just your regular open microphone.
We invited the Columbus State Community to come and participate. I have anyone who is willing come and read. The president has read several times. It is made up of faculty, staff, administrators, students, and people from the community. Ninety to ninety-five percent are writers that most are familiar with, and maybe five percent is made up of an original piece.
We focus on the positive, activism, and uplifting the people. We focus on what makes the African American experience beautiful and wonderful, and sometimes ugly and horrible too. It still must be presented in such a way that when we leave the experience we leave with hope. You don’t leave the experience and say, “Oh my God let me find the nearest cliff and jump off it.”
It has gone on every year. This will be our twenty first gathering. This event is racially diverse, it is diverse in term of positions on the campus, and the range of expertise varies.
What makes the event special and well attended?
Part of it is relationship building. I have asked you specifically to come in all your brownness and read some of this material. I go to the people who have read for me for many years or to go to people and say, “I need your voice, I need your presence. I need people to be able to see you in this particular light, sharing this kind of information.” So often the readers will find poets or prose writers that they want to read and will share the background and biographical information with the audience. You will be surprised how much instruction comes out of the folk before they even read their material. They will share an artist that they have loved for years and a piece that speaks to them or has spoken to them over the years that has provided encouragement about living this life.
Tell me about your professional background that prepared you for your current level of success.
I have several degrees if that is where you want to start. My undergraduate degree, although I spent the first three and a half to four years in Engineering is in English from Ohio State University (OSU). I have a master’s degree in English from OSU. Later I earned a master’s Degree in Theological Studies. Most recently in 2017 I earned a PHD in Higher Education Administration.
Part of my background that has prepared me for the work that I do is I am an educator. More specifically English professor. If you keep it within that ball park of Educator. I have been a lifelong learner. My college experience started in the 1980s, and then I tell you that I just completed the PHD in 2017. You see all these years of constantly studying, trying to acquire additional information. Not so much to benefit myself, although that is part of the benefit, but to make sure that what I bring to teaching experience helps to benefit my students.
Being a lifelong learned allows me to always consider myself as a learner, my students as leaners, and to come up with things that will help them be able to do the tasks that we are asking them to do. All of that has been formed by the degrees in English, the degree in Theology, and the continued education with the PHD. Having to write that dissertation was no joke. It made me go through the process and sit in that same place of vulnerability as my students when their work is being critiqued. Learning how to receive the criticism in a way that doesn’t cripple me going forward. It also helped me remember to be sensitive as it concerns how I am critiquing somebody else’s work who is in a place of vulnerability that I recently experienced. Lifelong learning had formed my ability as a learner and as an educator how important it is to be sensitive to the person who is sitting in that seat and yet still be in a place where I can receive information. I am not an old dog that can’t learn new tricks.
See the commencement address:
Tell me about the preparation and execution of the commencement address.
I believe part of my challenge was making sure that I could say what I have, though not a CEO, what I have though part of this very environment is still significant and important. You might want to listen to it. Then I had to go through the process of what is it that I want to understand and know. How much of myself can I reveal? How much of myself should be kept to me? When you reveal yourself you now know people will change their perception of who you are. Do you want them to have the revised understanding of you?
I must be concerned about representation. How am I being represented. What am I representing? For whom am I representing? I am faith based. What do I do with my sense of sacredness in a secular setting? It is trying to juggle all those things. Initially not being perceived as someone who is worthy enough to stand up and talk. Because I am an English instructor from the environment. Here I am not just a single individual but a whole chorus, and a whole chorus of concerns, and a whole chorus of needs in addressing the audience.
Part of Joel Olsten’s sermon, in telling your story are you revealing a weakness? Am I revealing too much of a place of vulnerability? Hey, I was ill for as season. Hey, I went through a health crisis. How do I tell people that and have them not look at me like there might be something wrong with her now? In Joel Olsten’s sermon it was that is your story. That is part of your truth. Others need to hear that truth. The sermon reassured me when I heard it. I had already put together the presentation at that point. To me that was affirmation. This is my testimony and it is a testimony that must be and should be told. That was the reason I shared what happened to me at the time of my daughter’s delivery. And I talked to her about it too because it was part of her story. She said to me, and I didn’t include it in the commencement, “that you should tell them that I am all right.” She wanted them to know that she had come through the experience fine.
I went back in my drafting process and I revisited what I had written, and I just took out some sections and inserted. the T. S. Eliot sections. They fit so nicely so the sections in my original draft must have just been filler sections. The parallel to me was just exact. Here I am talking about my own near-death experience and on there are places where it does say that Lazarus comes back from the dead in the piece. There are places about him not understanding his purpose, what he needs to do, and how he needs to do it. I really believe that the Lord gave me, I want you to use this poem. And I want to use this in this presentation.
Even though this is not in the address from the book of Ephesians 5:16.
Ephesians 5:16 (KJV)
16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
We don’t know how much time we have. We must make the most of the time that God has given us. I did not say that scripture in the presentation but that is the foundation. Recognizing how important the time that we have is and not to squander it. That is what I wanted the students to know. Recognize what it is that you have done, use the skills that you have acquired and don’t squander it. The key thing is trying to inspire the students to launch. Launce, go and do what you have been called to do.
I had no idea that the address would be as successful as it was. For example, a few days ago I passed a woman in the hall. After exchanging greetings, she said I just quoted some lines from your commencement address. I said, “thank you”. But what do you say to that? I have had people send me emails and they have added some of the quotes from the address to their signature line. There are people who didn’t acknowledge me prior to the address, like I was invisible but now I guess I have materialized.
My take on Poets in Black featuring Dr. Crystal Robinson Clark:
This is a wonderful event to support not only because of the diversity that Crystal Clark mentioned but because everyone seemed so relaxed, friendly and purposeful. Crystal Robinson Clark is one of the people who make 614 a better place to live. My mind goes back to the days of Innis Elementary school. We were the students who earned the highest grades on a consistent basis. When the teacher left the room, Crystal was trying to build relationships and I was trying to get my work done. In the 1980s when we attended Ohio State University it was believed that unless you graduated in business or engineering you were destined to be a bum. I am extremely proud that the Lord has rewarded Crystal beyond many of her peers for being obedient to the path less traveled.