A Conversation with Jonterri Gadson, BlackPoetsSpeakOut: Bloomfield curator & BlackPoetsSpeakOut Co-Organizer
How does your BPSO event fit into the larger arts and social justice community in your city?
The Black Poets Speak Out Reading in Bloomfield, NJ was originally intended to be the kickoff event for a series of Creative Dialogues on Race and Society events at Bloomfield College. These events include performances, film screenings, panel discussions, field trips, and readings that allow students to express themselves, engage with each other and with faculty, staff, and guests from the community about what to do and how they feel about police brutality and other injustices that go unpunished against people of color.
As a poet, how does your work add to the narrative of arts activism as related to the Black Arts Movement?
I never wrote with the intention of creating work as part of an activist movement. I wrote to save myself. My goal as a poet is to say the things I am most afraid to say in my work with the hope that I will connect with other people who share the same fears so maybe we'll all be less afraid. Now due to the lack of indictments following the murder of black people, the killing of innocent children being justified by the media and by people I considered friends I've awakened to the reality that as a black person in the U. S.—a black parent in the U.S. especially—I should be afraid. Through my writing practice I'd already been training myself not to cower to fear so it was natural to respond with poetry in some way. The work I'm able to do through Black Poets Speak Out has enabled me to help amplify the voices that were empowered to speak up long before I had any awareness of my own power to demand change.
What organizations or literary communities collaborated for your BPSO event?
The Humanities Division and the faculty, staff, and administration at Bloomfield College collaborated to create space for Black Poets Speak Out on campus. Members of poetry communities in Newark, New Jersey, and New York City, and from nearby colleges helped promote the event and did an excellent job as readers.
What poem would you suggest people see from BPSO archive and why?
I was especially taken early on by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib's "Maybe None of Us Are Actually From Anywhere" for its surprising definitions and the way it considers ideas like "we're all just human" and "we should all just be colorblind" but only to tear those ideas apart with harsh truths and unflinching language.