A Conversation with Amanda Johnston, BlackPoetsSpeakOut: Austin, TX curator & BlackPoetsSpeakOut Co-Organizer
Why is Black Poets Speak Out necessary?
As the movement grows to demand action against police brutality, it is important to combine efforts and reach as many people as possible. BPSO is a way for poets and allies to contribute their time and effort to the movement. Emerging and established poets alike are speaking out and demanding change. Together, we are one voice, a collective action of resistance. Our poems document this moment in verse and push back against a system that silences our brothers and sisters.
How did your community respond to BPSO event?
The turnout at the Austin, TX BPSO reading was overwhelming. The intimate space at Salvage Vanguard Theatre was packed and overflowed into the lobby. Poets and allies from across the city and surrounding areas showed up to speak out. Organizers from The People's Task Force, a local activist group fighting for justice in the case of Larry Jackson, an unarmed black man murdered by police in Austin in 2013, spoke about the need for support locally and nationally to rally against police brutality. Poetry put into words what many of the audience members felt. The words of James Baldwin, Gil Scott Heron, Assata Shakur, and others, along with original work by local poets, held a space for us to express our anger, outrage, and heartbreak. Their words also called the room to action. Several in attendance pledged to submit videos for BPSO and join the letter writing campaign.
How will you art continue to respond to the community and sustain your artistic goals?
I believe it is my responsibility as a poet to address the difficult and navigate through it with language. Every opportunity to actively engage the community and address social justice initiatives adds to my experience as a poet and informs how my work will progress.
What poem would you suggest folks check out from BPSO archive and why?
"The Tradition" by Assata Shakur, read by Ebony Stewart
From the opening line, "Carry it on," the poem calls the reader/listener to work. It is urgent. Today's movement against police brutality is urgent. The poem reminds us of what black people have suffered and continue to fight against. It commands us to carry on the tradition of resistance in our words and in action.