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Poetry and Politics: Connecting Black Art with Black Liberation

Askia Toure and Ashlley Rose. Photo by Daniel Souza

The Boston Coalition for Freedom (BCF) hosted, Poetry & Politics last Monday, September 25th, at the Dudley Public Library in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The event featured poet, author, and one of the Black Arts Movement founders, Askia Toure; poet, actress, and cultural activist Ashley Rose; and poet, author, educator, and former Poet Laureate of New Bedford, Everett Hoagland. After introductions by BCFs Stephanie Germain, the evening began with poets reading some of their poetry to our community, and participated in a discussion Moderated by BCF’s own, Vanessa Silva.

The theme of the night was the intersection of politics and the arts, but more specifically, the role in which the Black arts play, have played, and should play, in raising Black consciousness, Black activism, and Black mass organization. The community present during this evening was in awe at the beautiful spoken word of our poet-activist. Poems performed touched upon the topics of environmental racism, health care inequities, police brutality and Black Lives Matter, Black pride, Black beauty, and racism in the media against Black athletes, as well as the inspiration and awe that athletes such as Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams inspire in the Black youth.

Everett Hoagland. Photo by Daniel Souza

Ashley Rose brought the struggle close to home with poetry that touched upon personal experiences, from her mother fighting cancer (and poor healthcare), to the floods of the 90s in Boston that left Black families displaced. Everett Hoagland reminded us that we need the energy of our ancestors and centuries of struggle to be heard and felt while proclaiming that “Black Lives Matter”. Askia Toure Took us back to ancient KMT and Nubia, tying in the strength of Queen Candance in antiquity, to the strength of Serena Williams in modern sports.

The community was not only receptive, delighted, and moved by the poetry, they were also actively engaging with the poets and Boston Coalition for Freedom during the lively discussion portion of the event. The main focus of the discussions was twofold: the role in which mainstream artists are playing in the Movement for Black Lives as compared to the role artists played during the Civil Rights Movement, and the broader topic of the relationship between capitalism, the Black bourgeoise, and the black masses, touching on the subject of class suicide. Also, important distinctions were made and agreed upon between philanthropy, and financially, physically, and morally supporting mass movements for justice.

Community participants discussing program. Photo by Daniel Souza.

For the most part, everyone in the audience was in agreement in criticisms against many of today’s popular artists, for failing to convey in their arts any real critiques against the status quo, and questioning the true impact and (lack of) any long-term strategies for Black liberation. However, it was pointed out that much is being said and done by non-mainstream, local and national artists, artists such as our wonderful guests, alongside many up and coming young artists.

It was expressed and understood that the Black arts and Black activism inform and reinvigorate each other, and both are very important to one another. All art is political, even art that “chooses” not the be so: neutrality is always on the side of the status quo, and everything has a socio-economic, political, and historic context. The arts need to play a bigger role in the Movement For Black Lives and Black Liberation, and therefore, artists to envision and express, not only critiques against white supremacy and other forms of oppression, but also long term strategies, as activists and organizers do, and what liberation looks like.

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