At the close of Black History Month and the start of Women's History Month, we're going to spotlight the intersectional genius of poet, dramatist, and intellectual Chinaka Hodge. In this week's poem Chinaka tells the story of her West Oakland neighborhood through the struggles of its youth. In doing so she connects the dots between present realities of poverty and violence inflicted on Black youth and the centuries of racism that Black people have endured in a country built on slavery. "Barely Audible" links this history to the savage irony of gentrification -- where white and middle class residents create wealth and home out of the poverty of the people they are displacing.
At a time when right wing legislators are targeting Planned Parenthood and anti-abortion groups are funding billboards claiming that the most dangerous place for Black children is inside their mother's womb, it is all the more important that we hear this poem. Through the story of Darius and Trina we are forced to confront the hypocrisy of "pro-life" rhetoric that is only concerned with what happens before the moment of birth and ignores the violence, poverty, and inequality that limits and ends the lives of young people of color in this country every day.
This poem is about so many different things, woven together seamlessly, forcing us to listen to every element and respond with reflection and action as multifaceted as these words. This multidimensionality is a thread that runs through Chinaka's work and is aptly expressed by the title of her full-length play, Mirrors in Every Corner.
I first heard Chinaka perform "Barely Audible" almost a decade ago at the Brave New Voices youth poetry slam festival. It was, perhaps more than any other poem that I had yet heard, an affirmation of the power of poetry to spur transformation, not only of self but of community and world. Chinaka has gone through many evolutions as an artist since she wrote this poem, and her new work explores these themes in even deeper and more nuanced ways (she is currently a graduate student at USC studying Writing for Film and Television, and be assured you'll be hearing a lot more about her soon). Still, this is a poem that I go back to again and again and again. I use this poem often in workshops with the youth I work with and I'm constantly amazed at the new aspects of the piece that my students talk about that I had yet to discover, even after all this time.
So this week I want to give an extra special shout out to an artist and individual who has been a tremendous influence and inspiration for the entire national youth spoken word community. Also, Chinaka just spent the last month remixing February as Black Future Month, using her blog http://www.thickwitness.com to give props to the people she knows personally to be at the forefront of the many elements of Black Future. I highly recommend that you check out her superb month-long series of reflections on Black history, present, and future.
-- Isaac Miller, Spoken Word Editor for The Progressive