Yesterday, we read Nicholas Howard-Jennings inspiring piece on being a black poet surrounding the events that have recently happened to our black youth. Today, we bring you his proud mom, J.P. Howard, writing in response to Nicholas’ piece. It is truly amazing how this family is raising our youth to have a voice, to continue to have conversations that effect them and help to make change happen. Please read on…
“I am the mom of Nicholas Howard-Jennings, a 10-year old visual and performing artist. We are black poets and poetry provides a forum for each of us to express our frustration with the racial injustice and police brutality happening across the country. Nick has been writing poetry for a number of years. Like many young children, his early poems were about nature, his fascination with bird watching, his love of his two moms and big brother and lots of poems about spiders and other bugs.
Dialogue is strongly encouraged in our household. Nicholas has a 17-year old brother, Jordan, and we often have family conversations about what it means to be a young black man in this country. As the mothers of two black sons, it is important for my partner and I to create a safe space for our sons to share their thoughts and feelings about racial injustice in this country. This is our reality. Almost immediately after the verdict finding Zimmerman not guilty of Trayvon Martin’s murder, our family came together for a difficult discussion. We had been following the trial closely and Nick could not understand how someone could get away with killing an innocent, unarmed teen walking home to his family. There was little we could say to make sense of the verdict. He wrote, in response, a powerful poem in memory of Trayvon Martin. Soon after, Nick began sharing his poem at poetry readings across the city and audiences were moved to hear such a young person share his frustration with our judicial system. I was proud that he was sharing his perspective about the state of race in America and using poetry as a means of political protest, but I was also angry that this was a reality he was beginning to process at such a young age.
When yet another unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was killed by the police in Ferguson, MO this past August, our family discussed the protests that arose in response. Nick had tons of questions and wanted assurance that the police would be held responsible for Michael Brown’s killing. We could not promise him answers he wanted. Around the same time, poet, Sasha Banks created a platform for poets of color to come together to show support and raise money for the Ferguson protesters who had accrued legal fees as a result of protesting, by creating a 24-hour live stream video event. Nick expressed an interest in participating, so we signed up and each decided to read poems we had written in honor of Trayvon Martin. Early on the morning of his 10th birthday, we logged onto our computer, waited for our prompts from the moderators to join the livestream video with others from around the country and proudly participated in our first joint video collaboration as mother and son. I was so proud that Nick started the first few hours of his 10th birthday, participating in an important political movement that he felt strongly about. When the grand jury in Ferguson recently voted not to indict the police for Michael Brown’s death, our family gathered, once again, to share our frustration and anger. A little over a week later, there was another non-indictment, which meant that yet another policeman, would not be charged with the death of yet another unarmed black man, Eric Garner, here in NY.
Around the same time a group of my friends, all Cave Canem fellows, organized, using the hashtag #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, a forum for black poets to share poetry via videos, as a way to protest the Ferguson verdict and in solidarity with others across the country protesting police brutality and racial injustice. Mahogany Browne, Amanda Johnston, Jonterri Gadson, Jericho Brown, Sherina Rodriguez-Sharpe, and Maya Washington were the initial organizers of this movement. There has been tremendous outpouring of community support for #BlackPoetsSpeakOut. They now have a Tumblr site, which is a forum that catalogues videos coming in daily from around the country, as well as community readings occurring nationwide and internationally. Nick and I had the chance to collaborate once again as mom and son, and together filmed a #BlackPoetsSpeakOut YouTube video. Nick now also has his own #BlackPoetsSpeakOut video, where he shares his powerful new poem, Protection. We also participated in the recent #BlackPoetsSpeakOut Brooklyn Community Reading at Pratt Institute. This was a pivotal event for Nick the poet, as he listened to forceful poems of protest, performed by local black poets and also shared his own poem of protest in a supportive setting, where he was encouraged to keep writing and sharing. Recently, Nick marched with our family in his first political protest rally in reaction to the recent non-indictments, joining hundreds of NY protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge, chanting and screaming “No Justice, No Peace” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” I asked him, after the rally, how he felt and he replied, Mom, I feel good because there were so many of us out there participating and I feel like together we can make a change for the better. But I also feel very sad and angry because of the reason we had to be out there. I am grateful that #BlackPoetsSpeakOut has created a safe and welcome space for him to share his observations on the world through poetry. I am also proud that he will continue in the tradition of a long line of black poets who use poetry to effectuate political change.”
By JP Howard, Mom of Nicholas Howard-Jennings
JP Howard is the proud mom of two multi-talented sons, Nicholas (age 10) and Jordan (age 17). JP curates and nurtures, Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon (WWBPS), a forum offering women writers at all levels a venue to come together in a positive and supportive space. JP is a Cave Canem graduate fellow, a Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging LGBT Voices Fellow and a graduate of the VONA/Voices Writers Workshop. Her debut collection of poetry SAY/MIRROR is forthcoming from The Operating System Press.
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