"I kinda burst out of my shell when I started performing."
Photos by Megan Monday
KJ Prodigy | Milwaukee, WI
"In seventh grade, our teacher Ms. Lacking pulled us all into the gym. We had no idea what was going on. There were two guys there, one was wearing an orange jumpsuit and the other one had a jump-rope.
It turned out that they were poets, there to do a performance. Kwabena Nixon did a poem about the jump rope and how it’s a lost art, and Muhibb Dyer did a poem about how he lost one of his friends to gun violence. They made poetry look so cool to us. It blew my mind. I was 13 years old and I was like, ‘This is amazing. I want to do this now.’ That’s when I started writing passionately.
Since June of 2007 I've written all my poetry and stories in 51 composition notebooks.
Composition notebooks are kind of a symbol for me. I like the way the cover is kind of like black and white TV static.
I like the feel and the sight of them...you know a person's a writer when they have a composition notebook."
"When I was in third grade we moved into a house on the 2700 block of Richard’s street in Harambee. Got a lot of memories there. At that time I remember seeing commercials about Harry Potter, and I would love the sight of those huge books...I was like, 'I want to write one of those!' So I would get scraps of my mom's loose leaf paper from her job and just write all these science fiction stories on the back of pages. I remember the library right off MLK and Locust. I remember Fast and Friendly, a great convenience store, and one of the symbols of my childhood. We used to ride our scooters to the reservoir off Meineke, it was an abandoned basketball court with paint peeling on the jungle gym.
But we had a horrible landlord. Eventually he lost the house, so we had to move out and leave our stuff there. About two years ago we were finally able to move back.
When I was in high school it was just easy to say, 'I live in Riverwest,’ because it was close by. But now I’m trying to be a representative of my neighborhood, I want to help put Harambee on the map. Harambee is a Swahili word; it means 'come together.’ I want to try my best to be a symbol of that, and of the neighborhood I grew up in."
"I wasn't a great high school student. A lot of stuff happened in high school that keep me from moving up to my full potential. But I remember going to poetry club for the first time. It was so intimidating at 15 years old. I was really short; I weighed 215 pounds. I was very insecure and introverted. It could be 90 degrees outside and I would still have my big black hood on.
Then as the years went on, I kinda burst out that shell. I started performing poetry. In my junior year I performed in front of 800 students, in front of the whole school. After that I never let my nervousness stop me from doing anything.
Now I’m really chill before performances. I wait till I get on stage, and I then it’s much more of a surprise, like, 'This quiet, introverted person said all that on stage?' It's much more exciting."
"To be honest my mom was not a real supporter in my poetry. I don't know why. We’ve been through a lot together. My support comes from people in the community. There’s my friend, Emilio, and Angie Trudell Vasquez. I call her my Poetry Mama. I also have a friend Teresa, she’s like 62, she’s been driving me to my engagements and helping me get jobs. So I have community support, and I keep writing.
I recently wrote a poem called 'Club Noir.' It's about this guy, he's a lonely, introverted guy, and he walks into this club called Club Noir, and up on stage is Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, and John Coltrane.
Duke is off to the side playing piano. This guy sits down at the poker table between Amiri Baraka and Langston Hughes. He sits between those two, they're both poets, and he's just watching them play poker, trash-talking in smooth verses of poetry. Billie Holiday steps behind the mic and she's performing. Marvin Gaye and Luther Vandross are sitting at the bar, caressing their chin hair, looking at Billie Holiday. The concept of it is just mixing all the lost musicians and poets together into one."
"Being on stage has gotten me a lot of confidence. People see you, they see that your stuff is different, and they want you to perform everywhere. It's really great. I would have never thought I would be getting paid to perform in a Black History program in Green Bay. Right now I’m teaching high school students in Racine as an artist-in-residence, and I also teach poetry workshops for kids at the Milwaukee Public Theater.
There’s always one student who reminds me of myself growing up.
It kind of happened naturally for me, to give back to kids. I just want to do what Kwabena Nixon and Muhibb Dyer, the two poets I saw perform at my school when I was 13 years old, did for me."
-KJ Prodigy | Milwaukee, WI