Interview by Betty Harvin, Special to the AFRO
Jacob Mayberry, a Baltimore spoken word artist, emcee, National Poetry Slam champion, Texas Grand Slam champion and teaching artist, Black Chakra, sat with the AFRO to celebrate poetry with us a bit after “Don’t Be Late for Poetry” to give us some insight into his poetic journey. Named Black Chakra from a former lover, who considered his energy a combination of the auras of the seven chakras (crown, third- eye, throat, heart, solar plexus, sacral, root). He is an artist who truly lives up to his name.
Afro: How did you get your name?
Black Chakra: Me and a poet were dating and we found out about an African culture whose tradition was naming people, which is extremely important because what you are named is what you’re adorned as. So we thought it’d be special if we gave each other poetry names. The name I gave her was Fire Angelou, and Black Chakra was the name she gave me. It perfectly describes what I do because the chakras are different colors and different spiritual measurements of energy and I represent all the energies in one because black is the combination of all colors. I thought that was a beautiful name and I kept it ever since.
Afro: What inspired you to be a poet and when did you start doing poetry?
BLACK CHAKRA: Since 11 my father told me, ‘If you’re going to do something you have to be the best.’ I asked him, ‘How to be the best?’ He said you have to study, practice, and know it better than anyone else. So I did those things. I read multiple poetry books. So, since 11 I started writing and started studying and by 13, I was rapping, nonstop. Then by 15-16, I wanted to understand poetry on a deeper level, so I got into spoken word and I just stayed in it. I’ve always been invested in writing, I’m always writing; it is one of the most healthy things you can do. Also, it grows your skill level because you learn different things about yourself. I can literally write a poem in seven minutes because I don’t second guess what I have to say. I just know what I want to talk about and it feels very comfortable. So, now that I’m 30, I’d say I’ve been doing poetry for pretty much all my life.
Afro: This month, as you know, is National Poetry Month, and at the AFRO we are featuring poets from the past, present, and future. Of course you represent one of the bomb poets from our present, but are there any poets from the past that have inspired you?
BLACK CHAKRA: How long you got?….Gil Scott Heron, ase. Amiri Baraka, ase. Maya Angelou, ase. The Last Poets, ase. Sonya Sanchez, ase. Nikki Giovanni, ase. Biggie Smalls, ase. Tupac, ase. I can do this all day there are so many black poets I’ve read; Saul Williams, ase. Talam Acey, ase. Lamar Hill, ase. These people, their poetry has changed my life. The first time I heard Slangston Hughes, ase, I was in high school and I didn’t even know poetry could sound like that and I was like, ‘I can fit here’. He let me know, you have space here, you can fit here and he is so powerful. He is my favorite poet. He gave me permission to be a dope Hip- Hop lyricist within a spoken word format. There are so many great poets from the past, James Baldwin, ase. Nas, ase. Big Daddy Kane, ase. Rakim, ase. Tragedy Khadafi, ase. We can do hip-hop alone and go for the next two days. Malcolm X because I sincerely consider him a poet, ase.
Afro: Just by your answers, I’m receiving that poetry is a state of being.
BLACK CHAKRA: Poetry is breath, poetry is breathing. Poetry is the reason you get up in the morning. Everything is poetry, there is nothing that isn’t poetry. The person that put this wall together is a poet because he understood shapes on a level that he had to be passionate about. The person who shaped this table is a poet because they had to understand math on a spiritual level. The person who made this carpet is a poet because they had to understand stitching on a different level. The understanding of life on a different level is poetry. That’s why a poet will look at a can and create a whole poem around it because of how you break down the world and discuss it into multiple terms. I am just a sad offspring of the everything, that is poetry.
Afro: Poets as prophets….what’s your take on that?
Black Chakra: My personal belief is that we are puppets, there is a voice that is speaking through poets. In certain chapters of the Quran, in Islamic belief, they believe that the poet has a direct line to God and you can summon the words of God through you, and I believe that. Statistically, more people suffer from stage fright than they do fear of death. Which means more people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy. So why is it that there are these people, these light bearers, who can get on stage and do this and channel words? I consider it a blessing, poetry is my proof that God exists.
Afro: The poets from the past didn’t have such an opportunity, like the poets of our present, to directly pour into the poets of our future. How has teaching the poets of the future been for you?
(Black Chakra calls over one of his students and now fellow poets, 20 y/o, Summer Knights to join the conversation)
BLACK CHAKRA: I remember I gave a speech to the kids (in the poetry club), saying ‘Hey look, we won last year, if we don’t win this year, it’s not that important.’ She looked at me and said, ‘F- that’, none of us here play sports, none of us here do anything else, poetry is all we got. If we can’t be the best at this, than what’s it worth?’ It changed my life. She taught me that. Pouring into the kids has actually been them pouring into me because you’re not a teacher until one of your students teaches you something. Now she is killing the stage, on the same stages as me, she is a two- time world poetry champion, I coached a championship kid yesterday and so did she. I literally went up to her and said, ‘I think it’s time for me to retire.’ This is all I’ve ever wanted in life, to inspire someone to inspire someone else. Each one, teach one. I called her over here because she is the living proof to your question. This is what happens when you pour into black children. She loves so fiercely, she’s a good sister, human being, a good coach, and teacher. I can die tomorrow and smile because I had a part in that, so I’m just very thankful to pour into youth and for them to be this.