Baltimore has some of the most talented, raw, award-winning poets in the nation. In acknowledgement of National Poetry Month. The AFRO kicked off our celebration at “Don’t Be Late for Poetry,” a collaborative event hosted by one of Baltimore’s most popular poetry event curators APoetNamedNate and Dew More Baltimore, an organization that uses art as tool to increase civic engagement. The AFRO caught up with one of Charm City’s most prolific young artists, Nia June, at the historic Arena Players Theatre to give them a platform to share some of the thoughts and experience behind their spoken words.
Interview by Betty Harvin, Special to the AFRO
In season with Nia June
AFRO: What made you name yourself Nia June?
Nia June: Nia means purpose in Swahili and that was a big process for me because my whole life I had grown up studying dance and I thought that that was my purpose because that’s what I spent most of my time doing, but then I found poetry and that completely changed my life, so I felt like with PURPOSE NIA was the best name, and then June. So, you know the process after April, what we’re in right now, where there’s a lot of rain and the struggle to get back? I feel like June is that first month where we finally see..
AFRO: THE HARVEST….
NJ: YEAH! Like we finally see all of this hard work and growth and change that we just went through, and that’s a big part of me and I feel like that’s another thing that happened with the poetry, I did all of this transformation just to find my voice. So yeah, that’s what Nia June means.
AFRO: So on stage I was captured by all of your words and most of it was the system and not only that but the school, politics, poverty, and plagues that reign in our city. What I want to know is what inspired you? Those things seem like they inspire you the most, but what made you want to come out of your shell and talk about those the most?
NJ: I would say the passing of my father. We all assumed he was clean so it was very rough, it was unexpected and I think finding out that he had been dealing with that and so many mental illnesses. He was living in a very poor community in Baltimore and he was deprived of a lot of things he deserved like basic necessities, you know, food, just nurturing, you know, energy and things like that. I realized that within that community there are a lot of people who have this exact same story, whose voices are not being heard so that was my biggest inspiration. That piece about my dad was the first piece that I wrote and then it all just came flowing from there and that’s my biggest inspiration and now I actually teach kids in Baltimore City, so hearing their stories as well as another layer of inspiration there and stories that need to be heard.
AFRO: The end of your segment, the poem that was about the Baltimore City Schools system, the poem that was about the biggot, I love the way that you shared that that poem would be entered into the seventh grade curriculum, can you tell us a little bit about that?
NJ: Yeah so, that was an amazing experience, so it started off with a teacher,he heard the poem and really liked it, his name is Mr. O. He works at City Springs and he had his class do a socratic seminar through poem and the kids loved it They dissected it and from the poem, they came to the conclusion that the school system was kinda set up to lead the kids to prison; the School to Prison pipeline. They actually wrote policy changes in a paragraph quoting my poem and presented it to their principal.
AFRO: Wow, that is the power of one voice, with the intention to inspire the masses of the children and you got to see what that turned out to look like. For you to be inspired by those same children and for them to be inspired by you and to identify with your words and see that in their own stories is amazing.
NJ: Yeah, they pulled out the policies that were similar to prison like the bathrooms being locked, the uniforms, not being able to travel places on your own. They had to have their cell phones locked up, so all of these things they felt were restricting them and that manifested into him ultimately submitting the poem to the district to be included into the curriculum.