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Mixed-Bag Monday presents Point-of-Impact 2

My first encounter of a “Brooks” kind occurred in the early 90s. It was, I believe, while I was in 1st grade attending Stephen A. Douglas Community Academy (Now John J. Pershing School) in Chicago. I was blessed to attend a predominantly Black Elementary school that valued Math, Science, Art and Black History as a mandate. It was the same school my family attended when they grew up so it felt pretty cool to continue a legacy like that. While in Mrs. Johnson’s Class, she recited the first Gwendolyn Brooks poem I ever knew… The classic staple, “We Real Cool”. While the teacher's cadence was wrong, the poet's words were real. Listening to & later reading the piece, I quickly envisioned my father and his friends, in the “singing sin/ thinning gin” portion of their lives. The piece was simple but it was so profound. It was a different type of storytelling which I’d never encountered before. It awakened a new type of writing within my artistic life. I began writing poetry at an early age as I felt it was a great way to release tension and process things I didn’t always understand. It was my own personal therapy as well as a creative outlet when I needed one. I had no idea that years later I would take a theatre class called Pathways to Development. This initiative was led by Cynthia Walls and Lisa Outlaw, two women who knew how to keep kids engaged and make them pay attention. It was the first time I felt what an extended family should feel like. They were supportive and responsible with our feelings as Black Youth, keeping us safe but making us knowledgable at the same time. Eventually, this opened the door to becoming a member of Chocolate Chips Theatre Company (the organization running the theatre portion of “Pathways…”) when it was still at the old Kennedy-King College on 69th Street. To find myself in something of a deeper study of the work of Gwendolyn Brooks at the behest of her daughter, Nora Brooks Blakely, was nothing short of life-affirming for me. I’d been a professional actor before knowing who Gwendolyn Brooks was... But from that time to now, I’ve been able to assist in the continuation of keeping her works and her life relevant in the arts & educational work I’ve done & continue to do throughout the Midwest. Her legacy has informed so many areas of my personal & professional life, and though I never met her directly (passing the year I graduated from Elementary school), I lived in her community and was informed by her artistry. I feel blessed to have been surrounded by people who knew her & allowed her light to illuminate within them. It’s something that sustains me as both an educator and a conduit for equality & change in everything I do.

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