By Rashida James-Saadiya

Our genetic inheritance is precious. It is not a badge of inferiority for us to be ashamed of, on the contrary, we carry the struggles of our ancestors with pride – Tyson Amir

In a 1968 essay, “The Black Arts Movement,” writer Larry Neal proclaimed that Black Arts is the “aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept” prominent in the 1960s and early 1970s[1]. The Black Arts Movement, or BAM, refers to a group of socially motivated artists, who emerged in the wake of political and social movements advocating racial pride, self-sufficiency, and social equality. Encouraging the development of Black-run publishing houses, theaters and exhibition spaces, BAM envisioned a new aesthetic that spoke directly to the aspirations of Black America. BAM deemed the primary role of the Black Artist as one seeking to elevate the spiritual and cultural needs of his people. By telling distinctly Black stories from the perspective of Black people they collectively forged a new literary aesthetic independent of western philosophies surrounding art and beauty. The late educator and poet Gwendolyn Brooks believed “Black poetry was the aesthetic chronicle of a race, struggling to ‘lift its face unashamed’ in an alien land[2].”

The late educator and poet Gwendolyn Brooks believed “Black poetry was the aesthetic chronicle of a race, struggling to ‘lift its face unashamed’ in an alien land[2].”

Tyson Amir, poet, emcee and community activist, continues BAM’s objectives by utilizing the power of language to craft stories that not only document the experience of Black America but also stand as active agents against the dehumanization of Black men and women. It is this natural reaction to an alien sensibility that encouraged Amir to use literature as a principal instrument towards social justice, remembrance, and cultural pride. Amir credits his social awareness, and use of language as a tool for liberation, to his upbringing his father was a Black Panther and his mother an avid reader and active participant in the Black Liberation struggle.

BAM’s legacy certainly inspired Amir’s debut of Black Boy Poems, on October 15, 2016, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party. He is adamant in praising Black freedom fighters and creatives whose tireless efforts altered history, “I thank you for your sacrifices, dedication, and bravery. It was not in vain. The spirit of struggle has taken root in your offspring. We will carry it forward[3].” Amir embraces a long history of oral tradition within the framework of Black Muslim communities of the diaspora, where storytellers are necessary and skilled in the craft of speaking directly to the heart and moral compass of society.

In his poem Black Child, love opens and echoes throughout each stanza unraveling a deep desire to protect the physical and spiritual bodies of Black youth.

In his poem Black Child, love opens and echoes throughout each stanza unraveling a deep desire to protect the physical and spiritual bodies of Black youth.

“Many will attempt to change, corrupt, influence, steal, appropriate, confuse, challenge, humiliate, denigrate, judge, and hate you for being you. This is part of your sentence as a Black Child, but you must always know that you are greater than. You are the first. You are the fulcrum providing the balance the universe rests upon. The world is again waiting for you to assume your rightful position of leader in the cosmos. May we all live to see that day where you, black child again lead us safely home[4].” -Black Child

A combination of poetics, social analysis, and prose through the medium of hip-hop, Black Boy Poems is an intimate retelling of Amir’s efforts to transcend inherited forms of racial oppression imposed upon Black bodies. By highlighting state-sanctioned violence, in addition to systemic forms of social-political injustice that impact marginalized communities, this collection also speaks to unbendable faith and provides language for those committed to using every limb in reshaping this society into one of safety for the vulnerable.

While Amir’s creative expressions perform political functions, they also serve as a platform for the lived experience of a Black man using Islam and the power of the spoken word as a shield. His work is unapologetic, sincere and insistent in its efforts to envision collective freedom. Crafted with the same sense of urgency as Richard Wright’s Black Boy, a 1945 memoir that highlighted the difficulty of surviving as a young Black man in the American South, Amir cites Wright’s work as a form of sacred knowledge supporting his desire to use language as both a strategic guide and prayer for his people.

“I too am a Black boy, I too have inherited this short-sighted and racist culture of America. Wright taught me, that black men and women carry a magic; a power to conjure new realities and possibilities[5].”

“I too am a Black boy, I too have inherited this short-sighted and racist culture of America. Wright taught me, that black men and women carry a magic; a power to conjure new realities and possibilities[5].”

Thus, this contemporary collection from another Black Boy perspective works forwards and backward, reminding us of our history and the possibility of tomorrow. Perhaps this is the thread that reconnects today’s vibrant voices with those of the past — a dedication to using the resilience of language to reclaim freedom and our right to dream.

[1] Neal, Larry. “The black arts movement.” The Drama Review: TDR (1968): 29-39.
[2] Gabbin, Joanne V., ed. The Furious Flowering of African American Poetry. Rutgers University Press, 1999.
[3] Amir, Tyson. Black Boy Poems. Freedom Soul Media: 2016, p.7.
[4] Amir, Tyson. Black Boy Poems. Freedom Soul Media: 2016, p. 207.
[5] Amir, Tyson. Black Boy Poems. Freedom Soul Media: 2016, p. 11.


rashida

Rashida James-­Saadiya @RSaadiya (Arts and Culture Editor) is a visual artist, writer, and cultural educator, invested in transforming social perceptions through creative literature. Her work explores migration, identity and the transmission of spirituality through poetry and song amongst Muslim women in West Africa and the American South. In addition, she is the Creative Director of Crossing Limits, a multi-faith non-profit organization utilizing poetry as an instrument to combat social injustice.

Posted by Malikah A. Shabazz

Malikah A. Shabazz is the Arts & Culture Editor for Sapelo Square. She is a Detroit Native-Brooklyn Based Producer and Curator.

One Comment

  1. More of this please, the use of history and current identity is powerful

    Reply

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