May 29, 2024

To kickoff the beginning of CBS week and as a part of Black History Month, CBS hosted slam poet Jamal Parker this past Monday to entertain and educate the Witt community about individuality and identity. 

Parker got his start to writing with a love for comic books and by writing his own comics. It wasn’t until his junior year of high school that he was introduced to and fell in love with spoken word poetry. 

Parker, a recent Temple University graduate, hosted several poetry workshops and performed some of his own poetry on campus. At both the workshop and the performance, Parker told the audience that he prefers his presentations to be more conversation based and interactive for the audience. He started both presentations by introducing himself, giving his prefered pronouns and telling the group his astrology sign and then asked the audience to do the same. 

At the workshop, Parker was able to get a feel for the audience after everyone had introduced themselves and he went on to talk about his personal history. As a member of a military family, he traveled for most of his childhood and has lived all over the world, both of which have helped his writing significantly. Parker showed a short video of a spoken word poem performed by Malachi Bird entitled, “Secular Prayers.” The poem was about Bird’s connection with his now late father and his troubles finding ways to continue to communicate and connect with him after his passing. 

Parker noted that for a lot of young African American men, including Bird, emotional expression was frowned upon socially. However, that poetry was a useful outlet for expression, especially for such serious and traumatic events. Many of the traumatic experiences in the black community are unique to their community and poetry is an effective way to communicate the emotional hardships associated with these social injustices. 

“Writing was a form of communication that people like myself use to express those emotions otherwise not accepted in my urban community,” Parker said. 

Following the Bird spoken word performance, Parker switched gears to discuss hip hop. 

“Spoken word and music are inherently linked,” Parker said. “Hip hop artists are doing performance poetry whether they admit it or not” 

The class watched and analyzed the hidden messages in Mac Miller’s “Self Care” music video with the characteristics of spoken word poetry in mind. Parker chose to analyze Miller specifically because he was not only an incredible artist, but also a revered introspective writer in the hip hop community. 

“I showcase this video because it relates to the realm of identity,” Parker said. 

“Self Care” was released not long before Miller’s recent death in September of 2018 and Parker pointed out to the class the signs of Miller’s internal struggles and depleting self worth present in the video. For example, in the video Miller is stuck in a wooden coffin and yet, he lights a cigarette, which would cause suffocation under normal circumstances.  

Later that evening at Parker’s performance in Post 95, he started off with an original poem about his relationship with his three older brothers. “We labeled our fights baptisms…” he started. The poem compared the physical fighting between brothers as a form of love, a metaphor to fighting hunger and even as a coping mechanism for one of Parker’s step-brother’s whose father died due to gun violence. “Our brotherhood was having eachothers backs… even if at one point we tried to break them,” Parker finished. 

Parker tackled other issues of inequality and injustice in the world with his poetry. Through his admiration for Will Smith growing up, Parker recalled the backlash when Smith’s son, Jaden, posed for a photoshoot in a dress. Jaden’s actions inspired Parker who wrote and performed a poem about the ludicrous idea of gendered clothing and personal memories of trying on his mother’s heels when he was young. 

Next, Parker performed a piece about comics, an ode to his origins in the creative writing field. In the poem, Parker compared some of the issues various superheroes face to that of the struggles he and his family have faced. 

“You have to remind someone about someone’s trauma before you can be invested in the story,” Parker said, regarding Batman’s story in connection to his brothers.

Parker’s moving performance and sage words of advice remind us of the importance of expressing yourself and embracing the things that make up your identity. Parker was able to use an art form as a way to not only express himself, but to also tackle social justice issues and cope with personal trauma and life experiences. 

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