Chicago poet hosts intimate workshop with Delta students

By Jack Rechsteiner, managing editor

UNIVERSITY CENTER – Kristiana Rae Colón woke up Monday, Nov. 5, and drove from Chicago and back to hold a poetry workshop with Delta students.

Colón is an acclaimed poet, playwright, activist, actor and the co-director of the #LetUsBreathe Collective. She is also involved with the Young Chicago Authors, which, English professor JodiAnn Stevenson explains, is part of how Colón came to Delta College to host this event. Stevenson has been working to establish a relationship with Young Chicago Authors, an organization that offers workshops to high school and college students and also holds the largest youth poetry contest in the world, Louder Than A Bomb.

“Embedded in the very core of Young Chicago Authors and their programs is that we can use poetry as a tool of social justice to be louder than a bomb,” says Stevenson.

Stevenson received a grant to support events centered around the idea of survivorship. From there she got in touch with the Young Chicago Authors who referred Colón as the “perfect poet for a workshop of that nature.”

“Events like these are extraordinarily rare. They happen in the area maybe twice a year,” says Stevenson.

After a short introduction by Stevenson, Colón took the floor by launching into one of her spoken word pieces. After getting everyone’s attention by showing her mastery of the spoken word craft, she asked attendees if they would be fine with taking some time to hear about her work, followed by some group writing exercises and then ending the event with Colón performing more of her poems. Unanimous approval and nods abounded throughout the room.

Colón proceeded to talk about the bulk of her artistic work, starting by saying that she has “always been a writer since [she] could write.” Colón goes on to say that after the killing of Trayvon Martin, she felt the need to become more active and vocal with her creative pursuits. Colón went on to write the play “Lack on Lack,” a lyrical and poetic exploration of intersectional oppression and the perpetuation of scarcity.

“If scarcity is engineered, that means abundance is the natural order. If we step away from capitalist beliefs, we see the overwhelming generosity in people’s hearts,” says Colón.

After this play, Colón started a GoFundMe with the hashtag #LetUsBreathe to raise money to buy gas masks for Ferguson protestors. This became a pivotal moment for Colón and other Chicago artists to connect with the voices of people across the nation and share their experiences. Colón saw this as a way to use art and initiative to create a place of community and political engagement.

“That was the next step to using art and poetry to galvanize people into taking social action,” says Colón.

After detailing the different creative and activist works she has been involved with, Colón led everyone in a group writing project with the point of illustrating the power of collective imagination. Each participant began by writing a few lines and then passing their writing to the person next to them, who added to the poem and continued to pass it around the group. At the end, everyone took turns reading aloud the different poems they had created together. To finish the workshop, Colón performed more of her spoken word pieces and left the budding poets with one final word of advice.

“I believe artists are the vanguard of the revolution. I take that upon myself as my personal charge and hope that all of you take it up too,” says Colón.

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