Glenis Redmond, an internationally recognized poet and self-described imagination activist, visited Donald E. Long Detention Center on Monday, June 20th. Standing in the center of twenty or so youth and staff, her voice sucked the noise from the room as she recited the first verse of her poem: “For those who don’t think Black lives matter,” she spoke. The poem titled, "I wish you Black Sons" left some staff members in tears.
Redmond made it to Portland as the keynote speaker of the 2016 Arts Education Symposium put on by the Regional Arts and Culture Council. In partnership with the Donald E. Long Detention Center, RACC has brought in many performing artist for the youth in past years but due to a lack of funds, the program now requires volunteer artists like Redmond. So while the event hosted by the Portland Art Museum Tuesday June 21- Thursday, June 23 was her main purpose, it didn’t stop Redmond from finding time to speak with the youth.
Throughout her 22 years as a professional poet, Redmond has made it her mission to make poetry a part of as many people's lives as she can. Growing up in a poverty stricken household in South Carolina, she says that the challenges she faced helped her connect with many of the youth she spoke to Monday.
“People who come from have-nots I definitely have more of a common interest with because I come from a have-not situation. Poverty can be a very binding thing,” she says.
One of the youth who attended the event felt that connection.
“It’s not even that she was just a good poet, the things that she said spoke to me,” she says. “The way she performed, the things that she talked about. Like all of it was beautiful like it meant something. She wrote from the heart.”
When she finished her fourth poem, Redmond turned the focus back on to the youth, opening up the doors for them to write their own poetry. Intrigued, she sat back as five enthusiastic kids volunteered to share their writing. One spoke about finding the good in everyone you meet, another wrote about the importance of his culture. Everyone had written their own poems and by the end of the workshop there were more hands up waiting to share. For Redmond, instilling that creativity into the youth is what her job is all about.
“My purpose as a poet is not to make everybody a poet but to have an experience with poetry and to find their poetry within because I believe everybody is carrying a story, everyone is carrying poetry, that’s just my goal.”