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Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): Where were you when you were given the news of the passing of Amiri Baraka?
Equality (EQ): I was at work when I found out…I got a text from someone while I was at work. I went online, and I saw that it was confirmed. That’s how I found out that Amiri Baraka had passed.
EM: What kind of impact did and does Amiri Baraka have on you as a poet and community servant?
EQ: He had a profound impact on me as a poet in a way that showed that poetry was more than just words on paper. To me Amiri Baraka exemplified poetry in the form of activism. Poems could be used a form activism as well as cultural arts movement, communalism and intellectualism.
I actually had the chance to perform with him live at Hermann Park. It was at the Miller Outdoor Theatre. He was the feature poet, and I was one of the poets that came on before him. It was June 9, 2007. He signed a book, Blues People, for me that day. Sister Akua Holt was instrumental in bringing him into Houston to the Miller Outdoor Theatre. She knew about my poetry and my involvement in the community. She called me up one day and told me she was brining in Amiri Baraka and she would like for me to perform with him. I told her it would be an honor.
That was my first time meeting Amiri Baraka on that day. I was the opening poet for him. Watching him perform was inspirational. You had a person, who in their 70s, was still able to perform at a high level. He showed me that there are no boundaries and no limitations on poetry as far as age. A lot of other journalists when they get to a certain age it changes, but with poetry it showed me you can have a career for as long as you want.
Around that time of his performance in Houston it was pretty controversial. He had written a poem called “Somebody Blew Up America”.
EM: Yes sir. This was the poem that brought on accusations of him being an Anti-Semite.
EQ: Yes ma’am, that’s right. That poem was in response to 9/11. It was told at the time of his performance that he wouldn’t be able to do that poem. It was too controversial to ADL (Anti-Defamation League). It’s Amiri Baraka, so how do you tell him not to perform a poem? He wasn’t supposed to, but he performed the poem anyway. I enjoyed it and the audience enjoyed it as well.
EM: Awesome. What did you take away from that moment with him and what legacy do you see him leaving?
EQ: Poetry is a weapon; it can be used as a weapon. It can be used as an educational weapon. It can be just as powerful as a protest; just as powerful as a gun; just as powerful as a speech; just as powerful as a musical performance or a song. It can be just as or more powerful than those things.
I think whether poet realizes or not they stand on the shoulders of Amiri Baraka. He was one of the Founding Fathers of the Black Arts Movement.
EM: Thank you very much for sharing some words about our brother and your experience with him. May Allah (God) be pleased with him and everything he stood for.
EQ: It was an honor, thank you for having me.
Amiri Baraka Performing “Somebody Blew Up America”
You can hear and watch Equality perform live tomorrow along with other poets and musical artists at Houston Third Ward Multi-Service center. Doors open at 6p and the show will start at 7p.
Check out Equality’s feature in H2H Magazine