Poetry Speaks Volumes: Delivering Black Lives Matter Poems to the DOJ
Washington DC – A unique coalition of poetry and social justice organizations is presenting poems that speak for racial justice and resist police brutality to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, on Friday, January 23, 2015. The action is open to public participation and will include poetry readings from 12 to 1pm.
Spearheaded by Split This Rock, this action is cosponsored by Code Pink, the Institute for Policy Studies, DC Ferguson, Youth Speaks/Brave New Voices, SolidariTrees, Washington Peace Center, Baltimore Citywide Youth Poetry Team, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and the DC Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency.
Split This Rock joins with the millions around the world demanding justice, accountability, and an end to racism with impunity. Standing in solidarity with people of color organizing to bring an end to state sponsored terrorism against Black and Brown communities, the action is organized in support of activists’ demands in the wake of the death of Michael Brown, found online at www.fergusonaction.com/demands/, including:
● The federal government must prosecute police officers who kill or abuse people.
● Remove local district attorneys from the job of holding police accountable, and instead have independent prosecutors at the local level charged with prosecuting officers.
● Establish community review boards that can make recommendations on police misconduct, instead of allowing police departments to police themselves.
● Defund local police departments that use excessive force or racially profile. Instead of the DOJ indiscriminately giving more than $250 million to local police departments annually, it should only fund departments that agree to adopt DOJ best practices for training and meaningful community input.
We at Split This Rock -- an international organization based in Washington, D.C., that celebrates poetry that provokes social change -- express our grief and outrage at the murders of our Parisian comrades in the political arts. We believe that the essence of art is freedom and that any act that threatens one, threatens the other. Poets across the world stand in solidarity today with those who defend the rights of free expression.
Split This Rock and the Institute for Policy Studies Respond to DCJCC Firing of Ari Roth
Today, Split This Rock and the Institute for Policy Studies sent the following letter to Carole R. Zawatsky, the CEO of the DC Jewish Community Center, in protest over her firing earlier in the week of Ari Roth, Artistic Director of Theater J. Please join us in speaking out against this stifling of voices of dissent. You can read more here: http://wapo.st/1w4DC4F
Carole R. Zawatsky
Chief Executive Officer
DC Jewish Community Center
1529 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Dear Ms. Zawatsky,
We are writing to express our dismay at your firing of Ari Roth as Director of Theater J, a position he has held with distinction for 18 years.
We at the Institute for Policy Studies and Split This Rock deeply support free expression and the exchange of ideas, and question the direction that this action suggests the DCJCC is moving in.
One of the roles of art should be to widen the conversations we have with one another. By firing Mr. Roth, whose curatorial vision was an expansive and generous one, you have accomplished the opposite, narrowing and limiting the space for imaginative consideration of the pressing issues of our time.
Art, too, functions to humanize others, to remind us of what we have in common as a people. As John Judis, the former New Republic senior editor, was quoted as saying in The Washingtonian, “What’s at stake here is not simply artistic censorship, but the attempt to snuff out works of art that recognize that Jews and Palestinians share a common humanity.”
We remind you: Ari's work with Theater J was cutting edge at times; this is what good theater often is. If we cannot defend the cultural front, we have no chance on the political battlefields. If we desire peace and the need to bring people together - what better place than the theater?
The road to peace with justice in the Middle East will require that we listen to one another, to many voices, sometimes even to unpopular voices. Your actions in removing Mr. Roth from your institution, sadly, work to silence the diversity of opinions so desperately needed.
We write this with great sadness because our two organizations have viewed the DCJCC as a close ally. IPS held our 25th annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards at the DCJCC 14 years ago with our art show of “Light Among Shadows.” We co-hosted Ariel Dorfman’s “Death and the Maiden” a few years later.
IPS and Split This Rock will be willing partners with Mr. Roth in the new theater he intends to build at the Atlas so that we can help promote the type of cultural work that is needed today.
Split This Rock
Split This Rock
Institute for Policy Studies
E. Ethelbert Miller
Institute for Policy Studies
Split This Rock Call for Poems that Resist Police Brutality & Demand Racial Justice
We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest - Call for Poems that Resist Police Brutality & Demand Racial Justice
Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's son -- we who believe in freedom cannot rest.
- Ella Baker
Even as our hearts break in rage and anguish over the murder of Black and brown people throughout the land by police who are not held accountable, here at Split This Rock we are heartened by the powerful actions in the streets and the visionary leadership of mostly young people of color in this growing movement for justice.
We are also moved by the poets, who continue to speak out, and especially by BlackPoetsSpeakOut and its manifesto: "I am a black poet who will not remain silent while this nation murders black people. I have a right to be angry."
In solidarity, Split This Rock offers our blog as a Virtual Open Mic, open to all:
Send us your poems on the long history of the brutalization of Black and brown bodies and we will publish them on Split This Rock's blog, Blog This Rock, to create a running open mic. We welcome poems new and old, whether previously published or not. (Please include credit information for previously published.)
Thematically we are wide open: resistance, mourning, rage, celebration, love. Send the poem(s) as email attachments (.doc or .docx only) with the subject line "We who believe in freedom" to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the open mic collection, we will choose poems to run as Poem of the Week in the weeks ahead. We will contact you directly if we decide to use your poem for Poem of the Week.
As the virtual open mic grows, we hope to print out and present all the poems to the U.S. Department of Justice, along with the national demands for police accountability and racial justice articulated by Ferguson Action. Stay tuned for details.
In grief and resistance, Split This Rock
We Who Believe in Freedom
Dear Friend in Justice,
Our hearts are so heavy today over yet another Black boy's life violently taken without penalty, over the list of their names continuing to grow. Our country needs healing, needs awareness, needs change and more love.
Poets, will you write that poem today, the one that tells the story, raw and beautiful? Will you share that poem until we see all our hearts changed? This Open Letter to White Poets by Danez Smith shares the urgent need for us to use our writing as an act of solidarity.
Other things we can all do today:
Call the Department of Justice right now at 202-353-1555 and demand they intervene immediately to end the police violence in Ferguson, conduct an immediate and comprehensive review of systemic abuses by local police departments, and publish all data relating to racially biased policing.
Sign the petition our allies at ColorOfChange have launched asking the US Department of Justice to step in to prosecute Darren Wilson.
Take to the streets - find an action near you or add your own here.
Read, listen to, and share poems that express your mourning, outrage, commitment to action. Split This Rock has published many over the past five years on the subject of police brutality, racial violence, and the treasuring of Black people and all our sisters and brothers. We offer some below. Just go to www.blogthisrock.blogspot.com and search on the poem or poet's name.
Words Dance Publishing has also posted videos and links of poems at their website.
Thank you. May we live by these words by Ella Baker and set to music by Bernice Johnson Reagon:
We who believe in freedom cannot rest... until the killing of Black men, Black mother's sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mother's sons.
Split This Rock
Split This Rock & PEN American Center Protest Denial of Entry to US of Poet Amjad Nasser
The following letter was delivered to the Secretary of Homeland Security today. We urge all concerned individuals and organizations to join us in speaking out against this outrageous violation of Mr. Nasser's right to travel and of Americans' right to meet and share ideas with our sisters and brothers from around the world. Click here to download a Word version of the letter, on PEN American Center letterhead.
Read Amjad Nasser's account of his experience of being denied to right to fly from Heathrow Airport here. Read his poem "A Postponed Poem for New York," translated by 2010 Split This Rock Poetry Festival Featured Poet Fady Joudah, here.
Friday, October 3, 2014
The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Dear Secretary Johnson,
We are writing to express our profound concern regarding celebrated British-Jordanian poet and novelist Amjad Nasser’s denial of entry to the United States on Saturday, September 27, 2014.
Invited to give the inaugural address in the Gallatin Global Writers Series at New York University, Mr. Nasser was interrogated on the phone for two hours at Heathrow Airport in London and prevented from boarding his flight to New York. The Department of Homeland Security representative who spoke with him for two hours on the phone before refusing him the right to travel to the United States declined to provide any reason for the denial.
Our organizations represent thousands of poets, writers, and others passionately committed to the free exchange of ideas. Mr. Nasser is one of the major poets of the Arab world. He has worked as a journalist in Beirut and Cyprus. Since 1987 he has lived in London, where he is managing editor and cultural editor of the independent daily newspaper, Al-Quds Al-Arabi. He has published nine volumes of poetry, four travel memoirs, and a novel. His works have been translated into ten languages. While some may find some of his views or those of his newspaper controversial, we are aware of nothing in his background that would be grounds for his exclusion from the United States.
At this time of conflict and crisis, it is important to keep open the channels of dialogue and communication between the American people and our counterparts all over the world. If Mr. Nasser has been determined to constitute a threat to the security of the United States, this information should be presented to him, along with an opportunity for him to respond to the evidence. Absent any such communication, serious questions arise about whether Mr. Nasser has been denied entry to the U.S. on the basis of protected acts of expression through his writings or speeches.
We ask you to institute a review of this case and to clearly set out the criteria that the Department of Homeland Security uses to make such decisions, as well as to either provide Mr. Nasser with the reasons for his denial or, alternatively, grant him the entry to which he is entitled.
Suzanne Nossel Sarah Browning
Executive Director Executive Director
PEN American Center Split This Rock
100,000 Poets for Change: Split This Rock’s Call to Action
100,000 Poets for Change Global Day of Action is on September 27. Because Split This Rock presents poetry for change all year round, we're offering something different this year. We urge you to take action on four critical issues of our time: send letters and include poems!
Below you'll find action suggestions on stopping the Keystone Pipeline, demanding justice for all the Mike Browns in our society, ending deportations and urging immigration justice, and supporting alternatives to another senseless war in Iraq and Syria.
Don't have poems on some of these topics? We suggest ones you can include from past Split This Rock Poems of the Week! And soon, if you want a poem on any of these or other social justice topics, you'll be able to search a new database of all the poems Split This Rock has published. More details coming soon!
Not Another Senseless War!
Background: President Obama said it himself: "There is no military solution" to ending ISIS's rampages. But then he bombs Syria, a decision that stands in stark violation of international law, the UN Charter, and the requirements of the U.S. Constitution. Instead, we need diplomacy -- with Iraq, Iran, Russia, and the UN. More information: Read Phyllis Bennis's analysis this morning here. And her more detailed blueprint for a diplomatic strategy here. Here's a quick summary, on video. Action: Write President Obama and your legislators to advocate for diplomacy instead of war. Attach a poem focusing on alternatives to military action to alleviate international tension. Poems:
"Why I Don't Mention Flowers When Conversations with My Brother Reach Uncomfortable Silences," by Natalie Diaz
"Hold," by Gowri Koneswaran
"For the Fifty (Who Formed PEACE With Their Bodies)," by Philip Metres
"When I was torn by war," by Sinan Antoon
Oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline
Background: The Keystone XL Pipeline is a proposal to build a pipeline to transport crude oil from the tar sands of Canada to the United States' Gulf Coast. The project is awaiting the approval of the President to begin construction. Questions of environmental health, cost, and safety are the concerns of the American people. For more information:A succinct summary of reasons to oppose the pipeline, including a debunking of the job-creation myth. Action: Write or call President Obama opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal. Write a poem or attach a poem pertaining to the importance of environmental health. Participate in the ongoing efforts of the People's Climate March. Poems:
"For My Daughter," by Michelle Regalado Deatrick
"A Portrait of America in Trash," by Jose Padua
"Oil," by Chris August
Demand Justice for Mike Brown
Background: In Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014, African American teenager Michael Brown was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson. Brown's autopsy reported he was shot at least six times and twice in the head. After the incident, the nation erupted in many protests of "Justice for Mike Brown" and "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" movements. The proposed Mike Brown Law requires all police officers to wear body cameras. More information: Excellent overview here: "10 Ways You Can Help the People of Ferguson." More on the militarization of the police. Action: Contact you congressional representatives in support of the Mike Brown Law, write and/or attach a poem about racism, and advocate against the Pentagon's 1033 program, which supplies surplus military hardware to police departments. Poems:
"not an elegy for Mike Brown," by Danez Smith
"Despite," by Derrick Weston Brown
"14 haiku," by Sonia Sanchez
"Elegy for Kimani Gray," by Kenji Liu
Support the DREAM Act & Keeping Families Together
Background: The Development Relief and Education of Alien Minor (DREAM) Act was introduced to the Senate in 2001 by members of the Republican and Democratic Parties. This bipartisan effort allows undocumented children who grew up in America an opportunity to serve in the U.S. military or obtain a higher education degree to contribute to the economy and growth of the nation.
Thousands of families separated by deportation and 13 years later, the legislation has not passed. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has protected some undocumented immigrants from deportation but the uncertainty lies with unfinished business in the DREAM Act legislation.
For more information:United We Dream is a terrific immigrant youth-led advocacy organization. The National Immigration Law Center lays out all the legislative priorities for this year. Action: Support United We Dream's "We Can't Wait" campaign by urging Congress to push for immigration reform and for keeping families together. Write a poem to send to your representatives and President Obama. Poems:
"Guidelines," by Lisa Suhair Majaj
"If You Leave Your Shoes," by Joseph Ross
"barreras," by María Luisa Arroyo
"Ghazal for the Ninth Month," by Shadab Zeest Hashmi
Split This Rock’s Youth Poetry Team Wins International Poetry Festival
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 21, 2014
CONTACT: Jonathan Tucker, email@example.com, 202-787-5279
DC YOUTH POETRY TEAM WINS 2014 BRAVE NEW VOICES INTERNATIONAL YOUTH POETRY SLAM
Washington, DC – The teens of Split This Rock’s DC Youth Slam Team (DCYST) are the 2014 Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival champions.
Gathering over 500 youth poets ages 13-19, the 2014 Brave New Voices (BNV) festival was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from July 16 to 19. Youth attendees participated in poetry writing and performance workshops, town hall discussions, open mics, service learning and a series of poetry slam bouts. In each slam bout, team members recited 4-5 rounds of original poems individually or as a group that were then scored by a panel of judges. The scores from the bouts then determined which four teams of more than 50 would compete at the Grand Slam Finals on Saturday, July 19.
The DCYST advanced to the Grand Slam after winning first place in all of its preceding bouts. This year’s Grand Slam also included Los Angeles, California; Cape Town, South Africa; and Denver, Colorado, the two time reigning champion.
In 2013, the DCYST placed 2nd at Brave New Voices. One of the team’s performances at last year’s Grand Slam has now been viewed over 1.5 million times on Youtube.
Currently comprised of 12 members the DCYST was represented at BNV this year by Morgan Butler (17), a 2014 graduate of Woodrow Wilson Senior High School (DC); Malachi Byrd (17), a 2014 graduate of Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy (DC); Thomas Hill (17), a rising senior at Magruder High School (MD); and Chyna McCombs (17), a 2014 graduate of Friendly High School (MD).
The DC Youth Slam Team (DCYST) is a program of Split This Rock, a DC-based non-profit that calls poets to a greater role in public life and fosters a national network of socially engaged poets. As part of Split This Rock, the team receives year-round arts immersion and is coached on writing and performing poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes change. In addition to Split This Rock’s Youth Programs Coordinator Jonathan B. Tucker, the team is coached by Pages Matam and Elizabeth Acevedo, both award winning slam poets and teaching artists at Split This Rock.
Brave New Voices is sponsored by Youth Speaks Inc., a San Francisco based non-profit dedicated to creating safe spaces to empower the next generation of leaders, self-defined artists, and visionary activists through written and oral literacies. Featured on HBO, Brave New Voices is described as “the largest and most diverse ongoing spoken word event in the world.”
For more information, contact Jonathan Tucker at 202-787-5210 or visit www.splitthisrock.org.
2014 was best — and worst — of times
Split This Rock is mentioned as an organization to support in this article about what went right, and what went wrong, in 2014. Read the full article on Washington Blade.
Poetry slams are one of D.C.’s specialties
Split This Rock's DC Youth Slam Team and youth programs coordinator, Jonathan Tucker, are mentioned in this editorial about present day torch-bearers for slam in DC. Read more at the Washington Post's website.
Keeping America safe from foreign poets
Click here to read this Washington Post article which references the Split This Rock and PEN American Center letter in protest of Poet Amjad Nasser being denied entry to the U.S.
Split This Rock: socially engaged poetry in the US
Letter by Split This Rock and PEN American Center Posted on Harriet
Read the Split This Rock and PEN American Center letter protesting the United States’s refusal of entry to Amjad Nasser here on Poetry Foundation's Harriet.
Hashtag activism brings Ferguson to White House
This Washington Post article depicts a demonstration in front of the White House as a display of organized activism assembled by Colorofchange.org. The protest called on the Obama administration to address the lack of police accountability after recent shootings of unarmed African American men. Protesters included the DC Youth Slam Team and the capital's hashtag-style activism. Read the full article on The Washington Post's Post Local website.
Hashtag activism brings Ferguson to White House
Visit the Washington Post's website to read about the August 28 Colorofchange.org rally calling for more police accountability which mentions members of Split This Rock's DC Youth Slam Team who attended.
Split This Rock featured in SPITjournal
SPITjournal features an article, which explains the mission, values, and experiences of people involved with Split This Rock, especially in regards to their youth programming.
D.C. Youth Poetry Team Wins 2014 Brave New Voices Poetry Slam
Read an article from Afro about the DC Youth Slam Team's recent victory at the Brave New Voices Youth Poetry Slam.
D.C. Youth Slam Team brings home world championship
The DC Youth Slam Team took 1st prize at the 2014 Brave New Voices Youth International Poetry Slam. This Washington Post article describes the competition and explains a bit about how the DC Youth Slam Team operates.
Read the full article, and watch one of the team's poems here.