Words and Water: Katrina Ten Years Later – a poem by Christopher D. Sims

Neighborhoods-Sunrise-9th-Ward1

This poem formed, brewed inside of me
Like you did Katrina before the levees broke
As you rushed forcefully, undeniably
into New Orleans.

This storm of words inside me took
their time. They aligned with thoughts, feelings,
emotions, tears, devastation, loss.

So many lost everything: lost family; lost pets;
lost homes; lost a sense of belonging; lost their
ability to return home.

This is jazz and blues for the displaced; the
people who were called refugees. Easy, no
the rebirth of New Orleans has not been.

Gentrification has pushed the poor out. Young
Black men cannot find jobs. Isn’t it odd
That the people who created the culture, the dance,
the music are not benefiting financially?

Katrina’s wrath can still be felt ten years later.

These words are brewing still. My memory
takes me to images of bodies floating in high
waters, to the eyes of the distressed, the shocked,
to a president’s response that was too little and too late.

I wait.

I wade in rivers of words.

I listen to spirit and sound.

I remember Katrina rushing through the Lower 9th.

It’s been a struggle to arrive at these ten years.
These words are the Mississippi in the form of tears.

© Christopher D. Sims
 August 27, 2015

Tales from my Earth Day 2015 Spoken Word Tour

This year’s National Poetry Month (April 2015) and Earth Day has made this my most productive and active month as a spoken word artist.

April is a great month for poets and performers of poetry, especially if you’re actively looking for gigs and looking for opportunities to share your poetry with craving crowds who are either expecting your message, or new to the art form of spoken word.

On Earth Day I went to Madison, WI and shared my environmental justice focused poems “The Return of Earth/She” and one of my latest pieces “Poetry that Protects the Environment.” At Hawthorne Elementary School and Fran Allis Elementary School in Madison, WI I was introduced to captive crowds of fifth grade students who were anticipating my poetry. I had never visited two schools on the same day, let alone two schools in the creative and conscious haven that Madison, WI is.

Earth Day was a great day to share with the students about my environmental justice experience, and for me to share what environmental justice is. Since students are not taught what those things are, it was indeed an educational opportunity. They did not know what those terms meant at Frank Allis Elementary School, but when a teacher asked them did they know what global warming is, most of them threw their hands up. I can imagine them sitting at home with their parents watching the national news and hearing the latest news on global warming and how it’s effecting our planet. It’s important for the future people of this planet to know what’s going on.

At both schools examples were shared about some of the local efforts that they knew of in regards to environmental stewardship. It was great to hear about those actions from the students. They are paying attention to what’s going on and participating in some of those efforts.

They listened intensely to each poem. They had lots of questions as I finished each poem as well. They asked me some great questions. We discussed elements of both poems. It was identified that “The Return of Earth/She” is a metaphorical poem. That I crafted that poem and gave it the essence of a woman. Personifying the earth with a feminine existence. This was an epiphany for me: I hadn’t looked at that particular poem that way. But thinking about it, to give the earth feelings, makes it a more effective poem that youth and adults can relate to. Here is a video version of that poem: 

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Poetry that Protects the Environment is more direct, not metaphorical piece like “The Return of Earth/She.”

I ended my day at Hawthorne Elementary School with a lot of positive energy with much to look forward to and to appreciate and be thankful for! It’s always an honor to speak with youth and have their attention like I had. It’s always a heart-warming experience. I even signed autographs for the students who were eager to receive them. They will attach my name to an experience the had on Earth Day 2015, which is a very special thing.

I got back home to Rockford after 5 PM that day and went to a live concert that honored and remembered Pete Seeger, and served as fundraiser for JustGoods for their music license. The place was packed with those who definitely remember Pete Seeger’s songs and what he stood for. I settled in, was greeted warmly by people I know and respect from the community, and performed those same pieces with adults this time.

David Stocker, my friend a local musician, backed my poetry with drumming from a djembe drum. It gave my performance an element that didn’t exist in Madison. Combining music and spoken word is one of my favorite things to do. David’s percussive excellence inspired me to recite “The Return of Earth/She” with a rhythm and pace I hadn’t recited it in before. My performances were well-received that night at JustGoods.

Those are my tales, what a magical Earth Day!

Healing the Waters: Addressing Race, Class, Gender and Immigration Status

From March 13th – 15th, 2015 I participated in an environmental justice conference entitled Healing the Waters:  Decolonizing Our Communities and the Climate Movement that focused on the intersections of race, gender, class, and immigration status in New Orleans, LA.

Focusing on those intersections, we knew as people of faith, and environmental activists and stewards of the earth, that we needed to have a deeper conversation around these national and international issues when it comes to climate change.

Two organizations got together and made this important conference and conversation(s) happen: Diverse, Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM) and Allies for Racial Equity (ARE). These two groups are working on creating an anti-racist/anti-oppressive Unitarian Universalism, and also, an anti-racist/anti-oppressive United States.

Keynote speeches and workshops addressed all of these issues creating dialog that lasted until the next workshop or address. The history of the South, including its racism, oppression, and corruption all came together, especially in Colette Pichon Battle’s words. Colette is the Executive Director of the  Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy. Her address laid out the historical and institutional racist practices that have created the harsh situations experienced by displaced and the impoverished people of New Orleans and its surrounding cities and communities. It was an education that I welcomed because I had only heard of or read about the injustices taking place in New Orleans, and in other southern cities, after Hurricane Katrina. You have to go there and listen to the locals in order to know what is really going on, and how climate change and political corruption has affected the people there.

As a human rights activist, and as an environmental activist, I feel that if we’re going to solve 21st Century issues relating to the climate movement, these intersections must continue to be addressed, discussed, and documented as we deal with a changing world and a changing global climate. The communities that are usually affected by all of this are usually front line communities who have been dealing with and learning about Earth’s climate changes for centuries. Front line communities have the experience, knowledge, and leadership that will help change our situation and develop strategies that will bring us together in the process of creating a healthier planet for generations to come.

Healing the Waters was created with an intentional multicultural focus that allowed us to keep front line communities’s at the center of our work. It also provided us with the opportunity to have a much needed conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement.

UU World writer and nationally known blogger and activist Kenny Wiley and myself led a conversation on the Black Lives Matter movement and discussed our activities within the movement and how Unitarian Universalists can be involved and more engaged in this human rights struggle.

White Unitarian Universalists were looking for better ways to be involved, and were willing to have the tough conversations that happen when we’re discussing racism, police brutality, or mass incarceration here in the United States.

The workshop was very engaging as we decided to sit in a circle and address our concerns, fears, and thoughts about what is taking place with the Black Lives Matter movement. What came out of that dialog was as simple as white (Unitarian Universalists) doing whatever they could on their own level to help with the situation. As long as we’re doing something to save the lives of black women and men, and brown women and men, is helpful to our struggle.

New Orleans was a great setting for this conference. We talked about how we could invite Colette Pichon Battle to help do more of this work with us, and what future workshops and gatherings in our Unitarian Universalist faith movement could look with a lot of what was shared at Healing the Waters: Decolonizing Our Communities and the Climate Movement.

With our upcoming gathering of thousands of Unitarian Universalists in downtown Portland, OR this summer (http://www.uua.org/ga) and our climate movement focus with Commit2Respond (http://www.commit2respond.org) now is the time for a lot of important work to be done to help heal our hurting planet.

To learn more about this conference, visit http://alliesforracialequity.wildapricot.org. To learn more about Diverse, Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries, visit http://www.druumm.org.