black churches are burning – a poem by Christopher D. Sims

It’s a hot summer. It’s burning hot in the south. Black churches are burning down in the south. Black connections to African roots are being threatened and uprooted in the Deep South. Even in God’s house. Even where people gather, pray, seek lives of purpose. Black churches are burning. Black people are hurting. Black people are worrying. Black people are not forgetting. We are not forgetting about similar times. We are not forgetting about the same kinds of wicked minds that contain hate. Even in 2015 we can relate. Black churches are burning down. Burning down in old southern towns. Black churches; Black memories; Black gatherings that have happened for centuries. Black people praying and swaying; Swaying and praying. What is this new hate saying? What is it conveying? Black churches burn. Black churches are burning in the Deep South. Yes, even God’s house. They want to burn away our history. They want to burn us into misery. Even when we’ve been a part of this nation since its early beginnings. Will the burnings have an ending? As Black churches burn who is winning? Black churches are burning, burning in the Deep South.

Copyright Christopher D. Sims

July 3rd, 2015 

Black Man Down – A Poem by Christopher D. Sims

Black man down
His blood is spilling out on the ground
The Universe makes another sad sound

The Universe makes another sad sound
His blood is spilling out on the ground
Black man down

Down in the dumps
Down Black man slumps in the ghettos of the States
Black man down, how many of you can relate?

Black man down

Down on his luck
Who will help him?
Who can he trust?

Black man down
Black man isn’t up
When Black man is down
The Black man will erupt, or self destruct.

Black man down
Black man has no job
Black man looks for others to steal from or rob.
Black man has been taught that the dollar is God.

Black man down
His blood is spilling on the ground
The Universe makes another sad sound

Black man down: Trayvon Martin
Black man down: Jordan Davis
Black man down: Eric Garner
Black man down: Michael Brown
Black man down: John Crawford III
Black man down: Tony Robinson

Black man down: Another one just
the other day. His name was Freddie Gray.

Black man down, down, down, down.

© Christopher D. Sims
April 30th, 2015

This art was used for an article written for The New Orleans Times.

This art was used for an article written for The New Orleans Times.

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!

The Art of Performance Poetry with A Lively Writer’s Group

Performing spoken word poetry.

Performing spoken word poetry.

Yesterday morning, after an early and fairly quiet drive to Winnetka, Illinois, I went to the Off Campus Writers’ Workshop to be featured with a discussion focused on my ” The Seven Elements of Performance Poetry.” The group was very lively, and interested in what I had to share and to say about my techniques as a seasoned spoken word poet.

I put together a defined workshop that spoke to each element – available as a Word document if you’re interested in viewing it. I was concerned about not having enough material to carry me through, but that quickly vanished when the lively group of seasoned writers and literary enthusiasts began asking me questions about my knowledge of performance poetry and/or Slam poetry.

The questions carried us through most of the first half of our electric conversation. I am glad that I have been performing as long as I have, and was prepared with a memory of what it takes to be a performance poet. The questions they asked kept me on my toes!

I learned of the Off Campus Writers’ Workshop through a local poet’s husband during a conversation we had at an event where his visual art was on display, and where her and my poetry was featured in a live reading in downtown Rockford. I remembered the name of the group and went home and found their website. I reached out to them expressing my interest in being a presenter. I shared what I could present and it was accepted.

The Seven Elements of Performance Poetry is my go to workshop for highlighting my tactics as a spoken word poet on stage. It consists of pieces of knowledge and information that I feel will help any poet seeking to become a performance poet – which, as I explained to the Off Campus Writers’ Workshop group, is taking written poetry to the stage.

The group consisted mostly of women who listened intensely and made sure they asked the right questions. Performance poetry is not simple, and I believe only the brave poets want to take their writing to the level of performing and reciting it.

I have been performing since the late 90s as a spoken word artist. My early start was in Memphis, TN at the former Sidewalk University in midtown Memphis. I remember that first experience like it was yesterday. Going to an open mike to share my poetry live was something I had never done. It was a new genre for me. Although I had performed as a budding rapper at my elementary school in the mid 80s, there was something different about reciting poetry to a group of people I didn’t know. Later on, after learning about the weekly open mike at the former Precious Cargo in downtown Memphis, I become hooked and haven’t looked back since.

Years later, here I am in Winnetka, Illinois at the Off Campus Writers’ Workshop sharing what I have learned all of these years. I have come full circle as a spoken word poet. I am glad I had the opportunity to showcase that there with that lively and kindred group of writers and literary enthusiasts!

I hope to get back there some time, even if it is just to listen to them and learn about what they are doing with their writing. Happy National Poetry Month! May the muse be with you!

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.

Serious Fun – My Newly Released Music Project

Serious Fun is my first ever studio release, outside of 2012’s Ladder to the Sun album The Naturals. Teaming up with Phillip Ryan Block and Independent Ear, Inc. we bring you a project that has a variety of lyrics, thoughts, and concepts.

It’s great to be releasing a new project, especially in the new year! I know that I can speak for other artists who have labored putting together what they hope to be a project that will take their career to the next level, and feed the fans that help keep them going. Completing a new project and anticipating its release is quite the feeling, and something to look forward to as an artist.

I wanted this project to be different. It feels and looks different than my previous projects and compilations. The title serious FUN comes from the idea that there’s a time to be serious and there’s a time to have fun. A balance in life I think we all strive for. Myself, I can often be the serious type. I’m analytic, and a “deep” thinker. With that said, tracks like The Detroit Water Shutoff Crisis, Brown At The Borders, and Ballad For Black Boys And Black Men capture me being analytic and delving into the kind of words and thoughts that brings these things to light. Those of you who know me for my activism will appreciate these songs. They represent the signs of the times, and where we are in this country when it comes to race relations, immigration, and local people fighting for water rights and the like.

The fun side of this album is mostly me flexing my lyrical capabilities and talents. 30 Bars of Lyrical Fun is a tongue-twisting song that finds me rapping at a very fast paced over a track that pushes those energetic words. It was tough, yet fun, completing that track. That’s the fastest I’ve ever rapped in a song!

I reached back into my archives and added two songs – I Am A Poet and Incredible – to show some diversity in my ability as a poet and a lyricist. Those two songs come from an earlier project that I worked on with an old friend, and someone who is sharp at creating the right beats for the right rhymes. I hope you rock out to I Am A Poet and bob your heard to Incredible. They are lyrical and poetic songs I am happy to have a part of this project.

The Sungod Story is a recording that allowed me to remember my times with my crew The Sungods who I met back in college in Mississippi in the early to mid 90s. We represented the culture of hip-hop daily with our thoughts, actions, conversations, and the clothes we were. We became friends, and much like family. The song is an autobiography of those times mentioning some of the names of the people that I still respect and love as brothers this very day. I hope it serves our experiences and our love for the culture of hip-hop well.

Enjoy the album! I had serious fun putting it together and I am glad that Independent Ear, Inc. and I teamed up for it!

Buy the album at these digital music outlets:
iTunes:  http://goo.gl/hfy837
Amazon: http://goo.gl/hkEICh
Google Play:  http://goo.gl/ZRvNzB

Selma the Movie – A Review by Christopher D. Sims

I had the honor and the pleasure of seeing the movie Selma today at a local theater in my hometown of Rockford, Illinois. As much as I’ve heard about the film, the experience was very much worth my time and attention.

I am a movie buff, I will admit that. As much as I love writing, and reading literature, movies have an effect on me that no other art form has. I am also a big fan of history, and a researcher. Having the opportunity to delve into a movie like Selma served my needs and spirit greatly. Selma has helped re-educate me and keeps me connected to the history of the United States and the fascinating and sad stories of its past.

Ava DuVernay, in the second scene, jumps into a very delicate and heartbreaking moment – the bombing of the Alabama church where four young black girls were killed. I jumped in my seat and could only breathe silently as that scene took everyone in the theater back to a time that was horrifying for anyone who was fighting for justice and equality here in the United States.

I have heard Ava DuVernay speak about the scenes in the movie, but that experience was real and shocking. I have known of that piece of our history for some time now. But to experience it through Ava DuVernay’s eyes and connection made it even more impactful. I can only imagine how the young people in the theater felt when they experienced that scene.

Opening up with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. receiving the Nobel Peace Prize was a great way to capture King in his glory as he represented African Americans across the country in his plight to bring equality and justice to our neighborhoods and communities. David Oyelowo played King very well, bringing present day life to a leader whose spirit still can be felt in this country years after his death. Actress Carmon Ejogo did a fine job playing Coretta Scott King. She looked a lot like her in this film which is refreshing.

This movie takes us on a lifelike stroll of the United States in the 60s when race relations were very touchy, tense, and trying for many. The feeling of the movie had the right kind of vibe. Even the costumes and the cars in the film added to the distinct and unique nature of the events that went down in Selma, and other parts of the country. If it were up to me, the costume design person for Selma would win an award! Fantastic job!

I appreciate DuVernay’s willingness to capture of the major players who were on King’s side in that movement for equal and civil rights. Each colleague of Dr. King was depicted well and given their due spotlight – from Ralph Abernathy to Diane Nash to John Conyers to Andrew Young – each were focused on and their roles in making history with Dr. King was amplified in the right ways.

Even the martyrs of those times were depicted in Ava DuVernay’s Selma. She gave attention to James Reeb, who was a Unitarian Universalist minister who was chased down and brutally beaten in the streets of Selma. He later died after the beating he took.

The scenes on the bridge named after former Ku Kluxx Klan leader Edmund Pettus were riveting and some of the most striking in the film. They will make you tense and put you right into the heated action. DuVernay did an amazing job capturing those moments. They will stick with you even after the film.

As much controversy that has taken place with some of the historical accuracy of this film, it is still a must see! I would not let any of that talk keep you from seeing this much needed film. Your pride in Dr. King in his efforts, as well many other civil rights leaders of those times, will increase and may even lead you into some action in your communities.

Enjoy it! And feel free to come back to this blog and let me know what you thought, and what moved you most about the film.

Christopher D. Sims
January 10th, 2015

A Look at Selma and Black Liberation in the New Year and Beyond

We are fortunate in the United States that Selma is being released nationwide in theaters across the country. It’s been a long time coming, and a deeper look into the lives of Corretta Scott King and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was passed due. This film comes at a time, just like the Selma marches, when African Americans are questioning our citizenship and worth in this country.

I have been anticipating the movie’s release – knowing that it could come on the heals of the #BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreathe movements. It’s ironic and much needed that such a film would come at a time when these movements are still picking up steam, and when young African-Americans are seeking the kind of respect and dignity from law enforcement and politicians like the people in Selma, Birmingham, and many other places fought and died for. Selma comes at a time when race relations need to be re-examined and re-addressed.

I am disappointed about the critique of the movie – how the director Ava DuVernay has been challenged about the historical content of the film. It’s not surprising, but why can’t we just sit back and enjoy her efforts and revisit an ugly part of this country’s history to continue to dialog about how far we have come, and how far we have to go, in regards to race relations and racial equality in the United States?

She is defending herself well in recent interviews I have seen, however.

Regardless, she brings forth a piece of our history that I have learned some new things from. Such as when the marchers were attempting to get to Birmingham, they were chased all the way back to their churches. This history is important and I hope that our young people are learning this history through this new film. I hope they are taking their newly acquired knowledge back to their schools and classrooms.

Black Liberation is important after such a hard year. 2014 found us right back in the thick of racism, police brutality, and an increased military presence in our cities and states. That military presence existed on that bridge in Selma as marchers were heading to Birmingham for voter rights years ago. The present meets the past and past meets the present. We are still dealing with some of the same issues our ancestors dealt with in their pursuit of freedom and liberation.

What will be different as we enter 2015? What can we use from what we are learning from the past to help us get even further to achieve real liberation in the United States?

These are big questions. Dr. King wanted equality right now back in the 60s. If we asked for that now, what would our equality look like? Ending poverty, inadequate education, mass incarceration, and police brutality in our communities, would be achieving equality and liberation for African Americans.

This country is changing. It is getting browner. I believe that the more we make strides in our collective communities and continue to fight together with our allies, we may see some of that liberation and equality sooner, rather than later.

Copyright Christopher D. Sims
January 8, 2015

The Life of a Bullet Entering Black and Brown Flesh – A Poem by Christopher D. Sims

That bullet, that dreadful, heartless bullet
started off in a racist southerner’s rifle
p
ointed at a runaway slave, who was
on the run. Entering his chest cavity, it
had nothing to stop it. That bullet was
dipped in hatred and steeped in envy:
a bullet whose soul was empty, empty.

That bullet, that dreadful, heartless bullet
found its way up north inside the gun of
a police officer patrolling the south side of
Chicago. Still filled with hatred, not a moment
was wasted, before it found itself tearing through
the flesh of a young black male. Sending him
to “hell”, as the cop suggested. He wasn’t
even arrested. The community was restless –
wondering where the bullet would end up next.

That bullet, that dreadful, heartless bullet,
wound up in Oakland, California years later
chasing after brown flesh. Angrily traveling
through barrios searching for more flesh to
puncture. Inside the 45 of a bigot inflamed
by “illegal immigration”, that bullet cut down
a young brown girl, cutting down a nation.

Bullets have no feelings, care about no one’s
name or humanity.

Bullets take orders, are sent to create pain.

The pain that is with us now as we remember
countless faces who are the victims of the
heartlessness behind those bullets that are
finding their way into innocent flesh.

Where will the bullet end up next?

Where will the bullet end up next?

© Christopher D. Sims
2014

Bullets Image