Multi Media Studio
(lower level of Columbus Hall)
Columbus State Community College
291 Jefferson Ave, Columbus, OH 43215
Written and Photographed by Doreen Dawkins
I arrived a few minutes early planning to support an event my friend, since the fifth grade, was hosting. Light refreshments were provided. There were over twenty presenters (I think the final count was 24 and Dr. Clark made 25).
Here are a few of my favorite presenters from the event:
The poem was too long to include in this blog. My starting paying attention when I heard this excerpt from Countee Cullen’s “Heritage”:
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
So I make an idle boast;
Jesus of the twice-turned cheek,
Lamb of God, although I speak
Sidebar: I love the community this group modeled.
Pat Parker’s, “For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend”
The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.
You should be able to dig Aretha,
but don’t play her every time i come over.
And if you decide to play Beethoven – don’t tell me
his life story. They made us take music appreciation too.
Eat soul food if you like it,
but don’t expect me to locate your restaurants
or cook it for you.
And if some Black person insults you,
mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,
rips your house, or is just being an ass –
please, do not apologize to me
for wanting to do them bodily harm.
It makes me wonder if you’re foolish.
And even if you really believe Blacks are better lovers than
whites – don’t tell me. I start thinking of charging stud fees.
In other words – if you really want to be my friend – don’t
make a labor of it. I’m lazy. Remember.
Sidebar: I had to give her “dap” (a fist bump) after this reading. Enough said.
Assotto Saint’s, “Heart and Soul”,
every time i leave my house
everywhere i go
i pin on my knapsack
twin petal-small flags
to which my allegiance is pledged
these flags are not monkeys on my back
i carry them as a coat of arms
mantles of double brotherhood
they shield like second skin
to drape my dreams
one floats rainbow
the other wings tricolor
both bold with movement
i am not ashamed
of what they stand for
when their meaning is
these flags are not chips on my shoulders
i carry them as beauty spots
markings of double brotherhood
they shine like mirror beads
to reflect prejudice
one unfurls the future of the queer nation
the other salutes african ancestors
both wave s.o.s. signals
i am not afraid
to stand my ground
when their beauty is
these flags are not crossbones on my life
i carry them as amulets
emblems of double brotherhood
they spellbind like stars
to stripe america
that becomes me in tribal rituals
& battle against bigots
i have honored with my blood
everywhere i go
every time i leave my house
Sidebar: Regardless of what makes you unique, embrace who you are. Enough said.
Tell me about the event.
It started in February of 1999. I was working with Dr. Al Simmons who is now retired.
He was the Vice President over Multicultural Affairs, then his title changed, but I can’t remember the name. Every year he tried to come up with a different project that would speak to black history month but that was positive. Sometimes we would have a speech contest or an essay writing contest. At some point we were brainstorming. I suggested we try a poetry and fiction reading and have it showcase famous or African American writers that I am familiar with. It wasn’t just your regular open microphone. It was a little more orchestrated and focused on specific writers.
We invited the Columbus State Community to come and participate. I have anyone who is willing come and read. It might be someone that reads from the budget office, or an instructor who is teaching environmental science, or a math instructor, or one of the administrators. The president has read several times. It is made up of faculty, staff, administrators, students, and people from the community. Ninety to ninety-five percent are writers that most are familiar with, and maybe five percent is made up of an original piece. Some students share their material, and some of the faculty members who are writers.
I think too often when we go into those things that concern African Americans or people of color in our community we focus on the negative. We look at the numbers of those that are incarcerated, the numbers that are drug addicted, the numbers that come from broken homes, the numbers that are failing in some capacity. We are not ignoring those chief concerns because the poetry and prose speak about those concerns. We focus on the positive, activism, and uplifting the people. We focus on what makes the African American experience beautiful and wonderful, and sometimes ugly and horrible too. It still must be presented in such a way that when we leave the experience we leave with hope. You don’t leave the experience and say, “Oh my God let me find the nearest cliff and jump off it.”
It has gone on every year. This will be our twenty first gathering. This event is racially diverse, it is diverse in term of positions on the campus, and the range of expertise varies.
What makes the event special and well attended?
Part of it is relationship building. When I normally put out a call for readers, there is something about me posting a flyer, or I have had it listed in the Columbus State Update, but there is a difference between I saw you in the library and I have cornered you and say, “I have sent you ten invitations or the last ten years and I can’t get you to read. Are you going to read for me this year?” That is different because it becomes relational. I have asked you specifically to come in all your brownness and read some of this material. I go to the people who have read for me for many years or to go to people and say, “I need your voice, I need your presence. I need people to be able to see you in this particular light, sharing this kind of information.” So often the readers will find poets or prose writers that they want to read and will share the background and biographical information with the audience. You will be surprised how much instruction comes out of the folk before they even read their material. They will share an artist that they have loved for years and a piece that speaks to them or has spoken to them over the years that has provided encouragement about living this life.
Tell me about your professional background that prepared you for your current level of success.
I have several degrees if that is where you want to start. My undergraduate degree, although I spent the first three and a half to four years in Engineering is in English from Ohio State University (OSU). I have a master’s degree in English from OSU. Later I earned a master’s Degree in Theological Studies. Most recently in 2017 I earned a PHD in Higher Education Administration.
Part of my background that has prepared me for the work that I do is I am an educator. More specifically English professor. If you keep it within that ball park of Educator. I have been a lifelong learner. My college experience started in the 1980s, and then I tell you that I just completed the PHD in 2017. You see all these years of constantly studying, trying to acquire additional information. Not so much to benefit myself, although that is part of the benefit, but to make sure that what I bring to teaching experience helps to benefit my students.
It is constantly looking for tools to speak to the next generation of students, so they can receive the information. For example, I am teaching the Personal Experience Narrative. I have been teaching that class for 26 years. Here I am teaching a fresh crop of students and they are not the same students I had 25 years ago, 15 years ago, or 10 years ago. This is a different group of students with a different mentality. Even though I am teaching the same thing, I must come up with new and exciting ways to bring it to this audience.
I ran across and excerpt from Stephen Curry’s Book called Underrated. In the beginning of the book he provides the context from which he begins telling the story. In it he has performed horribly at a tournament or something. I think he is thirteen. He talks about the conversation that his parents have with him in the hotel. He was down and depressed. At some point his mother says to him, “This is your story. Nobody else gets the right to tell this story but you, it is yours. It doesn’t make any difference what any writer says, any other player says, any other coach says. It doesn’t make any difference. This is your story.” In introducing the narrative to my students, I have presented to them, here is an excerpt from Stephen Curry who tells you about his own failure, but he understands that it is his story. What becomes of it is up to him. How he interprets it. How he uses it. That is his. He gets to own that. I use that as a means of encouraging my students tell their story according to what they understand their truth to be.
Being a lifelong learned allows me to always consider myself as a learner, my students as leaners, and to come up with things that will help them be able to do the tasks that we are asking them to do. All of that has been formed by the degrees in English, the degree in Theology, and the continued education with the PHD. Having to write that dissertation was no joke. It made me go through the process and sit in that same place of vulnerability as my students when their work is being critiqued. Learning how to receive the criticism in a way that doesn’t cripple me going forward. It also helped me remember to be sensitive as it concerns how I am critiquing somebody else’s work who is in a place of vulnerability that I recently experienced. Lifelong learning had formed my ability as a learner and as an educator how important it is to be sensitive to the person who is sitting in that seat and yet still be in a place where I can receive information. I am not an old dog that can’t learn new tricks.
In case you missed it, click on the link to see Dr. Clark’s commencement address (Columbus State Community College Autumn 2018):
My take. This is a wonderful event to support not only because of the diversity that Crystal Clark mentioned but because everyone seemed so relaxed, friendly and purposeful.
Crystal Robinson Clark is one of the people who make 614 a better place to live. My mind goes back to the days of Innis Elementary school. We were the students who earned the highest grades on a consistent basis. When the teacher left the room, Crystal was trying to build relationships and I was trying to get my work done. In the 1980s when we attended Ohio State University it was believed that unless you graduated in business or engineering you were destined to be a bum. I am extremely proud that the Lord has rewarded Crystal beyond many of her peers for being obedient to the path less traveled. I am also proud that she is still one of my closest friends.