I get confused with talk about reconciliation between races, since there has never been a moment in our history where things were equal and just for all. What, exactly then, are we restoring?
This line of thinking quickly makes my head hurt and in no time, I’m pacing and sweating. During these moments, grace rolls in with the perfect poem, story, essay, or song that becomes an anchor. A way to stabilize just long enough to figure out the next right response. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, my life-preserver has been a line from Poet Elizabeth Alexander, “are we not of interest to each other?”
That is such a simple and manageable starting place. So, I invite you to hear from someone of great interest to me, artist Noah Mayfield. When I met previous storyteller and best-selling author D. Watkins at his office at the University of Baltimore, I asked if he’d bring along one of his students from his BMORE Writers Project (BWP).
I’d become entranced by the talent of these primarily African American teenagers from inner-city Baltimore and their poetry, stories, photography, and videos that D. curates for BWP. The struggle and perspective of our nation’s forgotten youth showcased by the BWP haunted me. Free from spin or analysis, their achingly vulnerable stories made me feel voyeuristic. But D. Watkins knew exactly what he was doing when he created the site. Who could remain on the sidelines in what Joe Biden calls “the battle for our nation’s soul” when they understood these young artists were trapped in a labyrinth of oppression that seeks to destroy them?
Our conversation opens with the story of how Noah met the then-aspiring author Watkins. It’s a hilarious tribute, showcasing Noah’s charisma, warmth, and sincerity that caught D’s eye, too. Their relationship began in the classroom, but quickly spilled out to the streets where Watkins gave Noah his first camera and set him on a path of videography, filmmaking, and photojournalism. But D had even more in mind for Noah.
As a professor in Johns Hopkins School of Education, D. was disturbed by the disconnect between these future educator’s goal to serve in America’s most difficult classrooms, and their understanding of the life experience of the average inner-city youth. And he knew just the person to fill in the gaps. Noah was brought in as a translator between the two worlds, and as D. says, “Noah owned the class . . . the undergrads were hanging on his every word.”
It leaves me to wonder: if after making a name for himself, Watkins had fled Baltimore to the hipster paradise of say, Brooklyn, what model would kids like Noah have that there was a path outside of hoops, bikes, and rap? If Noah hadn’t found his voice with the help of mentors like D., would a class full of educators graduating from one of our most premier university’s ever be able to reach the students who most need their guidance?
I don’t know. But I’m interested.
And tell me, please, who is of interest to you? - Shannon
Follow Noah Mayfield on Instagram @itsNoahinHD
Support the vital work of the BWP at www.bmorewp.com