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Connecting through the art of storytelling

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Yvonne Boose
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A DeKalb poet is using his platform to ensure that buried voices of Black, indigenous and people of color are heard.

Bear Wolf’s stage name is PropagandaPoet. He calls himself a Shawnee Gypsy Jew social justice humanist. He said spoken word through poetry, storytelling and oral history helps keep him motivated. Wolf said poetry is the voice of the people and it’s important to listen to what’s being said in spoken word, slam poetry and even hip-hop versus.

“Whether it be on reservations, or whether it be in Latino communities,” he explained, “or wherever you go, this is where the real stories are being told. This is where the real history is being remembered.”

Wolf created a program called “Hearing Marginalized Voices Through Poetry.” He is partnering with a community college to make this happen.

Stacy Dyson, a Black poet who lives in California, is a part of the project. Dyson is an advocate for women of color. She said her mission statement is to write about Black women because no one else is singing their stories.

“So, when programs like this are threatened, or downsized, I hate that word, but threatened or downsized or just eliminated altogether, we're the ones who get hit first,” she said. “We’re the ones who are affected first. And so, it's really, really personal for me.”

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Provided by Stacy Dyson
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She said an initiative like this is way overdue. She recalls how excited people around her were when similar programs started but also remembers how it felt when the flame died.

Dyson said being a part of the same ethnicity doesn’t mean that you are the same. She expressed that there is common ground, but we are all individuals and have our own unique stories that need to be heard. Dyson said it bothers her when people believe the notion that all Black women are the same.

“And we all love the same way. And we were all raised the same way,” she explained. “And I have actually been known to tell people [when asked] ‘what do Black women think about such and such?” And the last time somebody asked me that I just looked in the face and said, ‘I don't know. I missed the meeting last night.’”

Billy Tuggle is a Black performance poet and teaching artist from Chicago. He is also contributing to Wolf’s initiative. Tuggle said it’s important for him to inject himself into spaces where he isn’t normally expected to be.

“This is especially important to me as a person of African descent, a person who is from Chicago, a third generation Southside Chicagoan. I'm from an area that is not spoken of very well," he explained.

Tuggle said his motivation for being a teaching artist is to let people know that they have a voice.

"Especially Black and brown children, especially Black and brown adults, because I do workshops at all ages, as well as teach -- that you have a voice, and you use it. And not only are you necessary in the metaphysical sense, but your entire existence. Our existences basically depend on each other's existence."

He also pointed out that poets need to show all sides of themselves to reach different types of people. He shared that his preferred voices come from being a music fan, a Black dad, and a graffiti writer.

“But I'm also looking, you know, outside of that, and writing about the things and the people and the day-to-day experiences around me more than just my own comfort zone topics,” he said. “But also, that comfort zone is not just my topics, but where I apply them and where I present them.”

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Provided by Billy Tuggle
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Wolf said the same story could turn into something totally different if it is told from a different perspective.

“Imagine if history in school was taught that slavery was white history, not Black history. How different would that make everything?” he asked. “Imagined in school if 1492 was not the year that Columbus discovered America, but 1492 was the year that the Native Americans found Columbus lost at sea.”

Tuggle and Dyson will share more of their words during the next session of “Hearing Marginalized Voices Through Poetry.” It’s set to take place Feb. 1 at noon via Zoom. The conversation will celebrate Black History Month and will include poetry readings and storytelling.

Bear Wolf is a contributor of WNIJ’s Poetically Yours.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.