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Rockford poet returns to his heart

Christopher D. Sims
A photo Sims too while living in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A Rockford artist has returned home just in time to celebrate his milestone birthday with the community.

Christopher D. Sims is a poet, social activist and spoken word artist. In 2021, Sims left his hometown to work for a nonprofit in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His goal was to also connect with other poets. Then in 2022, he went to work for another nonprofit organization in Virginia. But the job wasn’t the only reason he was attracted to the new location.

“I found that my family come from Greene County, Virginia," he said. "So besides going there to work, I believe I was there to unearth, let's say, my family's history.”

Sims said that experience had to come to an end. It was time for him to get back home to be with his family and friends.

Michael J. Kearney is one of his friends. He’s a retired teacher who supports artists in the area. Kearney worked for a venue called JustGoods back in the day. This space is now called Inscape Collective. He said the venue did a birthday party for Sims about a decade ago.

Kearney recently saw Sims at an Emmanual Lutheran Church event and an idea came to him after learning how old Sims would be this year.

“And so, I said," recalled Kearney, "'let's do your 50th birthday party. Right over at -- I still call it JustGoods but Inscape.' And, and Chris said, ‘yeah, and I'll bring some people.’”

Sims is performing with Jenna Goldsmith, who is Rockford’s current poet laureate, Aubrey Barnes from the Quad Cities, and others.

Sims said there’s a poetry explosion in the city. He likens it to the years between 2000 to 2006 when there were groups like the Poetic Justice League 4 America.

“Poets are excited and happy in Rockford right now, as well as some of the ministers around town like Jim Roberts,” he said. “He's a retired Lutheran minister, Violet Johnicker, Rebecca [White] Newgren.”

Johnicker is the pastor of Brooke Road Church in Rockford. The church will host an open mic this month that Sims will help lead.

Sims is excited to be a part of the Rockford poetry scene again but said there is something he would like organizations to be mindful of -- and that’s compensating artists for their time.

“When organizations especially have a big budget that they can pay poets for, you know, I think they should do it, you know," he said, "and especially when they approach and oftentimes, you know, what's crazy, I've been paid more as a poet outside of Rockford than I have in Rockford.”

Kearney added that he supports this idea. He said poets are a very valuable and their performances should be returned with value.

Sim’s birthday is Valentine’s Day.

“Of course, we'll have love in the air," he said. "And if people are anti- love, you know, at the moment, hey, we can rock with that too. Because I know there are people that are kind of curmudgeon when it comes to love, but maybe, you know, that's their stand.”

He said he is preparing by watching a certain movie every morning to help inspire some new pieces. Some of this work is outside the scope of the written word.

“The movie ‘Love Jones’ is inspiring me to write new music to test my skills that I don't necessarily lean on all the time," Sims said. "So, it was just a very inspirational movie for me.”

The birthday celebration takes place Feb. 14 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Inscape Collective. Kearney said the space is limited and he suggests people get there before 7 p.m.

Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.