Article written by Tanya Terry
Just before the last days of U.S. elections, The Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University launched Vote the Earth (www.vote.earthstanzas.com), an interactive national poetry project connecting place and voice. Flint’s first poet laureate, Semaj Brown, was among those invited to participate.
“We invited approximately 40 poets, activists and thought leaders around the country to record and submit a short video of poem that gives voice to their relationship to the earth,” said David Hassler, director-Wick Poetry Center, Kent State University.
Vote the Earth draws on the inspiration of George Ella Lyons’ poem “Where I Am From,” and invites visitors to view the short videos and poems on the map and to share their own poetic voice.
Brown said it’s a positive anytime attention is brought to Flint not only for the water crisis, but for other things happening in Flint.
“We have art and we are building and we are healing and we are innovating here in Flint,” she said.
Brown also said there is a problem throughout the country, as well as in Flint with environmental injustice.
“Usually it’s people of color or lower income people that are subjected to environmental injustice from toxic waste, from the plants,” she said.
She also said the water crisis was the worst man-made disaster in modern history and Flint is in the position to reconfigure the world because of it.
“Because this happened in Flint, this helped to wake up not just the United States, but the entire world community.”
Brown said people around the world are looking to Flint for direction on how we are going to start respecting the earth; repairing our watershed, our rivers and the soil where we plant.
The project looks at our relationship with the environment.
“We won’t even have an earth if we keep misusing it…our human bodies are 75% water. That tells us something! We are the earth and the earth is us. We need to stop thinking about the earth as something separate from ourselves.”
In Brown’s poem, she talks about the vital period we’re in.
“I was also looking at our watershed. Every area has a watershed, and where is our watershed? Well, our watershed is in Saginaw. I mentioned it in my poem when I said ‘meet me where the watershed into bay of being.’ That’s very important. That’s where all the tributaries and streams come together and shed into a larger body of water.”
Brown asks when there are pollutants draining from farms, fertilizers and toxic waste-‘what’s going to happen to the river?’
The word ‘being’ in Brown’s poem refers to the bay of life.
“That’s where we want to be. We want our water and our streams to be streaming into the bay of life.”
According to Brown, many rivers across the world have been made dead by the river killers, which is in her poem, too.
Brown said it was also important for her to mention Breonna Taylor in her piece.
“There’s a mindset. The same mindset that killed the ocean, is the same mindset that killed the river. It’s the same mindset that killed the people. It’s the same mindset that have put profit over people.”
According to Brown, these are not separate things, but are all connected.
Brown said participating in the project helps her with her mission to bring light and to help with Flint’s ecological advancement. She hopes that through her participation in the project, connections are able to be made to further with Flint’s cleanup.
“It all starts with a drop. We’re talking about water, and we’re talking about the river and we’re talking about the ocean. We’re talking about cleaning things up; making things right.”
The end of the longer version of Brown’s poem reads:
“We got this! We gonna be alright, we gonna be alright”
from the mountain where crows make revolution, from our mouths of cinder and soot, eviscerating, dismantling, dissolving— diabolical covenants.
Where am I from? Where I am from we march the Earth forward, stampede the Earth forward, trample land mines, quaking, making, staking, shouting monuments down, forward— freedom, forward!
To read this poem in its entirety, visit https://theflintcouriernews.com/where-am-i-from-by-semaj-brown/
This project is an expansion of the Earth Stanzas community poem project launched in April in honor of 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. To view the Earth Stanzas community poem project, visit https://communitypoems.travelingstanzas.com/earthstanzas.
To view all submissions and/or participate in the Vote the Earth project, visit www.vote.earthstanzas.com.