WordSmith Poetry and the Poetic Justice World Tour
The Power of Words Expressed Through Performance & Poetry
Host Ebony Walden looked out into the audience and saw a glimpse of the Kingdom of God: people of different races, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds in one place, supporting one another and sharing stories of hope, trial and triumph through words, poetry and song.
“It was an act of expressing our humanity,” writes Ebony. “As creatures of the ultimate Creator, we were acting in His image through our creativity.”
This defining moment led to the creation of WordSmith Poetry in March 2009. Walden began hosting events that affirmed and introduced a wide variety of artistic voices, including poets, spoken word performers, open mic enthusiasts, musicians and singers. The purpose of these events was to inspire creativity, promote poetry, and catalyze spoken word in the Charlottesville Community by encouraging local artists to be heard through performance.
“My strong faith, love for community development, and passion for the arts has led me to organize and emcee various events, such as the WordSmith Poetry Jam, to encourage art, beauty and community change. I encouraged Christian and non-Christian alike to cultivate and offer their gift of words, facilitating a number of different vehicles, such as writing and performance workshops.”
Born and raised in New York, Walden received degrees from Georgetown University and the University of Virginia, and currently resides in Charlottesville. A city planner by trade, she works to promote healthy and livable communities. Walden holds a certificate in urban youth ministry and has years of experience creating and coordinating learning activities with children and youth. She has also partnered with local organizations to host and/or coordinate poetry segments at community events. And as WordSmith began, Walden became one of the founding Board Members of the New City Arts Initiative (a regional group of IAM), which supports artists and fosters creativity in the Charlottesville community.
“Poetry to me is like God breathing life into being through his word, which created something out of nothing. I wanted to encourage everyday people to take their thoughts, words, experiences and pain, create something beautiful, and share it with the world. There is great healing and redemption that comes when we share our gifts, stories and uniqueness with one other. In every event I hosted, I saw people create beauty out of the brokenness of their lives. I loved it.”
The WordSmith Poetry Jams, which included a featured poet, an open mic set, and a scheduled line up of local poets, spoken word artists and other performers, were an overwhelming success, sparking interest in performance poetry in the Charlottesville community. Attendance ranged from 75-130 each month, a creative catalyst for performance poetry in the city.
Building on this success, Walden also performed and coordinated performances at schools, community events, church, and local television. Inspired by the success of the Poetry Jams and the impact of the art form, Walden launched into a new endeavor: The Poetic Justice World Tour.
An international creative venture, The Poetic Justice World Tour involved extensive travel in 17countries over an eight-month period, writing poetry and volunteering at schools, orphanages, community centers, and arts organizations.
The journey harnessed the creative power of poetry to give voice to the world’s impoverished and disadvantaged communities, whose voices are often muted. The project used poetry as a conduit to promote cultural awareness, inform a greater understanding of social justice on an international scale, and engender healthy dialogue around global issues related to poverty, racism, and gender discrimination.
“I wanted to…capture peoples’ stories and give them a voice through their creation of poetry, as well as my own. I had been working to develop my skill as a poet, but I was also interested in finding new ways to use poetry to give a voice to those who are often forgotten. A love for diverse peoples and cultures gave me the vision to embark on an exciting adventure to travel the world, write poetry, and create poetry with the people and groups that I visited and volunteered with. Teaching English and poetry in developing countries was an extension of my desire to have a positive impact on communities in need.”
To accomplish these purposes, Walden took a hiatus from Wordsmith Poetry (which continued under the direction of her friend, DJ and sound man, Double A 1 K), and volunteered with The International Volunteer Headquarters. In late spring 2010, Walden left for The Poetic Justice World Tour, a trip around the world.
During over four months of volunteering (teaching English and coordinating other educational activities), Walden traveled to developing countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. For the remaining months of the project, she also visited countries in Europe, Asia and Australia, as well as South Africa, writing poetry, performing, touring, and networking with international arts organizations to capture poetic voices through poetry workshops and events.
Throughout her travels, Ebony wrote poetry to document the unique culture and beauty of each country, as well as the challenges of poverty and social injustice.
In almost every country, Walden facilitated a signature poem: “Where I am From.” This autobiographical piece gave participants an opportunity to explain their background by describing their homes, community, traditions, and family sayings. The poem demonstrated how poetry could be used to create a powerful mosaic of the world.
Returning at the end of January 2011, Walden hosted a multi-media event (photos, poetry and video presentation) that captured her experiences during the tour. Her website, publications, and presentations provided a platform to increase cultural awareness, as well as bring greater exposure to and discussion of a number of social justice issues. Walden’s hope was that such dialogue would spur activism and encourage other artists to offer their skills for community development and social justice. A second show is planned in the coming months.
How did this trip change Walden?
“I learned many lessons on life, love and faith from the Poetic Justice World Tour. I learned how to see with the eyes of goodness. I saw beauty in the broken places, and hope in the hard places.
“Secondly, I learned how resilient and creative people are. From South America, to Africa, to Asia, and everywhere in between, people were always taking what little they had and creating works of art. I saw guns turned into sculptures, plastic bags into handbags, and recycled newspaper into shopping bags. People were always making and selling things they created.
“Ultimately, I think people were inspired to a greater level of humanity, transparency and creativity. I did not write poetry before I started hosting events through WordSmith; as I discovered my own gift, I wanted to share it with the world. I am a greater bearer of God’s image because of this.
“The WordSmith Poetry Jams also added an element of diversity, creativity, life and energy to the Charlottesville community that did not exist before.”
What’s next for Walden?
The mission and vision remain the same: to use poetry as a creative tool to highlight the beauty of different cultures and generate awareness about social injustice issues globally.
But, as you might expect, a new passion has emerged. As Walden was exposed to those who have been traumatized, she saw the potential of poetry to process pain, to begin recovery, and to create something beautiful from it. While continuing to explore the power of arts in community transformation, Walden anticipates facilitating workshops at churches, schools, and community centers to promote poetry. She hopes to collaborate with local artists and groups, and develop new ways to use poetry as a dynamic tool to inform, inspire, and empower those who are voiceless.
And while digesting her global adventure, poring over the thousands of photos that will eventually find their home in a book, Walden is working her craft as a poet, and hopes to begin work on a memoir next year of the Poetic Justice World Tour.
“I would like to highlight the stories I heard, the people I met, the lessons I learned, and the poetry I created that reflects each facet of the trip. This will be the culmination of my experience.” (Publishers and ghostwriters, take note!)
The public will continue to get a glimpse of the world and hear about Walden’s experiences through essays, poems, photos, and videos posted on the website and travel blog (link to blog). A local exhibit is one goal, to display the more poignant photos, videos and poems. And while no international trips are on the immediate horizon, Walden would love to travel again.
Her enduring desire is that wordsmiths the world over find, cultivate and share their voice.
Behind those silent eyes is a beautiful voice
Speak with passion, speak with purpose…
From Speak, by Ebony Walden