Obsidian Blues helps young writers develop
‘Passages’ allows Detroit youth to have their voice heard
By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — The case of Trayvon Martin, as seen on TV, social media and in newspapers, has left a deep impact on young men and women of color throughout the nation. In Detroit, the hoodied face resembles the thousands of youngpeople that annually end up in prison, injured or even dead as a result of urban violence.
Obsidian Blues, a writing program developed by local artist Sherina Sharpe, has been working with a group of aspiring young artists as a way to help them develop their voices in the face of these types of obstacles. The group met weekly at the Skillman Branch of the Detroit Public Library in downtown Detroit to share their work and help each other through the writing process to prepare for their collective show “Passages” Aug. 13 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
“It’s called ‘Passages’ because being young in Detroit and not having your voice heard is like a rite of passage,” Sharpe said. “So to solve that, we have opened up space for about 18 young writers to choose any social justice topic that they want to talk about or confront in their writing, and we’re pairing them up with a community mentor that can give them more history on the subject.”
All these young men and women are deeply motivated by issues of social justice and are using their time in the group to write about topics like hunger, poverty, racism, government corruption and child abuse. Their voices act in opposition to oppression, and in speaking up among each other, they have grown a mutual love and respect for one another.
“It’s giving them an outlet to talk about what they’d like to talk about and giving them a place to choose what they’d like to talk about,” Sharpe said.
The working group developed a collective poem project about Trayvon for their performance. The opening words cut straight to the heart of the intensity felt by many regarding the Trayvon Martin case.
“In Florida, there is talk of a race war.”
“Shots fired, echoes in the atmosphere. The only thing left is a body and a bag of Skittles.”
“I regurgitate speeches like a bulimic onto a species that won’t even listen.”
“And my cameras, they pick up the remnants, and they manufacture the lies that you see on TV.”
“And it’s sad that being Black is enough evidence to be a suspect.”
“Triple minority in society, young Black male, I should have had his death certificate early.”
Many young Black men and women face daily risks in the streets of Detroit, with death and incarceration among the most urgent dangers. Media silence can leave them feeling voiceless, so the program is in direct response to this condition.
“We spend a lot of time working on empathy, integrity, courage, all of those things go into their performance pieces that they’re writing and go into the process of bonding and forming the group and then performing together,” Sharpe said.
At the performance, family and friends of the youth poets filled the auditorium. The show is their way of engaging the community and letting an older generation know how they feel. This is the most important moment of the experience — to deliver this understanding, says Sharpe.
“Communicating with each other and then intergenerational communication is huge,” she continued. “It’s amazing how many people don’t get a chance to sit down with someone older than them and find out where they were during like the ‘67 riots, or what high school they went to. It’s opening up those roads.”
The performance was crisp and clean, each line delivered confidently and from the gut. Although the show is over, the group has decided to remain together to help each other develop as professional writers, to be emotionally healthy and well prepared for the stresses and challenges of their environment. Their goal is to continue to grow as a collective, knowing that the love they have for each other can carry each person along their own individual paths.
“I’m a serious proponent of fostering emotional growth through art,” says Sharpe. “So it’s also giving them a chance to work through any emotional blockages. To share with each other. It’s amazing.”