Pen To Print

Monday Memoirs: Standing Together

Introduced by Holly King

In the midst of a pandemic that has infected the world, taking family members and friends, co-workers and neighbours from us in every community, ingrained prejudices and hardships are still more present, frightening and damaging to some humans, based on nothing more than the colour of their skin.

I do not understand the struggles of people who face racism, but I stand with them in support.

Empathy is one of the greatest abilities of our species, and yet it’s something so hard for so many to achieve. Creativity (art, writing, poetry, music) is within all of us and we all deserve to have our voice heard, based on nothing more than the fact that what each of us produces is unique, beautiful and helps us connect with each other; helps us to empathise and understand the human condition.

The following contributors have looked at our theme of ‘Standing Together’ and produced work that showcases their creativity, their passions and their experiences as artists.

One Religion, One Race by Emmanuel Oreyeni

Being a Christian is the best thing that can happen to anyone. You become a better person and aim to do things in the light of God. The bonus of this is that anyone can become one; no matter your colour or your situation in life, He will turn your life around for good

Even though it’s one religion, there is still discrimination in race.

A pastor from a BAME background told me he had experienced racism from the same teacher who taught a white pastor. God loves us no matter who we are, what we do or what we wear and this type of behaviour has to stop!

God asks us to love each other as we love ourselves, so let’s practice that in real life.

I’m 17 and I still have a lot to learn about God and Jesus Christ, but I don’t want to learn it differently to another person just because they are a different colour. We are one race. United we stand. Divided we fall.

Let’s be one race in the house of God.

 

Emmanuel is an artist living in Barking. He created the beautiful image of the hands in prayer, as well as the time-lapse video artwork below.

See more of Emmanuel’s time-lapse videos on: YouTube, connect with him on: Instagram and: Twitter.

*****

Author Juneha Chowdhury shares her thoughts on her experience as a BAME writer:

As a BAME writer, there are narratives only I can write. I don’t mean that in any arrogant way, It’s a fact. My ethnicity, while holding me back in some areas of my writing, is an advantage in others. There are parts of my history and my present that only people like me will understand. I am very careful when I say this, as I can hear the condemnation before I even get to trial.

‘People like you? What’s that supposed to mean? You think you’re so special. You deserve special treatment?’

Did I say that? I didn’t; just a ‘mental’ Freudian slip.

Seriously, having to constantly justify myself is draining. But there are positives: on a good day, it sucks the ethnic minority from me so badly, it  pours out onto a blank page. All I want is for you to read my story and explore it in a way that empowers us both; reaffirming that my ethnicity, while putting me in the minority, is not ‘minor’.

On an even better day, I want you to hear us in all our colours, shapes and forms. Because like everything, no two voices are the same. No two sentiments are an exact reflection of the other. And believe it or not, if you’ve only heard one lady in a hijab (i.e. moi!) then you’ve only heard one lady in a hijab (moi again!). Still, I’d like you to celebrate it, that difference, give it a metaphorical pat on the back. Not because it’s me, but because it’s written down: a new voice, a new story. Emerging out of seeds sown by people like myself, years ago.

Crap. I did it again. I’ve provoked the PC police!

‘Don’t talk about what divides us. Talk about what unites us. There is so much; why be cynical?’ Am I, though, am I really?

No, I don’t think so. Asking you to hear my voice, telling you that I and, yes, people like me, whose voices have been murmuring under bubbling water so long, need to be celebrated. This isn’t me asking you to silence your own. We are not mutually exclusive; neither are our voices.

And you’re right: there is so much that unites us, but there is also so much more we don’t understand about each other. That’s where writing our stories, and getting our voices heard, is so important. It bridges that gap between what I understand and what you don’t know, and vice versa. These voices, when heard properly, promote dialogue, urging people to have those awkward conversations, opening their eyes and minds and bringing them closer.

All too often, we’re  pitched against each other. This makes it more likely we will agree with almost anything else, rather than being prepared to listen to our opposition. Ignorance is never bliss. What we don’t know we don’t understand, we don’t appreciate, and that can never be a good thing.

As a writer, that voice of mine: British, Bangladeshi, Muslim, is different. Standing together with other BAME writers, I appreciate any opportunity to celebrate my uniqueness.

In a world where I am constantly being told I can be anything, all I ask is, first and foremost, I am allowed to be myself.

Juneha is the 2018 Pen to Print Book Challenge Winner. You can connect with her on Twitter: @JunehaChowdhury

*****

Fight Evil With Poetry

‘Fight Evil With Poetry’ is technically a publishing press and a movement. But, to be honest, we tend to think of it more as an idea to aspire to; a way of life..

My name’s Chris Cambell and I’m a mixed-race Native American poet, storyteller and designer, living in the North of England. Together with Micah Bournes,  I founded ‘Fight Evil With Poetry’ a few years ago. Micah is a black poet, musician and speaker, from Long Beach, California.

We met at University and immediately hated each other. There was just something in each of us that rubbed the other up the wrong way. However, we eventually did a summer internship and became fast friends and writing partners.

After university, we worked together on a bunch of different projects and remained close friends. Then, in the run-up to the last presidential election, Micah and I were really angry at the dominance Trump was gaining. So we teamed up on a song Micah was releasing called No Bowin’ Down (Micah rapped and I did the cover art). We donated all the proceeds to an LA business called ‘Homeboy Industries’ who work with men and women formerly affiliated with gangs, or who have been incarcerated; training them up with new skills in the food service industry.

I think that was the first stirrings for what would turn into ‘Fight Evil With Poetry’. We saw so much in the world we couldn’t stand, and wanted to be a positive force for change. It made sense for us to do that with our art.

Not too long after that, Micah approached me with his new album, A Time Like This. We started talking through the concepts of the album and what we could do around it to help people and challenge the status quo. From those conversations, we came up with the idea of publishing an anthology of poetry, bringing together a diverse group of people from all different races, belief systems, walks of life, skill levels and sexual orientations.

It was a lot more work than we had initially thought – books always are! But when all was said and done, we had a collection of poetry from a community of thirty diverse authors whose voices need to be heard. We united under the banner of ‘Fight Evil With Poetry’ using our socially-charged verse to win hearts and minds to the side of truth, justice and love.

All online sales of the anthology go straight to two charities we believe are doing amazing work. The first is ‘Young Chicago Authors’ who run various programs for High School-age youth in the greater Chicagoland area. They cultivate young voices through writing, publication and performance education. The second charity is ‘Critical Resistance’, who are committed to abolishing the prison industrial complex in America and worldwide. The anthology has sold really well since it was published and we’re thrilled every time we get to send the proceeds on to the charities.

Since then, we’ve run loads of events under the banner of ‘Fight Evil With Poetry’, both in America and the UK. Last year, we also started a book drive programme we hope to expand in future called ‘Books Behind Bars’. We discovered that one of the men’s prisons close to Micah’s house had no poetry in their library and wanted to change that. We spent the entire month of April 2019 doing this book drive and were able to collect around 170 brand-new books of poetry to donate to that prison.

So, what now? Well, Micah’s been hard at work finishing off his first full-length collection of poetry, which will be out in the next month or two. It’s called Here Comes This Dreamer and speaks very directly about the black experience in American life.

As for me, I’ve been working to finish my first collection as well, tentatively titled Hold Onto Your Children. It explores my abusive childhood, mixed-race experience, immigrant experience and how all that impacts the way I now parent my own three kids. I’ve been surprised how much of it revolves around my mom. Growing up, I always cast her as the villain, so it makes some sense. However, I hope the poems show that, as I got older, I started to understand why she was making bad choices: due to her own abuse, she was so ill-equipped, it’s a wonder she managed anything at all!

As for what’s next with ‘Fight Evil With Poetry’, I’m not 100% sure. Micah and I have thrown around a lot of ideas, but we tend to start on something new when our passions and schedules align. For us, it’s ultimately about creative resistance, and that’s what we’re committed to!

You can find out more about ‘Fight Evil With Poetry Press’ and our anthology ‘Volume One’ at: fightevilwithpoetry.com and on Instagram: @fightevilwithpoetry

You can find out more about Micah and his work at: micahbournes.com

You can find out more about Chris and his poetry at: chriscambellpoetry.com

*****

Lastly, a poignant and striking comic strip from artist Danny Baxter:

You can connect with Danny through Instagram: @baxx_xf

Read the latest issue of Write On! magazine here.

My ethnicity, while holding me back in some areas of my writing, is an advantage in others.