"Poetry That Breaks Silence" Honors Martin Luther King's Dream

Dr. Jericho Brown
Dr. Jericho Brown
Photo by John Lucas

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, take in some poetry and relive Dr. King's message of defeating barriers during "Poetry that Breaks Silence: An MLK Day of Service Event." The program, a collaboration between Florida International University's (FIU) Arts and Sciences MFA Department, the City of Sunrise, Broward College, and the Orange Island Arts Foundation (OIAF), features the groundbreaking poetry of Dr. Jericho Brown, one of America's most prominent poets. It features the experiences of gay people of color.

An event like this could only be made through partnerships between both Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Laura McDermott Matheric, founder and president of the OIAF, said that this is the foundation's 35th community event, the foundation launched in September of last year. "Due to living here all my life, I know first hand that there is a strong need in our community for literary events," she wrote in an email interview. "Typically our residents have to cross the county lines on the North and South in order to find some kind fashion of a literary happening. My goal is the change that; therefore, I conceived this MLK Day event with all these factors in mind."

Christine Pfeffer, communications director for the City of Sunrise, reiterated the importance of working across county lines to make the event a reality. "We recognized that a poetry-focused event would align perfectly with many of our youth programs -- including the city's annual Word Up! Poetry Slam, our Lyrical Lounge Teen Open Mic Nights, and our poetry-writing workshops," she said. "We relied on Laura's expertise when it came to selecting a keynote speaker, and we knew that Ashley M. Jones of FIU -- who we've worked with on many education-related initiatives -- would do a fantastic job with the student workshop component."

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Jones, a MFA candidate at FIU, helped choose and secure Brown as the event's keynote speaker. Brown, a poet of color, is an Emory University professor. His strong Southern background and experiences as a gay black man "really speaks to the power of art to break other silences we find in our communities," Jones said.

"Dr. Brown's work shares his story of manhood, Southernness, and what it means to love and be loved--all stories that might have been silenced at one point or another just because he isn't what more closed-minded people would deem 'acceptable," she said.

The message of Brown's speech will be to rethink MLK Day, to treat to as something more meaningful than a day off of school or work. "[Brown] will be speaking on the importance of the holiday being a 'day on,' rather than a 'day off," she wrote. Brown will also read selections of his own work.

Students from FIU's MFA program, Sunrise high schools, and Broward College creative writing program will be able to meet with Brown during a private workshop, and during the event's luncheon, the students will be allowed to read their own work.

Pfeffer, McDermott Matheric, and Jones hope the students attending will not only learn more about poetry, but also how to channel their fears, frustrations, and hopes into the artistic medium and create something that can be as beautiful as it is powerful.

"I... want our community to gain a new appreciation for the holiday," said McDermott Matheric. "As we've seen in our nation with recent social unrest, I think our community will benefit from this remembrance of Dr. King's Legacy."

"I think this event provides an incredible opportunity for our youth and for the community at large," said Jones. "We are using this day of service to encourage students to use writing as a powerful tool for change and personal growth, and we're giving the community the opportunity to come together...and hear an award-winning poet speak about his truth and how poetry can really break the silences of our society."

"I hope this event gives people an opportunity to come together -- motivated by Dr. King's ideals -- and share a true sense of community. And I hope gives people a chance to reflect on Dr. King's words and legacy," wrote Pfeffer. "I think sharing his words and philosophy with students - using it to educate and inspire a new generation of leaders - is a meaningful way to honor Dr. King."

"Poetry that Breaks Silence: An MLK Day of Service Event" takes place Jan. 19 at 12 p.m. in the City of Sunrise Civic Center Grand Ballroom (10610 West Oakland Park Blvd., Sunrise). To RSVP, visit mlkday2015sunrise.eventbrite.com.

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