Nationally acclaimed poet, 3-Time Grand Slam Champion, Founder of the Golden State Slam and Open Mic, and member of the über popular spoken word group Fiveology, Shawn William, is also a father, twice over. His latest piece, "A Father's Warning," came in the form of not just performance, but a video produced by DJ Supe. On what compelled him to take the piece further than the stage, William says, "The video came to me seeing Mike Brown’s stepfather after the Ferguson District Attorney decided on not prosecuting his step son’s killer Officer Wilson. The media had a field day painting that man as a villain when in my eyes who are we to judge a parent’s pain? The worse feeling in the world is to lose someone you care for, the 2nd worse (IMO) is to watch and be useless to someone in need. CNN, FOX and other news affiliates shouldn’t have videotaped that moment but for ratings they’ll do whatever. I wanted to visually capture that moment from a father’s perspective." Watch it below:
The overall feel of the video, including the music and the footage in the background of real events, photos of Shawn and his son, Trey, and community outrage reminded me of something Spike Lee would produce if he ever ventured into the arena of spoken word. The first line of the piece that captures my attention is, "Something needs to change about these police officers that have hatred in their holsters..." illustrating that racism is pervasive among those who are in powerful, paid positions to protect those who they hunt and slaughter.
Shawn proficiently composes and performs a piece that not only illuminates the black rage behind activism, but also (and perhaps unintentionally) dispels the notion of the absent black father as the only archetype of the black man with progeny. His love and protectiveness of his son is at the forefront the entire time, from when he explains how he's done everything in his power to keep his son from being in a situation where he might be on the other side of a police officer's gun to when he admits that he isn't strong enough to sit through a courtroom trial should his son face death at the hands of an officer. He calls himself "weak" and "reckless," to demonstrate the alien strength and composure it must take the parents of these murdered children not to just wild out and rage against the machine that killed their babies.
As I listened and re-listened to "A Father's Warning," I found myself thinking about the intersection between poetry and protest. There are many ways to fight back against an unjust system, and we all do our best to find the ways that feel the most solution-oriented to us. There is an art to putting one's fist up and marching up to a brigade of police clad in riot gear. There is protest in writing prose that says, "No... not my son. Not me, either." Black Americans constantly find themselves seamlessly navigating an art form that isn't considered one: existence. It is a dance where no tickets are sold, where the lights are blue, and where we hope our sons rise again, but where we often see mourning cascade upon our faces instead. It is a song, which we never chose to write; a chorus of agony that we know by heart, taught by the clef of hatred on our government's staff. We, the African Diaspora, navigate this art whose only applause is another moment of breath, and perhaps temporary reprieve from seemingly unrelenting anguish. We tell the outside world as much as ourselves that we matter. We weave this mantra into the tapestry of our lives, hoping to mesmerize the masses into believing it as much as we do.
I also appreciate the fact that within this poem, Shawn addresses the "Why don't y'all care as much about black-on-black violence?" argument. He says, "...something just seems so disgusting, knowing that my hard earned tax dollars are being used to hire an assassin to put a hit out on my son..."What does it mean that we continue to put money into our own demise? We seem to fight back artistically, politically, even physically, but never economically. What if all Black Americans stopped paying taxes this year? What if we all only bought from black owned businesses, and kept our money in black owned banks? What if it's our pocketsbooks all along that have been the key to our liberation, not just poems and not just protests? We may have needed "A Father's Warning" to get us closer to that perfect and elusive work of art called freedom.
There's more to look forward to from Shawn William, who says his next video will be released sometime next week. He credits Michael Austin, who commented FML (meaning Fatherhood's My Life") on one of his Facebook photos, for inspiring a desire to create a platform/movement/forum for the voices of active husbands and fathers. The passion for his children is apparent in his poetry and in his commentary: "...being a father IMO is to provide, protect and to figure s*** out. When those options are taken away from you by gun violence feelings like the ones that come from my video comes to life. I’ve had numerous people attacking and accusing me of promoting violence against the police and those people are idiots. If all you get from my video is “I want to kill the police” then we have nothing to talk about because you are not here for change."
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