Many gems of talent and skill have arisen to captivate audiences.
Within Downtown Albany’s recent artistic resurgence, one such gem is poetry. Poets, true poets have been seen walking the streets of Albany, inconspicuous and muted for many years. They clamor for a piece of paper and a pen as though searching for an inhaler during an asthma attack. Perhaps you have seen them on the city bus, or in the office, at the bar scribbling on a napkin or elsewhere. They were rummaging through a purse or a desk drawer searching for a few drops of ink to tell tales of injustice, love, faith, social ills such as, promiscuity and disease and more.
Now that Albany is coming into its own as a quiet metropolis, these poets are starting to fill the seats in any place where they can share their work. One of these seats, in one of these places, recently held a special talent. Unassuming, yet deliberate, Towanda Smith commands the attention of the room. She shares work from her recently published poetry collection: Inspirations from the Father’s Heart.
In her Sweet, raspy voice, Towanda speaks truth to power. Recognizing purpose in her gifts, she delivers heartfelt expressions that give perspective to the struggles in her own life, and gives a poignant voice to many social issues affecting the African American community, and the American community as a whole. Recently at Unplugged, I listened to one of her poems called “America”. Requested by her Student Union President back in college, the poem sheds light on the new American slave trade: the prison system. Noting privatization, dehumanization and capitalism, Smith educates her readers and listeners about the flawed justice system that thrives on a failing educational system and self-centered economic system.
A transplant from Seattle, Washington and native of Louisiana, Towanda now lives and writes in Albany. She is a dedicated Christian, and when asked how she made it through her life’s trials, she replies simply: “Trust in God. Faith. Believing that with His help, I would be okay.” What she left out: using the talent that she was blessed with to help others see things from another, new perspective. She hopes that people can gain from her testimonies about overcoming challenges.
In a recent discussion, she spoke of having to train herself to absorb the meaning of the parables in scripture. “I used to take it all too literally,” she discloses. “Now, I know that I have to take the meaning of each of the stories in the Bible and apply it to my own life.” Also influenced by writers such as T.S. Elliot, Maya Angelou, Walt Whitman and Nikki Giovanni, her style is bold.
She tells the story of the first poem that she wrote, entitled “William”: When sitting at a bus stop in Seattle, she noticed a young man with his coat open, revealing no shirt. She asked him if he needed help, and went on to purchase a shirt and lunch for him. She invited him to church that very evening, and when he showed up, she was over-joyed. “That’s where I got my first poem,” she said with a smile.
Inspirations from the Father’s Heart, released through Author House publishers, is available on Amazon.com. For more information about Towanda Smith, or to see examples of her work, visit the UnPlugged Poetry page on Facebook. You can enjoy her work live, at UnPlugged Poetry on the first and third Mondays of each month at 7:30pm, at Global Essence, 111 S. Jackson Street in Downtown Albany.
(This article was published in The Albany Journal Newspaper on 12/14/11. Visit http://thealbanyjournal.com/category/columns/ for the column)
America, America, land of
The free, got our black men
Bound in your prisons of slavery.
They’re in shackles and chains, agony, and pain
Going mentally insane.
Locked up behind a rusty cell cage, full of anger
Despair, violent, turmoil and rage.
Treated like a criminal and beaten like an animal.
A dollar for every black male head
That waxes your prisons floors and lies restless
In your beds from being raped the night before.
Fill up our state prisons
And let them overflow for that is
Were our tax dollar
Will eventually go.
All in the name of success and dollars, private
Prison management and Service company’s holler
Locked them up and let them do the time,
Even if the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
It’s a vicious cycle that goes on and on, that
Our media hypes up with the same sensational
Crime songs, that will scare the people,
So they can cry out, lets do away with
Our prison industry and Its perverted
Ways need, need more black men
Incarcerated just to get paid.
It’s a 100 billion dollar industry that’s
On the rise, as business owners, and
Politicians, capitalize on
They could care less if a black man dies for
All they see is floating dollar signs in the air,
Not caring about a generation that’s living in
All they’re thinking about, is the almighty dollar
And could care less about
Rehabilitating our black sons
And our fathers.
America, America, oh my heart bleeds,
To see that we’re so far from where we
Need to be. We build more prisons,
Than we do schools, sending the message
To our children, that crime is really cool.
Our prison industry is nothing but wacked, with
All the dramatic social services cut backs,
From colleges, schools, drug rehabs,
No wonder why the prison reform doesn’t
Our brothers can’t stay
Out of your prison cells, they come out worse
And wind back up in jail.
You stripped them of their true identity,
Told them what they can and couldn’t
Be, and taken them from their
Families and community.
No investment in helping them to
Renew their minds, now they’re
Dependent upon you
As they serve a lifetime.
Systematic racism and slavery, oppressing
The black man and calling them lazy.
Instead of cargo ships, you got them behind bars,
Then that way you can contain
Them from a distance and afar.
No man overboard, or tossed
Into the sea, instead you just
Locked them up for life and throw
Away the key.
Written By: Towanda Smith
Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved