Alexandria’s course toward social justice might be long, but hope remains for a better future. That’s the message behind the Alexandria Choral Society’s (ACS) Refuge project, and if all goes as planned the five-movement piece will be performed live next May by members of the T.C. Williams High School choir.
“There’s a lot of mileage that you have to go on that journey for a better future,” Refuge composer Jonathan Kolm told ALXnow. “There’s an uplifting arc of hope, but one that is tempered by difficult circumstances that we find ourselves in.”
ACS Artistic Director Brian J. Isaac said that the piece has been labeled a “crowdsource commission,” because portions of the texts that will be sung by the choir have been chosen by the ACS members and fans in Zoom chats. The texts from the fifth movement will be chosen next month.
“Right now, we plan to present this live in May,” Isaac said. “But if it’s not safe to do so, we will likely release a portion of this and maybe a teaser of one movement or a portion of one movement in a virtual format, and then perform the entirety of this work with T.C. Williams as soon as we possibly can.”
A portion of ticket revenue from the concert will be donated to a social justice charity in Alexandria.
The first four movements will include the following texts:
- “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus
- “Night” by Louise Bogan
- Three Senryu poems by Hokkai, Rokaku, and Ichiryu
- “Litany For Survival” by Audre Lorde
Photo via Alexandria Choral Society/Facebook
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Creative writing nonprofit Heard is still finding ways to make noise. The three-year-old nonprofit had to shut down a number of its creative writing and art classes for the homeless, domestic violence survivors, and the incarcerated because of the pandemic. Now inmates at the Alexandria Detention Center will soon have back their creative outlet with Zoom classes.
“The jail did contact me and said they are in the process of getting more access to televisions and Zoom capabilities,” Collins told ALXnow. “And they asked me to put a proposal in so we could continue to offer creative writing poetry and visual arts classes.”
Heard now has a dozen community partners, including the Alexandria Domestic Violence Shelter, Community Lodgings, the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center and the Arlington County Detention Center. It’s also in the process of adding Casa Chirilagua to its mix of clients.
Instructors include former Alexandria Poet Laureate Wendi Kaplan, former Baltimore Ravens cheerleader Tina Kantiano, and TV journalist Alexandra Rockey Fleming.
Heard sponsors an annual writing contest at the Alexandria and Arlington Jails, and also teaches creative writing, journalism, poetry, visual arts, improvisation, etiquette, dance and public speaking.
Collins, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, said she is inspired by the level of creativity exhibited by Heard’s students.
“I always thought their stories were valid, that marginalized communities needed a platform and deserve to be heard,” she said. “There is no commonality among people in detention centers, aside from the fact that they’re incarcerated. There are people with advanced degrees, people who never made it through high school. They are some of the cleverest people I’ve ever gone across, and I base that on reading their written work.”
The untitled piece below the jump was written in August 2019 by Stephen Y. in the Alexandria Jail.
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C. Thomas‘ story isn’t ordinary, it’s extraordinary. The 39-year-old Alexandria poet has seen his share of adversity, and writing has always made him feel better.
“African Americans are supposed to be this resilient people. We’re not supposed to bend when the wind blows, but that’s just not the case,” Thomas told ALXnow. “Yes, things happen, but we’re supposed to be reinforced steel, but even steel can be scratched.”
On Friday, Feb. 7, the award-winning poet will take the stage to host “His Story,” an all-African American male showcase sharing stories through poetry. The event will feature the work of 13 of Nazareth, Rodrick Minor, Khalil Houston and Micah Powell. It costs $10 per person to attend and will be held at 7 p.m. at the Athenaeum (201 Prince Street),
“My writing reflects my life,” Thomas said. “I tell people to this day that this is how I kill and bury everything that bothers me — in a poem. Black people have inherited generational trauma from slavery that has passed down through generations and white people have inherited generational guilt. We are viewed as monsters. Despite the color of my skin I can be someone who can help you, but because you have that one idea of me in mind, I can be treated worthlessly, like scum.”
Writing ended up saving Thomas’ life. When he was 13 years old, he’d resolved to kill himself and began writing a suicide note. That note ended up turning into his first poem, “To Whom It May Concern.”
“I was really going to kill myself, but as I started writing I started to feel better,” Thomas said. “I’m a double target because I’m a black man and I’m gay, but I do not regret anything that I’ve gone through. I used to, but don’t any more, because I wouldn’t be a poet.”
Thomas, who works in an Alexandria-based dental office by day, is the youngest of five children raised in a two bedroom house by his mother and grandfather in Clinton, Maryland. He faced the death of his mother, Margaret Thomas, when he was just 10 years old, and only met his father weeks before his passing seven years ago.
“You have to let the pressure off and I always felt better after writing,” Thomas said. “I’m hoping the showcase will open the minds of those who question a lot of things in the African American community. These writers understand the nitty gritty of what this show stands for.”
An original poem by Thomas is below, after the jump.