I really don’t know what I’m doing with today’s topic of “art.” I have this massive insecurity around “art” because it feels like a limitless expanse of things I can’t fully grasp. What counts as “art,” who decides and what is worthy? These questions make me unsure of the value of the art I comprehend and thus unqualified to discuss it fully.

But I know what moves me. I know what feels priceless to see, hear and experience. I think I know what “art” is and I think I know who makes me feel it.

I met Shannon in MLT in 2013 and had a fun, pleasant conversation when we first met. I had no expectations of who she was or what she had to offer at first meeting. But then seven months later, I heard her spoken word about “Strands.” I immediately knew that what I was hearing and experiencing was “art.” There was just no question that what I felt listening and seeing her words in the past, present and future was artistry.

In November of 2015, Shannon had asked me to share my personal journey — a messy, vulnerable 20-minute rambling of emotions I had previously shared with my HBS section — not just with her but also with the broader HBS audience. I trusted Shannon and thought an ugly story matched with her words and style would elevate it to something worthwhile. To re-experience my own journey with Shannon’s own observations and insights drawn from knowing me not too long truly brought me back to the very first time I heard her spoken word.

I am so rarely moved — and freed from my overly anxious brain.


These are the words:

The third picture is a black & white
masterpiece of a man.
It is a bit grainy like an afterthought when you try to recollect it…
A little blurred like an intentional insult salted with sarcasm.
He wears bright, white frames with ink-black lenses.
White words, bold, and in a font named: IMPACT
are plastered across the lower third of his jaw
And the upper portion of his chest.
They read “Straight outta all the fux”:
A sentiment that is consistent with every muscle of his expression,
the gravity of his lean , and the slouch of his shoulders.
You wonder if the trinity of his baldness, blackness and beard don’t make him look a little angry?
but you tell yourself that maybe he is more misunderstood than mean.
His smirk is a skeptic’s scepter. His voice is depth, is quiet roar, is peeled-off mask, is hidden wound, and thoughtful truths.
Voiceless, though he is, he says everything.

The veins of his voice are so deeply etched inside of him that his classmates often complain that once he draws out the liquid of his speech,
the sound is too much wired like a whisper.
My hope is that at least one consequence of this feature is that he finds himself surrounded by those brave souls capable of silencing their own desires long enough to hear his.

The power of his voice, a quiet roar,
is littered with the footprints of his father’s drinking,
littered with the lingering lisp of his grandmothers’ resolve to prefer his brother’s struggles over his achievements,
littered with the handwriting of friend’s ultimatum letter that requested friendship of him even when he was at his worst.

The territory of his voice, this peeled-off mask, is his pledge to authenticity.
Because that mask that he mastered at Amex — the one that lead to promotion, acceptance, and other people’s happiness,
was a monster he had mistaken for a hero.
The hollow of his voice, this hidden wound, is a hard dose of truth.
Though his identity has been shaped by things beyond his control
He — thoughtful, powerful — is also shaping it.

Part of a 28-day series of reflections, stories and feelings for Black History Month 2017. Read all parts (here).

My first words: but why though? | Biting my tongue requires daily reminders | Unapologetically me https://linktr.ee/alterrellmfmills