“A little nonsense now and then / is cherished by the wisest men.”
– Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka
I had a homeboy back in Chicago, Scott Bradley, who used to jump in the air manically, repeatedly, in solidarity with mid-ollie skaters the world over.
“Scott…why you jumping, joe?” (We called each other joe back then.)
Scott rested, hands on knees, and asked, “If you add up every second I’m in the air, for my whole life, do you think it’ll make a whole day?” I don’t know where Scott is now, but I hope he still wars against gravity’s pull. I think if he hasn’t quit, he’ll have enough seconds with his feet off the ground to add up to a day in the air. Isn’t that what we all want—a day in the air? To flirt with flight.
The journey towards self-realization always begins in nonsense. It begins, in the often-tragic conditions in which we live, with the affirmation of invisible quantities—the insistence that things that never measure on standard scales are divine. The sanctity of childhood, the genius of youth, the necessity of leadership roles for women, the self-determination of communities of color. The poem that comes climbing out of your brain, its tendrils sticking to the brick walls behind you, the grey windows around you, the fire escapes of the Dearborn Homes and the beards of saints above the clouds. Against all odds, we believe, that the unquantifiable thing inside—this life—is real and can change the world around us.
“…what it look like / how it sound.
Life is round / that’s what we found.”
– Sekou Sundiata
I’m at the table where we have our staff meetings. Emiliano Bourgeois-Chacon, Youth Speaks veteran, front-running candidate for greatest youth poet of all time (ask Hodari Davis), and future legal advocate, has brought his younger cousin to the office on some grown man alumnus stuff. “I’m Nur,” his cousin says, and begins drawing cartoons with a pencil. “I’m Nur, his little cousin.” Children like to repeat things. “Did you meet him in college?” Emiliano laughs, says he was in high school when we met, and Nur shows the comic he’s drawn to Brandon and Isa, who take a break from the multiverses on their laptops to smile and encourage him. Isa points out where Nur has written her name into a bubble. “I’m floating. I’m winning at life right now,” she says.
In about an hour, kids will start filing into the office for the Queeriosity workshop. There will be chatter, and banter, and wheeling of chairs, fall-down funny laughter, and poems. There will be the ones who come weary after grappling with life, its many heads and limbs unfair in how they snipe and grasp. There will be ones who lay their heads on the faux wooden table and close their eyes while water is poured around them—fragile oasis. There will be combat, and arguments, and insistence on language and line breaks. There will be the hush that comes when someone is telling the truth about something, for the very first time, and we are all here to watch these words be born.
“I’ll play your favorite song—darling.”
Peace, fellow traveler. This is for you. It’s been a minute since we’ve chopped. I don’t know where you are—how you pronounce your name today—but I know you. You’re halfway across the earth, seeing Ghana from a glass-bottom plane. You’re in the grip of fever-dream, your own mind prophesying greatness. You’re in a vestibule to adulthood, wondering if this next job application, or school loan, or piece of inscrutable administrivia is really the wisest step to realizing the promise of that luminous wisp of spirit that rattles your chest, insisting on overgrowing your childhood.
It may not make sense—how we’re all connected in this work, how we are always catching each other, but we are. This is for my boy Dave Kelly (aka Cap D), who went from underground Chicago super-emcee to general counsel of the Golden State Warriors. I just got a call from homie—he told me how he’s bringing his family out and how things have changed since he was signed to Wild Pitch in the mid-90s. For Emiliano Bourgeois-Chacon, who brought his cousin to the office today.
For all the Youth Speaks folks past and present—Healey, who is planning an insurrection from Lake Merritt, and Senator Whitehead, who sends congratulations and well-wishes from New York. For Chinaka, and Rafael, and Adriel, and Nico, and Dahlak, and Katri, and Biko, and Tongo, and José, and Jason and their comrades—the children of our first golden age—who travel the world and come back home and draw mustaches on the Mona Lisas along the way. For Watsky, who is fast becoming a monomial underground rap fixture. For Brandon and Erika. For Nick and Isa and Kat. For Mush. You are brilliant in your genius, in your lashing out, in your insistence on the way the floating feather would land with the austerity of lead.