The Creative Youth Development and Arts In Education Director position is new for the organization. What are you most excited to do or implement in your role at Youth Speaks?
Well Firstly, I am the most excited to serve Youth Speaks in this new role and title beyond my involvement in Brave New Voices. I believe in the magic of spoken word Slam Poetry and the magic that is Youth Speaks. It is our duty to provide Brave spaces for young people to understand the oppressive systems that exist that want to silence them, that want to limit them. It is an honor to step into this role to dream about the many ways we can empower young people to use their art, and their voices to get free.
Tell us about your programmatic vision for the future of Youth Speaks.
This is a great question, as I previously mentioned I am all about amplifying youth voice and allowing the youth to steer our programs and initiatives. I would not be here without the intention and work set forth by previous programmatic directors. On the shoulders of Hodari Davis, Brandon Santiago, Gabe Cortez, and Mush Lee, I plan to expand the vision of programs of the past for the future. Centering and holding both artistic excellence and art as a tool of resistance. How are we creating a space for young people to be empowered, to be fearless, and to be brave and in tandem how are we preparing them for the harsh realities that they will face? This work isn't easy and I won't pretend that it is, but something brought me to the Bay Area and I’m trusting my experience and expertise to take us to the next level.
Why do you believe the voices of youth are important and necessary?
“There will always be a next generation, and will always be there to carry them”
- Hodari B. Davis
The issues my generation has aren't the same issues Gen Z has and won’t be the issues that Gen A will have. Each shift in a generation brings a new plight. Now, there will be residual issues that transcend generations for instance, White Supremacy is not dismantled yet — it is alive and well. But this is all the more reason for us to resist intergenerationally and dream up the creative ways for us to do so. Youth voice is necessary in every space, the youth know what they want, how they want, and how they want to resist it. We, the adults are the drivers, the conductors to help guide them towards their goals. I am an empowered youth that has reached adulthood, it is my duty to ensure I provide the same type of pathway.
Being a Brave New Voices alumni and long-time Festival Co-Director, What influenced your decision to join the Youth Speaks team as a staff member?
This opportunity really came out of thin air. I was prepared to live out the rest of my life in Chicago. Organizing the city through Sustainable Community Schools and the National Community Schools model to provide better access and resources for Black and brown youth and their families. Being a part of Brave New Voices was like the cherry on top of a highly intense work year. When this opportunity was presented to me, I remember losing my breath. I called two of my closest family members and talked about what this opportunity could mean to me, my family, and my network. I was terrified but so honored to be considered. Ultimately it is my trust in the magical waters of Brave New Voices and how I’ve witnessed it change lives each and every year. I felt called to the bay, as I was called to the festival and I’m extremely honored and excited to bring all of my 6-piece lemon pepper fried hard with a side of mild sauce, Chicago wind to the bay and dream of how I can serve the youth and families here.
How has poetry and spoken word impacted your life?
Whew, This is such a funny question for me. The Dari origin story begins with the legendary Kuumba Lynx of Chicago. I remember my best friend (life-long friend) Ashley Brooks and I used to make fun of Kuumba Lynx for their political stance against white supremacy. We used to jokingly say how we would never join that organization because all they talk about was fighting the man. 3 Years later I auditioned for the Kuumba Lynx performance ensemble and it literally changed my life. I had these same ignorant thoughts regarding poetry. I joined Kuumba Lynx as a dancer and never thought about slam poetry or writing before. But it was the mentorship of Jacinda Bullie and Jaquanda Saulter — they saw something in me — and they knew I could answer the call. So they took me to my first Louder Than A Bomb in 2008 and it was up from there. I’ve never looked back. In 2010 my team and I won louder than a bomb and there I was introduced to Brave New Voices in Los Angeles. The rest is history. This is why I will not accept hearing young folks don't want to write anymore or aren't interested in poetry. I was a young person who had zero interest until someone showed me the window, showed me the land of poetry. I’ve met some of my very best friends through Kuumba Lynx, Youth Speaks, and Brave New Voices.
What advice would you give baby Darius if you could impart any piece of wisdom on them?
I would tell baby Darius that everything he will go through is necessary and that he may not see the light at the end of the tunnel but trust that all of his hard work, his sacrifice, and his pain will pay off. That it won't be easy and it's not supposed to be. The harshest of pressures create the most beautiful of diamonds. I’d tell him I hope I am making him proud and that once he gets to where he wants to be I am going to cheer and champion for him!
How do you see Youth Speaks as an organization stepping into the world of Narrative Change and Digital Content spaces?
Youth Speaks, much like Kuumba Lynx has been around for 20+ years. I think it's time for us to truly pop our sh*t. We don't need to follow or wait for someone to tell us what to do or how to move. We can quite literally lead ourselves and our beloved. We have the wisdom of the past to help inform the innovation of the future. We have our ancestors in spirit and our living legends still here to share best practices to organize around issues and use the platform we have to create a more just — a more equitable, and more realized world. It is going to take us all and Narrative Change, Creative Youth Development, and Digital Content is a direct response to this vision. We’re going to light this sh*t up and I am excited to be a beacon carrier and light bender in the name of all my organizations.
What poet/writer/activist/artist has impacted you the most as a creative and why?
This is such a loaded question. There are so many people I call on and lean into that impact my politics, my creativity, and my love for this work. I think about Jacinda Bullie, Jaquanda Saulter, Bell Hooks, Sonya Sanchez, Dr. Laila Farrah, Dr. Ann Russo, My grandmother (Mary George who’s activism I literally inherited). I think about Cydney Edwards, Langston Hughes, Angela Davis, Dr. David Stovall, Christopher Mad Dog Thomas, Joan Osato, so many beloveds everywhere all at once. Because it is the nuance that each of them possesses that has influenced so much of who I am across very pivotal moments in my life. I carry their writings, their teachings, their love, their purpose, and their passion all at once, I’m honored to be their student and honored to be a product of such a loved community, such a necessary community, and will answer the call every time.