Justice, Grief and Overcoming Fear: A Young Poet Finds his Voice

Photo credit Jan Mangan

Fania Davis is redefining justice. Her bold vision is “a justice that seeks not to punish, but to heal. A justice that is not about getting even, but about getting well.” As the founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), Davis has developed a practical methodology that requires all parties involved in conflict or crime to have the courage to enter into conversation, lean into discomfort and work toward personal healing and community peace.

A group of thoughtful, young leaders from RJOY recently conducted a restorative justice circle in the youth program at the Bioneers Conference. Khantane Jackson, a 23-year-old RJOY intern, was among them. As a young boy, Khantane was ridiculed for his speech impediment so he turned to writing as his preferred form of expression and to develop self-awareness. But his writings were, for the most part, kept private. Charged by an argument he had with his mother, he used the energy of that conflict to write a poem and in the safe, brave space of the Bioneers Open Mic, Khantane performed his first spoken word piece in public.   

I say they get mad when I express myself. They need help.

Mentally, Physically, Spiritually, Holistically.

That’s wrap-around support. Yeah that’s what I do.

In this work…it’s Heart work, so it’s hard work…I just speak my truth.

And they like how I move. Calming, healing, intentional. Aligned with the mission.

If alignment is not the assignment then something’s missing.

You see ever since I was a young, young, young, young kid I knew I was different.

 Or maybe I was tripping. It’s just no one around me could see my vision.

But I love my people. I mean more and more everywhere I go I see Black Joy on so many faces.

That’s hope.

The hope I’m glad I had as a kid because otherwise I’ll probably be addicted to that dope.

But I thank God because now I’m not alone on this lonely road.

From the streets of Oakland to RJOY. We are JOY.

I hope these words feed your soul. I want to thank each and every one of you.

May you stay blessed and highly favored.

And let us say Ase Ase Ase. We pray we pray we pray.

Not just for better days. Not just to elevate. Not just to find a way but for love and strength to enjoy all of the beautiful moments we have each and every day.

Because before you know it…they will all fade away.

After his performance, Brittiny Moore, Bioneers Young Leaders Fellow, conducted this interview with Jackson.

BRITTINY MOORE : We just got out of the Open Mic, and I had the pleasure of listening to your performance, which was absolutely amazing. You noted at the beginning that it was your first open mic. What inspired you to get up and share your poem?

KHANTANE JACKSON: Shout out to Gold Beams in Oakland. They have an open mic for Black creatives. Everyone always is like, hey, are you signed up? I’m like, “Do I look like I’m an artist? How do you know I write?” I’ve always been a writer. But It’s been hard for me to read my words aloud because of my speech impediment and people making fun of my voice and the way I talk. What really inspires me is my community. They kept pushing me to get up there. Everybody was telling me, “The only way to get up there is to face your fears.” Before I got on stage, my heart was really beating fast. I was like, I don’t know how I’m going to do this. But when I got on stage, feeling the energy from the people in the room really welcomed me in; so, I felt more comfortable. That’s why I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be when I actually got on stage.

BRITTINY: I’m glad that you were able to be in a warm and welcoming space to share your art. As a writer, where do you find inspiration?

KHANTANE: I find inspiration from my life experiences, my imagination. I always go very deep in my dreams. I’m a Pisces and so my imagination is very big. I get inspiration not just from my own imagination, but from the imagination of other people. I read many different books. So, I feel the inspiration and imagination from other people. I also just wanted to speak my truth and express myself. That gives me inspiration.

BRITTINY: I imagine that being able to have this medium to speak your truth and to amplify your voice has to be somewhat healing for you.

KHANTANE: It’s definitely healing. A lot of times, I write not for other people, but just for myself, and so it really has been a healing thing for me to write every day. I don’t have to say the words. When I write the words, they come out how they should come out. Sometimes when I talk out loud, the words don’t come out the way I want them to. I can’t articulate it how I want. But when I write, I can.

BRITTINY: You said this is your first Bioneers conference. It’s also my very first Bioneers conference. So we’re in that together. How has your first experience been?

KHANTANE: I would say the experience at the Bioneers Conference opened my heart to different people from different walks of life. To be honest with you, I’m not really surrounded by too many white people on a daily basis. Coming to this conference, I was told that it was going to be a lot of Indigenous cultures and learning about indigenous ways of life, and so I wasn’t really expecting to be in a population of so many white people. It made me more receptive to seeing the reflection of everyone and not just focusing on color. Some people expressed that they felt uncomfortable around so many white people, because growing up in our neighborhoods, the fear and hatred is so generationally ingrained in us. But I like to see the light in everything, so me coming to this conference, I smile at everyone, and I love the energy that everyone has.

I attended a ritual yesterday called Tending to Our Grief with Breath and Ritual with Ladybird Morgan and that was really powerful. It felt really good to release the grief I was holding. I cried a lot, but they were good tears, and just being able to talk to my friend who passed away, and to put a song into the water. I really do love water, so that really touched me as well.

Participating in the Youth Speaks spoken word workshop, Myra Estrada inspired me to do Open Mic today. Talking about activism, just knowing that people at Bioneers are here to make a change. They’re actively in a community. I feel blessed and honored to be at Bioneers.

BRITTINY: Well we are blessed and honored to have you here with us. Is there maybe one particular thing that you think has been most impactful that you can take with you after this conference and apply to your everyday life?

KHANTANE: I would have to go back to the grief circle that I was in, because Ladybird really taught me a different way to move through my grief. And I have to shout out to someone I met there who also told me different ways I can move through my grief. She was telling me that my friend who passed away is always here with me. The last time I saw him was on my birthday and he passed away two days later, so my recent birthday was very hard for me. She told me that he’s still here, that you can talk to him, you can do things that you did together. Make a plate of his favorite food and talk to him. He wouldn’t want you to be sad. That’s  going to stick with me because I’m always pouring into people, and I don’t have too many people pouring into me, so to hear those words really touched me.

And I have to say that I was talking to Jada Imani, the facilitator for the youth Open Mic and the orientation, and she was telling me because there’s not too many people of color, our presence is needed here. And so I definitely feel like I have to show up in these spaces where we’re not that seen. It’s important for us to come and have a voice.

So I did a poem at the Open Mic. I was arguing with my mom and it inspired a poem, and I just want to say that I love my mom to death. I talk about my mom so much, but we like to run away from the trauma in the house and bring it outside. But my intentions in this lifetime is to be a healer and to break generational curses. So, having an argument with my mom and turning it into something as powerful as that poem I did, I feel like it was a testament to show that even through the dark times, we can always find a light. Even if we may have some broken relationships with our friends and family, there’s always hope because they have to do their own inner work. So just realizing that and giving them grace is very important.

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