Jamal Parker is a Philadelphia based artist making waves in the community. We came across him on the scene as a performance artist and creative director. We believe that the work he is doing is worth our readers getting to know him and the positive impact he is having on his community. You can keep up with him via @blackboyflycollective on Instagram!
Tell us a little bit about your background: Who are you and where are you headed?
I was born in Reading, PA, but lived in quite a few places including Baltimore MD, Okinawa Japan, Jacksonville Fl, and Orlando Fl. I’m a Black writer currently based in Philadelphia, finishing up my degree in African-American Studies and English at Temple University.
How did you get your start in Poetry? Who or what inspired you?
I got my start in poetry after attending the Dodge Poetry Festival in 2012, I witnessed Patricia Smith live and it was phenomenal. I later had the honor of having lunch with her back in 2014 at a Writer’s Festival my high school hosted. From then on, I started attending open mics and got completely immersed in the form.
What does your day-to-day look like as a poet and teaching artist?
Usually, during the school calendar year, I’m the busiest since I normally work within K-12 schools and colleges. For example last semester, I would attend classes, then travel on the road to somewhere like New York for a performance at a middle school, then come back to Philly and write a paper for a class. It was definitely demanding at times, but with prayers, my support system and practicing mindfulness I was able to push through.
What motivates you to be a performer?
Initially, it was rappers such as Kendrick and Kanye. I just wanted to be on a stage and deliver that kind of energy. When I used to attend slams it was very common for me to listen to verses from Kendrick before performing. But ultimately, it’s my peers and the passion they put into their work. So shout outs to Babel Poetry Collective, Black Boy Fly, and the curators at the Philly Pigeon. All of these folk have influenced me with their work ethic and how they all have nuanced ways of performing themselves. I always learn something new when I witness them perform at a slam, open mic, or a reading. I always want to grow, and be able to be genuine with my content.
Black men and women are in some ways in a crisis. Crises of understanding and communication as a community, in addition to all the ways racism, sexism, and sexual orientation discrimination amongst so many other axes of oppression impact our everyday lives. Talk to us about how you see and understand the state of Black men today? What’s on your mind? What issues are most pressing to you? What triumphs are you seeing? Where do Black women fit in?
In terms of Black men, I think we have plenty of work to do. There’s a lack of emotional intelligence, sympathy, and logic in a lot of how we navigate relationships with Black women around us on a day-to-day basis. I’m even guilty of that myself. So in no way shape or form am I absolving myself when I say statements like this, more of us need to do internal work and unlearn problematic behaviors. A LOT of us need therapy, and to not rely on emotional labor from our partners. A lot of us need interventions from our friends and people we consider our kin. On the same side of the coin, a lot of us completely suck at accountability and try to act as if our world is fine when it’s not, and we perpetuate harm by compliance. Things I consider “triumphs” are that I at least see more effort on the behalf of my peers in seeking out assistance, and being more vulnerable about what has harmed them in the past, and who they have harmed and working to rectify that. I don’t believe anyone is perfect, but I do believe we can make strides in doing better. At the end of the day, Black women deserve better from us.
Every day it seems like I see a tweet along the lines of “Support Black Women” “Believe Black women” “Pay Black women” or “Black women I hope you have a great day today,” and often from Black men. As great as the tweets are, I often worry that the other shoe is going to drop and/or the support/love/whatever for us is superficial. Why do Black women matter to you? What can our men be doing to uplift and encourage us in ways that aren’t just clickbait or temporary? What can Black women do to return the favor?
I can talk all day about the Black women who’ve raised me, mentored me, and helped me day by day, but Black women matter to me simply because they are people too and they exist. Speaking from an artist’s perspective, I think one thing men can do to uplift and encourage Black women in practical ways is supporting their artistic endeavors through financial means. Booking a Black woman poet for a performance, buying a Black woman’s art, and if you don’t have the financial backing to do these things, literally showing love whenever you can through sharing their work.
What can we expect from you and your work moving forward? How can we be of support?
Right now, I’m enjoying my summer after a VERY long school year. But I’m currently working on a manuscript and a micro-chapbook which will be on the way soon. I’m also exploring other avenues outside of poetry, so be on the lookout for that! If you want to support, follow @blackboyflycollective on Instagram!
In the end, how do you want your story depicted? What legacy do you hope to leave behind?
I’ve been thinking about this more and more throughout the years. I’ve had the blessings of several important people in my life and I just want to give back. I’ve had the privilege of mentoring people, and I would like to continue that route. I also want to be remembered as a hard worker, a human, and a Black kid who just loved telling stories through art.
Just for kicks:
- J Cole or Kendrick? Kendrick
- Football or Basketball? Football
- Blog or Podcast? Blog
- Instagram or Twitter? Twitter, Black Twitter is unrelenting
- Erykah or Lauryn? Lauryn
- Favorite movie? Guardians of the Galaxy (or it’s at least the one I can rewatch the most)
- Favorite music streaming platform? Apple Music
- Favorite book? The Autobiography of Malcolm X