Emancipate NC’s Poetic Justice 2021 was a powerful testimony. 

Our Advocate, Cierra Cobb, and our Poet-in-Residence, Hausson Byrd, curated our poets. 

Cierra cultivated five currently-incarcerated poets: Phillip Vance Smith, II, Timothy Johnson, Larry Leggett-El, Jeffrey Cobb, and Dadi McNair.

Cierra told us:

“Incarcerated voices are the most talented people who are forgot about. I want everybody to start humanizing these people; these are our loved ones. We have two that are juveniles, lifers, they’ve been in there since they were kids, babies … [We just want] to see how far they’ve come. Incarceration is not the end. Just because that paper says they have life, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what they’re going to live. I live everyday to fight for these people and their families.” [full remarks]

Hausson blessed us with what should be Emancipate NC’s anthem:

We weren’t free in 1863 when Abe Lincoln emancipated Southern slaves, not to save them, but to break a confederacy built from spines ripped from Black backs and covered in blood whipped from Black backs, a heritage of hate kept alive on belt buckles and truck bumpers and state capital flag poles by assholes drowning in their own ignorance. We weren’t free in 1865 when the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery except in prison and more than 200 companies use the slave labor. [full poem]

These poems moved us from behind the wall, shared over the prison phone line.

Jeffrey Cobb: “How can I not help my brother and sister, when we’re all we got?” [Full poem]

Tim Johnson: “Before, life lacked meaning because I strived for the wrong goals: material things and money. People matter. Relationships matter. By devoting myself to loving others, I felt meaning in my life.” [Full essay]

Larry Leggett-El: “Now I’m learning before I can change the world, I have to learn how it’s built.” [Full poem]

Phillip Vance Smith, II: “The War on Drugs Became a War on Us. We stopped holding hands in the streets because the streets made us tough.” [Full poem]

Dadi McNair: See I was born and I was reared in the South. I’m from the place where my ancestors were auctioned off at a markethouse.” [Full poem]

Hausson curated poets from Greensboro and Durham: Alani Rouse, Mo Grays, and Manzili.

Alani Rouse: “Everybody want me sitting at their table now. . . . I’m going to step. Side-step assimilation. Reject all your respectability politics. . . . The revolution is not diversity and inclusion training.” [Full poem]

Mo Grays: “You thought you were just going to lock and box me up. I’m a rebel. I ain’t never been a safe deposit.” [Full poem]

Manzili: “Castaways, captured and castrated, haven’t tasted the fruit of their labor.” [Full poem

Thank you to everyone who joined us at the live event. We love you.