Poet Dr. Javon Johnson Sheds Light on Love, and Race in America
On November 9, 2015, Fairfield University proudly welcomed world-renowned poet, Dr. Javon Johnson, to shed light on current racial issues in the form of his spoken word and slam poetry. Through honest humor, palpable emotion, and raw realizations, Dr. Johnson captivated over 100 students and members of the Fairfield community. The lower level of the Barone Campus Center provided an intimate setting for Johnson’s performance and the open discussion that followed.
“We received a lot of positive feedback from many different students. Not only did they understand Dr. Johnson’s message that racial injustice is prevalent in America and on college campuses, but they really enjoyed the performance because it was fun to watch,” said Joe Harding ’18, Fairfield University Student Association Senator of the Class of 2018, who arranged the event. “He delivered it in a way, through the integration of comedy and love that made, for a lack of a better word, the pill easier to swallow for a lot of students who may not have been engaged in that conversation before.”
Inspired by the use of language as an outlet for expression and a proverbial crush on a girl, Dr. Johnson began writing poetry in 2001. He then proceeded to win slam nationals in 2003 and 2004, making Dr. Johnson one of the only poets to make finals two years in a row. He has appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, BET’s Lyric Café, TVOnes Verses & Flow, and co-wrote the documentary Crossover, which aired on Showtime in collaboration with the NBA and Nike. He has written for Our Weekly, Text & Performance Quarterly,The Root, and is currently working on a book about how “blackness” operates in slam and spoken word poetry communities.
In light of the recent racial tensions and incidents that are occurring on many college campuses, Dr. Johnson’s powerfully lived message could not have been more timely — calling for an open and critical conversation in order to promote an inclusive and accepting community at Fairfield University.
“I believe engaging in dialogue is a very important next step and it needs to be campus-wide,” Harding said. “It can’t just be what we call ‘preaching to the choir,’ but a campus-wide initiative to encourage everyone who is part of this community to get involved, because at the end of the day, our Jesuit ideals that promote peace and justice should be ubiquitous around campus. It should be embedded in everything we do here.”
Harding also said that respect for every person regardless of race, gender, or nationality is of utmost importance in Dr. Johnson's work and is the reason he continues to be an inspiration to so many. “He really cares about other people. He doesn’t just care about black people, but he cares about people in general. I think that’s a beautiful thing, to just care about humanity in general.”
Following Dr. Johnson’s visit and in response to the national student Call to Action day around the country, Fairfield University held a non-violent peaceful demonstration to raise awareness on the heightened racial tensions on November 18th at 2:15 p.m.
University President Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., and the Racial Justice is Social Justice student group joined many other students, faculty and staff to stand in solidarity with the students of color around the country whose lives were threatened, who feel unsafe or undervalued. The demonstration also commemorated those who were recently impacted by acts of violent terror around the world.
Starting at the library, Fairfield students, faculty and staff walked around campus in silence carrying a variety of signs, some that read, “#BlackLivesMatter,” “Pray for: Mexico, Paris, Beruit, Japan, Baghdad, Kenya,” “Racial Justice is Social Justice,” “FairfieldU in Solidarity with Mizzou, Yale, Ithaca, and Howard.” Many who passed stopped to take part in the moments of silence that were held outside the library, in the Barone Campus Center and around the stag statue. The powerful events concluded with an open and honest reflective discussion in which students and faculty shared their feelings of frustration, vulnerability, anger, confusion and hope.
“I felt an array of emotions. A moment that stood with me was when two students stopped mid-conversation to stand with us,” said Sherice Reid ’18. “I think it's another small but powerful step in the right direction. It made me shake my head and believe that there is hope. However, we must understand that it doesn’t end here.”
Anif McDonald ’16, FUSA president, said, “I personally feel that in my four years here that as a student of color this was the first time I ever saw a big group of black students with a big group of white students together and also working towards the same cause. It showed me that there is progress being made especially since faculty of both colors were there and especially because of Fr. von Arx’s presence. I'm hoping that we continue to do this but with more people as well.”
Fairfield University offers many thanks to those who opened their minds by participating in the peaceful demonstration, and to Dr. Javon Johnson for shedding light on a systemic issue and a societal reality and for leaving the community hopeful and inspired.
Following the demonstration, Fr. von Arx issued a letter to the campus community in which he stated: "Fairfield University is committed to being an inclusive, welcoming community that is reflective of our culturally diverse, and globally interconnected world. We strive to be an inclusive and discrimination-free community, where everyone is respected, where all are encouraged to freely express their views without recriminations, and where everyone is accepted for who they are — without exception."
Visit Fairfield University’s website to read about its goals for diversity and programs that support inclusivity and safety on campus.
By Lindsay Stephen ’16
Top left photo (L-R): Javon Johnson and Joe Harding '18
Bottom right photo (L-R): Aliyah Phipps '18, Joe Harding '18, Anif McDonald '16, Sherice Reid '16 gather to begin peaceful protest