Flint names Semaj Brown the city’s first poet laureate
FLINT, MI– Semaj Brown’s mother raised her to act out the poetry she read.
The lesson remained with Brown throughout her literary and educational career as she fused her love of science, literature, and music into performances. The artist, educator and poet received a proclamation from the mayor as Flint’s first poet laureate on September 27.
Pamela Pugh, Flint’s chief public health adviser who presented the proclamation to Brown, said esteemed members of arts and literary institutions have recommended naming the city’s first poet laureate as part of the public health program , recovery and resilience of the city.
Brown was chosen to be Flint’s Poet Laureate because of “her unique history in the literary arts as a poet and author as well as (her) history in community health programs,” Pugh said.
Brown will work in conjunction with the city’s public health department, recognizing that literature and literacy are integral parts of a healthy and vibrant society, according to Pugh.
“It’s an honor, it’s really an honor,” Brown said.
In his most recent project, “Bleeding Fire: Tap the Eternal Spring of Regenerative Light,” Brown combines science, health, and social commentary in a book of poetry, prose, and magical realism. Each Poet Laureate has their own platform, Brown said.
“At one time, the poets laureates were more ceremonial. They wrote poems for special occasions, ”Brown explained. “But now the winning poets will often have programs they want to implement. I have ambitious goals.
The post of poet laureate is voluntary. As the Poet Laureate, Brown wants to create a website to connect all literacy initiatives to Flint, provide recorded stories to children, and raise awareness in a more literate community. Brown is currently looking for a Grants Writer to help him achieve these goals.
“I would like to show how poetry intersects with everything,” Brown said.
“When all these things merged, this is what I became”
Semaj Brown was born and raised in Detroit and came to Flint later in his life.
Bessie James, Brown’s mother and classically trained pianist, immersed Brown in literature and nurtured his appreciation for world cultures. Every summer, Brown visited his adopted grandmother in Ontario, where she studied Shakespeare.
Back home, Brown conducted science experiments and grew crystals in the makeshift lab she housed in her parents’ basement. As a daughter, Brown played the violin in the Highland Park Chamber Orchestra. All of these cultural experiences are transformed in Brown’s writing.
“When all of those things came together, that’s what I became,” said Brown,
She added that her writing is lyrical due to her background in music.
“Everything that happens in this world is so interconnected that it’s almost the same. “
As an artist, Brown belonged to the Broadside Press group of poets known as the “Offspring” or the Next Generation following legacy poets from the 1960s such as Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti, and Audre Lorde. The Broadside Press was founded in Detroit by Dudley Randall in 1965. The presses were notorious for publishing prominent black poets that other presses would not.
Brown began her teaching career after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Biological Sciences from Wayne State University in 1986. After graduating with both BA and MA, Brown completed courses in education, writing, and literature. . She then created integrated science programs for Detroit public schools as an educator for 16 years.
Combining her experiences, Brown partnered with her husband and family doctor, James Brown, to develop healthy initiatives curriculum for the community of Flint. Brown has run 70 community workshops throughout Genesee County, educating residents about making healthier decisions.
As Director of Community Outreach, Semaj Brown is the author of a radio show on Health and the Planted Kingdom, a cookbook published in 2012. In the cookbook, Semaj Brown creates an array of characters. like “Blanche Broccoli” who play the importance of a healthier diet. .
“I really liked and enjoyed this process and thought I should share it with people. And so I did, ” said Semaj Brown.
Back to Flint
Semaj Brown moved around a bit, but then returned to Flint following the water crisis.
“I remember looking at the news with my husband and saying ‘these are our people,’” said Semaj Brown. “We have to go back.”
Since returning, Semaj Brown has created “Mother Ocean,” an epic poem inspired by a “Women of a New Tribe” photography exhibition at the Flint Institute of Arts in 2017. She performed the poem, with her husband playing the live music, at the FIA’s Tenth Anniversary Gala.
“Something was stirring in me. I hadn’t written poetry for a long time, ”said Semaj Brown as he explained the writing process for“ Mother Ocean ”.
In 2018, Semaj Brown began teaching and counseling for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Flint and orchestrated the “Creating Plant Consciousness Through Science, Crafts, Visual Arts, Music and Drama” program.
This year, Semaj Brown was invited to create a poem in honor of Mayor Karen Weaver on her birthday. The poem, “Fire Weaver”, is an allegorical fable that connects African blacksmiths to workers at the Flint steel factory. The poem ends with Weaver using fire to solve the water crisis.
Semaj Brown performed passages at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit on May 18 to celebrate the launch of “Bleeding Fire: Tap the Eternal Spring of Regenerative Light”.
The Poet Laureate is appealing to retired writers, poets and educators to join her as she tries to educate Flint about literacy and poetry.
“My load is huge,” said Semaj Brown. “And so I need to formulate programs with other retired teachers. With people who can read, write and teach poetry.