Writers play a key role in fostering community engagement and building cultural bridges. Throughout history, writers have served as the architects of the future. Their artistry has been used to build a more just and inclusive society. According to the acclaimed writer, Chinua Achebe: “the writer cannot expect to be excused from the task of re-education and regeneration that must be done. In fact, he should march right in front.”
The city of Saint Paul’s sidewalk poetry initiative provides writers with essentially blank slates that are recording the collective voices of our city and celebrating its rich diversity. The Sidewalk Poetry Contest was launched by the city of Saint Paul in partnership with Public Art Saint Paul. It is part of the city’s $1 million sidewalk replacement project. It is an opportunity for emerging prose writers and experienced poets to be published in a singular forum and on a larger scale. Each winning entry will be stamped into sidewalks throughout residential areas of the city.
Our Sidewalk Poetry project is one of only a very few in the entire nation. The project is beautifying our city. It also serves as an important and unique stand-alone art installation of 63-pieces. The poems are short but powerful expressions of the lives of residents, their dreams and aspirations, and the things that are important to them. The poems touch on themes encompassing African-American empowerment and overcoming grief and trauma to those with a distinctly whimsical touch.
I am honored to have been selected as a winner in our city’s 2021 Sidewalk Poetry Contest. I chose to write about my hometown of Rondo and the transformative power of Afro-futurism.
“I AM…Rondo and connected to a rich cultural history of unity, faith, and purpose.
I AM…my African roots. I AM…freedom and justice.”
My poem celebrates my Rondo heritage. Like countless other African American communities, the Rondo community was impacted by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. The community was cut in half by the construction of highway I-94. This led to displacement, loss of generational wealth, and small business closures. I combined this history with the journey of discovering my cultural roots in Africa. While in Ghana, I discovered my purpose and destiny.
Sidewalk poetry weaves together cultures and unites generations. Of the 1,000 that have already made their way to sidewalks, the poems foster intercultural dialogue. The poems provide individuals with an enriching learning opportunity to pause, reflect and grow. I am honored to have been chosen as a winner in the 2021 Sidewalk Poetry Contest along with such an esteemed group of writers.
Learn more about the Sidewalk Poetry Contest: https://www.stpaul.gov/departments/public-works/sidewalks/sidewalk-poetry
Through her organization, Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute, Dr. Artika Tyner seeks to plant seeds of social change through education, training, and community outreach.