Christopher K.P. Brown: This is Volume 2 of your collection titled Universal Thoughts of a Black Man. How was Volume 1 received?
Reggie Rashad Walker: The response to Vol. 1 was awesome. I really have to thank everyone that supported and purchased the chapbook. It sold extremely well and even opened the door for me to travel to several colleges to do readings and signings. More importantly those signings allowed me to connect with students and help them with everything from their writing to personal issues. I’m grateful for 2 Pens & Lint for providing the platform to make it all possible.
KP: Does this collection differ from Volume 1 in any ways? If so, how?
RW: It definitely does. Vo1 1 dealt with topics and issues that were more along the lines of black identity and appreciation for black culture. Vol 2 has poetry that is more socially conscious and educational. Africa is mentioned and referenced in a lot of poems as will, not to mention the cover is a picture of a Africa medallion that I wear.
KP: What sparked the poem Not Your Average Cotton Picker? Do you think most African-Americans understand that their ancestors were more than cotton pickers?
RW: I don’t believe most young African Americans understand that their ancestors were more than just cotton pickers, which is what sparked the poem.
KP: You have a poem near the end of your chapbook titled Arrested Development. Arrested Development was a popular music group in the early nineties. Did their music influence you at some point? Are there any musical artists today that influence you in any way?
RW: Definitely! Songs like Tennessee and Everyday People are songs that I listened to as a kid and resonated with me then and still do today. Lines like “Walk the roads my forefathers walked, climbed the trees my forefathers hung from” are too powerful to be forgotten. The video from Tennessee that ended with the painting and then real life picture of lynched black men was so powerful to see as a 10 year old.
There are many artists whose music influences me today. Nas is definitely one of those artists, as is Marvin Sapp and other artists, such as Lupe, Amel Larrieux, Mary J. Blige, Bilal, Mary Mary, Raphael Saadiq, Kendrick Lamar, Common, Lauryn Hill, the list goes on. Two of my favorite up and coming artists are Black Collar Biz and KV, two amazingly talented artists from my hometown of Trenton, NJ, who remind me of artists like Nas, Lupe and Kanye.
KP: Your poetry carries on a lineage of Black pride that can be somewhat hard to find on the poetry scene in 2012. Why is it that so few people are speaking on issues in the African American community these days, even in poetry?
RW: I don’t think you can have pride in something you know little about. And unfortunately even in 2012 too many of us have little to no idea as to who we are as a people so it makes it damn near impossible to have pride in ourselves, poets are no exception I guess. I always suggest that any artists (poet, singer, writer, musician, etc) read Dubois’ “Criteria of Negro Art,” as it addresses this very same issue and it was written at the beginning of the 20th century.
KP: What are your three favorite poems from Volume 2 and why?
RW: This is a difficult question. Right now I would have to say “Temperature Rising: A Dedication to Oscar Grant” because I just knew that black people were going to riot after his death and the injustice that followed with the prosecution of the officer that murdered him. I’m not advocating that people riot, but I do feel as though the frustration and anger that blacks have with the judicial system regarding the Oscar Grants, and now the Trayvon Martins in this country, is reaching its boiling point. Next, I would say Mascara for the Massacre because it’s a poem that deals with domestic violence, which I believe we don’t take as serious as we should. Last, I would say “What I Saw on 9-11,” because this poem deals with 9-11 and how I viewed that day. I wrote it two weeks after 9-11 and always felt afraid to share it because I didn’t want people to see it as anti-American because it wasn’t.
KP: Your poem Untitled paints a picture that's pretty familiar to those living in the inner city. Was this poem influenced by what you've seen working with youth in Trenton?
RW: Not just Trenton, but the youth of most of the inner city areas that I’ve had the opportunity to work with. It can be a very discouraging thing to reach out to a kid who needs guidance but won’t allow themselves to be guided. However, as discouraging as it may be, it doesn’t mean that you give up. You continue to help in the ways that you can.
KP: Are there any overall messages that you'd like readers to take from this volume?
RW: Love GOD, love yourself, love each other, defend what’s right and appreciate history!
KP: How are things coming with your stage play? Do you have any other plays or collections of poetry in the works?
RW: The play 1960-Black is back in production for the summer. We’re doing two shows this summer and working on a third. I recently finished my second play so I’m expecting to have that on a stage near you by December. And from the beginning I wanted to make Universal Thoughts of a Black Man a three volume chapbook, so Vol. 3 will be coming soon GOD willing.
Recently, 2 Pens & Lint's own, Henry Duncan, had a chance to ask Reggie Walker a few questions concerning his literary influences, his thoughts on Christianity, and his thoughts on the progress of black people.
Henry Duncan: Who is Reggie Walker?
Reggie Walker: Reggie Rashad Walker is just an ordinary individual that is finally ready to share his gift for writing with the world. Beside who I am as a writer, I work as an academic counselor in high education for a program that assists studentsfrom academically and financially disadvantaged backgrounds. Helping people accomplish their goals is what gives me a sense of purpose. In addition to counseling people, my writing has been a huge tool in helping me help people as well. I just want to be to
others what my ancestors, family and mentors have been to me. I’m also an individual that loves to laugh, make others laugh and really enjoy life. Being positive and about something doesn’t have to equate to being boring. I also like to show people that you can be intelligent and cool, not one or the other.
HD: In your Bio you say your mentor is Doughty “Doc” Long. Who are your other literary influences?
RW: Of course poets and writers such as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Zora Neal Hurston, but also contemporary writers such as Edwidge Danticat, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. I also love the writings of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Flannery O’ Connor. Last, rappers are also literary influences of mine. Individuals like Nas and Common are just as much poets as they are rappers, so their lyrics serve as literature to me.
HD: In your poem Look How Far We’ve Come one could get the impression that you believe Black men as a whole have not made any significant progress since slavery. Do you feel that way?
RW: I think we’ve made gains financially and socially, without a doubt. But it terms of the key things that truly elevate and maintain a people, we have not. Kool Moe Dee said in the song Self Destruction, “I never ever ran from the Klu Klux Klan and I shouldn’t have to run from a black man, because that’s self destruction.” That’s the state where we find ourselves today. The lynch mobs of the Jim Crow era are our own brothers and sisters today. Whips and chains confined us then and sadly whips and chains confine us now.
HD: In the poem, The Revolution Needs Ratings you talk about broadcasting on practically every TV station. If you had 10 minutes to do just that, what would you say?
RW: I’ll say “give me more than 10 minutes.” I’m definitely going to need a good hour for my revolutionary address. Somebody is going to have to miss their favorite sitcom or TV show that night!
HD: In your Acknowledgments you claim Jesus as your Savior and your poetry has a strong sense of Afrocentrism. How do you reconcile being a Christian verses knowing the role Christianity played in the negative effects we see in Africa and to black people in America?
RW: I don’t believe Christianity has played a role in that. I think Christians in America have used Christianity as a tool of harm towards blacks, but I don’t confuse Christians with Christianity. Furthermore, there were Christians in African before there were Africans in America, based on the origin of the religion. There’s nothing in Christianity that pertains to racial superiority, though my grandmother always made it clear that the Jesus looked more like me than he did the portrait that society has accepted as Christ. Having had a strong Islamic and Christian influence in my upbringing, I always find is funny that people label one as a European Religion and the other as one more geared to blacks, when in fact their origins lie in the same place (Middle East/Northern Africa), they hold the same prophets (Christ being one of them), and share the same fundamental principles. I think people use religion for their own propaganda and agenda, and my criticism and issues aren’t with the religion, but of the people abusing it.
HD: Your title includes the term “Volume 1”. What are your plans for this series entitled Universal Thoughts of a Black Man?
RW: I plan on releasing three volumes, as there is a huge collection of poems that fit the theme and direction of what the chapbook is about. I want people to see how these thoughts, though coming from the mind of a young black man, are universal in that they speak on issues that will resonate with or educate people from all over, regardless of race, class and gender.