Today is the event. Today I will perform my very first spoken word poetry out of Liberia to a global audience- 6 continents, 60 countries. How this happened is something I cannot fathom. I have always dreamt of becoming a rock star of a poet- one who will travel the world and inspire people with my gift. But today came suddenly, and it feels like I am about to give up already. But I can’t. How dare I?!
I am here on an invitation from UNDP to represent my organization (Youth Crime Watch, Liberia) and my country (Liberia) at a global forum on gender equality. About five days to my trip, I received an email from the organizer asking me to perform poetry at the Tunis Forum on Gender Equality. The email read “…We noticed that you are not only a Liberian activist for women’s rights, but you are also a poet… Would you be willing to write a poem that is linked to the theme of the forum?” I did not know how to respond at first. I was happy, but shocked and taken aback. Although the organizer requested a brief bio about me, I did not imagine they would take a risk with me, especially on an international platform. But as John Barrymore once said, “Happiness sneaks in through a door, you didn’t know you left opened.”
If anyone had told me that Tunisia would have been the first country I’d travel to, I would not have believed that person. Not that I do not like Tunisia, but I had dreamed of Ghana, USA, Canada, Sweden, South Korea, and many other countries without the slightest thought of North Africa. Without the slightest thought that I would someday be given a global stage to express my opinions about gender equality, as a youth, a Liberian, and a human.
As I evaluate my 2019 journey and recount my failures, challenges, and amazing experiences, one thing stands out: I am beginning to see a reflection of myself. The music legend, Michael Jackson, in his hit song “Man in the Mirror” said, “If you wanna make the world a better place- take a look at yourself and then make a change. The song received a Grammy Award nomination for Record of the Year in 1998. Originally written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett, it depicts the horrors of homelessness and how one can only change the world by changing who they are. The philosopher Socrates placed it right, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”
Who are you? This is a question that many people battle with. In the recruitment form for the Liberian Poet Society, applicants were asked to describe themselves in a creative way. As expected, 60 plus applicants responded to how they best understood the question, but only a few of them gave a revealing description of their personalities. Psychologyreflection.org defines human self-reflection as the capacity of humans to exercise introspection and the willingness to learn more about their fundamental nature, purpose, and essence.
Who am I? What is my purpose? How can I change myself to change the world? These are fundamental questions we avoid on a daily basis or perhaps attempt to answer. Too often, our answers are weathered by the unforeseen obstacles of lives. We measure our purpose through our expectations and or the expectations of others. And scarily, we define who we are by the outcomes of these expectations. Yes, I am a victim too. But as Lisa Kleypas argues, “You are your own worst enemy. If you can learn to stop expecting impossible perfection, in yourself and others, you may find the happiness that has always eluded you.”
In 2019, there were days I felt confident of scoring my best grades in a test but ended up scoring my worst. There were days I expected that everyone would agree with my idea or vibe to my flow, but I ended up being rebuked or bullied. There were many days I felt secluded by using the outcomes of my expectations to judge my personality. And as such, my self-worth was measured by other people’s opinions of me. Yet while in seclusion, I think about the days I least imagined something great would happen to me that happened. I recount my happy moments but most importantly, my most lonely moments. My moments on stage, which remind me that people look up to me as someone who is giving a reflection of himself, as someone who understands his surroundings and is willing to share, as someone who has examined his life. We all have moments like these in our lives. Moments when we are given the stage to tell others about our stories and our struggles. It is during these moments that we find our real self, our true identity.
I wrote “I was not alive when the world witnessed such a historical event (The Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, China), my parents, both undergraduate students at the time, were busy kicking up dust, with their heels trying to dodge bullets under the thundering sounds of AK47s. And my birth came as a blessing because, unlike my mother, pregnant women were slaughtered at check-points. These abhorrent massacres happened because the rebels argued about the gender of unborn babies in the bellies of pregnant women, and would then use machetes to open the stomach of these pregnant women to confirm their guesses… what a sad story.”
These lines made up the opening stanza of my performance at the Tunis Forum on Gender Equality in April 2019. Not much later, I realized that I had summarized who I am in those few lines, I realized that I was born during troubling times, and unlike many, I am blessed to be alive. From this scenario, I drew the conclusion that like the circumstances leading to my birth, there will always be battles that I am meant born to live through with. And by facing this fact, by scaling the impact of my many battles and knowing their effects on my life, I am “the “man in the mirror,” preparing to make the world a better place.
Who are you? What lines summarize your story? What is your purpose?
Authored by Elvis M. D. Browne
Featured Picture by High Impact Prints