This poem is inspired by my time at MSU as well as that of my friends and colleagues. I’ve learned that difference can be a tangible obstacle. Yet, on the other side of the fear of the unfamiliar, there are great things. I dedicate myself to celebrating what makes each of us different and using that difference as a tool to create, educate and travel the world.
—William T. Langford IV
MSU alumnus, 2011
Michigan State University alumnus William T. Langford IV—aka Will the Poet—recently returned to his alma mater to participate in a video shoot of his spoken-word poem “Schooled,” which “focuses on the experiences of difference, alienation, community and fraternity that are part and parcel of undertaking an education at a large American university.” Currently in Kenya, Langford provides an update on his life and work since earning a degree in English from MSU in 2011.
A WORD FROM WILL THE POET
Life is good here in Nyeri, Kenya. I'm living in a small town called Thunguma, where I'm working at the Children and Youth Empowerment Center (CYEC), an orphanage community that houses nearly 200 youths who have been displaced for a host of reasons. I hold art therapy sessions for them, lead a sports/arts program and do a bit of first aid in the clinic. It’s a dream! I'm using pretty much all of the skills I have, and it feels great.
Let me back up.
I graduated from Michigan State University with a heart full of hope. In my last semester at MSU, I delivered an original poem titled “Legion” for the groundbreaking ceremony for the addition to Wells Hall. I was thankful to receive an invitation to speak at the MSU spring sports awards banquet as a result of my recitation at Wells Hall. It seemed as if so many of my dreams were finally bearing fruit. The MSU Slam Poetry Team, which I founded in the fall of 2007, grew from four poets who met in a Biggby Coffee shop once a week to a family of more than 30 poets, many of whom are sought out for performances in East Lansing, throughout Michigan, and across the country. As my senior year came to a close, I was elated to have been selected by MSU as the Most Outstanding Senior for the Richard Lee Featherstone Prize. That feeling was equaled only by delivering a commencement speech to my fellow College of Arts and Letters graduates.
After graduation, I began the English master’s program at Pennsylvania State University, and focused my course of study on African, Caribbean and African-American literature and culture. I also studied intensive French and Swahili, which I selected because of my interest in Africa’s educational, economic and political structures.
My studies brought me to my current work in the village of Thunguma and the Children and Youth Empowerment Center. I spent two weeks working to bring together members of the local community to generate a plan for the sustainable development of two undeveloped areas in which the CYEC is hoping to expand.
I chose to extend my stay in Kenya to approximately two months so that I might implement several arts and education programs for the young people here. Thus far, I’ve been able to set up an art therapy program, and I am in the process of developing a 15-week sports and arts program that teaches leadership through theater, poetry, music and sports.
Another of my ongoing projects at the CYEC is connecting youths with potential donors. This involves facilitating sessions in which the young people write short letters about themselves and their lives and create original works of art for their potential sponsors. They are excited to share their stories with the outside world. Though these children have heart-wrenching stories of abandonment, abuse, and neglect to tell, what endures is their joy, their appreciation for life. We live simply here at the CYEC. We live well. The youths treat one another as an extended family of brothers and sisters. What they were refused by their parents, they create for one another with the help of the amazing staff of volunteers here.
My current work is helping me prepare for yet another Kenyan adventure. I recently was awarded a Fulbright Scholar Award, which will allow me to travel to Nairobi, Kenya, to function as an English instructor in a university setting. My immersive Swahili and Kenyan cultural experience this summer is helping prepare me to teach in a new and exciting setting. During my next stay in Kenya, I plan to continue to support the CYEC and serve part-time as a lecturer at Mount Kenya University, where I was recently offered a teaching opportunity.
Throughout my post-MSU career, I have sustained my passion for poetry and spoken word and continue to participate in MSU Slam Poetry Team events. The Old School Voices Only Duel, which originally was the largest first-time event of its kind sponsored by the University Activities Board, has become an annual event that draws hundreds of participants and audience members. I continue to travel and perform my poetry in communities throughout the country, including East Lansing, Ann Arbor, Detroit, New York and Washington, D.C. I recently returned to my hometown of Detroit to give a workshop and reading for Detroit’s Citywide Poets, the group with whom I began my career as a performance artist.
As I said, life is good. The food here in Kenya is cheap and delicious, and the people are kind. My Swahili is 10 times better than it was back in the States, and I'm lucky enough to usually be taken for a Kenyan!
Hope all is well at the ol' green and white!
William T. Langford IV