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Archive for Saturday, May 13, 1995

POET STORY

May 13, 1995

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An African-American poet brought a message of hope Friday to Lawrence High School.

Growing up as an African-American in east Kansas City, Mo., Bonnie Lynn Tolson was frustrated.

She was frustrated about drugs, racial problems and the violence that she saw in her community.

"Frustration. ... It's not a good feeling," the educator-turned-poet told a gathering of about 100 students Friday at Lawrence High School's band room.

"I write from the feeling about what I can do about these problems," she said. "What we can do is we can start a dialogue to talk about these problems."

Tolson is the author of a book of poems, "Naturally Nappy," which is available at Terra Nova Books, 920 Mass.

As an author, artist and performer, she has helped to create dialogues about the problems in several school districts in the Kansas City area through her speeches and dramatic readings.

A graduate of Sterling (Kan.) College, she was an art teacher and counselor in the Kansas City area before striking out as a poet.

"I'm here to teach and I'm here to open them up to new ideas and new ways of thinking about others and about themselves," she said.

Tolson first explained her poetry, then, moving about quickly in front of the students with the same grace that helped her excel in basketball in college, she gave highly animated readings from her work.

"We need to dialogue about drugs. We need to dialogue about racial issues and confrontation," she said. "And then, after we open up communication with those things, then we can decide what we can do to make it better."

One of her poems, "Changes," deals with drugs and violence in the community.

"Many people believe that certain things make them powerful," she told the students. "Whether it's the kind of clothes they wear, the kind of car they drive, the places that they go, to clubs or to different parts of town -- these things, I contend, are not real. They are merely empty and illusions. We create a lot of illusions for ourselves.

"Real power is how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about others and that we're willing to help bring unity all over our country," she said.

Another poem, "Urban Child," reflects the way people behave in certain situations, depending on their personal backgrounds.

"We all have these images, these fears in our minds that may or may not be justified," she said. "We have to start communicating because all the fears that we have will keep us apart."

Another poem was the result of a question she was asked about her skin color, "Does it rub off?"

"At 19 years old, I did not have the answer to the question, but I have it now. And the answer is, yes, it does rub off," she said, beginning her poem, "It Rubs Off."

The poem explains how black culture has richly influenced society, including rock, jazz, blues and soul music.

"Blackness flows like creation's music," the poem ends.

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