Like most college-aged poets who test out their material in dorm rooms and friend’s apartments, Joshua Bennett is no stranger to house shows. But his work found a bigger stage recently at the White House. In a spoken-word and sign-language piece, “Tamara’s Opus”, dedicated to his deaf sister, Bennett adeptly represented President Obama’s goals for the White House’s “Poetry Jam”: to understand beauty, pain, action and hope.
WATCH THEGRIO’S 100 JOSHUA BENNETT HERE PRODUCED BY MORGAN WHITAKER
Interviewed and shot by Rima Abdelkader
Joshua Bennett is making history … winning poetry-slam competitions, like HBO’s 2009 Brave New Voices program, and creating opportunities for others to make their voices heard. While majoring in Africana studies and English at the University of Pennsylvania, Bennett co-founded his campus’ NAACP chapter, as well as Black Men United, an advocacy group that holds open forums to foster a dialogue between students, faculty and the community about identity, relationships and agency. Of course, Joshua Bennett was an active member of UPenn’s spoken-word team, “Excellano Project.” During his a busy undergrad years, the poet also published Jesus Riding Shotgun, a book of autobiographical poems, in 2009.
One of 40 recipients of the 2010 Marshall Scholarship, an honor that pays for high-achieving young Americans to study in the United Kingdom in any field of study, Bennett attends the University of Warwick, developing a thesis on how disabled African-American musicians like Stevie Wonder and the late J. Dilla have overcome obstacles.
What’s next for Joshua?
“Prayerfully, upon completion of my Marshall Scholarship, I will begin my doctoral studies in the Department of English at Princeton University this coming September,” Bennett told theGrio. “In the mean time, I hope to continue performing, speaking, and doing ministerial work, particularly around issues of disability, race, and gender.” His close relationship with his family has inspired another hope for the future: to be a loving, committed, and inspiring father.
What inspires Joshua?
“I am inspired by obstacles, and even more by the joy of overcoming them,” Bennett told theGrio. “I am inspired by single mothers and single fathers who every day make the impossible look routine. I am inspired by ASL interpreters who break down barriers every time they touch a stage or enter a classroom. I am inspired by my little brother’s brilliance, and the courage that he carries with him every day.”
In his own words …
“To be honest, on the conscious level, most of my poems are really just attempts at capturing the wondrous moments that I have lived through, moments that I’ve shared with my parents, my best friends, and the two cities I have called home,” Bennett told theGrio.
A favorite quote …
“You are bigger than your body. Your words are bigger than your mouth.” – Miles Hodges
A little-known fact …
Slam Poetry is a young art form — its invention is credited to Chicagoan Marc Smith in 1987.
Click here to view Joshua Benett’s White House performance…