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  • Writer's pictureLola Osunkoya

MWM Community Spotlight: Keno Evol

The MidWest Mixed Community Spotlight Series features local artists, educators, and leaders

reflecting on their Mixed or Transracial identities.

I am black and I am a poet. I am also an educator and organizer. I currently serve as the Executive Director of an emerging arts organization Black Table Arts in Minnesota that seeks to conjure other worlds through black art by connecting community and cultivating volume in black life. To this effort through civic engagement and public programs we hold space where we announce our love for black people through the practice of gathering and learning. We hold writing circles for black writers i.e Black Lines Matter and an annual conference at the University of Minnesota titled The Because Black Life Conference.

To be black and a poet, for me, means I have particular preoccupations that sit at the intersections of language, movement, community and imagination. I’ve been sitting at these intersections for as long as I can remember. I grew up as a artist surrounded by music with a curiosity to ask questions. I am also a transracial adoptee, me and my twin brother Antonio were transracially adopted into a white household when we were six years old, by parents who loved generously and unapologetically.

Early on reconfigurations of ‘home’ ‘belonging’ ‘kinship’ occupied my thoughts both at school and in my neighborhood. What are the qualities that make a home worth returning to? What preparations need to go into place building a home across racial difference? Though at the time I did not possess the vocabulary to articulate these questions I lived in the dissonance of them being unasked. And the dissonance made all the difference. A heavy difference.

The last words of America’s most important abolitionist Harriet Tubman were “I go to prepare a place for you.” This interest of preparing place is the necessary work that I believe is required when I think of home. Home for me isn’t so much a location as it is an activity. Home for me is a verb. A verb of preparation. You prepare for those you love.

At the time the adoption took place my parents were educated, filled with love though not well exercised in the preparation of place across racial difference and American privilege. Most white folks in this country aren’t. Because of this, questions on racial identity had to come answered through my own study and interrogation. Early on it was through music that I got connected to scholarship. Particularly hip hop, specifically the music of Tupac Shakur.

Hip hop as a social justice music movement, coming out of the South Bronx, post the Vietnam War served as my first library to investigate power, privilege and resistance. A library through sound and rhythm.

As an eight year old hearing an artist on the edge like Tupac call out ‘Do you love me Mama ? Why they keep on calling me nigga?’ charged me to think on the role of language in perpetuating racial terror. What histories in myths of certain populations inform the language we use? These questions entered my imagination though my middle school and neighborhood didn’t call on me to voice out what I heard in music. Still I listened and studied speech, distance between breathe, cadence and syntax.

When I entered high school I was immersed in art programing, it was in the black box theater program that I actively started to create art for social change. The theater program at Washburn High called me to hone in on what I cared about through the arts. The theater program showed me an example of a reoccurring gathering space that could work across and celebrate difference while unlearning various violences we inherit as a country. Why did I care about the relationship between the powerful and most vulnerable both In the U.S and around the world? Why did I care about the history I wasn’t being taught and the stories lost because of it? Why did black Americans keep getting murdered by the police?

I was definitely a bit of a nerdy theater kid, that particular program zeroed in on empathy and imagination to energize and organize my thoughts to say a critique out loud through poetry. Going through this process got me my first job as an Educator at Pillsbury House Theater and placed me into Brave New Voices an International Youth Poetry Festival. These spaces became a home. An activity I could return to, the activity of engaging in empathy and imagination. For me this is home at its best. Though these kinds of homes require preparation work. A part of having empathy is being interested in the connection between racial difference and racial terror. Who is affected and why? What is also required is imagining a world through it. My parents supported all of my learning and development which isn’t to say we didn’t have conflicting conversation on white privilege. We did.

Whether you are a parent or policitan white folks just aren’t put into spaces enough in this nation to actively interrogate their social privilege and what they’re allowed at the expense of others. I have no fundamental opposition against white folks adopting black children, I have a fundamental exception. The bar is high because the stakes are high. We don’t have time. Black babies are being gunned down by the police and other forms of social death through policy, education and lack of medicine every day in this nation. At this point white folks gotta fix white folks - and that fixing can’t come at the expense of black children.

White people, especially white parents have to actively seek out resources in knowledge and community organizations that get them to unlearn apathy and relearn empathy. In terms of parenting - know what work you can do and what work you can’t. Learn about your privilege don’t assign that to your child. Put your child in places to learn and celebrate their heritage, don’t take that on yourself. Give books about their heritage not lectures you’ve learned about their heritage. Provide spaces of first hand accounts not your own observations about their culture. Adoptees should not be assigned to be vessels for unpacking racial guilt or education on racial privilege. Children are assigned their own journey of forming their identity our work should be to be their cheerleaders and sources of empathy. I didn’t get a library provided or prepared for me I had to find it on my own.

If we are going to move forward in this country we need citizens who are charged to think on how they appear in the social contract across, race, class, gender and ability at the expense of others. We must think about this in our homes, communities and workplaces. Black folks, black adoptees, our assignment is to love each other, through the mess. To participate in an activity and exercise of empathy and critical compassion.

A home at its best is a verb of a verb of imagination, reckoning, accountability and compassion. To verb these attributes and make them common is our task as a society’s country and collective family members.

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