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Stories That Shape Us: An Afternoon with Tariq Touré

 “Hi everyone out there in Zoomland,” Student Leadership welcomed audience members as they entered into a special presentation with  guest Tariq Touré, Wednesday afternoon,  May 6. 

Tariq Touré is a poet, activist, painter, essayist, public speaker, and accomplished athlete. The audience was treated to poems interspersed with anecdotes and stories of faith while addressing social issues, particularly those impacting the African American community.  It was a powerful 90-minute experience during which the Baltimore native did not shy away from some heavy subject matter. 

Faith plays a big role in Touré’s life. The poem “Solve for X” accompanied the story of Touré’s father finding Islam after reading the autobiography of Malcolm X while stationed in Vietnam. Themes of resistance, liberation, and the impacts of racism appear regularly throughout his works.

“For the Love of the Game” spotlights contradictions and conflicts surrounding NFL players and their right to free speech. Touré also challenged LeBron James to use his influence to draw attention to the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice after a jury failed to indict his murderer, a Cleveland police officer. Major media outlets covered this tactic, attempting to engage athletes on social media about social justice issues.

The poem “A Letter to Kalief” was written in honor of Kalief Browder, the youth who was held at Rikers Island for three years without trial (two of which were in solitary confinement) for allegedly stealing a backpack. Browder suffered severe abuse from other inmates and guards, some of which was captured on camera. This experience — more than 1000 days spent in custody without a trial — indubitably played a role in the diminished mental health and paranoia Browder experienced leading up to his suicide in 2015. Touré takes the prison industrial complex to task and highlights the dangers of being a black male in America. 

Additionally, a clip of Hilary Clinton’s infamous 1996 “super predators” speech was played, underscoring some of the catalysts which have made these atrocities commonplace in our society.

The presentation ended with footage of Billie Holiday, another Baltimore native, performing the haunting Strange Fruit. It tells the story of a lynching that is unfortunately all too familiar 81 years after it was recorded.

Touré was named HBCU Top 30 under 30 alumni. His published works include 2 Parts Oxygen: How I Learned to Breathe, and Black Seeds: The Poetry and Reflections of Tariq Touré. He also hosts a podcast, Above and Beyond.

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