A blog series featuring Kuumba Lynx
AS I AM Creatives
Feature: Assata Lewis
Interviewer: Ava Jackson
How would you describe the AS I AM program?
I actually think—I never had an experience or seen this anywhere else. it’s like they’re giving you these opportunities, giving you these resources, giving you these chances to expand and explore your art and also be involved in the space and still involved in social justice. I think it’s very necessary, very needed because we often forget about that transition period between high school and college and how difficult that can sometimes be. Especially if you don’t know where you want to be, what you want to do or where you’re going in life, and I’m at that point in life where I just don’t know what’s happening or what I’m going to do but here they have given me a chance to figure it out and work it out and if I don’t want to go to school, what do I want to do? If I’m in school and I’m not feeling it, how can I adjust myself to feel it, and also still be an artist and also still be in shows. As I Am gives you a chance to have more responsibility and basically find yourself. I’m glad to have continued and that my mentors are still pushing me and still checking in with me like ‘so Assata where you at? How’s school? How are you doing? When are you coming back? How’s the book going?’ things like that.
What does it mean for you to have been selected as a Core Creative this past June?
It means a lot because I feel like my mentors at Kuumba Lynx are actually starting to see my growth and how I can be necessary to the space. Before “As I Am,’ I was just a part of the Louder than A Bomb poetry slam intensive but now I’m transitioning to doing other things like music or like trying to figure out where I want to be in school it’s like they’re giving me more responsibilities and I can see that now. I feel like if I went away to school I don’t know how different my life would have been. I feel very humbled and very honored and I’m just very willing to learn and prove myself that I’m worthy of getting these new responsibilities in the program and in the space.
What are/ were some of your AS I AM professional goals? What did you want to get out of this experience?
So some of the goals that I had written down was to apply for the Hip Hop Theater Festival that we have every summer and to produce a play. I’m also transitioning from poetry to music so to have an EP out sometime next year. My job was kind of different than most of the other AS I AM core collective because Jacinda and Jaquanda wanted me to work specifically on the “We Got Five On It” poetry memoir.
So like the idea of AS I AM is more like you set your own goals and you kind of like support each other in accomplishing those goals? How do you like that structure compared to the KL apprenticeship program?
I kind of wish that we had more of a structure, I feel like it’s kind of necessary for us to plan out when we meet and when we do those things and when we do this and when everybody’s free, because that’s kind of like how the real world works. Not everyone is going to be there, So like, I feel like it was necessary but I do feel maybe, I wish there were more people to push me to do the things that I had goals for because I was doing all these others things. So like while I was doing this other thing, they’re like ‘so did you have time to work on your other stuff?’ But again I really think it’s also kind of necessary not to have those people all up in your face because otherwise how can you grow and learn and learn from your mistakes? I didn’t do what I was supposed to do and I missed my deadline: how can I reconcile for it? How can I fix that so that the next time it will be on time?
What about your artistic goals? Are your professional and artistic goals very intertwined?
I honestly don’t know what my professional goals are, I feel like I’m just kind of experimenting, I basically have like a year earlier to figure things out but I can’t take that year for granted either. So I feel like my artistic goals are just things that I never got to do in high school, that I’m trying to pursue now. So I went to Chicago High School for the Arts I auditioned for theater and creative writing and I went and chose theater instead, so I never really got to branch out and do my creative writing side. My reasoning was because I wanted to be a playwright and I said “well if I want to be a playwright I can learn how actual actors work so I could write a play for the actors,” which is in theory a decent idea but if you don’t have the structure of how to build those things its not going to actually be all that useful. I want to do something artistic, I know that, but I also have my parents in my ear saying ‘to pursue your own business and never work for nobody. I feel like I limited myself for a long time to just being a poet or just being an actor and never actually exploring my talent as a singer or as a rapper or as a dancer or all these different things. So to actually be a part of “As I Am”and be encouraged to try these different things like if you want to sing, do that; if you want to dance, go dance. It’s like, it’s really good to have that instead of people just pushing you to do one thing.
Tell us about your As I Am experience, how has it been so far?
It’s been amazing! I got to travel, I got to know people—like actually know my mentors and know my mentees, and I’m still transitioning from mentee to mentor so to actually get to know both sides and actually connect to both of them is an amazing feeling because for a long time you just come to the space you just do what you need to do, especially if you’re poetry, it’s very hardcore. So to actually come in and to make those connections and to go to Kentucky and to go to Cuba, and I’m going to DC for a play for Sejahari. I feel like a lot people don’t get these opportunities, especially straight out of high school that’s amazing to go to Cuba straight out of high school and to plan a trip to Cuba straight out of high school, like, that’s something that a lot of people don’t get to do and I feel like this program, specifically Kuumba Lynx, opens gateways and doors to findings these mentors. So like even if they don’t have the necessary skills to like to learn how to be a publisher they’ll find somebody like ‘hey can you, do you mind teaching my mentee how to be a publisher’ and like they find these people for you. In Cuba I got to know a lot about Darius and Mad Dog and Kiela and Kevin and all these different people that, you know, you don’t get to make those connections with all the time and to spend ten days with people straight…you get to know the other side of them. A lot of the time it’s the surface, it’s ‘hi how you doing? I’m good,’ but you don’t actually get to say ‘how you really doing? What’s going with your family? What’s going on in your life? Why do you act the way you do? What are your triggers? What triggers you to blow up? What causes you to cry?’ All these different things that you find out and get to know and you get to do it in a different country, you’re like whoa! To feel that love from somewhere else and to see that love somewhere else, to see that community and a sense of family from a place that doesn’t have much it’s like… I want to bring that back here and you know, if I didn’t have that experience I wouldn’t be so determined to bring what i learned there, here so… beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I love it.
What, if any, have been your most inspiring moments thus far?
I think Darius has been a big, big, big, help. Like I said, I’ve been struggling figuring out my place in school, especially since I’m pretty much a nerd… you know, I’ve been in school for fourteen years and trying to figure out, do I really want to continue this? Is it really necessary to be a part of a system that really doesn’t care about me, and how do I navigate learning about things that are kind of toxic in a sense of colonization? And how to decolonize education? All these different things and it’s a lot to think about as a person of color entering that kind of system, and he’s basically like ‘what you doing,’ [laughing] like pretty much, ‘you need to go to school, you need to do these things. You need to break the system from the inside. You need to…’ and to have that person basically tell you like everything you’re thinking—stop it’s kind of necessary and kind of like, I want to find my own self but also want to listen to my mentors because I know they have valuable insight. And then the trip to Cuba, I definitely had this conversation with this woman named Carmen, who was a holistic healing woman, and I feel like I got a better sense of myself just because she talked about different principles you have to follow in order to live a fulfilling life. The principles were: always be truthful in what you’re speaking, don’t take things personal, and how all the things connect, like how all the four principles connect. So I feel like that really clicked for me, like I recorded what she said and I was like “I’m going to listen to this every day” and I damn near have listened to it every day so to have that all incorporated into one plus being with my mentor… like I remember in Cuba that was the first time I talked to him about, well no I had a conversation before that, but like first time I was like, “look I’m not trying to be in school” and he was like, “sis what you saying?” And he just treated the mess out of me [laughing]. Cuba was the root of it all and I feel like it was probably the best experience of my life and if I could go back I definitely would live there forever. I see why people fake their deaths and go to Cuba [laughing]. All things you think about Cuba, and things about this tyrannical place with Fidel Castro being this tyrant and everything is a lie. Like, they celebrate him, have pictures of him in their homes, and they’re just very loving people and they’re afraid of American influence of greed and capitalism infecting their way of love and acceptance and ‘if i eat you eat’ type of thing… so I guess Cuba is going to be my life.
What has been the most challenging in identifying and moving towards some of your goals in As I Am?
Time management. I feel like a lot of people struggle with time management, but I’m the type of the person that procrastinates for like two days and then finally does something. But like, if it’s something that you truly want to do, if it’s something you truly love to do, you’ll make time for it. I feel like I didn’t manage school and AS I AM as well as I could have just because I wasn’t taking it [school] as serious as I was taking my art. But again it also came in the territory of [me] not really understanding my place in school was so I felt that was the most challenging, in the sense of like, where do I fit in life? And I don’t feel like we get to ask ourselves that question a lot, especially in high school because like ‘I need to get an A, I need to get into college, I need to do this’ but once you get into college, what’s next? I don’t feel like they really explain what you can do next, so what are the options? I had a plan for AS I AM but I didn’t have a plan for school and that’s the struggle of combining what I want to do and what I need to do, because I know I need to do this. I want to break the system, I know I need to break system. I know I want to make it better but I also want to live my own life and be happy and how to combine those two things and be happy and be revolutionary. I feel like you have to pick between the two: I have to be revolutionary and I have to sacrifice my happiness to do it and you don’t have to, you can combine the both because I’ve seen it combined both in Cuba. I’ve seen it, it can happen to be revolutionary, to be happy… it’s to know who you are, where you want to be, what your goals in life are, are probably the most vital things you need to know coming out of high school. And if that was a class I would’ve taken it but it wasn’t so now I’m shook.
What would you say for the next set of AS I AM young folks who want to be part of this experience?
Embrace the journey. Embrace everything that comes with it. Embrace your struggles, embrace your falls, just keep pushing and take advantage of everything presented to you because they are presented to you for a reason. Even if you don’t want to specifically do that, you can always vocalize your opinion and vocalize ‘I’m not really messin’ with that’ because nobody’s going to card you or tell you that you’re wrong for doing it. If they are they don’t need to be in your space any way. So basically I would just say to anybody who wants to join AS I AM to just continue, to learn, and to continue to fail. But just know that your failures don’t define all that you are and they will never define all that you are, they’ll only further and only help you to become who you need to be in life Don’t ever stop learning, don’t ever stop reading, don’t ever stop meeting people, networking, drink lots of water, go to sleep, exercise, manage your time well.
Do you have any comments on what you want more of from the AS I AM experience, what you want less?
I feel like I need more people to like push me because I feel like a lot of times people think that I have it all together and like, I really don’t. It’s just because I’m really good at bullshitting so it may seem like I did everything that I needed to do, but like I still need people in my ear ‘like so what you doing?’ But again like I said, you can’t have people holding your hand this entire time. I just need a balance of like not holding my hand but pushing me, which I feel like they’re working on because you know, we’re only the first generation of AS I Am so they’re still learning how to navigate how to help us. It’s a learning process. They ask us what can they do to help us and I ask them what they can do to help me, it’s all about a give and take and that’s all you really can do in life is give your all and take what you can from it and vice versa.