"Beautiful sun-kissed people!" Eddins and the audience chanted in a call-and-response.
"Sun-kissed children, you are it. Don't let nobody tell you shhhh," Eddins recited, as his daughter in the audience, Amina Adesina Frances Rhoads-Eddins, simultaneously made the 'shhhh' sound with a mischievous smile.
Clearly, this was not the first time the audience had heard the poem, and this was not a one-off event. This was a gathering of a carefully cultivated community.
The Black Artist Showcase
The Black Artist Showcase is a monthly performance space for Vermont artists of African descent. Founded by Eddins in September 2020, the showcase features poets, writers, musicians, painters, illustrators, and artists of all mediums.
"It's been a space to offer artists of African descent in a pretty homogenous environment the opportunity to fellowship with one another, to have a safe space to have their narrative shared," Eddins said.
At the Nov. 11 event, Eddins' poetry covered a range of topics, including Black resilience, self-determination, and joy. Artist Omega Jade shared poems about mental health, being a woman in hip hop, and the community in which she was raised.
While Eddins and Jade are both experienced performers, the event also put a spotlight on young up-and-coming artists, including Janvier Nse, Nadia Frazier, and Rachel Ambaye.
"To be in a space where I can support other Black artists, and to feel like I'm part of a group where I will also be supported if I perform is very special," said Ambaye, a music student at the University of Vermont who performed at the Black Artist Showcase for the first time on Nov. 11.
The next Black Artist Showcase will be Friday, Dec. 2 from 6-8 p.m. at the Richard Kemp Center, 372 N. Winooski Ave in Burlington. Many of the artists from the showcase will be also be at the Richard Kemp Center on Saturday, Dec. 3 from 10-4 p.m. to sell their creations at an event they are calling The Black Artist Market.
The poet behind the showcase
Born in Seattle, Eddins attributes his work as a poet and community organizer to his mother Randee, who in 1992 founded the African-American Writers' Alliance — a Seattle-based Black writers' collective that is still going strong
today. At age 11, Eddins was the organization's only child member at the time.
"She started that group, I think, much for the same reason I started this one," Eddins said. "We were in an environment that didn't really necessary have a platform that was already existing, that brought our people together intentionally."
In addition to the Black Artist Showcase, Eddins is also the founder and director of The Poetry Experience, a writing and sharing circle at the Fletcher Free Library that takes place every second and fourth Saturday of the month. The next event will be Dec. 10.
Contact April Fisher at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @AMFisherMedia
This article originally appeared on Burlington Free Press: Poet Rajnii Eddins provides platform for Black artists in Vermont