Donte Clark was the sixth and final poet from Richmond Artists with Talent to perform at the Madeline F. Whittlesey Community Room on Friday night.
Midway through his poem, he forgot his lines. After pausing to recollect himself, and with the encouragement of the crowd, he restarted his poem, completed it and earned a standing ovation.
“Every now and then I have those moments,” Clark said. “And what are you going to do in those moments? Are you going to walk away, are you going to jump into a new poem or are you going to take your time and see how engaged they are with you? When everyone said ‘Let’s do it again’…I had that confidence and I just kept on rolling. So it tested me as a performer and it helped me build.”
The “Night of Poetry,” which was sponsored by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, featured multiple generations of Richmond poets. Richmond Poet Laureate Dwayne Parish headlined the event, which also featured six poets from Richmond Artists with Talent. Poet Gary Becker, a 1966 graduate of Richmond High School, was also a special guest.
RAW Talent student Deandre Evans was especially inspired by the Poet Laureate’s presence.
“It says to me that people in Richmond can do something positive with their lives and can come back and give back to their community,” said Evans, 19. “He is coming back and performing. It shows me that I can do the same thing and be successful and represent Richmond and come back and help other people like people helped me.”
RAW Talent is the creative arts department of the Making Waves Educational Program, which began in Richmond in 1989. It provides academic help, counseling, and other support services to low-income youth beginning from fifth grade until the end of college.
In addition to Evans, the remaining poets from RAW Talent were Brenda Quintanilla, Nia Snipes, George Mitchell, Ciera Gordon and Donte Clark.
Their poems came from a performance earlier this year, titled “From the Pen to the Page: This is My Redemption.”
“Poetry has that ability to really put into words the human experience,” McLaughlin said. “And that is really important.”
Parish, who earned the designation of the city’s inaugural Poet Laureate in April, was impressed. “Any time I see any kid using any form of art to express themselves, I am deeply touched,” he said. “When I see a poet, it is like I am seeing myself growing up again.”
The night was about poetry, but for Clark, the role of RAW Talent goes beyond the spoken word. The 22-year-old was the first student who took part in the poetry workshop started by Raynor and Clark and has stayed on with the program as a mentor to younger poets.
“RAW Talent means everything to me,” he said. “When I was 17 years old, when I first started writing poetry, I was into rap music but I never really knew about spoken word or really was interested in poetry. This changed my life. Now I am helping out other young people, I’m getting the word out, I’m healing myself, I’m helping others heal and it is going to be a positive look for Richmond, California.”