Darius Phelps is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is an adjunct professor at CUNY Queens, Hunter College, Teachers College, and intern at Brooklyn Poets. An educator, poet, spoken word artist, and activist, Darius writes poems about grief, liberation, emancipation, reflection through the lens of a teacher of color and experiencing Black boy joy. His poems have appeared in the NY English Record, NCTE's English Journal, Pearl Press Magazine, and ëëN Magazine’s The 2023 Valentine Issue. Recently, he was featured on WCBS and highlighted the importance of Black male educators in the classroom. Darius can be contacted via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a doctoral student, male educator of color, and marginalized voice — I’ve never felt like I have truly belonged somewhere, in any capacity. Every room I walk in, someone has always tried to either silence my voice, dim my light, or ultimately eradicate me to keep me from walking in my purpose. With my matriculation through school and earning degrees from predominantly white institutions, this has weighed even more on my soul. In the midst of my doctoral journey, especially as I near the end, I found myself backstabbed, ostracized, and eradicated in so many forms. Every room I walked in, teachers and peers overlooked my ideas, dismissed my experiences, micro-manage my projects, and even told me my story would not resonate with anyone. Struggling to get a grip on my passion, my motivation for even moving to New York City in the first place, these events intensified this feeling of loneliness and isolation.
In August 2022, I knew I needed a change in my life and was ready to get back to pursuing my passion, particularly one that felt natural, organic, and made me feel at peace. It was during this time that I stumbled across Brooklyn Poets and began attending one of the Drop In Classes, titled “A Draught of Vintage: Poetry Happy Hour with the Founder and Executive Director, Jason Koo. This class detailed that “In the spirit of John Keats, in this weekly drop in class, we will drink from the cup of poetry and “leave the world unseen” --- oddly, by studying under Koo himself, I have never felt more seen and heard, both as a man of color, but most importantly, as a poet.
The carefully selected and curated works for literature, such as More than Mere Light by Jason Koo, Javier Zamora’s Solito, Jose Olivarez’s Promises of Gold, and Megan Fernades’s Good Boys, evident from the work selected by Koo and staff at Brooklyn Poets, specifically poetry from diverse poets deserve to be amplified, for they tell the authentic narratives of those who, like myself, have been silenced in some aspect. When these tales are told in the form of poetry, it holds even more power. Without a doubt, poetry helps us become better teachers for our students and we can highlight YA poets such as Elizabeth Acevedo, Margarita Engle, Jacqueline Woodson, and Dean Atta. With poetry, we learn to speak well and with emotion, how to emulate that emotion, and are more attentive to words and the emotions that they convey.
With the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, there has been a radical moment towards making sure diverse voices are amplified, heard, and appreciated. bell hooks states that “To indoctrinate boys into the rules of patriarchy, we force them to feel pain and to deny their feelings.” Oftentimes, young men, particularly those of color, are hesitant to show any kind of emotion or vulnerability, or identify with issues such as race, prejudice, bullying, and loneliness. As a male educator of color I am determined to inspire, embolden, and encourage those who come from backgrounds similar to that of my own, showing and teaching them the power of the pen and being vulnerable through poetry, the way Jason Koo has been for me.
In a world full of hatred and racism, we should be spreading the message of love, community, and strength while fostering identity and cultural representation. These messages could very well be something that our students and fellow educators have yet to experience in their lifetime and I will do everything I can to bring awareness to this issue. Our narratives, especially as people of color, deserve to reflect the same, for this is the vision that I bring and will advocate to make sure it happens. Every soul deserves a true place of solace, like Brooklyn Poets. If educators and curriculum writers could adopt the same mindset as Jason Koo, then maybe we’d finally be on the right page to building a better world for our future leaders of America; one where all voices are worth celebrating.
hooks, B. (2008). Belonging: A Culture of Place (1st ed.). Routledge.
hooks, B. (2014). Teaching to transgress. Routledge.