Interview By Tia Williams
InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each month ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This month ELIXHER spotlights Philly-based poet and student Kai Davis.
ELIXHER: Tell us about Kai.
KAI: I am currently 20 years old and I was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA, specifically Germantown. I attended Central High School and graduated in 2012. Right now I attend Temple University as an English and African American Studies double major with a Creative Writing concentration. I am also the Artistic Director of the Babel Poetry Collective and a Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement alum.
ELIXHER: You’re a spoken word artist. What drew you to the craft?
KAI: I’ve always loved literature, primarily fiction, ever since I was really young, but I started to get really into poetry in middle school. I was always pretty open with my poetry, even if I wasn’t open with anything else. I shared poetry with my friends and submitted and edited for a literary magazine once I got to high school. However, it wasn’t until I started going to the Germantown poetry festivals that I really started to fall in love with spoken word or performance poetry. I was amazed at their ability to bring their words to life through their voices. It was like poetry with a pulse. After seeing those artists perform, I started looking up Def Jam poets on YouTube. Eventually one of my friends introduced me to Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement. Through that program I started performing for the first time. It was a cathartic experience and I found that spoken word was like a religion for people who have a tumultuous relationship with faith.
ELIXHER: What topics do you typically write and perform about?
KAI: I tend to write a lot about the politics surrounding my identity as a queer Black woman in America. All of my identities intersect in ways that allow me to see the world from many perspectives. At the same time, these identities also allow me to experience oppression in many different ways. I have a lot of things to write passionately about especially within the theme of self-love and self-determination. I also am very open in my work and write a lot of very personal stories. These poems tend to be more difficult to write and are usually a mark of my personal and spiritual growth. I use my writing, particularly my more intimate writing, to navigate through the trials and tribulations one experiences as a human being.
ELIXHER: How do you use your craft to do volunteerism with youth?
KAI: I use my poetry to teach. Sometimes I’ll perform poems, even more difficult or complicated poems, in order to have important conversations about anything from gentrification to biphobia in the queer community. When I have the opportunity to deviate from their curriculum, I take it. Most kids really want to understand the world around them and they want to learn more than what they are spoon-fed. I try to seize these opportunities to not only speak, but listen. I also facilitate workshops for aspiring poets, young and old, to teach the fundamentals and complexities of poetry and/or spoken word.
ELIXHER: Who or what motivates you to keep going?
KAI: I believe that I have a purpose. I hope that what I am doing helps people or liberates people or even saves people. I keep doing what I do because I want the world to be a little bit different because I was here.
ELIXHER: What scares you?
KAI: I don’t want to let anyone down. I never want to disappoint anyone. Sometimes it’s easy to brush off the opinions of other people because I am typically very firm in my beliefs; however, when I do feel that guilt or that sense of failure, it’s like a brick in my stomach.
ELIXHER: What’s one lesson you’ve had to learn more than once?
KAI: Self-degradation gets you nowhere. I’ve had that lesson more times than I’d like to admit. I have to remind myself not to make myself smaller for anyone, ever. No exceptions.
ELIXHER: What’s the biggest misconception people have of you?
KAI: I think people meet me sometimes and think that I’m super serious. I can be serious sometimes, but I’m honestly almost never serious. Humor is a huge part of my life. I am always laughing and making people laugh. Even in conversations or debates about serious topics I’ll use humor to analyze before I use anything else.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the Black queer community?
KAI: I just got so excited about this question. I think Blackness and Queerness has left such an enormous mark on American culture (whatever that is). The art and the music and the fashion and the language all combine in ways that reveal so much passion and pain and joy. It’s really a beautiful community to be a part of.
ELIXHER: What kind of healthy critique do you have about our community? What are some areas for growth?
KAI: I think we need to examine what aspects of the white male patriarchy we have adopted and why. We also need to examine how it affects us, how it privileges some and marginalizes others. We need to be more honest with ourselves.
ELIXHER: What are some projects you’re working on now?
KAI: Right now, at this very moment I am directing a show for Babel. I’m trying to get our name out there because I truly believe in these artists and I don’t attach my name to anything I don’t believe in. We are also fundraising right now to take a team to CUPSI, a national slam competition, for the first time in Temple University history. I am also booking some college shows around the country and brainstorming what my next poetry book will be.
Tia N. Williams is the woman behind The Buddha In Me, an agency of artists, speakers, poets, and activists based in Atlanta. The Buddha In Me specializes in providing quality programs to educate, enlighten, and entertain. Tia recently received her M.Ed. from the University of Georgia in College Student Affairs Administration.