“Testimony: The Misrepresentation of Black Men and Boys,” A Conversation Series

Many years ago, Taylor and Robert Brown, a teenage poet duo known as “The Brown Bombers” set Kansas City’s spoken word scene on fire. From the Blue Room at the American Jazz Museum all the way to competitions in Washington, D.C., these artists took on structural racism, sexism, and other topics.

At the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, an older white male science teacher literally attempted to ban them from coming to his class. He claimed it was because they were distracted by their art endeavors and not giving enough attention to his class.

When that failed, he took aim at their art. As incredible as it sounds, because the Brown Bombers had made posters with the words “Killing Intelligence Patiently” in response to the teacher’s attempt, he tried to have them expelled from the district and charged with a crime. “The Pitch” did an entire feature on the situation.

Today, 12 years later, Robert Brown works as a department assistant at the Kansas City Art Institute and writes for “KC Studio.”

Taylor Brown is an educational outreach specialist at ArtsTech Kids, director at Team Up For Art Program, a textile artist, and still a writer.

Calligraphed onto a scroll, her poem “Alarm Clock” is featured in the “Testimony: African American Artists Collective” exhibit at The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.

“Having my piece in ‘Testimony’ amongst a selection of some of the most innovative and visionary Black artists in America in a globally recognized museum is beyond my wildest dreams,” she says.

Associated with the exhibit, but independent of the museum, is “Testimony: The Misrepresentation of Black Men and Boys,” a ten-month conversation series on topics ranging from finances and education to health and community building. Presented by the African American Artists Collective, in conjunction with Moxie Solutions Development, 21c Museum Hotels and Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, the series uses local voices and perspectives to address issues like the one Taylor and Robert experienced at Paseo.

The press release explains the mission: to “gain insight from Black men and boys about misrepresentation and what it takes to navigate the real world, maneuver through negative situations, and maintain a healthy mental, physical, and spiritual existence.”

“These gentlemen and boys hold our future in their hands,” said Sara Sonié Joi Thompson-Ruffin, artist and founding member of the African American Artists Collective, “and we must have open conversations about the hard issues and how to move forward as a community.”

Bobby Watson performed at the inaugural “Testimony” conversation/social at 21c Museum Hotel on July 30. (bobbywatson.com)
Speakers for the session, on the topic, Relationships and Supportive Networks, included artist and activist Charles Bibbs and Jeron Ravin, President/CEO of Swope Health. (Images courtesy www.charlesbibbs.net and Swope Health)

Each session begins with daytime panel discussions and workshops featuring local community leaders and dedicated to information, respect, and progress. The first conversation, on the topic, Relationships and Supportive Networks, took place July 30 at the 21c Museum Hotel and featured a roster of nine speakers, including artist and activist Charles Bibbs, poet and educator Mike Patton, Jeron Ravin, President/CEO of Swope Health, and other leaders of community organizations. The afternoon program was followed by an evening social with a performance by Bobby Watson.

An attendee who asked to be identified simply as “Paul” took an extended lunch from his downtown job to attend the first session. “The insightful and direct discussion, from the mouths of Black men who have successfully navigated the waters, really spoke to the issues we face. This is very much needed,” he said.

The experiences of artists Taylor and Robert Brown remind us why this programming is critical and needed.

The next conversation, Employment & Entrepreneurism, will be held from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at 21c Museum Hotel, with a social from 7 to 9 p.m. To register for upcoming events and to see a full schedule of conversations into 2022, visit www.aaackc.org.

Top: “Alarm Clock” by Taylor Brown is part of the “Testimony: African American Artists Collective” exhibit at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. (The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

CategoriesPerforming Visual
Harold Smith

Harold Smith is an educator and multimedia artist who lives and works in the Kansas City area. Most of his work is focused on his experience within the American black experience.

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