The Baltimore Substitute and Poet Whose Classroom Poetics Went Viral

first_imgKondwani Russell’s video of him performing poetry in front of a class has almost 3M views. (Photo credit: Chanet Wallace)Baltimore native and poet Kondwani Fidel Russell is being recognized all over the world for a poem he recited to his class while he was substitute teaching.Russell arrived early, on his first day, to Baltimore City College high school, to be a substitute in a writing class in early October. When he entered the school’s office an administrator asked him to sit in a history class for a few minutes because the teacher wasn’t yet present.He agreed and walked into the history class.The 22-year-old introduced himself to the class as an alumnus of Baltimore City College high school, graduate of Virginia State, and a poet. Once the students heard he was a poet, they asked him to recite a poem.“Kids just like a challenge, they don’t really want to hear my poetry,” said Russell, who was unenthused about the challenge from the students.Russell continued with his plans for the class, but the students would not give up.They encouraged him on saying “You do spoken word, spit [rhyme] something for us.”He finally agreed to perform a poem once they agreed to quiet down.Russell recites poetry and spoken word at local events and restaurants, at least four times a week, and is used to being filmed, so the students pulling out their camera phones seemed like an ordinary thing that happens when he performs.“I always get recorded and I’ve been featured in videos,” said the Baltimore native in an interview with the AFRO. “I’ve even been in plays, so the camera is always around.”The next morning, Oct. 6, Russell woke up to hundreds of social media notifications and alerts.One of the students in the history class uploaded the video to Facebook, where it gained over 2.5 million views, also, made it to WorldStarHipHop and YouTube.“Tyga [a California rapper] posted the video and every hour the video received hundred-thousands of views, from 200,000 one hour to 500,000 the next. Then I saw it hit 2.6 million views, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. As of Oct 26, the video had 2,709,612 views.Russell’s poem described his rough childhood; being raised and encouraged by his grandmother amidst his mother’s struggle with drug addiction and the absence of his father. He expressed his detached relationship with teachers and administrators while growing up.Russell realized at age 19, he wanted to perform poetry and spoken word all over the world. “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life, it made me feel like I can be effective to kids. So I perform to show them they can be what they want to be and that there is a big world outside of all the trauma inner city kids experience. My ultimate goal is to inspire,” Russell said.His poetry and performances take a stand against police brutality, social injustices, and education inequality. They paint vivid pictures of the experiences and struggles of the kids from the broken neighborhoods and his individual hassles from growing up, to help encourage better relationships between students and teachers and bring awareness to the different adversities in the black community.Besides performing poetry for the students, Russell posts video to YouTube including one entitled “Baltimore Bullet Train,” which is also an expression against inequality and a self-published poetry book called, “Asperous Artistry” that was released in August.To view the video of Russell go to http://on.fb.me/1k5lPwdlast_img

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