She uses art to address racial inequality.
Alabama’s first Black poet laureate was just honored by the state governor, ABC News reports.
This past August, Ashley M. Jones made history as the first Black poet laureate of Alabama. The Birmingham native said she has always dreamed of becoming a poet and was humbled to finally see all of her dreams come true. The creative writing teacher who uses her art as a weapon in the fight for racial justice, was recently honored in a ceremony that was held in the same building where the Confederacy was formed nearly 160 years ago.
Governor Kay Ivey presented Jones with a commendation for her work and her prestigious appointment, saying, “Everyone in this room, and I would add folks around the country, are proud of you for being honored with this well-deserved historic recognition.”
In her new role, Jones will serve as an advocate for poetry and writing across the state, giving lectures and workshops locally and nationally. The Alabama Writers Cooperative confirmed Jones for the position which she will serve in for a four-year term that begins this January.
Jones is the author of a number of books including “Magic City Gospel,” and “Dark/Thing.” Her third book, “Reparations Now!,” was just released this past September. The poetry collection speaks about reparations on a larger scale, not just in terms of monetary compensation but also at scale, rebuilding a country and society ravaged by racial division.
“What, you think all I want is money? What, you think money can ever repay what you stole? Give me land, give me all the blood you ripped out of our backs, our veins. Give me every snapped neck and the noose you wove to hoist the body up. Give me the screams you silenced in so many dark and lustful rooms. Give me the songs you said were yours but you know came out of our lips first. Give me back Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. Give me back the beauty of my hair. The swell of my hips. The big of my lips. Give me back the whole Atlantic Ocean. Give me a never-ending blue. And a mule,” Jones writes in one of the poems entitled, “Reparations Now, Reparations Tomorrow, Reparations Forever.”
As an ambassador of a state still grappling with removing racist language from a century old Constitution, whose State Board of Education recently banned the teaching of critical race theory in schools, Jones’ work is revolutionary. Still, the celebrated poet seems unfazed by the waves she might create in her hometown.
“The artists always are on a different pulse,” she explained.
“She brings a strong statement, but she brings a lot of balance. And so I think that she will have things to say that people will hear,” said Jeanie Thompson, an author and executive director of the Alabama Writers Forum.
Jones said that she believes poetry should always speak truth to power and she hopes that people are able to see the value in that truth through her work.
“I’m hoping that through my position I can continue to spread that message and show that when we actually confront the truth it’s good for everyone. Hiding things doesn’t help at all. It actually hurts more than it helps,” said Jones.
Congratulations Ashley! Because of you, we can!
Photo Courtesy of Jay Reeves/Associated Press