A BUNCHA SHIT
The second single from +’s upcoming mixtape sL-wGod, coming in late October
Revisit the video for “You That Nigga, God.” here,
.slowbro.’s Slow Summer, now available
|—||Arab Proverb (via madpout)|
Trigger warning: This post contains explicit language concerning sexual assault.
We grew up in the YCA community. We attended Louder Than a Bomb, Wordplay, and Check the Method. Our peers at YCA became some of our best friends, the adults became our mentors. YCA was a gathering space for people across the city. A place where we learned to speak to each other, get to know each other, love, support, and respect each other’s differences. YCA was home, a place where we could be honest about ourselves. YCA encouraged us to speak up about difficult issues in our lives—from struggles with our families, to our developing sexualities, and violence in our communities. We never imagined that YCA would foster a culture of silence, replicating the same violence they raised us to fight against.
In the summer of 2013, we started hearing several conversations about sexual violence in the spoken word poetry community. At the National Poetry Slam, we heard tales of people hissing at a poet onstage who was known to be an abuser. At local poetry events in Chicago, we heard poems about sexual violence within the poetry community. In August, we read a Facebook post that named Roger Bonair-Agard as a rapist. This came as a shock to many of the young people who were mentored by him. People didn’t know how to react. Many conversations were held in private. As a community leader, people expected YCA to address the issue publicly, especially as an employer of Roger. That never happened.
In October, a small group of eight young teaching artists in Chicago gathered to discuss their concerns. After sharing our mixed feelings, we decided to brainstorm a list of demands that would shape the type of poetry community we wanted to create. These demands included ways for YCA to create a safer space by establishing a code of conduct for mentors and teaching artists, hiring a counselor to be available at YCA programs, and steps for taking action when breaches of safety occur. When we tried to schedule another meeting to finish the list of demands, we were unable to find a time that worked for everyone. Suddenly, all communication in the group went silent for months. At the end of December, we were finally able to meet again with a smaller group. We decided to write a letter accompanying the list of demands, both of which we sent out in February.
We sent the letter and list of demands to Rebecca Hunter, Executive Director of YCA and Kevin Coval, the organization’s Artistic Director. Over twenty poets signed onto the letter, including current and former YCA employees and students, along with other members of Chicago’s poetry community. We demanded YCA release a public statement by the end of Louder Than A Bomb in March and organize some sort of community event, such as a reading or workshop that addressed the issue of sexual assault.
We received two email responses from Hunter. She explained that YCA decided not to renew Roger’s contract. They sought out legal advice and did not report the allegations to the police because minors were not involved. They hired two circle keepers, who facilitated a closed meeting with members of YCA’s staff in February, over half a year after the allegations surfaced. In the emails, Hunter emphasized that YCA was keeping their process internal, with intentions to open up the conversation in the future.
After more silence from YCA, we sent a follow up letter in late March, detailing our dissatisfaction with their lack of a public response. After threatening to go to the media if a public statement was not released, Kevin and Rebecca met with us in the spring. At the meeting, Kevin and Rebecca stated that they are the only two people with all of the information regarding this situation. We told them that the perpetual silence and consolidation of information made them resemble the kind of institution they had raised us to interrogate.
Rebecca asked us outright if we thought YCA knew about Roger’s behavior beforehand. Given Kevin’s considerable prominence in the national poetry scene, Roger’s history of allegations stretching back at least a decade from Chicago, to Michigan, to New York, and perhaps beyond, and the fact that we had heard of Roger’s inappropriate behavior even years before, we found it very hard to believe that Kevin was not aware. They assured us of their prior ignorance.
They also claimed that the survivors did not want the allegations made public. However, we’ve been in contact with a survivor who told us that this is not true. Hunter also claimed that YCA contacted their partners to inform them of the situation. A few weeks later, we came across a Facebook post that showed Roger inviting a teacher to an LTAB poetry slam event at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. At the end of the meeting, they once again assured us that they intended to open up the conversation to the community in the future.
In late June we were contacted about a second staff meeting being held and facilitated by circle keepers to discuss Roger and steps for moving forward and possibly involving the community. At the end of the meeting the development of a statement and comprehensive organizational response was again promised. This meeting was the first YCA directors had held with staff since the initial one in February. Only two staff members were present.
To this day, Young Chicago Authors has made no public acknowledgement of the fact that they employed a person accused of being a serial rapist over the course of several years. They have taken no public responsibility. Anything that could be considered transparency has come only as a result of our repeated inquiry. Friends of ours and mentees of Roger do not know what happened, they just know that something happened. Many of them have expressed doubt at the accusers, and maintained their serious emotional attachment to Roger, even while acknowledging the fact that he should take responsibility for what happened. Roger continues to find work in the city, to show up to events, and be awarded on a local and national level for his work.
When sexual violence happens, there is a veil of silence that often permeates the whole community. Sometimes it comes out of respect for the survivors, or confusion. Very often, the silence is perpetrated by those who would be held accountable for the violence. It is very easy for the latter to co-opt and benefit from the former. The crossroads of this tension is where we find ourselves. We do not want to harm the survivors. We want to end the silence around sexual assault in our community, a small step in ending sexual assault in all communities.
I, emanuel vinson, am responsible for the release of this statement
everything in this picture is a metahphor for what is inside of every person being and thing you see. love letters