Rose shares ‘Tales from the Bayou’


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Spoken word poet, activist and writer Donney Rose shared poetry and addressed racial inequality at UNI Interpreters Theatre on Friday, Oct. 4.


Spoken word poet, community activist and writer Donney Rose performed in the UNI Interpreters Theatre on Friday evening, Oct. 4.

Much of the Baton Rouge native’s work reflects upon the issues of police brutality, racial violence, black masculinity and what it means to be black in America.

To start off the night, Rose shared poems about police brutality and the broken cultural standard of black masculinity.

“The first thing you learn about being a black boy is that being vulnerable is a sin,” Rose said. “Anger is your first right of passage.”

The second piece Rose shared was a powerful examination of state-sanctioned police brutality. He used a number of devices in his work to convey his experience. Imagery, metaphor and the cadence of his speech all contribute to the audience’s understanding and integration with the poem.

In a chilling line, Rose said, “nothing compliments his right to remain silent quite like dying.”

The audience was suspended in time as Rose’s words hung thick in the air.

What Rose speaks of are not comfortable topics. They are, however, experiences and stories that need to be shared with a wider audience in America. His words are familiar and close to home for those who can see themselves reflected in his work. They are perhaps even more important for those who can’t. Rose’s writing opens a passage to understanding.

Art, especially in this form, is a unique and effective strategy to promote social change. It does what news articles simply cannot: it draws listeners into a personal experience. It encourages thoughtfulness and compassion and it leaves a lasting imprint on listeners. This kind of art is essential to foster understanding and a recalibration of values among those who remain outside the artist’s sphere of experience.

After sharing several spoken word pieces with the audience, Rose provided a bit of insight into what shaped his recent creative work.

“Baton Rouge is an interesting place,” he said. “It is the capital of Louisiana but it is more or less in the shadow of New Orleans. It doesn’t necessarily have a definitive culture like New Orleans or Lafayette to the west. It’s kind of almost bland.”

Although Rose had been writing poetry for years, it was during the last half of 2016, a point of turmoil and immense grief for the city of Baton Rouge, that he took on the role of social activist in his community through writing.

That summer, Alton Sterling, a black man, was shot at close range by Baton Rouge police officers. Protests ensued, and area police took on a militarized front. Soon after, three police officers were shot and killed. As if this was not enough, a state of emergency was called with the summer floods, which caused widespread panic and resulted in 13 casualties.

Amid all of this, Rose faced another, more personal tragedy: the loss of one of his close students. Everything good seemed to shatter for Rose. Still, he kept writing. In a grieving city, he connected community members through his art. In hard times, Rose’s work articulated the feelings that many could not find the words to convey.

This whirlwind of emotion led Rose to explore larger initiatives concerning the commencement of slavery in the United States, in congruence with The New York Times’ 1619 Project, which marked 400 years since the beginning of slavery in the America.

Rose previewed his forthcoming multimedia spoken word project, “The American Audit.” The American Audit explores the extended metaphor of America as a business, as black Americans audit the nation 400 years after slavery began. In his piece, America owes black Americans a debt; an understanding of the implications of slavery are just beginning to come to fruition.

The creative project layers photographs, stories and spoken word poems.

Though originally scheduled to be completed in December 2019, Rose has extended this project to February 2020 in order to conduct more research and interviews and to integrate historical evidence into the presentation.

The second half of the night allowed for audience members to ask questions about Rose’s work. His candid and open responses helped to open a larger conversation around race relations and art as a form of social activism.

To him, art is a way to purge feelings of grief and frustration, as well as to find a common ground with his audience.

Rose finds inspiration in past poetry and poetry describing the black experience in America. However, he explained that it is also disheartening to find himself addressing the same issues that black people have been for over 40 years.

He said, “We often find ourselves, because history is cyclical, writing the same narratives over and over again.”

Many truths have come to light over the last few years. Like the American Audit is aiming to show, people are beginning to realize the lasting effect slavery has had on the United States.

“I am aware of how this system and how this nation operates,” Rose said. “I am aware that right now, the current occupant of the White House is doing things that the former occupant of the White House would have been thrown out for.”

Personal experiences, including multiple sclerosis, type two diabetes and depression have presented various challenges to Rose’s life. Despite these obstacles, Rose remains a social writer who speaks to the experience of black Americans and continue to inspire and comfort his community.

Regarding how he remains positive while writing about discouraging topics like racial inequality, Rose said, “I, much like probably everyone in this room, live a life of balance. It is possible for us to go to the depths of our sorrow, and also go to the ultimate height of our joy. I’ve come to a point where I’ve stopped trying to avoid either end of that spectrum.”

Rose uses his platform and his art to open up a new dialogue about race in America. His art acts as a path to understanding, an articulation of his experience, and an uncomfortable, yet pertinent, truth that must be heard in America.

Donney Rose has been featured on YouTube’s Button Poetry channel as well as national and local platforms. More information about Rose’s story and art can be found at