By Jamii Tata
A Garden of 5 Elements, written and published by the Illuminate Literacy Entrepreneurs (Illuminate) of Know Allegiance Nation (KAN) was released at Howrani Studio’s in Detroit’s North End on the first day of poetry month, April 1, 2017. The North End-based literary group worked with Christine Herrin, Adobe creative artist-in-residence, and poetry teacher Jamii Tata to create this book of poems and illustrations inspired by the prompt, “Hip Hop Is Green.”
The Illuminate students are creative writers who increase their literacy skills by writing and publishing books, and recording and publishing spoken word poetry. The students are also urban farmers. A Garden of 5 Elements is envisioned as “a resource for everything Hip Hop, healthy and green,” where young people explore the intersections of nature, the environment, and the five elements of Hip Hop: emceeing, dj’ing, graffiti art, break dancing and knowledge — in both poetic and visual forms.
Deena, a three-year student of Illuminate, credits the program for expanding her vocabulary, writing, and speaking skills, and helping her get into Honors English. Excited to be a published author, she says of her experience:
The way we came up with what we were going to write, we started with brainstorming and developing something, and from that something we branched off and branched off. We were like a seed in the ground and we grew to make a tree with lots of different branches of poems. We started with what makes up a garden and then we went through elements of Hip Hop plus what we do in urban agriculture, and came up with our book…. The Adobe people were nice. They came and collaborated with us to add pictures to our poems. It was like a group project where everyone did work and everyone played a role. After it was published, I was excited, I was hyped. We went to Howrani Studios and they had a white backdrop for the performance, along with food and books. We felt like celebrities, autographing our books. I felt famous! The book has come a long way. I am proud of it.
The project was created over a two-week period. During the first week, the students developed poems with instructor Jamii Tata. Discussions in poetry sessions included a wide variety of topics — from fried squash blossom recipes, to dj’s chopping up beats, emcees and break dancers being firewood for the next generation, and the contrast between the growth of plants and the stunted growth of money.
Stephen Gliatto, Libby Nicholaou, Syd Weiler and Christine Herrin, of the Adobe Creative Residency Team, came the next week with markers, crayons, coloring pencils, magazines for scrapbooking and additional materials to help the Illuminate students create illustrations for their poems. Christine Herrin created a handmade font for the book title and the titles of the individual poems.
According to African American poet Toni Cade Bambara, “the purpose of a writer is to make revolution irresistible.” KAN furthers that sentiment and believes the purpose of a literacy teacher is to make education irresistible. KAN is a village-building enterprise that seeks to build a nation of knowledge seekers. Nation building is done through consciousness raising and literacy attainment. There are three main pillars of KAN: basic literacy, advanced literacy and survival literacy. Jamii Tata explains:
“We teach basic literacy through poetry and entrepreneurship, advanced literacy through broadcast journalism, and survival literacy through sustainable agriculture and agrarianism. We believe that through the knowledge of reading the word and the world (Paulo Freire), and the power of writing, one can obtain a good life and contribute to their village/community.”
To increase access to literacy resources, KAN’s long-term goal is to own land, become a publisher and further establish its new bookstore. The KAN Co-op Bookstore opened in November 2017 at 9405 John R Avenue, and features A Garden of 5 Elements along with books from other authors of color in Michigan.
The KAN Co-op Bookstore hours of operation are: T/Th 10am-6pm, Fri 3-10pm, and sat/Sun 11am-4pm. For more information about Know Allegiance Nation, the bookstore or to purchase A Garden of 5 Elements, please visit knowallegiance.wordpress.com. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-473-7082.
Jamii Tata, 30, is a literacy educator with 12 years of experience teaching inside and outside of schools. He was inspired to create Know Allegiance Nation to supplement and continue the work of educating Black youth after seeing the limitations of the Detroit Public Education School system. Jamii is also a parent, community organizer, writer, farmer, and aspiring djembe drummer.