Building Community Through Poetry with Kwabena Antoine Nixon

Many people in the Midwest know Kwabena Antoine Nixon as a poet, but that is a drastic simplification of the way that Nixon uses his words to touch our city. From hosting live poetry events, to teaching young people in schools about their potential, to organizing a panel discussion for struggling fathers who need guidance, Nixon has been anchored in the Milwaukee community for more than 20 years. He uses poetry to tell a story. Whether that be the story of black oppression or his own life story, his poetry has grabbed the community’s attention in a way that allows them to connect to those stories.

Nixon is not originally from Milwaukee. He grew up on the west side of Chicago, raised by his grandmother who gave him his moral code and his sense of discipline; she also constantly reminded him of his life’s purpose, as he explains. At age 11, Nixon’s father was killed, which made him angry and made him question his identity. He started down the wrong path, getting mixed up in the streets. It was a natural path to follow, because he simply supported and protected his friend group. Before he knew it, feuds between neighborhoods became gangs, and he was too far down a road he never meant to take.

A year away in California at age 14 saved his life by separating him from the only world he had ever known. Nixon returned to Chicago but “kept getting caught up in the life,” he says. So, around the age of 23, he moved to Milwaukee when a friend convinced him to leave that part of his life behind for good.

Based on his own background, Nixon understands how easy it can be for young men of color to get caught up in crime. That is what led him to start speaking in schools and sharing his story with young people in similar situations. He has been in their shoes and knows that the young students need to tangibly see what is possible for their future. “That’s where we can win,” he says, “when young men actually see what they can become.”

Along with Muhibb Dyer, Kwabena Antoine Nixon founded Flood the Hood With Dreams—an initiative that serves at-risk youth by showing them how to reduce violence through conflict resolution training and poetry workshops. They are building relationships with young people and getting them to care about their own lives. Once they care about themselves, Nixon explains, they will care about others and start looking at the world around them. It’s important for youth to see a person like Nixon, who identifies with their perspective and is an example of success.

Nixon believes “every story matters.” He adds, “When we use our story, it changes things.” His book Sensitive Warsongz tells his story to “black and brown boyz” and puts the reader in the midst of the pain and struggles that many young men face. With portions of the proceeds going to scholarships for young men, his book helps youth in more ways than one. Driven by his experiences, Nixon has dedicated his life to improving the lives of others and continues to inspire the community into action.

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