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Monday, December 04, 2023

Gainesville community gathers to celebrate Black love through poetry, art and music

Poets and artists express what Black love means to them

<p>Poets speak at the Historic Thomas Center for the Black History Month Celebration of Black Love, Art and Poetry Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. </p>

Poets speak at the Historic Thomas Center for the Black History Month Celebration of Black Love, Art and Poetry Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.

Tiffany Pineda danced her way up to the lecturn to read poems to a crowd of about 30 people who came together to celebrate Black love. 

“When said with love, ain’t nothing stupid,” she recited to the audience. 

Friday, the Bailey Learning and Arts Collective hosted the Black History Month Celebration of Black Love, Art and Poetry at the Historic Thomas Center, located at 302 NE 6th Ave. It was a night of poetry, open mics, visual art and music provided by DJ Double A.

The event was organized by Terri Bailey, a 56-year-old Pleasant Street native. After living in Atlanta for about 10 years, she returned to Gainesville in 1997 and was shocked to see the gentrification of Gainesville’s historically Black neighborhoods. 

Bailey felt inspired to begin the Bailey Learn and Arts Collective nonprofit. The collective is based on a boots-on-the-ground community organizing and collaboration, she said. 

Her activism was also inspired by the women around her. 

Bailey’s “auntie,” Rosa B. Williams, was a lifelong community activist and organizer. Her godmother, Bylle Avery, was also a community activist and organizer. In 1984 Avery founded the National Black Women’s Health Imperative, a program that focuses on the reproductive rights and health of Black women, and is considered the mother of the modern Black womens’ health and wellness movement.  

“Those influences made me not be somebody who rests on her laurels,” Bailey said. “I will get up and try to make things happen whenever I can.” 

Bailey recognizes the need to celebrate and uplift Black art in Gainesville, she said. 

“It's important that we have more focus on African American and artists of African descent,” she said. “Especially during this time when our Black aesthetics and African American history and ideology are being challenged at the core level of our government.”

In order to celebrate Black love and art, Bailey invited several poets to read poetry at the event, including E. Stanley Richardson, Gainesville’s first Poet Laureate. 

Another poet invited to speak was Tesnie Louissaint, a 19-year-old UF health science sophomore.

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The Haitian-American spoken word poet has been performing poetry for five years. She interned for Bailey last year and was honored to be invited to perform at the event. 

To Louissaint, poets must be mindful of how they communicate with others because their words have power, she said.

“Over time, I've learned that poetry, or just words in general, are not just written onto paper, but they're written into hearts and spoken into souls,” Louissaint said. 

She recognizes that a big part of Black love is self-love. Some of the low self esteem or lack of self-love Black people experience can come from racism faced in our society today, she said. 

While she doesn’t claim to know exactly what love is, Louissaint said she has been in situations where she has felt Black love and self-love within it. 

Another poet, 21-year-old UF psychology senior Rayaan Ali, was also invited to perform. 

This was Ali’s first time performing at the event in person, as the last one was over Zoom, which was exciting, she said. Ali was the first to perform Friday evening.

“There's a lot of barriers to call yourself a poet,” she said. “But as I've gotten more involved with the poetry community in Gainesville, within UF and beyond, that's certainly not the case. Poetry can be used as a really powerful tool for mutual understanding.”

While the art is sophisticated, Ali said, it also brings together all members of the community —  regardless of their formal experiences as a poet. 

“This is art, and it is respectable, it's entertaining, it's all of these things,” she said. “I think it can also be very empowering for creating those nuances of what is Black love? What is art? What is Black art? What is Black poetry?”

As the Gainesville community explores these questions, there’s no one right answer. Sharing poetry, visual art, music, laughter and stories allows everyone to further understand themselves, each other and their relationship to Black love and culture. 

Contact Lauren at Follow her on Twitter @LaurenWhid.

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Lauren Whiddon

Lauren Whiddon is a UF journalism senior and the multimedia editor. When she's not writing she is updating her Letterboxd account or reading classic literature.

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