Remembering Kirk Washington Jr.

At the intersection between activism and poetry, at the intersection between community art and cultural-civic engagement, Kirk used artistic expression to foster social change. He spread his energy of collective organization whenever he blinked and completely related to people who could hardly be more different from himself.

I recall Kirk expressing an interest in a greater variety of mediums and capacities than any of us could keep track of: bookmaking, education, spoken word performances, event building, urban gardening, community development, visual art, poetry, cultural theory, musical expression, etc.

He could take negativity, fear, anger and transform it into beauty, into poetry while building power around reflection. A much needed characteristic in this world.

In particular, Kirk demonstrated to us us all the value of using great talent in poetry, spoken word and artistic expression as a way to create counter-narratives to dominant stories. He had the critical mind to see through anything which enabled him to not only open up dialogue on challenging conversations but change hearts and begin solutions.

 

 
Kirk’s poetic stanzas at Mayor Betsy Hodges 2014 inauguration included

“...and perceive in my dreams...”a unified breath that electrocutes fear and misunderstanding”

...to remain apathetic is assured enslavement so...precisely, what is a dream? “

 Kirk had served as a coordinator for Community Power from the time he was hired until he was chosen for a competitive job position with the Creative City making project in May of 2015. There, he used his talents to advance technological literacy and access. During Kirk’s time with Community Power, he introduced me to a number of people in his network at a Harrison Neighborhood Association art festival, in a way that transformed the North Side into a village. In addition to having connections to so many different worlds among the outer community, Kirk was also a family man who dedicated a whole week to find the best schools for his 2 daughters.

Though our time directly working together may have been brief, Kirk had left a lasting impression & impact on me. Even though I did not meet him until late 2014, I kind of had the feeling like I had known him my whole life. 
Kirk had a distinct mixture of a patient, soft-spoken demeanor and a magnanimous, selfless spirit, combined with a sense of passion at the same time. He had a way of making me and many others feel both special & welcome while at the same time. I felt that the messages he expressed all revolved around a vibe of deep inclusion and bringing people together. Kirk has been referred to as “Bro Sun” in social media post, referring to how he brought light into the world so that everyone could get in touch with their power: basically the opposite of someone who casts shadows.

 Kirk never missed an opportunity to emphasize to me and the rest of my colleagues with Community Power the importance of having person-to-person meetings over a cup of coffee or tea as a way to organize. By listening to their story we build up the relationships which eventually build neighborhood power. That was easy for Kirk to do as he always had something interesting in a manner which straddled the line between sentences and stanzas. Kirk had an elaborate way of describing use food as a way to build community in group settings. When Kirk did in fact meet with me one on one at a coffee place on Nicollet Ave when he first started with Community Power, it seemed like 10 minutes did not go by without someone recognizing Kirk and saying Hi.

 We shall take that all to heart as the legacy of the vision he blessed the world with.

A very rare person, and I am not sure I will meet anyone else just like him.

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