Students and faculty flooded to the dimly lit Wright Theater on the fifth floor of the student center for another MFA reading. This series has given promising authors who can relate to students of color and students who have experienced hardship. The room crowded with eager participants, awaiting the arrival of a University of Baltimore graduate. The graduate also known as poet and writer but better known as D. Watkins.
D. Watkins had honest beginnings in East Baltimore where he witnessed many tragedies and was shaped by the injustices of life. Aside from University of Baltimore, Watkins received a master’s degree in education from Johns Hopkins University. Currently he is a professor at Goucher University. Those who crowded into the Wright Theater were waiting to hear from about his book, The Beast Side, and listen as he lamented on life in the concrete jungle known as East Baltimore.
His presence emerged. He is charming young man who still holds his recognizable Baltimore accent. Watkins begins the evening with background about himself. One of his opening statements was, “I’ve been shot, I’ve been stabbed, I’ve been beaten down. I’ve beat people down. Statistically, I’m not supposed to be here. I’m blessed.” He followed up with an anecdote on his time at UB in Kendra Kopelke’s graduate course. “She had two rules,” he said, “no centering poems and no rhyming.” Watkins remembers this was the first time he had ever been laughed at by a group of his peers because of a love poem he had written.
Moving along with the evening, he begins to read from his book. The Beast Side: Living and Dying while Black in America is a collection of essays and stories from Watkins’ real life. The topics range from Food, “Black on Black crime,” police brutality to street harassment. The books, he said, “things I wanted to learn from [ages] 5-25 that no one ever told me. Watkins creates stories that are bigger than himself, traveling throughout the nation, creating a voice for African-Americans in Baltimore and in America. This book, as he describes, is not only for people from “rough” neighborhoods who are misrepresented or underrepresented but also for a person from a rich suburb with health food markets around the corner who doesn’t understand life in East or West Baltimore.
This book represents the people who live in urban communities who often misjudged and ignored by media until something involving “Black on Black” crime or robbery happens. Watkins read through the introduction of his book, giving the audience this to think about, “African-Americans are about as safe as a chunk of steak in a den full of starving lions.” Furthermore, Watkins encouraged the audience to do more than protest, although he is certainly not against protesting. He put things into perspective by telling a story of a phone call he received. A friend called him, telling him to wear all black. They would meet on North Avenue to lay down in traffic. Watkins said no, telling his friend to imagine the person who works at Walmart who tells their boss, “I can’t make it to work because of a traffic jam or the street is blocked off.” Watkins delivered one line: Dan- generic manager name- just cancelled their Christmas. Furthermore, he added that any person who didn’t care for the cause could easily run their car over one of the protestors in the street and get away with it. He decided against it.
Watkins presence is what college campuses need at this time because his work is raw and gritty. He is not afraid to be real and say what needs to be said about race relations in America. Aside from telling the stories of the ignored, he wrote this book because as a teacher, his goal is to promote literacy and make a big difference in the lives of children. Children from East Baltimore just like him. Often he asks his students what they are currently reading, outside of school and they say nothing. He wants to change this. Watkins wants people to ask themselves, “what can we do to make a difference?” “How help the community?” After he read passages from his book, there were questions from the audience members. He was asked about the debate between black lives matter and all lives matter to which he responded: “Black lives matter is a key movement in the modern civil rights movement. All lives matter people wanted attention and to be seen. Black lives matter is pushing the Black experience forward in American. I honor and support them. When the police killed a white kid the all live matter people didn’t show up.” The evening was filled with enlightenment and words of wisdom. Although Watkins said the America he wants to see won’t exist in his life time, he will continue to push for a better future.