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Meet Malcolm London

For those of you not in-the-know, Malcolm London, the activist poet who got arrested at Friday's protest - and then released - is a pretty remarkable talent.

The CBS Evening News once called London, just 22 now, a new Carl Sandburg; Cornel West compared him to Gil Scott-Heron.

The Tribune in particular has been right on track chronicling London over the years; Rick Kogan in particular has been a champion of London's.

Let's take a look at London's press (as always, please click through for the full stories) and some of his most notable performances, including his very own TED talks.

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In May 2012, Kogan introduced readers to the phenom:

It has been four months since Matt Damon came to school, and though the buzz is gone the bell still rings. Thirty sophomores file into Room 324 at TEAM Englewood Community Academy in the heart of one of the city's most beleaguered neighborhoods. Many of these children know people who have been robbed or wounded by gunfire. A few have had a family member who was murdered.

"Their lives are tough, but they are amazingly resilient," says their teacher, Missy Hughes. "What is frustrating for all of us is that we know what people think when they hear 'Englewood,' and that is gang violence and poverty. There is a judgment placed on them and their community."

At 11:20 a.m. the kids settle into desks for sixth period, which will last until the next bell rings at 11:59. In that 39 minutes they will hear prize-winning poet Malcolm London, only a few years older than they are, read the words of slain Chicago activist Fred Hampton, from a speech he gave shortly before he was killed in a police/FBI raid in 1969, months after his 21st birthday.

Among those words are these: "We got to face some facts. The masses are poor. The masses belong to what you call the lower class, and when I talk about the masses, I'm talking about the white masses, I'm talking about the black masses, and the brown masses, and the yellow masses, too.

The children listen, rapt, and then are told by Hughes to write responses to what they've just heard, guided in the exercise by London and by Kevin Coval, a slightly older poet/teacher of great note and the head of Young Chicago Authors, a literacy organization working in the schools.

This is all part of a bold experiment that began in September and was highlighted by a visit to the school by Damon, who came to observe, perhaps inspire and raise some money. He was only here for one day, but the project has continued in quiet fashion, culminating Thursday night at an event billed as "Englewood Speaks."

Kogan came back to London just give months later, in October 2012, with a full-blown profile:

Malcolm London is young, black and talented, and that is a guarantee of nothing these days. But he says, "I do not do what I do for money. I come from a place with no money and don't expect I will ever have a lot of it. But I think that being a teacher and poet can be a viable career."

We shall see. London is only 19, one year removed from Lincoln Park High School and not yet enrolled in college. He plans to go, because "society places great value on that diploma, and I am a great believer that learning can be a beautiful experience."

He is a child of and still lives in the Austin neighborhood, a harsh section of the city.

"Every day I walk home from the bus stop and I see defiled vacant lots, buildings boarded up and decaying," he says. "And I see men and women who are decaying too."

But he is able to see beyond the damage.

"There are a lot of kids like me in places like this, places kind of pushed into the shadows by the people who run this city," he says. "We have stories to tell, stories not told in the news and media. I am getting the chance to tell mine, and others can too."

Poetry has been his salvation.

In May 2013, the Trib's Dawn Turner Trice wrote about London's TED talk:

On Tuesday night, if you tune into PBS' one-hour special "TED Talks Education," you'll see host John Legend and an array of prominent speakers, including Bill Gates, giving impassioned talks about ways to reinvent education.

You'll also see Chicago's Malcolm Xavier London performing a spoken word poem about the racial and class tensions he experienced as a double honors student growing up in the tough Austin neighborhood while attending the more well-to-do Lincoln Park High School.

In many ways, London, who just turned 20, is a terrific fit for TED - which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. The nonprofit organization bills itself as being devoted to ideas worth spreading and often features people who have taken unorthodox paths giving talks about what they've learned.

A gifted writer and performer, London won first place in the Louder Than A Bomb youth poetry festival in 2011. He has participated in dramatic readings alongside stars such as actor Matt Damon. London is bright and has been called the Gil Scott-Heron ("The Revolution Will Not Be Televised") of his generation.

London was also mentioned in a story out of Naperville, and columns here by Barbara Brotman and here by Melissa Harris.

(The latter was about a new WTTW show, My Chicago: "Among those scheduled to appear on the show are Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; poet Malcolm London; Ald. Ameya Pawar of the 47th Ward; architect Juan Moreno; Elena Delle Donne of the WNBA's Chicago Sky; musician Jon Langford; author John Green, who lives in Indianapolis but previously lived in Chicago; Tribune columnist Mary Schmich; Museum of Contemporary Art curator Naomi Beckwith; and TV anchor and Chicago Tonight host Phil Ponce.")

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London was then quoted in an August 2014 Trib article about Ferguson:

Malcolm London, an event organizer, compared police brutality today with lynchings and violence that occurred during the civil rights movement decades ago.

"I don't care what color you are: green, red, purple, brown, you don't deserve to get your life taken by the state, ever, by nobody," said London, 21. "These dangerous . . . stereotypes that persist in this country is the reason why black young people are killed by police."

Next was a story last April about "Chance the Rapper's Grand Plan To Unite 'Young Creatives:'"

The 21-year-old MC, with poet Malcolm London at his side, was carrying on a tradition that had become like a second family to him. It was here on these impromptu stages at the Harold Washington Library's YouMedia Center, Columbia College Chicago and elsewhere, under the tutelage of such community builders as the late "Brother Mike" Hawkins and Kevin Coval, that he found his voice and attended workshops that helped him record his music - music that is now transforming contemporary hip-hop.

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You know where else you can hear London? Dunbar Park.

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Now, to the video . . .

TED Talk: High School Training Ground (2013)

"Young poet, educator and activist Malcom London performs his stirring poem about life on the front lines of high school. He tells of the 'oceans of adolescence' who come to school 'but never learn to swim,' of 'masculinity mimicked by men who grew up with no fathers.' Beautiful, lyrical, chilling."

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TEDx Windy City: a Change Gon Come (2013)

"Malcolm London, called the Gil-Scott Heron of his generation by Cornel West, is a young Chicago poet, performer, activist and educator."

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On Verses and Flow (2013)

"Malcolm London, called the Gil-Scott Heron of this generation by Cornel West, is a young Chicago poet, performer, activist and educator. Malcolm has recently shared stages with actor Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt and artist Lupe Fiasco as a part of the The People Speak, Live! cast. Here Malcolm appears on Episode 7 w/ Carl Thomas of Season 2 of TVOne's Verses and Flow. His poem is about a friend of his who was murdered in Chicago."

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On The CBS Evening News (2014)

"Malcolm London lives in Chicago's Austin neighborhood, a part of the city that doesn't usually inspire verse. The 20-year-old started writing poems in 2009 to give his community a voice. He now takes his message to public school classrooms and can be seen performing for national audiences. Dean Reynolds reports."

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Malcolm London - "Why You Talk Like That?" - GCHS Writers Week (2014)

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On The School-To-Prison Pipeline (2015)

"Malcolm London and Project NIA organized a march from a closed school to the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, as part of the National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth."

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See also: The [Thanksgiving 2015] Papers: Malcolm London Explains It All.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on December 2, 2015


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