Upham's Corner Online

Focus on Women - Latorial Faison, African-American Poet

Raised by Grandparents
Everyone has a Purpose   
Honoring our Differences

The Journey Forward
Inspiration from Within
What God has Entrusted

Reflection and Celebration     About Latorial Faison
Poems Featured in UC News  

Latorial Faison
"To inspire," she said, "to encourage and uplift others with words - that is why I write. I have something to say, something I need to say. " Latorial Faison, African-American poet and author, loves to teach, to reveal, to open minds to profound and provocative thoughts that trigger inspiration.

Uphams Corner News is featuring poet, teacher, wife and mother, Latorial Faison, as part of Women's History Month. While she is not from Uphams Corner, she touched our lives because of Robby Thomas' poem "Remember" and blessed us with six of her own poems. Latorial's story is as inspiring as are her writings.

"I have so much inside of me, so many testimonies, so many experiences . . . my entire life is a testament of hope. Sometimes people just need to know that someone else has beat the same odds that they face, and if I can share what I've been through, what I've overcome, I believe that it will encourage people, show people that they can too."

"You can count on me to speak out and to speak up for those who have been denied, deprived, or underprivileged."

"Writing . . . well, it is who I am."

Raised by her Grandparents

Far from her upbringing in rural Virginia, she now lives in South Korea with her husband and three sons.  But long ago, when she was in her early formative years, she was raised by grandparents who were extraordinarily special to her.

They had lived the harsh realities of post slavery, the Great Depression, and the Jim Crow era. And how does Latorial know about those times? Not directly but but by the characters of her grandparents, a character that formed during the tragic and maligning history of the early 1900's in America.  Black and white were distinctly separate, limits were imposed on the black children growing up and all of this left scars.

"My grandparents were awesome, hardworking individuals, and I carry them in every fiber of my being. They were significant in my teaching, my upbringing, my whole life. They understood that what would make all of the difference for their own children was education. They understood that education was the game changer for Blacks in America - not for themselves but for their children. Education would provide the opportunities to enable us (me) to rise above the history they and their ancestors had known."

Latorial grew up believing in education because of the faith her grandparents instilled in her. "Because of them, I am here today."

Everyone has a Purpose

"I believe that everyone has a purpose, and I'd like to see people, especially young people, realize this and know who they are in the world."

Latorial admits that she is not always sure of her purpose. Yes, of course, she is a wife and mother and an educator. But crossing paths with others brings out a desire in her to make a difference. "I hope that I have, in some way, changed the lives and perceptions of the people in my life, those whose paths cross with mine."

She is keenly aware of needing to be herself, authentically. "I do march to the beat of a different drum. I am an individualist, sometimes a loner, and I'm a cheerleader for the art of evolving into one's true self, finding one's own identity in a world where people seem to lose themselves daily in the shadows and dreams of others. I've always wanted to be me."

Latorial expresses concern about distractive elements in the world of young people that lead them astray - peer pressure and role models who are not good models. What you are surrounded by, she says, naturally becomes what you want as well. Which brings her back to what she feels is so important for everyone: Being yourself. She takes the time to teach her philosophy to others and she shares her world, she says "in an uplifting, inspiring, testifying sort of way."

Yet, the who you are is not uni-dimensional or necessarily easily described. It is complex and formed by all of your experiences. "Whether it be my walk of faith, my personal plight, my road to educational or professional success, I believe that all of it . . . together culminates in my purpose here on earth."

Honoring the Differences Among Us

Latorial Faison - Publications"I am a person of faith, not so much of religion, but of faith. I was raised in a Baptist church, but today I am simply a Christian, no denominational tie at all. I believe in God, and I know the power and presence that faith has been in my life. I have lived a great portion of my life around faith in a Higher power, and it has been what has sustained me in dark places and tough times. It is what keeps me from day to day."

At the same time, she says, "I am a realist." And she is concerned about America. The importance of "difference" and "differences" seems to have gotten lost in "our plight toward freedom in America. We have lost our way." Going beyond the boundaries of America, Latorial sees "the world as a place of differences" but sees America as not yet having "learned how to deal with, respect and honor the differences of others."

She sees the backdrop of "difference" as the emotion of "fear." People are "afraid of differences in America." Worse still, when the differences stand out, they are often ostracized, maligned, and ignored, and debased.

America, she feels, is being driven by the power of the dollar. "This is sad. In our effort to become a melting pot, we have ignored the idea of a universal and common law that would bind us all. This country was founded on basic principles and laws that sometimes seem to make progress and necessary change inevitable." We debate marriage and gun control "while poverty continues untreated "since the establishment of the nation." And why are we so "quick to solve new problems without having solved the old ones?"

The Journey Forward

"We still have a lot of work to do as African-Americans. We still have much work to do around race relations as a nation. I have friends of all faiths and of many racial backgrounds and ethnicities, and I've never compromised who I am or what I believe to maintain friendships or relationships, personally or professionally."

Regarding the importance of Black History, she believes that "many Black people do not know about the inventions and contributions of Black people here in the United States." Even Black people are not teaching these lessons and stories, Black heritage, at home. Then if it is also not stressed at school, she notes, "children Black or not, often fail to grow up with an appreciation for a people whose very livelihood was sacrificed for the foundation and existence of the great country they now enjoy."

An insidious vacuum of knowledge causes the youth to fill their minds with only what they see today, including the stereotypes, so that "one can be truly and totally mis-educated on the Negro in America."

Each person, she says, is responsible for doing their own part.  Latorial chooses to write to educate and inspire young people at the same time. She sees her poetry as enlightening the students with rhyme, and teaching them about the importance of African-Americans in American history.

In her last three books, for example, which focus on celebrating Black history, she penned poems for young readers which highlight and detail the lives of great achievers like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Phyllis Wheatley, Dr. Charles Drew, Rosa Parks, Dr. King, Benjamin Banneker, Ruby Bridges, and more.

"I write," she says, "to bring awareness to young minds, to create a spark, to let Black children know that they have a history of brilliant people, strong people, resilient people, that this country could not have been built without them."

The ability for Black children in America to take pride in their history and who they are makes a difference in who they will become, what they can and will offer the world.

But the other side of the coin is true as well. "When non-Black children realize the efforts of African-Americans, the struggles they faced, the harsh realities of their beginnings, then they, too, can have a better understanding of their peers, their history, and their current social realities."

Inspiration from Within

What Latorial does as a writer and an educator is never about herself, she says. "I have always been an innate inspirer" Tough love but love, nevertheless. "Life is hard. It's not getting any easier, and I want to wake people up, to shake them up."

Her words seem harsh yet worth listening to, coming from an accomplished educator, thinker and spiritualist, and someone who is intent on demonstrating the possibilities in life. "There are too many adults walking around with the mentalities of children. There is a great amount of work to be done within the Black community."

Latorial's description of the Black community - its current state - is truly alarming, and, yet, where has she gone wrong in her depiction?

"We are in the midst of a serious time in America. Black people are the minority here, yet we make up the majority of those incarcerated, the majority of those being victimized and killed in the streets of Chicago. The majority of our race lives in poverty.  They are homeless, jobless, and victims of drug abuse and misuse, rape and incest. We are dying of AIDS, cancer, and diabetes at alarming rates. It's not a case of 'we have not because we ask not.' It's a combination of things, and there's no one answer or solution to this problem. It's become a multifaceted problem that I'm not so sure anybody knows how to begin to fix. "

What God has Entrusted to Me

At times, she says, taking care of, and keeping her own family together has been a struggle. But being "a light for others" is important to her.

Youth in the Black community are at a serious disadvantage - teenage pregnancies and the dissolution of family structure including living under the cloud of a deceased or incarcerated parent.  Latorial sees her purpose as providing hope. She, herself, was not immune to such circumstances. Born to a teenage mother, she often felt the abandonment of a father but had grandparents who took over the parenting role (also common today).

"So I know all about being Black and being poor, being born behind, growing up without the traditional family, having to defeat the odds in order to make it socially, educationally, and professionally. I know about having to compete with my White counterparts in school, in college, and on professional levels. I have lived it, and everyday I live to tell the story."

Such experiences, the depth of the emotion carved into her being, this is what pervades "every poem and every piece of prose I write. That's my purpose, to let others know that I did it and they can to."

Poetry as therapy? Why not! Why not the start there and evolve to "something so much more powerful. Today I write in order to free others as well as myself, and my hope is that readers will find my writing honest, inspiring, prolific, and ultimately empowering."

Black History Merits Reflection and Celebration

Latorial concluded her thoughts with words reflecting her pride in who she is and the Black people she is a part of.

African-Americans have a tragic, yet rich history in America. It's a profound history, and it merits reflection and celebration. We need to know this history and refuse to repeat it. We need to acknowledge the accomplishments of those who were instrumental in this road toward freedom and equality that we now enjoy. Slavery was a bad time for America. It was a debasement of an entire race.

We have and enjoy the melting pot today, but many don't have a clue what went into its creation, how it was made, why it was made, etc. This is why we must continue to talk about it, write about, and celebrate the struggle of a resilient people. We must celebrate the bravery of people who didn't mind dying so that future generations could be free. It's a message that we need to take with us forward because we are in a similar position today. We have to make some very important decisions today that will affect future generations to come. It's a serious time, and we need to take a look at history in order to move positively forward.

About Latorial Faison

Latorial Faison is a graduate of both the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech where she studied English Lit. She has been published in RiverSedge, Southern Women's Review, ChickenBones, Red River Review, Underwired Magazine, and elsewhere.

Ms. Faison is the recipient of the Department of the Army's Commander's Award for Public Service as a result of her dedication and volunteerism to the 502nd Personnel Services Battalion of the 4th Infantry Division during its first deployment to war in Iraq.

Currently, she lives in South Korea with her husband and three sons where she recently joined the faculty of Sejong University as an Assistant English Professor.

Website: http://www.latorialfaison.com

View all of her books:  http://latorial.faithweb.com/orderbooks.html

Poems by Latorial Faison featured in Uphams Corner News:

  "I Need to Know"
by Latorial Faison (2008)

I need to know My original name. I need to know without any shame.
I need to know About African slave castles; I need to know About White slave masters

I need to know About the slave trade. I need to know How America was made.

I need to know About the Middle Passage. I need to know About lynching and lashes.  (more)

"What is Black History?"
by Latorial Faison (2012):

What is Black History?

It is the dirt road our forefathers trod, Memories of their lives branded in our hearts.

It is a word, a place, a state of mind. Black history is a peek into our ancestors' time. . .  

It is a plantation overseer and back door crumbs, Weeping and wailing, a beating of drums.

It is a troubling truth, an unapologetic past. Black history is an entire race struggling to last.

  " I AM "
- by Latorial Faison

I am somebody on my way somewhere, I am she who interrogates those who stare,

I am too much for this wayward world to digest, With pen and paper, I paint pictures with frankness.

I am the pages, I am the pens. What whiteness begins, my blackness ends.

I am the journey, the memory of yesterdays . . .

"The Sounds of Blackness"
by Latorial Faison (2006)

In my heart there lies no defeat
But in my bosom a triumphant and rhythmic beat
And while my spirit dances with gladness
I am quick to recall the sounds of blackness.

I hear the moaning and the wailing
Of native Africans held captive on ships sailing
As though it were my youth of yesterday
Whispering truths to ears in dark dismay.

"Freedom without Revelation"
by Latorial Faison

From the slave ship To the guilt trip. We forget our heritage Forsaking kinship. 

As blood runs And the earth turns, There are many lessons To be learned.  What makes us? What breaks us? Who's the keeper of souls? Who will forsake us?

History is potent with many lies . . . In the land of lost generations There is no peace or salvation America finally found its freedom But somehow lost its revelation.

"What is Poetry?"
by Latorial Faison

When you ask me "What is poetry?"
Take a good look - it's my destiny. 

Poetry is my God given seed daily reviving in me a new deed. It's the Word growing from within the mirror reflecting my soul's sin. 

Poetry is my prayer of consecration, my lit path in valleys of desolation, it's my moving, my grooving, my balm

poetry lines my soul, God gave it to make me whole. He sent it to set me free  God made poetry my eternity

Posted: March 24, 2013     Nancy J Conrad

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