Similar to our other journalistic endeavors inside in Anchorage, we at Alaska Commons are having a difficult time defining the person known as Free Thought the Black Verb. Artist, poet or social critic? Is he a philosopher, a phenomena or the embodiment of music? Who or what is he?
If you will allow me to make the comparison, he’s not Charles Bukowski, however, he shares Bukowski’s plain talk. His solution to any societal problem is, “If people would just do what they say they are organized to do, there wouldn’t be no problems.”
Those of are the words of Anchorage “poet” Free Thought the Black Verb. The man was born with another name, but the one engraved on his left arm is Free Thought; those words and a microphone. So for the purposes of his public persona, we’re going to use the name Free Thought.
He’s not Tom-Petty-weird, but really close in that Free Thought somehow makes the ordinary…interesting. For example, you may have seen a particular hat every day, yet Free Thought enters the room and the hat sparks one of his memories. The resulting laughter is from more how the memory is retold than the actual content. Only later when Free Thought has left does his memory, triggered by an ordinary hat, become a meaningful lesson for those who heard it.
That’s what you expect artists to do. The Anchorage Spoken Word crowd is very familiar with the body of Free Thought’s work. He’s established his credibility over 10 years of active performance. Combining forces with Kima Hamilton, he’s focused his energies on workshops and Brave New Alaska Voices.
Poets are natural intellectuals. Free likes to think that his perspective is original; like Krishnamurti. He values the introspective “aha” over the regurgitated academic quote. He spends more time attempting the get the young people he works with to find out who they are than getting them to read a book.
That’s not a small task.
Free Thought is driven from a sincere belief that the best therapy is “hearing your own voice.”
“You need to hear yourself and others listen. Most people just need the environment and the space to present themselves. Once you can see, through your art, your present self-concept, you can change it. Into whatever you want to see reflected back. It’s the Michael Jackson song, ‘Man in the Mirror.’ Same concept. But actually doing it, instead of saying it.”
“I’ve never met anyone who willingly wants to do that,” he laughs. “Both conditions and a teacher are necessary to make that work. Otherwise, you have glimpses of who you are all your life.”
Outside of the Anchorage School District much of the demands for Free Thought’s brand of introspection is the mental health/behavior field. He has to resist the field’s tendency to err on the side of formal structure instead of the artistic stream of consciousness. Regardless of the style-restrictions, Free Thought is able to spark the youth’s interest and gets them to express themselves. Which is the whole point.
Because Free Thought’s ideal method is outside of the granting community’s normal range he went searching outside of Alaska for a viable model. Using the internet he found Youth Speaks.
“It’s the complete package; everything from craft development to actual educational enhancement. Their basis is the that the youth can speak for themselves. Once the youth hear their own voice, we can give them some direction for it. Show and tell them when, where and how to use that voice,” he said.
Youth Speak’s Super Bowl is Brave New Voices. “It’s supposed to be where you show off what your organization has been working on all year. You are supposed to bring your flavor to the festival,” he said.
In winter 2009, Free Thought sent Youth Speak an email. (That’s right. An email.) James Kass, Youth Speak’s Founder, returned his email and a relationship formed. Enter Brave New Alaskan Voices in February 2011.
After 12 years of workshops inside of the Anchorage School District, finding the brave voices was is not a problem; managing them is.
“They want to speak. Our biggest problem is trying to convince the children that this is real. We are really going to take them to the festival,” he said. “Our second biggest problem is convincing them that we were sincere when we say we want to hear what they have to say.”
Brave New Alaskan Voices just returned from their second trip to San Francisco. In typical fashion, Free Thought returned further inspired. He can see more possibilities of how the poetic method can serve Alaskan youth.
“All we ask is that you give us a chance,” he said with a smile.