Sierra Leone, president and artistic director of Oral Funk Poetry Productions, will visit The University of Toledo to kick off 1619-2019: The Legacy of Black People in America Series.
“Voices of the People” is the title of the first program in the series.Leone, a writer and leader of an urban poetry movement in Dayton, Ohio, will speak Thursday, Aug. 29, at the event, which will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Thompson Student Union Steps on Centennial Mall. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, the program will be moved inside the Thompson Student Union.
“This series of events over this next year is to commemorate the totality of the horrific and majestic experience of black people in America from 1619 to 2019,” Ben Davis, professor of law and co-chair of the 1619 Committee, said. “We are also planning other events — Health and the People, Art and the People, Slavery and the People, Faith and the People, Law and the People — and a writing contest are in the works to hopefully have a series of learning moments for our University community over the course of the school year.”
“The purpose of this first program is to have members of the community honor and commemorate the lives and experiences of African Americans — living, dead, famous, infamous, from any field of endeavor — through spoken word, quotes, sayings, poems and readings,” said Angela Siner, director of the Africana Studies Program and co-chair of the 1619 Committee.
“We want these programs to inspire and engage through the words and stories that spotlight African Americans’ contributions to U.S. culture during the past 400 years,” Davis said.
Both agree Leone is the perfect person to open the series.
Leone received the 2018 Ohio Governor’s Award in the community development and participation category. The honor was presented by the Ohio Arts Council and Ohio Citizens for the Arts Foundation and recognized the educator and entrepreneur for creating and strengthening interactive arts participation among diverse community members while increasing awareness about the arts.
More than a decade ago, Leone and her husband, Robert Owens Sr., founded Oral Funk Poetry Productions; the creative urban arts initiative has brought together communities across racial, cultural, ideological and economic divides.
She told the Dayton Daily News she was influenced by growing up in a large family with a grandmother who believed life is better when shared: “In community, we can be more creative, more impactful, reach more people in diverse audiences.”
Her project, The Signature: A Poetic Medley Show, presents a fusion of urban poetry, music, dance and visual arts from local, regional and international talent. The quarterly show expanded to include a competition, The Last Poet Standing.
Through Signature Educational Solutions in Dayton, Leone works with schools, youth art organizations and community groups. A big focus is on girls’ and women’s empowerment.
The wordsmith has written and performed commissioned works for many organizations, and she was the featured artist at the 2017 National Breaking Silences Conference, where she shared a poem about her journey with dyslexia.
Leone was known as Lucy Armstrong when she received a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice in 2000 from The University of Toledo. The native of the Glass City is working on a book of poems and short stories.
1619-2019: The Legacy of Black People in America Series is free and sponsored by the College of Law, the College of Arts and Letters, the Africana Studies Program, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.