How One Chicago Spoken Word Artist Turned Tragedy Into A Movement For Change

“I want to be known as a trailblazer for change.”

Gang violence. Increased danger. Murder.

These are just a few of the dark words that are currently so closely associated with Chicago. To say it's not true is a lie. If you're not living it, you're hearing stories or seeing it on the news — there's no way to block it out. Stories of innocent children killed in the line of gang fire, intended murder, and fatality numbers going up each weekend. This is the harsh reality.

This, partnered with the racism and inequality that seems to be increasing across America, is reflecting hard on the diversity of Chicagoans. With a new administration creating — or seizing upon — a divide in our country, it's up to the bold and fearless to use their voices and talents to help unite us, resist the negativity, and prove that all normality hasn't been lost.

What many people don't see or hear about is the strength of people in the city who aren't giving up, who are taking the initiative to help educate and save Chicago. Henri Matisse once said, "Creativity takes courage." This four-part series will highlight just that — unique individuals and organizations who are bravely using art to inspire and to resist.

*****

Settled in the midst of a chaotic part of Chicago lies one of the city's most beautiful destinations, the Garfield Park Conservatory. When Dianna Tyler — better known as Goddess Warrior — agreed to meet me and discuss her resistance art of spoken word poetry, it seemed like the perfect place to hear her story. Her vibrancy shined in the tranquility of the conservatory as she explained to me the reasons she got involved in spoken word. Dianna speaks to resist violence not only in the Chicago communities but violence in the home. She humbly recalls the tragedy that led her to the path of inspiring others with her voice. How she stood in the pathway, just like many, of gunshots. However, this was in a room where the intended bullet was meant for her mom ... from her father.



"I got involved doing Spoken Word after I lost my parents back in '09. I did a poem at my father's funeral," she explains. When Dianna opens up about how she lost her parents, you can see that her fire is sparked from the strength she needed to get through that, and how she's hoping to help youth and others find their own personal fire.

"I speak against domestic violence nearly every chance I get by telling my story, [my] testimony. Back in August of 2009, I lost my mother to domestic violence. My father took his own life after taking hers. So I am very passionate and transparent about that."

In her younger years, Dianna struggled with the gang life in Chicago. Stemming from that, she is now passionate about helping youth realize their potential outside the gangs they are all too familiar with. Starting out as a mentor with poet HoodRaised, Dianna quickly flourished and found herself impacting people with her spoken word. Her voice is powerful, her work is inspiring, and her spirit is captivating.

"I want to be known as a trailblazer for change," she says.

In her signature and most-requested piece, "Chiraq," Dianna's words are powerful, true, and reflective of what's going on in Chicago. The lines "It's a jungle in the streets and zoos inside the cribs," are shockingly true and resonate with people in Chicago who want to break out, to end the stigma, and to do the right thing. In 2016 alone, more than 4,300 people were shot in Chicago and more than 750 people were murdered, making 2016 the deadliest year in Chicago since 1997.

Chicago has pride, but we don't have peace.

"'Chiraq' the poem is a full-fledged, raw expression piece about what I saw taking place in my community and what the rest of the world had begun to see in my community," she says "'Chiraq' was inspired by personal losses I have had due to the drug and gang violence in my city. I have lost many friends and some loved ones, so it was past due to express my views on it. The emotions I feel are often indescribable."

She adds, "Sometimes it's captivating even for me because I could be performing and have a memory of someone I lost or the losses others have suffered, and it fuels me to keep spitting that fire like a dragon. It was important to write because the entire world has their 'views' on 'Chiraq.'

"I wish I could have spit my piece for Spike Lee," she says, who directed the 2015 film, Chi-Raq. "It was important for someone who lives here, had losses here, and someone with a drive to make change here to voice their opinion about it. If I had his kind of money, I would do a project of my own."

Photo Credit: Carolyn Reynolds Photography
Photo Credit: Carolyn Reynolds Photography

Dianna says that "writing 'Chiraq' the poem and a few other poems were rather tear-jerking during the creative process. Because the best poetry is the realest poetry and 'Chiraq' is real to the people."

The reality is that the hard stuff needs to be spoken about and through her spoken word, these issues become a form of art and entertainment that works and resonates. It's why Dianna is constantly speaking to the youth and spreading her art to help raise awareness and create a shift of change in Chicago.

"When I step into a room of students open my mouth and start spitting, it instantly gets their attention. Once I have their attention, I begin to give knowledge, information, and resources, and I say 9 out of 10 times, at least one or two, maybe three of those young lives, were affected by something I said through spoken word. Many of them may even begin their own journeys of writing poetry and releasing some of their own truths, hurts, pains, and gains. Words have power. Spoken word is impactful."

Follow Goddess Warrior in her fight to change Chicago for the better.

With April being National Poetry Month as well as Sexual Abuse Awareness Month, Goddess Warrior will take part in two very important events:

  • Sexual Abuse Speak Out's 6th Annual Poetry SLAM4SAAM at the Chicago Children's Advocacy Center on April 22 at 5 p.m. Get more details here.
  • Silence No More Seminar (Stand Up & Speak Out) at the BopBiz Center on April 30 from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Get more details here.

You can also stay connected to Goddess Warrior online, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

*****

This is part 1 of a four-part series — check out other articles in the links below:

Part 2: Mixed-media artist-activist Monica Trinidad

Part 3: Visual artist and fashion designer Mashaun Ali

Part 4: Functional ceramics artist Susan Messer-McBride



More From A Plus

GET SOME POSITIVITY IN YOUR INBOX

Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.