Did you catch Joe Freshgoods’ new commercial for his collaboration with New Balance that dropped on Monday? Chicago poet Harold Green III is the focal point of the commercial and he spits effortlessly about the beauty within the homes of Black grandmothers. 

BLACK ROSES and BLACK OAK are two new poetry collections written by Green. The collections are a toast to Black people making moves and shaping Black culture in ways that can inspire and affirm all Black people.

The first of the two poetry collections, BLACK ROSES, was released in March and Black women are at the forefront of the book. Its companion piece, BLACK OAK, spotlights Black men and will be released on May 31. 

BLACK ROSES and BLACK OAK started as video projects, Green said. In 2020, he wrote poems honoring Black women and men he admired and respected, then recited the poems on video and uploaded them to Instagram. The posts garnered thousands of views on his account.

“[The videos] started catching fire, and it was doing well. So I knew from the onset that I wanted to have a male counterpart to it, to uplift and affirm my brothers, who I look up to, and I’m very fond of. So both of them started as video projects,” Green told The TRiiBE on April 22. 

The women and men featured in the collections cover a range of career paths and industries, including civil rights, media, film and tv, art, politics, culture, music, sports and more. There are even Black Chicago women and men included in the collections, like singer Jennifer Hudson, author and poet Eve L. Ewing, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, Chance the Rapper, former NBA star Dwyane Wade, installation artist and professor Theaster Gates, and Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III of Trinity United Church of Christ.

After gaining traction online, Green said the poems paying tribute to Black women and men became the pitch for his first commercial book deal. His self-published first collection of poetry, From Englewood With Love, was released in 2014 and earned the Carl Sandburg Literary Award from the Chicago Public Library Foundation. 

“I can walk into just about any bookstore in the country and see my book on the shelves, and that’s exciting to know that it is distributed in that way and being recognized. It’s just a heartwarming experience, and it’s a dream come true,” Green said. 

Green’s journey to poetry began as a child, writing raps and poems for family members. He began taking poetry seriously in high school. He knew he had a knack for creative writing, but watching HBO’s spoken word poetry television series “Def Poetry Jam, ” hosted by rapper, singer and songwriter Mos Def, inspired him further.

 

Chicago poet Harold Green III. Photo by Adrian Octavius Walker.

“This was the first time I felt like people who did poetry sounded and looked like me. Prior to that, all I knew was what was introduced through our literary canons and tools and whatnot. And it was dead white men, for the most part,” Green recalled. “So, I wasn’t really that intrigued, but HBO Def Poetry Jam opened my eyes and ears. That’s when I started writing poetry.”

Def Poetry Jam aired on HBO between 2002 and 2007. The show provided a stage for legendary voices in the poetry world like Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Bakara. It also provided a platform for emerging voices. Chicago poets and musicians appeared on the show, including, Kanye West,  poet and songwriter J. Ivy, Oscar- and Grammy Award-winning artist and rapper Common and poet and performer Mayda Del Valle.  

In addition to being a published author, Green is also the founder of the “Flowers for the Living,” an artist collective that incorporates live spoken word poetry and music performances by Chicago poets, singers and musicians. 

The TRiiBE spoke with Green ahead of the release of BLACK OAK to learn more about each collection, how the city and its poetry community nurtured his career, and why it was essential to produce two separate collections of poetry that center on Black women and Black men. 

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity).

What was the inspiration behind this project? 

Harold Green: I want to create emotional equity for Black women. For centuries, Black women have had to deal with being stripped of their accomplishments. And then look up and watch other people capitalize and flourish off of what others tried to act like was negative. So there has to be just as much intentionality in showing how amazing Black women are, and I don’t even mean that in jest because if you read the book, none of these poems are based on vanity. I’m talking about the existence of Black women and their accomplishments and the space in which they take up.

And as for BLACK OAK, the conversation I’m trying to create is moving us past our cryptic language. As Black men, we have this code of the head nod and the handshake, the cool little terms “I’m trying to get like you.” I want to be intentional with the language. There are a lot of amazing Black men out here doing amazing work. We need to look each other in the eye and say, “Hey man, you are amazing. I love you. Please keep it up.”’ Because there’s something powerful about that. That shifts how we deal with one another and how those coming up behind us learn how to communicate. 

I read over a couple of the poems from each collection and noticed that you also highlighted queer Black women and men. Why was it important for you to feature them in these collections?

HG:  They exist! It’s so important that when we’re talking about taking up space and we’re talking about being seen, we open our eyes fully. Queer Black people exist, and they deserve the same respect. They deserve the same love and admiration for existing. 

Black women are one of a kind indeed, but there’s something about Black women from Chicago. What makes Black women from Chicago unique, and tell me more about the women from Chicago that you chose to highlight BLACK ROSES. 

HG: The women I would perform with or be around from Chicago just had a certain level of survival and sustainability that I did not see in everyone.  Even when I would do shows with other Chicago artists, it’s just something about how the female poets would stick out more than others.

I think that Chicago just breeds a different type of person. That’s just what I’ve noticed in my endeavors, and the women on this list, four of them, are from my family, which makes me incredibly proud. They are just a different breed. They’re a different breed of entrepreneurs, CEOs and artists. They are impeccable in their standing, and I think that Chicago has a lot to do with that. 

What message do you hope readers walk away with after coming in contact with BLACK ROSES and BLACK OAK

HG: I want people to see the beauty of Black people. We spend a lot of time, rightfully so, trying to shed light on the wrongs done to us and correcting those wrongs by acknowledging that. But, there is a large void that needs to be filled when we’re talking about the beauty in the existence of Black folk, right here and now, not those who have passed. Like, that’s a very particular thing. 

Black futures and black Afro-futurism are very particular things. But I think that there’s a revolution in the Black present that has to be represented, and I want this to be a part of that stuffing to fill that hole. We have to do more. We deserve more conversation about how wonderful we are, and it’s about us existing right now and flourishing right now when so many things are going on. That’s a big thing that I want people to walk away with.

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.