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March 4, 2013

Traveling Scholar Dr. Javon Johnson thrills ULM audience with high-energy performance

Dr. Javon Johnson, poet and professor from the University of Southern California, stood before a group of University of Louisiana at Monroe students, faculty, and Monroe community members and recited poem after poem, most from memory.

Each new line elicited either stunned silence or exuberant applause from an overwhelmed audience.

The event was hosted at the end of February by the ULM Department of Communication and the Office of Student Affairs as part of the ULM’s “Traveling Scholars” series and in celebration of Black History Month.

From the beginning of the performance, Johnson encouraged interaction and engagement with the audience, insisting, “The more you give me, the more I’ll give you.”

His training as a debater shined through as he sped rapidly through his own words, pumping a range of loud emotions into his speeches and his poetry.

During the question and answer portion of the night, Johnson described how he writes his poetry with his body, speaking the words aloud to feel the lines as they move out of him.

His topics varied from love poems with satirical undertones to incredibly honest and genuine stories regarding the positive and negative turns his life has taken. An alcoholic father, a dying grandmother, and a nephew caught in a system threatening to devour him all appeared before the audience through the medium of Johnson’s poetry.

As each poem took a bleaker tone, Johnson ended with a smile, asking, “Still with me?”

Most poems also referenced and discussed multiple black historical figures and pop culture icons including Zora Neale Hurston and Tiger Woods.

When asked how he thought at-risk youth in impoverished areas might be saved from making fatal choices, Johnson advocated counseling and opportunities for self-expression as part of a larger, many-faceted solution.

In between poems, Johnson regaled his audience with funny stories about relationships ending and intentionally dramatic moments he has created throughout his life for the purpose of his own entertainment – now turned into the entertainment of the audience.

Even when he stumbled momentarily over the poems recited from the depths of his mind, Johnson recovered immediately and continued thrilling the audience with his personality and his delivery.

When asked about his end goal for his poetry, Johnson replied with a happy shrug of shoulders, “This is it. To live life.”

And in response, all that can be said is a quote he attributed to his grandmother: “Leave that boy alone – he’s creative!”

Johnson received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Communication from California State University before earning his Doctor of Philosophy in Communication from Northwestern University.

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