Vanichi presents “Grand Slam”, poetry by Chicago-based spoken word artist Malcolm London.

“Poetry, to me, is a kind of proclamation,” Malcolm London said. “It’s a creative way of reimagining the world.”

At the age of 21, London has been described as the “Gil Scott Heron” of his generation, garnering international acclaim for his spoken word poetry. He works for the organization Young Chicago Authors and acts as an ambassador for the Louder Than a Bomb poetry festival, which has reached 11 cities in the U.S. London’s poetry focuses on issues of race, underprivileged youths, and education, but he isn’t solely a poet—he’s also an activist who transforms his words into action.

“I realized I needed to do more than talk about the things I believed in—I needed to give my poems feet to bring about the change that I sought.”

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Over the last few years, London has focused much of his energy on reforming the education system and improving schools for inner-city students. London travels throughout the U.S. as a speaker and guest teacher, encouraging the practice of alternative teaching methods in the classroom.

“We live in a world that increasingly only values degrees,” London said. “[The traditional] education model measures how well you do on a test, but that doesn’t encourage students to do the necessary work of learning how to become a better citizen and better human being.”

That kind of learning, London argues, only comes from art. He encourages students to pursue self-expression as a means of understanding themselves and improving the world around them—something he had to figure out for himself.

“I graduated from Lincoln Park High School with a 1.9 GPA, but that doesn’t account for the learning that I’ve done; my school taught me about things like the War of 1812, but it didn’t teach me how to change the life I had in Chicago. I didn’t learn that until I discovered poetry.”

London and I spent an afternoon driving around Chicago’s Austin neighborhood where he grew up, stopping at various locations that defined his childhood—his grandmother’s house, his barber shop, the park where he used to play after school. According to London, much of his personal education occurred while driving around these streets. He recalled riding down North Avenue in the back of his father’s Lincoln, listening to cassettes of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X speeches. He also remembered riding the bus to his high school in Lincoln Park, which is when he realized that “Chicago, like most American cities, is segregated” along lines of class and race.

In the following poem, “Grand Slam,” London examines the challenges of growing up on Chicago’s west side and how the fate of many of its youths is decided long before they’re able to choose for themselves. The accompanying photography comes from our afternoon exploring his home neighborhood. – Scott RODD