Syd Stewart is a poet, actor, and the founder of Better Youth, a Los Angeles-based organization that uses the arts to inspire young people. She lives in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Stewart performed in the feature-length movie, "Everyday People."
From Desert Companion: Toil the Soil, A poem by Syd Stewart
Have you, over the years, faced skepticism about your choice of profession?
Oh, absolutely. My father’s side of the family are all educators and so they don’t really validate experiential learning. (laughs)
At the same time you’ve got to be smart and literate to be a poet.
You have to be.
It’s a natural outgrowth of education, right?
Yes, but people put a lot of weight on degrees and credentials and certificates. And I have a degree in microbiology. I just chose a PhD from the university of the streets.
But what made you a poet?
I think I was born a poet. I had discover my inner poet. I was always attracted to words and language and how they looked on a page. And my dad always told me to cultivate a talent. I just didn’t know I had a talent. And discovering that – but you know, with pressure from your family. You’re trying to make money, make a living, not to be homeless. And we sometimes suppress that inner voice that’s always there. So, I’d always write poems, send them to my friends, or lyrics – I was always memorizing lyrics. And then sadly, my dad passed away from cancer and I think it was so devastating that for me the only thing that kept me alive was writing. So, I left Ohio and I moved to Atlanta, and pretty much stayed in my room for a whole year just writing. And then, when I was strong enough I moved to New York, landed on the planet and found my tribe.
So it sounds like writing was a process of grief, loss, change.
Absolutely. It was cathartic. Absolutely. It was my lifeline.
Your concern for people certainly comes across in your work – both in your work with “Better Youth” and also your poetry. And you wrote that “dreams slumber in urban classrooms.” What kind of dreams do you want to draw out, to awaken?
I want them to know that they can become president. They can dream as far as they want to. And that regardless of whether you come from Watts or Compton or Cabrini-Green or the Southside of Chicago, that you have a God-given purpose that nobody can dampen. That you have a right to believe and to dream and to be anything you want to be.
Do you think that’s an easier task than it might have been eight or nine years ago?
Even with an African American president?
Absolutely. I think there’s backlash. I don’t know why racism exists. It’s ridiculous that it’s because of the color of someone’s skin. I mean that’s like retro. Like 8-Tracks. Like CDs. That’s like a retro mentality. And I think it’s like – oh, we got one. So we can’t have another – or a woman or an Asian person – or someone from just any background. There’s a stereotypical look or feel to what power is. And I think that’s another dynamic, you know. But I think self-awareness is just realizing that you’re on the planet like everyone else and you have a right to reach for the sky.
Syd Stewart, poet, actor, and the founder of "Better Youth," a Los Angeles-based organization that uses the arts to inspire young people
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