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By Any Means Necessary

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Interview with Sunni Patterson Nyeusi Jami

Sunni Patterson is a poet, playwright, educator, and activist. She began her career as a full-time high school teacher. She has appeared on programs like HBO’s Def Poetry and BET’s Lyric Café. She has also worked with artists such as 2 Chainz, Yaasin Bey (Mos Def), Sonia Sanchez, and The Last Poets. Sunni is an embodiment of her native New Orleans. She lives by an African Spirituality and a Self-Determination ethos which are unique to New Orleans tradition. The African drum and dance of Congo Square, the influence of Haitian Revolutionary immigrants, the vodun, the Second Line, the Masquerade, the artistic expansiveness of Jazz, surviving Katrina and resisting displacement – it all lives in Sunni Patterson. She moves seamlessly between the worlds of Revolutionary Black Nationalism, the arts, and the People, giving life to Toni Cade Bambara’s instruction to “make Revolution irresistible.” This interview with Nyeusi Jami has been edited for clarity and brevity. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------NYEUSI: How did you begin honing your craft with spoken word? SUNNI: I was always writing. And I was always encouraged to write and to read. My father would push Na’im Akbar’s “Chains and Images of Psychological Slavery” for example and say “I need you to read this book and I need you to write about it.” And I’m like, “I’m trying to read Wrinkle In Time.” But I’m glad I did it because books like this shaped my worldview. I was surrounded by people who allowed me the opportunity to ask questions and they would point me in the direction of study. Learning punctuation and metaphors and such all came second to “How does this uplift a people? What does this say about Black people? What does this art say about Spirit?” NYEUSI: Outside of your father and your immediate family, what other influences were in the community around you that shaped your worldview? SUNNI: That’s a long list. All of the older people in the church. My uncles, Ruby Lumbard, Big Duck, these are people who are renowned activists. Duck’s mentor was Lorraine Hansberry, his best friend was James Baldwin. My uncle Rudy served as chairman of the New Orleans chapter of CORE. The list can go on and on of women who shaped me. And being president of Student Council and spokesperson of different groups helped me to be who I am now. NYEUSI: When did you realize that Sunni Patterson was starting to be a thing out here in these culture streets – that people knew who you were? SUNNI: Oh, I don’t know. Maybe after Katrina. I remember one show in particular in Philadelphia maybe eight years ago. I had lost my voice performing in Arkansas the day before. No voice, throat aching, I got to the microphone. Couldn’t speak above a whisper. And the whole crowd started to do the poem. They carried me. So that’s when I was like, “Oh, they know this. They know me.” NYEUSI: What is your post-Katrina story? Where did you go? How did you adjust? How did you heal? SUNNI: After Katrina, I went to Houston, TX for a year and built beautiful community there before returning to New Orleans. But even during that year in Houston I was still back and forth to New Orleans. Just getting the city back. It was grief rituals and things like that, things to shift the vibration not just of the people but of

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By Any Means Necessary  

Congratulations on reading the first edition of the BAMN News Journal (volumes 1 and 2). This journal will be delivered to you each quarter...

By Any Means Necessary  

Congratulations on reading the first edition of the BAMN News Journal (volumes 1 and 2). This journal will be delivered to you each quarter...

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