Amena Brown, Spoken Word Poet from Atlanta, GA, proves to be a Chowan University favorite
MURFREESBORO, NC – Months preceding Amena Brown’s arrival the Chowan University community was filled with anticipation. News spread quickly after the announcement that she would headline the 2017 Annual Taylor Religious Heritage Lectures. Brown is no stranger to the University and did not disappoint with her unique and artistic approach to Christian ministry and storytelling.
"Amena paints memories, stories, and emotions with words,” says Reverend Mari Wiles, Minister to the University. “Her voice is the brush as she transforms the canvas of our lives, our faith, and our culture. She has become a trusted friend to Chowan and I am most grateful."
The Taylor Religious Heritage Lectures is an endowed lecture series established in 1994 by Dr. and Mrs. Hargus Taylor and Chowan University. For this year’s series of three lectures Brown’s audience included students, faculty, staff, and friends of the University. The author and spoken word poet from Atlanta, GA commanded the attention of every room with her rhythmic elegance, cadence of speech, and challenging message.
She began her first lecture with humorous memories from childhood, sharing her love for food and what she learned about her heritage through time spent with her grandparents. “My first lessons about God being real came from my grandmother and great grandmother,” explained Brown. The address, entitled “Start with Your Roots,” poetically explained how our ancestors planted seeds that allow them to be present with us long after they are gone. She encouraged young listeners to spend time with people who are much older, saying, “Whenever we can spend time with elders in our communities, we learn about the roots of things.” Brown ended with a challenge for all to learn and embrace their roots; from there they can grow and become their own tree.
The second lecture in the series was structured as a challenge to the Chowan Christian Service Association (CCSA), made up of students preparing for full-time Christian vocational ministry and the donors whose generosity supports them. Brown reflected on the moment she embraced her calling to ministry through spoken word poetry, though before understanding her calling she used to fear it. She clarified that her anxiety about the phrase “called to the ministry” stemmed from her heavy exposure to the very traditional definitions of the phrase. Her childhood pastor enlightened her saying, “God will show you what your calling is supposed to look like.” She imparted that same freedom to CCSA scholars through her lecture saying, “Our calling to the ministry looks so different for each of us.”
Brown encouraged the CCSA with a story about a time when her next step was very unclear. She was given an opportunity to perform a spoken word poem at a worship event and afterwards realized that the gift that God has given does not belong to her. She went on to say, “Your gift is not for people to know who you are. It is not for you to be famous. It belongs to God and serves the purpose of letting God shine. Be careful what you do with the gift that God has given you.” She ended by charging the CCSA to not be afraid, but be strong and courageous when doing the work of Christ.
Brown’s final address, entitled “Learn to Fly,” took a different tack. Addressing an auditorium filled with students, she made seamless transitions from narratives to poetic performances. The students responded with sounds of enthusiastic applause, roaring laughter, and moments of still silence. “Whoever that person is that is cheering you on, believe them. Let them encourage you.” Brown said to them. “No one makes it in this world alone and we all need that person who thinks we are a genius when we tie our shoes.” Brown credited her mother for giving her the willingness to perform poetry in front of an audience. She fell in love with it after her mother forced her to venture outside of her comfort zone and perform an original piece in public as a teenager.
Brown capped off her with the scolding her grandmother use to give her during thunderstorms as a child. Her grandmother told her, “Be still and be quiet while God is working.” A handful of students seemed to remember hearing that same saying growing up. She observed that technology is forever evolving and things are changing around us but, she says, “It still doesn’t change the fact that in order to know God, you have to do something ancient and that is to be still and be quiet while God is working.” She encouraged students to not only listen to what others say about God, but to get to know God themselves.
“Amena Brown is so amazing,” commented Sean Timmons, a junior majoring in religion. “It is so refreshing to witness someone who uses their platform to glorify God and that young adults enjoy listening to.”
“It was almost six years ago when Mari Wiles contacted me to come to Chowan University,” expressed Brown, “and I am so glad I said yes. My husband and I have been here almost every year since then. We love the community, the students here, and the beautiful things that God is doing. I’m really honored that I could be here.”
Chowan University is grateful that these lectures bring leaders of diverse expertise and rich experience to campus. The enthusiastic response proves that Amena Brown continues to be a Chowan favorite.