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UD Associate in Arts student Christian Wills reads poetry during a recent open mic night at UDs UDairy Creamery Market in Wilmington.
is the word Christian Wills chose to describe his childhood. As a kid,
he said, he was awkward. He felt he didnt have a voice and was a victim
of choices he had no control over. Once he discovered his love for rap
and poetry, he finally found a way to communicate and bring others
Years later, these same passions are the driving force behind the
Poetry Slam and Open Mic Nights Wills created at the University of
Delawares UDairy Creamery Market in Wilmington, where he works. Once a
month, the narrow entrance of the ice cream shop is transformed into a
mini theatre where anyone can come up and share his or her talents.
Wills goal is to create an
atmosphere where people can get anything off their chest the same
opportunity poetry and rap provided him.
It was my one way of communicating with people and just showing that
I have a voice and I have something to say, said Wills. I believe
everyone should have a chance to hear it and open mic is a perfect way
of relaying what you have stuck in your heart that you just want to get
to the world.
An undeclared UD sophomore, Wills is part of the Associate in Arts
program. Hes considering majors in English or visual communications and
has yet to settle on a career path. In addition to songwriter and
lyricist, Wills said he might follow in his parents footsteps and
become a teacher.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Christian Wills, who has a passion for poetry and community-building, writes (and reads) poetry on his mobile phone and in a spiral notebook.
The poetry nights started in October. Store manager LeeAnne Ahamad
first approached Wills with the idea and asked if he would be interested
in putting it together. She was aware of his interest after Wills won a
poetry contest for the store's grand opening last May.
Christian was always just passionate about everything that he does,
Ahamad said. I had met one of his professors as well who spoke highly
She also said this was an opportunity to fulfill one of the stores goals.
One of our goals is to really engage with the community, Ahamad
said. Not only to let people know that UD is there in Wilmington, but
also to continue building those relationships beyond campus.
On a recent rainy Sunday afternoon in February, the Wilmington UDairy
location quickly filled with people waiting for the event to begin. The
crowd was a mix of Wills friends, family, classmates and others from
the community. Wills stood in front of the gathered crowd, thanked them
for attending and kicked off the show by reading his poem titled Community Building.
Look around. Look at how beautiful it is. The progress around the
stress that we create. I must confess that Im truly blessed within my
space, Wills began.
As he read, a wave of confidence took over his body. He stood taller
and his normally soft voice projected. His words flowed effortlessly.
Other people have noticed, including his poetry professor, David Teague.
David Teague, who teaches poetry and is a coordinator in UD's Associate in Arts Program in Wilmington, praises Wills' efforts and talent.
I dont have anything to teach
that guy, Teague said. I sort of help him find the pieces to organize
you know what professors do and he did the rest.
Teague said he was genuinely surprised the first time he heard Wills'
work. For the first month and a half, Wills did not speak in his class.
Then one day he did.
The title of his poem is no coincidence. Wills talks a lot about
community building. Now 19, Wills spent the better part of his life in
Maryland, and moved to Wilmington right before his senior year of high
Over those three years, he has made an effort to get to know
many of the people around him and connect others where he can. Many of
those present at the poetry event share this objective of connecting and
building up Wilmington.
Weve struggled for years and years to build community, Teague
said. He explained that for many theres a frustration with Wilmingtons
reputation with violence, which is not all the city is about.
This is a city with a lot of challenges, Teague said. Downtown was
struggling for years, but I think it's probably doing better than its
done since Ive been here and theres a lot of energy. Theres a lot of
That night, roughly a dozen people performed including Wills' mother.
While most read poetry, a couple decided to sing. Given the diverse
range of speakers young, older, different races and experience levels
an unexpected focus emerged on Black History Month.
Wills expectations for each night are high. While each iteration has had its challenges, he admits each time it gets better.
One of Wills' favorite poems is To the Notebook Kid, by Eve L. Ewing. He once performed it at a Poetry Out Loud competition. The first stanza reads:
yo chocolate milk for breakfast kid.
one leg of your sweatpants rolled up
scrounging at the bottom of your mamas purse
for bus fare and gum
pen broke and you got ink on your thumb kid
It goes on to describe a mostly average kid with big dreams who finds
solace from his life in the pages of his notebook. But he hides it from
the world. Wills described it as powerful.
I like the word choices in it. I like how it's not very
traditional, Wills said. It can be placed in many different ways, it
can mean many different things.
He knows the poem by heart.
In a way I kind of did that with my poetry, Wills said. Not a lot of people really knew about it until later on.
However rough Wills childhood, the arts have been a constant part of
his life. His mother sparked his love of poetry by enrolling him in
classes as a kid.
My mom was a big influence in my life, as you can tell, said Wills,
whose mother, Theresa, read her original poetry at the open mic event.
She also pushed me to do poetry. Shes like, My son is an amazing poet
and amazing songwriter. So that also pushed me.
Article by Carlett Spike; photos by Evan Krape