“I don’t 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.
“We’ve struggled for years and years to build community,” Teague
said. He explained that for many there’s a frustration with Wilmington’s
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 it’s
done since I’ve been here and there’s a lot of energy. There’s 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 mama’s 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. She’s like, ‘My son is an amazing poet
and amazing songwriter.’ So that also pushed me.”
Article by Carlett Spike; photos by Evan Krape