By Javacia Harris Bowser
For The Birmingham Times
Jahman Hill is always looking for ways to evolve as an artist. His idea for the ArtWorks@TheDJD series began as a one-man show but quickly developed into a short film that he produced with the help of more than a dozen other artists and with the team at the DJD supporting every fresh, new idea. Hill’s piece, titled “Vanderwaal’s Journey,” is heavily influenced by “Lovecraft Country,” the HBO series that was inspired by Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel of the same name. Drawing on Black sci-fi and horror, “Vanderwaal’s Journey” follows a young man from Ensley who’s battling both the COVID-19 pandemic and gentrification. Hill’s presentation will premiere on February 5.
“I’m really hoping we can create something for the audience that is not only different but also tells a Black story in a unique way,” said Hill, who teaches African American studies at the University of Alabama and public speaking at Lawson State Community College.
Growing up, Hill had dreams of being in the NBA or being the next Lil’ Wayne, but he fell in love with poetry while he was a student at the University of Alabama. Over time, he was performing at poetry slams and protest rallies. In 2018, Hill claimed the title of third-best slam poet in the world. In 2019, he wrote, produced, and starred in the award-winning one-man show “Black Enough,” which played off-Broadway.
The pandemic has pushed Hill to evolve yet again. He launched Poetry University to offer online poetry classes. He also is co-executive director of The Flourish, a nonprofit organization that empowers youth of color through collaborative arts. Being involved in these efforts has helped Hill pivot to find ways to engage young people virtually.
“It forced me to be more creative,” Hill said of the pandemic.
Still, his greatest source of inspiration hasn’t changed.
“My people and my culture influence me more than anything. I want Black folks who are watching to feel empowered and to feel that their stories are being told,” he said—and he hopes this is reflected in “Vanderwaal’s Journey.”
Click one of the links below to read the stories about more artists.