By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Dozens of poets, friends, family and community members paid loving tribute to Brian “Voice” Porter Hawkins at a special Bards and Brews event on Friday hosted by the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) at Boutwell Auditorium in downtown.
“Brian was very amazing when he was a little boy,” his mother Cassandra Hawkins told those gathered for the celebration. “He just did everything that he felt that he could do and do it right, and he always wanted to be right. And I just, I love him so much, and I miss him so much. And, I know y’all do too.”
“I thank you for cherishing my son, honoring his memory,” said Duane B. Porter, his father. “We are blessed by you, and our journey’s made a bit less harsh because you’ve been so kind toward us, and you were so loving toward my son.”
At the beginning of the evening, Eunice Johnson Rogers, president of BPL’s Board of Trustees, presented a resolution honoring Hawkins’s work and importance to the community.
Hawkins was the longtime host and creative director of Bards & Brews, the BPL’s popular monthly spoken word poetry/craft beer event.
The resolution highlighted Hawkins’s Color Project, which aims to improve Ensley through public art, gardens, light and sound, among other things.
Candice Hardy, creative director for Bards and Brews, said she felt “awkward” being the emcee instead of setting up the event for Hawkins.
“[Normally,] I would only have to say ‘Hello, welcome to Bards and Brews, and now for your MC,’” Hardy said, before a pause. “But today is a bit awkward because when I look to my right, I don’t see him standing there, but his legacy will continue with each and every one of us sharing and lifting our free voices. So I dare you to tap into your creativity, your ingenuity, that God given path that is you, and share it with the world, because that’s what ‘Voice’ did each and every day.”
Ashley Jones, who was recently named the first Black Poet Laureate of Alabama, said Hawkins was a “gift to our city . . . He was a bright spirit. He worked hard. I remember the last conversation we had over the phone the Sunday before he made [his] transition. He was so happy about my selection as poet laureate of Alabama.”
She remembered that Hawkins was looking forward to taking her out to dinner to celebrate. In addition, she and Hawkins were planning to support each other on their book tours, as Hawkins had just finished his first book of poetry. In that last phone call with Hawkins, Jones said she told him how great he was.
Lee J. Green, a frequent performer at “Bards and Brews, said Hawkins served as an inspiration.
“I had written poetry most of my life but had really not performed spoken word and actually found out about Bards and Brews from a friend of mine,” he said, “… When I found out about it, I was just so enthralled and inspired.”
Green said he was nervous sharing his work publicly, but it was Hawkins who told him “You’re amongst love, share, share your heart, share with this group” Green recalled, “and he got me so passionate about being involved in Bards and Brews.”
Green read a poem in which he wrote about Hawkins’s community building and selflessness and said Hawkins was a big supporter of artists in general.
“Voice was one of the most incredible friends and people and artists,” Green said, “but he was such an inspiration to the community … he would always say everybody use S.O.A.P. — Support Our Artists, Please.”
Caleb Calhoun, a Bards and Brews participant who also co-hosted a poetry event with Hawkins, compared being around the late artist to spending time in a “garden.”
“You couldn’t help but carry that sweet floral aroma and that calming energy with you when you walked away,” he said.
Jahman Ariel Hill, a poet, playwright and adjunct professor of gender and race studies at the University of Alabama, and co-executive director for The Flourish Alabama, a non-profit organization that helps develop young artists, also referred to the energy many felt from Hawkins.
“He gave off this childlike energy, and I say childlike because it was filled with possibility. It was always filled with possibility,” Hill said. “He always made you believe that you could be, and that really inspired me.”
Hawkins was a man of many skills. He began painting murals with the Birmingham Museum of Art at age 11. He led various groups comprised of artists, art organizations and art lovers; and assisted with community development at the Norwood Resource Center and the Color Project Ensley, which is part of Ensley Alive. He was also a certified master gardener.
Others who performed at the Boutwell in honor of Hawkins included musician and poet Thed Weller; poet Kerry B; co-executive director of The Flourish Alabama, Eric Marable, Jr.; poet Jamil Glenn; Queen da Poetess; journalist and poet Michael Harriot; poet Glenwood; artist and poet Yolanda “Yogi Dada” Carter and poet Black Diamond.