How Azariah Cole-Shephard is using poetry to spread messages of activism
By: Asia Cheyanne
Azariah Cole-Shephard was born to be an activist. Her strong will, outspoken attitude and calm spirit granted her the naturalness of leadership that she has now. At just 20 years old she’s done a multitude of things as a young, black girl in an economy and time era such as our current climate. Azariah is currently attending school at San Jose State University studying Electrical Engineering. She has hopes to attend Spelman College in Atlanta to become a member of their dual degree engineering program if financial opportunities open up.
Read below how Azariah began writing poetry and how she incorporates activism with it.
Growing up, Azariah dealt with multiple obstacles that were plausible enough reasons as to why giving up would’ve been ideal. Depression, lack of support and understanding from family about her illnesses, stress from school, and wondering how she is going to continue her education because of the costs. None of which never stopped Azariah and never will. She’s moved beyond those obstacles and it shows in her poetry, activism and photography.
Difficulties with Activism and Poetry
With activism comes racism. People are allowed to disguise themselves and say what they please. Azariah, although experienced little racism as a poet, she has dealt with a few internet trolls. She often performs in front of a mixed audience but remains true to her message despite the space she’s in. Azariah’s style of poetry is used as a vehicle of education instead of exclusion. When she first became Oakland Youth Poet Laureate in 2016, Azariah would describe her poetry as “in your face poetry” because content based discomfort is a sign of growth.
During performances, like any other human, Azariah get anxious knowing constructing pieces to deliver gets difficult. Her hardest piece for her to perform was her piece titled: “For the Black Men My Love Cannot Protect” due to its content and the number of black men and women in her life. The amount of mental preparation that goes into performances of this piece, as well as her poem about suicide among revolutionaries and several other unreleased pieces, is extremely tolling. She often finds herself in tears before, during and sometimes even after performances. But Azariah would do it over and over again if it means her work will touch another life.
Family Influence and Motivation
Azariah describes her mom as the driving force to what she does. Her mother supports all of her endeavors as an artist and activist to the fullest extent. Her dad, the thought provoker, constantly engages her in intellectual conversations rooted in various topics to keep her sharp and on her toes. A lot of their conversations led to the creation of poems. One person Azariah says has had a big influence in her creativity, her godmother who introduced her to theater at a young age. Her grandmother, brother, and friends all motivate her to keep going and give her unconditional support, both mental and emotional.
Achievements and the Future
Since becoming the OYPL in 2016, Azariah has held a six week teaching residency at Skyline High school, teaching about poetry as a means of knowledge delivery and self-expression in correlation to social issues. She has performed at various large scale events and venues; Commonwealth Club: Policing the Police, Life Is Living Festival, Arc Youth Festival, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Davies Symphony Hall, etc. Azariah has also delivered the keynote speech at the Black College Awareness Fair, created working lesson plan and facilitated a workshop at Stanford University based upon social issues and how to navigate the world despite unique identities and narratives. In addition, she has served as a youth advocate and social activist on a local and national scale through poetry and engagement in politics. Azariah has also had her share of opening for people such as; Tank, Eric Bellinger, Prentice Powell, Jasmine Mans, Boots Riley, Ericka Huggins, IAMSU, Van Jones and Kamau Bell.
As far as Azariah’s future, she doesn’t know what the future holds but she does plan to be happy. Wherever God places her, she knows she was placed there for a reason because He makes no mistakes. As long as she’s making the world a better place despite the obstacles she might face she knows she has a desire to instill self-consciousness and self-advocacy skills into the minds of black youth.
Keep up with Azariah on social media at @melaninelevatin www.melaninelevatin.com