Poet, Musician and Artist Tai Allen Discusses the Intersection of Art and Activism at MCCC’s TRiO Upward Bound Program


Trenton, N.J. – Even on the morning Tai Allen was scheduled to speak at Mercer County Community College (MCCC), he was busy serving his community.

Allen dialed into the virtual meeting on July 10 as he walked back to his Brooklyn home after meeting with the family of a local shooting victim.

A lifelong resident of New York City, Allen used his experiences – like having to watch members of his community fall to drugs and violence – as the basis for his talk. Those experiences, coupled with his work in the arts (poetry, literature and music), grounded his conversation with students in the college's TRiO Upward Bound and Educational Opportunity Fund programs about the intersection of activism and art.

“As an artist, you’re typically talking about your experiences, or the experiences of your community,” Allen said. “We need to use art to coincide with changes to government. Artists need to be involved with changes culturally.”

The talk was also spurred by the social justice movements that took place across the United States this summer. Allen has been a victim of police brutality and stressed that the protests are serving a broader constituency than the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The changes that help black Americans often help everyone else,” Allen explained. “Voting Rights helped Asian and Latino communities. Communities with disadvantaged blacks often have disadvantaged people from other minorities.”

Allen’s point was well received, especially as MCCC continues its work to create opportunities for minority populations. Most recently, the college developed a workforce resource program which, in addition to creating an empowered workforce in the Greater Trenton area, seeks to partner with groups like the New Jersey’s Hispanic and African American Chambers of Commerce to provide more opportunities to minority business owners and employees.

Allen noted that cultural changes can happen through community engagement. Beginning in 2010, Allen conceptualized and hosted Restoration Rocks, a free Brooklyn block party that brought performances from acclaimed performers and activists like Mos Def, Talib Kweli and the Fugees right to his hometown.

Though Allen encouraged students to find their own creative and artistic voices, he stressed that producing art without passion for the subject is an exercise in futility.

“The art means nothing if it’s not good. A whack tune is a whack tune,” Allen said. Instead, he insisted artists learn to be conscious of their surroundings, a skill that will help provide them with inspiration to relate to their audience.

Allen also noted that artists, and activists, shouldn’t operate in silos.

“Moments become movements,” Allen said. “Practical aspects like legislation, executive orders, businesses make decisions that move away from segregation.”

In addition to Allen, Upward Bound welcomed four other speakers to its digital classroom this summer. Monica Guzman, Executive Coach and Motivational Speaker, Sherea Farmer, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and Jamal T. Johnson, Senior Assistant Director for Mentoring and Retention at The College of New Jersey, each talked to students about topics that holistically improve their education, like self-care, mentoring, and communications.

Finally, Upward Bound students heard from Bainy Suri, Executive Director of New Jersey’s Environmental Lobby.

“[Suri] introduced the students to Garden State Organic of Princeton and Trenton,” said Stacy Denton, Director of Mercer’s TRiO Upward Bound program. “She will provide paid internships to interested students. We’ve already had two rising seniors and a junior sign up.”

To learn more about MCCC’s TRiO Upward Bound program, visit https://www.mccc.edu/upwardbound/.

Established in 1966, Mercer County Community College (MCCC) is a publicly supported comprehensive educational institution that provides opportunities for higher education through an open-door admission policy. MCCC is home to 70 associate degree programs and numerous credit and noncredit certificate programs. The college also offers many educational experiences, leadership opportunities and the chance to interact with other students and faculty/staff members in an informal setting.

More than 40 clubs offer students the opportunity to explore special interests. Many of these clubs are directly affiliated with fields of study and augment classroom experiences.

In addition, art exhibits, dance productions, dramatic presentations, musical productions, and performances by guest artists are sponsored throughout the year. Music organizations include the college chorus, jazz band, symphonic band, dance ensemble, and stage band.

For more information about student life, visit: https://www.mccc.edu/student_services_clubs.shtml


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tai allen

Tai Allen spoke to MCCC's TRiO Upward Bound program about the intersection of art and activism.