C: Can you let our fans know where you’re from and how you got started in poetry and community activism?
D: I was born in Raleigh, NC and I’ve been in North Carolina every since. I love NC. I got on stage to share a poem for the first time in 1997. It was at a Wednesday night open mic at a Jamaican spot called Expressions on Hargett Street in Raleigh. I fell in love. I got connected to other poets and found out more about the scene across the Triangle. I also got a chance to meet touring poets who were doing shows in other cities across the country.
Once I got a taste of the scene I was going everywhere there was a mic. I wanted to expose myself to as much of it as possible. I was always shy about my writing. So once I got a chance to share and get positive feedback I was hooked. As I was hitting up different sets I met folks who were doing community work. I got a chance to meet elder activists and organizers who became my mentors. They helped me to get involved in community work and social justice activism. I decided that I wanted my art and my activism to be integrated and I have been working to do so ever since.
C: You have done a lot of things in the art community and the community in general. What has been your proudest moment to date and why?
D: I would have to say that the work I have done with the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham has been what I am most proud of. I’ve been doing poetry programming at the Hayti since 2004. It’s an African American cultural center and a historic landmark. The foundation that runs it has been very supportive. I’ve been doing the Jambalaya Soul Slam there monthly since 2005. They have helped me take a team of adult poets to regional and national competition each year. I have been able to work with youth and adult poets through that relationship. We have also been able to bring poets from across the country to the area. It’s been a beautiful thing. We even brought the largest regional poetry slam in the country to Durham in 2009.
C: So who has been your biggest influence in your life and why?
D: I have lots of influences on my art and activism, but my mother has been the biggest influence on my life. She has always been a model of strength and determination. She has a big heart, but demands that things be done right. I am proud to say I share some of her amazing characteristics.
C: Since you’re in the south, I have to ask you this question. How do feel about the confederate flag issue and some people saying it represents southern pride?
D: I think it is time that we really come to understand how history has been manipulated and that things are way more complex than we think. The confederate flag is a symbol that is attached to a legcy of racism, oppression, and subjugation. It is a part of southern heritage, but it is not a positive symbol. The negative outweighs the heritage. When you learn more about where the battle flag comes from and what it has been used for you understand why it is time for it to no longer be flown on public buildings or celebrated as southern pride. It’s a battle flag. It’s been a violent symbol since the beginning. One that was raised in war over the issue of slavery.
C: If you could go back in time. What advice would give to a younger you?
D: The biggest thing I would tell a younger me is to to be more mindful of self. As artists we tend to think of our art and our audience first. We move inspired by purpose. But we also have lives to live and self-sustainability is important. That is financially, physically, and mentally. If someone had told me that I would have avoided some of the young and overzealous decisions. I also would have avoided some of the bad habits that I eventually had to break. I’ve tried to teach that to the young artists I work with. Balance the fun of being an artist with what you need as you become an adult. Be mindful of your health. Be mindful of your finances. Be careful with stress or depression. Art is an emotional rollercoaster.
C: We all know your love for hip hop culture. Name one thing hip hop needs more than anything today and why?
D: Hip Hop needs more people to uphold the culture and continue to tell its story. The culture is alive and well. It’s loved all across the globe. We can’t let people talk about how dead it is or how it has gone astray. That’s the commercial industry. That’s not the whole of what Hip Hop is. Rap is an aspect of Hip Hip. It’s not the whole of Hip Hop culture. We need to make sure people never forget what Hip Hop is.
C: We see you’re raising funds to participate in Nasir Jones Fellowship program at Harvard University. Could you give us some details on that?
D: I was appointed a Nasir Jones Fellow at Harvard for the 2015-2016 school year. I will be moving to Boston to do research at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research under Dr. Morgan and Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. I’ll spend the time looking at Hip Hop and its lyricists.
I am raising money for my move. People can get my new spokenword project, “Last Temptation Before Sunrise” and other perks for donating. This is a great opportunity and I’m excited to be representing the Triangle.
C: So where can people go to donate?
D: The link is http://www.gofundme.com/dasantoharvard