What’s Local: Social justice, poetry and a national competition

By Jim Hagerty

ROCKFORD — To say Dylan Garcia is a fixture at the Nordlof Centre is an understatement.

Garcia has won the Rockford Certified Open Mic & Poetry Slam at the downtown venue more times than he can count. And while the number of slam victories isn’t what is important, the latest will send him to the Individual World Poetry Slam (iWPS) in Spokane, Washington, this fall. Garcia is the first-ever poet to represent Rockford at the event. He represented Chicago in 2013. So, it’s clear that Garcia can string together powerful words and is even more skilled at delivering them to an audience. But there’s more to the 28-year-old and from where the words originate.

“I started in 2011,” Garcia said. “I was writing to deal with pain, whether it was being heartbroken or depressed.”

There’s still plenty of heartbreak and pain to write about, but Garcia has grown since his days at Knox College. A changing Rockford social climate has seen a resurgence of issues he says have been increasingly ignored but now important to a new generation of leaders.

“Over the years my writing has changed into a vehicle to have conversations about social issues,” he added.

And some of the topics, he says, aren’t always welcome in conversation. Classism, discrimination and the all-too-familiar to Rockford issue of institutional racism are still sore spots for many. And while officials are working toward unity, things like the People Who Care lawsuit, fear of police are still strong indicators that city still lacks a sense of community. For Garcia, who’s half Mexican, he has a unique vantage point.

“I have written a lot about racism from the perspective of someone who looks white,” Garcia said. “And these are hard conversations to start, so I use my poems to start them, and to connect to a wider audience.”

One of those poems, “What My White Mother Meant To Say,” broaches the issue. The piece was inspired by a prickly conversation about race during a holiday meal.

“I can’t be racist. I married a brown man,” the piece reads. “I divorced a brown man, but I have black friends… I am white on the floor of the slaughter house. It doesn’t matter how I started out. I am now covered in blood.”

Garcia makes no excuses for his work. A degree in political science and a hands-on amelioration in a city with great potential have made sure of that. He eyes a better city where no groups claim superiority over others. And if stringing together words is Garcia’s part in making a better Rockford, he’s in it for the duration.

“I am making connections with social justice-minded people,” Garcia said. “I am willing to stay here. Most people don’t have that experience. They see something else in the world and they don’t come back to Rockford.”

Garcia has found a sense of unity through writing on a personal level, too.

“When I first came out as transgender, the poetry community was among the first places I found where I could be myself and be fully accepted,” he said. “It seemed as if getting to know me through my poems made it easier for people to accept me because they already knew me.

The 2017 Individual World Poetry Slam is Oct. 11-14, at multiple Spokane venues. R.

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