Interview by Betty Harvin, Special to the AFRO

As young Grim Jackson took to the stage for “Don’t Be Late For Poetry” earlier this month at the Arena Players,  no one knew what to expect as he began with a welcoming smile, winning the crowd over with what seemed to be a witty, boy-next-door innocence. The tone of Grim’s poems were that of platinum selling artist J.Cole and Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar filter through the lense of growing up in Baltimore. His content captured the essence of self awareness and the art of believing in thy self. The young poet is indeed a melting pot of spirituality, art, theatre, and love.

Grim Jackson was once told by a teacher that his voice was a problem. Today he uses it as an instrument for solutions. (Photo by Betty Harvin)

AFRO : How did you get your name? Why did you name yourself Grim Jackson?

GJ: So, GRIM actually means (God resides in Me ). So for me, everything is spirit, spirit is God and when you understand how the world really is, we’re not human beings having a spiritual experience, we’re spiritual beings having a human experience. God or creation or Everything that is, like, it resides in me. It is in all of us; it is in everything.

AFRO: Listening to your poem, one thing that really got my attention was the relationship with you and the teacher in the classroom and how you said that your voice went from being the “problem” to being the “solution.” How has that experience shaped your life?

GJ: So, I remember being in high school and getting horrible grades. I went to Poly, so it was supposed to be one of the most prestigious schools in the entire city. I was getting horrible grades and I was like, ‘Naw, I don’t want this anymore.’ So, I transferred over to Douglass. Douglass has something called RMP, which is Radio Media Production. It is actually one of the most advanced technology courses within the city, so I went over there into an easier school and just excelled. To be honest, I think I always kind of had my own path, how I feel about things, and maybe that’s just because I’m an Aries and I’m stubborn. But ultimately, it’s gone from being the kid that nobody wants to listen to  legitimately being asked to speak at the National Education Association and open up their 155th anniversary two years ago.

The National Education Association is bigger than the Democratic and Republican party combined and they make all the different laws and everything else that are passed for the schools. Being able to speak at that, and not only speak, but to open up and have a workshop about how to teach our students.

AFRO: One thing that I did want to get into is what inspired you to be a poet and are there any poets of the past that you get your energy from?

GJ: Me personally, there’s always been poets that I’m like, ‘Yo, that’s super dope!’, and to be honest I think poets, they see something that’s super dope and they say, I want to do that or I want to be better than that. So the thing is, ultimately as far as getting into poetry, one day I came to a Floetic Lyricists club at my school and I just wrote a poem because I was just feeling some type of way and I was about to throw the rap away and my homeboy was like, ‘No, keep this, this is actually good.’ So I took it to Floetic Lyricists, I performed it and it just so happened, Slangston Hughes, my mentor over there and Kenneth were in the class and said, “We want him.” They took me to my first slam and I ended up getting second or third place. It was 2013, I don’t remember but I did really well on my first slam and from there they just kinda’ took me under. And so I will always say that being a poet was never something that was like, “Oh, I want to do that,” it was legitimately something I fell into and realized I had a talent for.

AFRO:  You are a true artist and true artists don’t have a limit or cap on where they stop and where they go. Are there any ancestors, any poets, any African American poets that you’ve read about or anyone who’s inspired you?

GJ: As far as poets and poetry that have inspired me, um, naw, it’s just  the story- telling. Nobody really inspires me, its’ more so, I see something that I don’t have myself or I see something that I desire and it’s either I’m going to go full force for that or I’m going to break that boundary. The thing is, I’m not going to stop until I break that boundary so to be honest, what inspires me is people doing better than me, people putting me on my ass and me being put into these situations that I have to necessarily fight my way out of and to be honest, through me fighting my way out of so many situations, that’s what’s made me into the person that I am.

AFRO: Hmm, Natural born artist, natural born innovative, it’s just so powerful, and at such a young age too. You just don’t see people from your generation flourishing and whose minds are elevated and just like you said opening up with this interview, Spirit is everything. I feel like the highest level of creativity follows when you are already in tune with your own spirit. So, to see you, Grim, so in tune with just being you and knowing that you only want to listen to your own voice and really trusting your own voice is amazing.