Alexandria Gurley

Alexandria Gurley, also known as Alex tha GREAT

PEPPER PIKE — Ursuline College recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a powerful spoken word performance by millennial poet Alexandria Gurley, also known by her performance name Alex Tha GREAT (Given Real Encouragement Against Turmoil).

Following a poetry reading on Jan. 29, Ms. Gurley gave a presentation on leadership to a crowd of nearly 50 people.

Ms. Gurley quoted American writer and social critic James Baldwin, who said, “To be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

To start off the evening entitled “Follow the Leader: Recognizing Our Ancestors, Forging Our Own Paths,” Ms. Gurley read one of her own poems, which she named “The Struggle.” She wrote it in 2015 after several years of racial incidents, including the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, both unarmed black teenagers, she said. The poem is meant to encourage and uplift black men, she added.

“I’m begging you to let yourself go, you ain’t nobody’s slave no more, that captive spirit don’t wear you well and the noose left that burn around your neck, you call it a birthmark.

“Have you ever dissected a black woman’s prayer? It is the finest combination of cocoa butter salve, collard green juice and holy hallelujahs,” she said.

Ms. Gurley transformed the audience during her performance, as the room grew louder with the audience’s reactions to her dynamic verses.

“If I meet another black man with eyes that read like obituaries and broken grenades for a smile, it will be the death of me.

“Shed that boy-ish skin and step into the man that you are and stand up,” she said.

Assistant Dean for Diversity Yolanda King said that Ms. Gurley connects well with the younger generation.

“She is able to connect to the millennial student experience and will encourage them to reflect on civil rights leaders today in the age of social media and pop culture,” Ms. King said.

Ms. Gurley then transitioned her presentation and discussed what makes a strong leader. She had several key points about leadership. She encouraged the youth to take what they can from their ancestors, such as Dr. King Jr. and Malcolm X, and build from it.

“We need that blueprint,” she said.

She noted current strategies for leadership, which include local mobilizing efforts, access to celebrities through social media and the use of hashtags such as #metoo and #handsupdontshoot. Audience members offered their own opinions on important qualities of leaders, such as honesty, humanity and empowering others. Leaders pointed out by some of those in attendance were Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

“I thought the presentation was an insightful discussion on leadership in lieu of celebrating such a prominent leader of civil rights in the African American community. The presenters provided a diverse range of performances from singing to poetry that exuded MLK’s legacy as still having great influence today,” said Euneata Walker, 21, a senior student from Bainbridge. “I love how we were left with a sense of where do we go from here, and through our nation’s leadership, are we still upholding King’s dream. The seeds of his legacy in freedom, equality and protecting civil liberties...how have they manifested, and how do we prevent this movement of equality from reverting back to where we started? Those were the thoughts I was left with after listening to Alex tha GREAT’s speech.”

Ms. Gurley also informed the audience that you can be a leader of one in a protest of one. She said that someone does not need a large group of followers to be a leader. Ms. Gurley said that her performance name of Alex Tha GREAT was chosen as her own form of protest.

“If I don’t call myself great, who else will?” she said.

She encouraged attendees to utilize their resources and to lead with power, not authority. She said that power persuades but authority dictates.

Lastly, Ms. Gurley mentioned President Donald Trump, and asked about the meaning behind his slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

“When was America great?” she asked. “Are we going back to when African people were brought here as cargo, are we going back to segregated schools and neighborhoods?”

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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