A tiny little theater on White Oak Drive…
Hot, bright lights. Old school rap and R&B banging and pouring from well-loved speakers with poets, rappers, artists and laity-alike chanting, laughing along to the beat.
The Shout is an organization and idea of many facets. It isn’t quite a slam, though it gives off the same powerful vibe.
It’s no talent show, despite how talent is in obvious abundance. Rather, in the words of creator and curator Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner, The Shout is “a spoken-word poetry focused arts and justice movement that seeks to recycle the energy created through an artist’s catharsis and focus it into action.”
“The Shout is the first word of Isaiah 58, a text that the Christian and Jewish faith communities share, that speaks of God’s frustration with established religion and God’s call to the work of Justice,” Bonner explained.
It is integral to the foundation of the movement, which works in a whisper-shout-echo format of events – whispers being the smaller weekly events, shouts the major end-of-the-month events and echoes as what is left when one leaves the shout of the month.
“Whisper was there from the start. We called our first meeting a whisper, saying that, as Tracy Chapman sang, ‘Don’t you know, talking about a revolution sounds like a whisper.’ Echo came a couple months in as we realized that we needed a language to capture the results we were trying to create, something that would articulate a ripple of action. Both those actions we initiated and those we would never know about,” Bonner said.
The Shout was created for the actions that Bonner and her poets would never know about. Within the church, Bonner said she heard over and over again that “we have failed to hear the cry of the needy,” so why not do something about it? Why not hear?
“The Shout began because I saw so many poets putting so much work into their art and I knew that they must want to make an impact with it. I wanted to create a mechanism to give them a double reward for their labor – some concrete action to result from their words – a recycling of their sacrifice, so that it would not only impact the stage in that moment, but the streets when we left. I created The Shout because I heard that need and wanted to respond,” she said.
She seems to have heard the cries of some. Radio personality and visual artist Corinna Delgado,in particular, is gracious to Bonner for giving her a place in The Shout’s family nearly a year ago.
“The Shout has helped make Houston my home. I’m from Anchorage, Alaska. When I first got here I was struggling to find my people. The artists I met gave me a true sense of community. The people who participate in The Shout are of a like mind and heart. They have a caring spirit and a willingness to help. Most of the people you see involved aren’t just there for a show – we help each other daily. We are family and anyone is welcome to be a part of that,” Delgado said.
More than just hearing, Bonner’s own echo has been widespread, from the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to the murder of pro-black activist Sandra Bland to the current social climate.
“It (the election) makes our work much more necessary, but it may also make it more difficult and dangerous. This week, I had a run in with armed, white supremacists who yelled ‘White Power! Donald Trump Rules!’ outside the gates of another poetry event where I was supporting our artists. I ran outside and chased them off and called them cowards. They could have hurt me and I know that. So, yes, our work is more necessary than ever, but yes it is also more dangerous than ever. The biggest setback and highlight was when we were really pulled into the Echo in needing to respond to Sandra Bland,” Bonner recalled. “In one way, it hurt the numbers at our gatherings, because of the secrecy necessary to protect my safety and the safety of others. That caused us to become a much more intimate community, less focused on being the biggest, hippest thing in town and more focused on creating results. And we did! In fact, there is a picture of our vigil in one of the video exhibits at the new Smithsonian Museum. So, it felt like a setback and it was hard, but it has also helped us refocus on our purpose, which is not to be huge, but to be skilled and precise in creating impact.”
Despite fears and setbacks, The Shout family remains hopeful. Bonner has created a curriculum for colleges and correctional facilities and people like Delgado don’t see themselves quieting their shouts or stopping their echo any time soon.
“(In the next few years) I hope to see (The Shout) become known as a network that people can count on when they have a pressing social issue that they need help articulating to complacent audiences. I hope that people will come to know our reputation and know that they can call on us if they are trying to wake people up and create action.”
“I feel it is vital to provide the community voice with a stage to be heard.”
“Hannah has created a safe space to have critical conversations about important issues, I love being a part of that mission,” Delgado said. “I don’t feel there’s much (The Shout) couldn’t overcome.”
A tiny little theater on White Oak Drive…