“Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
I’m gonna split this rock
And split it wide!
When I split this rock,
Stand by my side.”

STR Ad 2018Fest PRINTTen years ago, Sarah Browning co-founded Split This Rock, an organization named from this Langston Hughes poem, which emerged from a group of poets and poetry enthusiasts called DC Poets Against the War (in Iraq). Today, as Split This Rock’s outgoing Executive Director, Browning reflects on her favorite milestones and what it means to reach a decade of programming and artistic activism as they approach their tenth year and fifth biannual festival.

“There was a reawakening of public activism by poets,” Browning explained. “Poets were hungry for a platform; a place to come together; a community.”

In March 2008, Browning and her fellow poets organized the first Split This Rock festival in Washington, DC on the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. According to her, the response from participants was overwhelmingly positive, citing that after people experienced the first go around, that they were eager to see the festival happen again.

            “The festival made people see the humanity that people shared in common; that DC shared with Baghdad,” Browning said. “I had no idea where this would go and thought this would only happen one time.”

            Browning proudly enumerated Split This Rock’s pivotal accomplishments in the local and national arenas, but specifically spoke about the adoption of the DC Youth Slam Team into the organization.

            “The team is older than Split This Rock, and it was sustained by independent poets including Regie Cabico and Jonathan B. Tucker. Now it is one of our defining pillars,” Browning said. “We also became curriculum consultants for DC Public Schools, which brought about USHINDI (Swahili for ‘We overcome,’) for youth poets who aged out of the team, but still wanted professional development in their art.”

            Browning said two more highlights happened in 2014 and 2017: their first collaboration with Poetry Magazine, then the double accomplishment of organizing a rally for freedom of expression at the White House and leading a celebration of African American poetry at the National Portrait Gallery, respectively.

            The first was the beginning of what is now four years of being published in Poetry Magazine. The second of the latter two was a collaboration with Furious Flower Poetry Center and Sonia Sanchez, Split This Rock’s living connection to their namesake poet Langston Hughes, respectively.

            “Come and learn about the organization, invest in the next ten years to help us thrive,” Browning says to this year’s attendees.

            Online registration for this year’s festival happening April 19-21 is open until Wednesday, March 28. However, poets and patrons can also register at the door, and everyone has the option to purchase passes for the entire festival, day passes, or admission to specific events, (There are several free events too!), all listed on the Split This Rock website. (Photos provided by Split This Rock)


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