Cedric Bolton, African American student adviser and poet
What poetry can give
Cedric Bolton helps create community through words
by Jason Sanford
From M, winter 2004
Cedric Bolton didn't see himself as a poet until he rode a bus to New York one day in 1999. "I was riding the 171 across the George Washing-ton Bridge and this elder in the community saw me writing and asked if I was writing poetry," Bolton says. "When I told him I didn't know what to call my writing, he looked at what I was doing and said, 'Oh, you're a poet.'" For Bolton, an academic adviser in the U's African American Learning Center, poetry and community are what power his life. Born in Mississippi and raised in Paterson, New Jersey, Bolton says the supportive community he grew up in helped to bring out the poetry in him. "I grew up in an area where people looked out for one another. To me, that's community--and whether I'm writing about violence, love, single parents, or church, the experiences of my life are reflected in my poems." A few years ago, Bolton moved to Minneapolis. He expected to find another community to embrace and share. Instead he found a place of artistic cliques and walls. "In Minneapolis, there are pockets of community here and there, but nothing bringing it all together," he says. So Bolton decided to be the one to bring it all together. The result: Poetic Black Fusion, a writers' group for poets of African descent hosted by Bolton. Meeting twice each month at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Bolton's group attracts a diverse group of poets--new poets, experienced poets, poets from the suburbs, and poets who've recently emigrated from Africa. Bolton has now taken his beliefs in community and poetry and applied them to his work at the U, where he advises and helps African American students succeed in both their classes and their lives. When the African American Learning Resource Center moved last year, Bolton held an open mic poetry reading to attract the students he advised to the new building. That open mic--where any person is invited to step up to the microphone and recite poetry--turned into Voices Merging, a monthly venue where more than a hundred students from all ethnic groups share their poetry and writing. According to Derrick Biney, a sophomore in journalism who is also president of Voices Merging, the group is more than just a place to read poetry. "We're a family," he says. "We're our own support group. If Voices Merging were not here, I can honestly say I would not still be at the University of Minnesota." To Bolton, that is exactly the kind of response that shows what poetry can give to people. "These students are gaining something big," Bolton says. "They're gaining a community."