LOOKING FOR EXCELANO: Majoring in English and Africana studies, Kassidi Jones is a senior from Hartford, Conn. Since the second semester of her freshman year, she has been a member of the Excelano Project, Penn’s premier spoken word poetry group. “I knew about them before I got to Penn because I used to watch The Strivers Row on YouTube—it’s a poetry collective—and a lot of them started in Excelano,” she says. “When I got here, I was already looking for them.”
DEAR MAMA: Jones, 21, started writing in grade school. She was inspired after she forgot to buy her mom a Mother’s Day gift one year and wrote her a poem instead about how much she loved her. “She really liked it, so I just kept writing after that,” Jones says.
I, KASSIDI: In elementary school, Jones says she liked writing short stories. When she got to high school, she started performing spoken word poetry, and made her debut at the Connecticut Forum. “Fiction prose was fun for making these new fantasy worlds and escaping reality,” she says. “But poetry was good for me to express myself directly, talking about how I’m feeling, what I’m thinking, and get it on paper.”
POETIC JUSTICE: The first poem Jones performed as part of the Excelano Project was called “Date Night.” Reflecting on her collection of works over the past three-and-a-half years, she says she writes about womanhood a lot more than she realized. “I say the word ‘womb’ a lot,” she says. She also addresses social issues and injustices in her poems, such as the riveting “When A Country Has A Miscarriage,” which is about the Flint water crisis.
FIRST PENN FAMILY: Currently comprised of 10 members, the Excelano Project meets twice a week. Members can share any pieces they are working on and receive feedback and critique from the group. “It’s just always good to get other sets of ears to hear what you’re saying because they’ll probably pick up on things that you didn’t notice and are able to tell you what’s working and what’s not working,” Jones says. “But also, the group’s very supportive of each other on a personal level, which I really needed when I first got here. It was the first real family I had on campus.”
LOVE TALK AND SLOW JAMS: The Excelano Project puts on one group performance in the fall semester, and two shows in the spring semester, one of which is a collaboration with The Inspiration, a black a cappella group at Penn, on a show called “Love Talk and Slow Jams.” “We write poems about love and they sing songs about love,” Jones says. “It happens around Valentine’s Day. It’s all very cute.”
DR. OF BLACK LITERATURE: After graduating in May, Jones plans to continue with her studies with the goal of becoming a college professor. “I want to teach black literature,” she says. “I don’t think I was taught it very well until I got to college, and that made a huge difference on my writing and my life. Reading things by other black people—fiction and nonfiction—and just thinking about all the things that we’re capable of is really encouraging.”