Words have power.
Twins Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Albert “Al” Mills have carved their lives – and their careers – out of this simple belief. The brothers, otherwise known as the “Twin Poets” have traveled the world performing their spoken word poems, spreading messages of hope, healing and help for those whom society has cast aside.
The twins visited RJ Reynolds Magnet High School last week to share their insight and verbal prowess with budding art students. Their visit was accompanied by the screening of “Twin Poets: Why I Write,” a documentary film about the brothers’ poetry and work within their community in Wilmington, Del.
Screened during the 2012 RiverRun Festival, the gritty, hard hitting documentary took viewers into the world that the twins call home, a town fraught with violence and crime, during the time when Chukwuocha served as associate director of the Kingswood Community Center. “Why I Write” captured the highs and lows the two men faced in their daily struggles to rescue the youth from the streets of Wilmington. The twins continue to battle the enormous pressure that threatens to lure Wilmington youth into a life of crime through Art for Life, a nonprofit they founded to “use the power of the arts to save and transform lives by empowering individuals and communities to create, utilize and support life giving art.” Chukwuocha is executive director of the project.
“These kids are beautiful and they have these wonderful gardens in them, but society has a way of putting bricks on top of their flowers,” remarked Mills, who serves as associate executive director and as county director for MST (Multi-systemic Therapy) Juvenile Services. “…Every day, we’re removing bricks.”
Following in the footsteps of their late father, William “Hicks” Anderson, a well known community activist, the twins have dedicated their lives – and their poetry – to showing the young people in their community the path to a better life.
“We love this,” Mills told students in an English class the twins visited after the screening on Oct. 2. “This is what our lives are about – sharing our work and working with children.”
The twins’ appearance, sponsored by RiverRun’s Films with Class program, was part of a slate of Reynolds activities that included a school-wide poetry slam and performances by local poetry troupe Authoring Action. Chukwuocha, Mills and “Why I Write” Filmmaker Sharon Baker led master classes for English, journalism, creative writing, performing arts and documentary filmmaking students.
“Ninety eight percent of our writing is geared toward the children we interact with on a daily basis,” Mills said. “The other two percent is about what we as adults can do to help them.”
Chukwuocha, who was Born Elbert Mills but changed his name to the Nigerian Igbo moniker, which he says means “my father is within me,” has taken his community service one step further; he was elected to Wilmington’s City Council in 2012. Adding the public service to an already more than full time job is no easy task, Chukwuocha admitted, but it allows him the opportunity to do more good than ever.
“Now you’re at the table and problems that you see in your community, you’re part of the solution,” he said. “…It’s tough, but I think that on the other end, it’s a sacrifice that you have to make for the good of society and for our world.”
Mills said he and his brother feel “blessed” to be able to do what they love every day. He encouraged the students to find their own passions in life and pursue them unabashedly.
“That’s my motivation – that’s what drives me,” he declared. “I have to make this place better for these children, and that’s what motivates me to always want to get up and do more.”
The twins say one of the pivotal moments in their journeys as poets came when they authored a poem in memory of their younger brother, who was tragically killed when he was struck by a stolen car. Today, they use the art form to help the young men and women they encounter open up and express their feelings, challenges and hopes for the future.
“Honesty is one of the ways in which we use to break down that barrier,” Chukwuocha said. “We try to let them know that truth is their best weapon.”