Poet and spoken word artist Cheeraz Gormon has felt great pain.
She grew up in the north St. Louis neighborhood of College Hill and remembers what it was like to hear the first gun shots ring out in her neighborhood in the late 1980s and the gang wars that erupted thereafter. She remembers when her brother, six weeks home from Kuwait, was murdered in Olivette. She remembers, most recently, when her baby brother was murdered on August 13, 2013, defending a woman who was the victim of domestic abuse. She most certainly remembers years of systemic racism she faced as an executive in the advertising industry and daily life as a black woman and activist.
But Gormon has also approached this pain with great love: a fuel for her poetry and spoken word performances that are capturing the hearts and minds of people around St. Louis.
“Great suffering leads to great love,” she told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh. “It has caused me to have a certain compassion as I walk through this life. I’ve been fortunate to not only have lived in different places in the United States but to live abroad and see different facets of humanity and to love so many different types of people, to understand the root of things.
“In order to understand community violence, you have to understand poverty, structural racism, the lack of opportunity, environmental racism … when you understand that, nine chances out of 10, someone is a product of their environment. They are a product of trauma that has gone untreated. On a human level, all of us can connect to that. For me, that’s how I get through life, regardless of all the losses that I’ve had. I understand the root of things but I also understand that in suffering, only love can help you overcome that.”
She says she was immediately able to forgive the men who killed her brothers because of this kind of understanding.
“We live in a society that condones certain behavior, actually encourages it,” Gormon said. “We condone gross patriarchy. We condone misogyny. We condone domestic violence. To understand that that person, born to this earth as a spirit being in a human form, was born into a family where there may have been a lineage of domestic violence, they only did what they knew to do.”
Gormon is what some call a “multipotentialite.” She’s a spoken word artist, published poet, photographer and advertising executive, having worked as a Creative Director and as a lead copywriter. Last March, Gormon published a book of poetry entitled “In The Midst of Loving.” You may recognize Gormon from her smile on the cover of ALIVE magazine’s “Good Vibes” issue.
Gormon is also a self-described, life-long activist who said she had no choice but to become an activist after growing up with one of her parents incarcerated.
“Watching my mother advocate for my father’s freedom, I had no choice,” Gormon said. “As a child I didn’t know what was going on, but understanding what my mother was doing, and other women, as they went up to bus rides to go see their husbands and going up to the state capitol with thick stacks of paperwork to prove innocence, it really informs how I move in life.”
Gormon was first introduced to the power of words, poetry, when she would read the liner notes of her mother’s vinyl collection.
“This theme of love, how it comes about and I don’t know how as a young child I understood the importance of a song by Stevie Wonder called ‘All is Fair in Love,’ Gormon said. “That song, even to this day, it has informed everything that I write about, how I go through life. It is an arresting statement. It starts out that ‘All is fair in love/ Love's a crazy game/Two people vow to stay/In love as one they say/ But all in war is so cold/You either win or lose.’ The poetry of that and the gravity of that hit me as a child and stuck with me through life.”
Love is certainly one of the huge themes of Gormon’s work. On the back of “In the Midst Of Loving,” she wrote that “love makes no promises, only humans do.”
“Love exists for our taking,” Gormon said. “It doesn’t ask us to promise anything. But humans do. If you love me, then you’ll do this. Show me you love me by doing this. Love is just here. Open. Ready. However, it is human beings that put prerequisites on love.”
In some ways, this exemplifies the honest way that Gormon moves through her life. The best example of this, though, is through the reading of her work. Listen as she recites the poem “This is,” from “In the Midst of Loving:"
The topics of mass incarceration, the prison-industrial complex and police shootings of black people are other huge themes in Gormon’s poetry and spoken word. She said that the police shooting death of Michael Brown in 2014 was one of the most gruesome things she has been alive to witness.
“I don’t know if it was inspiration, it just felt like a continuation of the work, the work that needs to be done,” Gormon said. “It made me happy that my grandmother transitioned a year before the happening. My grandmother was 93, from Mobile, Alabama, and she wouldn’t talk about the South. She wouldn’t talk about the lynchings. She wouldn’t talk about the disrespect that she endured and her family endured and the danger.”
Gormon said that when Brown was killed, it was like time collapsed.
“I was sitting at my dining room table, looking at pictures of this child. His body laid on the ground, blood consecrated that ground. And if you’ve ever been to that section where his body laid, you understand the visibility. The mental and emotional trauma, for me, was extremely similar to seeing those pictures of black men, women and children being lynched and people standing around and absorbing that. The trauma will take generations to undo. You can’t unsee that. I thought about my grandmother and how happy I was that she wasn’t here to see the reoccurrence of what I consider to be a modern-day lynching, a message to black people to stay in your place because we can still do this to you.”
Following Brown’s death, Gormon became involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, strategizing and assisting Amnesty International when they touched the ground in Ferguson. She viewed her role as making sure the intentions of organizations like that were pure and for the betterment of the people, not just to raise the visibility of their organizations.
She also used that space in the capacity of the “Healing Justice” delegation.
“When enduring great pain, we must reaffirm our humanity by acknowledging that pain, acknowledging that we are not okay,” Gormon said. “My priority became ‘How do we heal people?’… That’s one of the things that we missed the mark on. Fire will ignite and if you have that fire inside of you, it will devour you. Black folk have had a fire that has attempted to devour us for centuries in this country. For me, it is like ‘No, the buck stops here,’ now by making sure we get the proper mental and emotional services.”
That healing capacity is no farce. Gormon approaches her day-to-day life with honesty and love. That was immediately apparent when host Don Marsh asked her about this tweet:
@STLonAir Cheeraz: You make me feel so proud! Coach McWoods and I want you share your love with students @ KHS! Stay strong! Mr. Baldwin
— Wayne Baldwin (@notmagicscience) February 10, 2016
“You want to talk about influential people in your life? Wayne Baldwin and Coach McWoods, I attended Nipher Middle School, and that man encouraged me beyond measures not only as a student but as an athlete and a person. I love you both. Yeah, you’ve got my number, call me and I’ll come.”
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.