Civil Rights Corps is excited to announce the launch of our art and poetry fellowship programs. Each year, we will select a groundbreaking poet and artist whose work urgently confronts the subject matter of our civil rights work. They will be named the Civil Rights Corps Poet in Residence and Artist in Residence.
Our criminal system’s ability to accomplish mass human caging to an extent never before seen in the recorded history of the modern world depends on ignoring and erasing the stories of the human beings on whom we inflict unspeakable suffering. The Poet and Artist will produce urgent and vivid works that communicate the humanity of our clients and others like them and that sheds light on the toll that the unjust practices in the criminal system takes on the bodies and minds of the people directly impacted by it and on our communities more broadly.
The language used in police reports, court arguments, and prison budgets enables large-scale indifference; poetry and art make us understand, make us care, and make us act.
At home, it was Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, James Brown, and Parliament-Funkadelic. Dad was a trumpet player. Well, more than that. Dad was, and is, Rod McGaha, one of those virtuoso musicians whose talent and musicality simultaneously inspires and frustrates. He’s good enough to make people want to play or make players want to quit.
Floss wanted to play. He picked up the trumpet at age five and landed in the famously vivacious horn section at Nashville’s Pearl Cohn High School. In the Pearl Cohn marching band, Floss obsessed over the way that different parts and different motions came together to form one powerful, breathing thing. But he also obsessed in finding a way to become another powerful, breathing thing. Second-hand microphone. Outdated computer program. They were enough for Floss to make his own rhymes, and to preserve syncopated, rhyming versions of his own story, his own powerful, breathing thing. Primed to rap over a Yo Gotti beat at a school talent show, he spit acapella instead and brought the school down. By finding something that was his own, he removed himself from the competition.
On to Tennessee State University, a hotbed of black culture in the South, in the middle of a Nashville where R&B and blues have always thrived alongside the more famous but no less potent sounds of the Grand Ole Opry. Jimi Hendrix played on Jefferson Street, steps from Tennessee State. So did Etta James, B.B. King, and Bobby Blue Bland. At TSU, Floss was surrounded by hustlers of creativity. “There was Key Wane (Drake, Wale, Big Sean) making beats in the dorm room, and now he has a Grammy from Beyonce,” he says. “Everyone that’s running the scene here now was there then. Black Rob (a Nashville promoter and club owner), DJ Crisis, Zach Boog, and Ducko (OG Maco, ASAP Ferg, YG) were all around.”
Floss garnered national attention when John Gotty from seminal hip-hop blog The Smoking Section saw him at a grimy little club called The End. “What really capped it off,” Gotty said, “is a line where he referenced TSU students spending refund checks to be fresh, and this crowd composed of kids from all the local colleges loses it. In that moment, he presented himself as Every man that so many of us could relate to.”
Floss headlines clubs, and opens for the likes of Pusha T, Wale, Yo Gotti, Big K.R.I.T., and Future. He’s played primetime during the Billboard Music Awards, featured in an ad for the streaming service Tidal. He has also had his song Kerosene premiered by Beats1 Radio on Apple Music and generated over 4 million plays on Spotify. The disruptive anthem "Take Yours" from Floss' Tennessee Daydreams was produced by the co-producers of Drake's "Draft Day" multi-platinum-selling, Grammy-award-nominated producer Syk Sense (Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar, Bryson Tiller) and Ducko McFli (Migos, Lil Yachty, 2 Chainz).
Floss reflects on the making of "TAKE YOURS", "I pulled up on Syk Sense to work on the album and "Take Yours" was the first track we made. The beat wasn't even created yet, I just heard him scroll across these crazy horns and I started screaming the melodies into the mic. Syk instantly caught the vibe and started crafting the skeleton to the beat, we knew it was special."
Since then Floss has played the Jay-Z headlined Meadows Music Fest, Sloss Fest, Colleges (including the Ivy League Cornell University alongside Playboi Carti), and most importantly to Floss he has cemented himself as Nashville’s premier up and coming hip hop artist with more music, collaborations, and content on the horizon.
FAYLITA HICKS (she/they) is a queer Afro-Latinx activist, writer, performer, and interdisciplinary artist born in South Central CA and raised in Central Texas. They use their direct experience with pre-trial detention to advocate for the rights of LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC people forced into poverty-based incarceration and subjected to racially-charged police disruptions. Their experience in the Hays County Jail has been featured in the 2019 ITVS Independent Lens Documentary “45 Days in a Texas Jail” and the 2021 Brave New Films production “Racially Charged: America’s Misdemeanor Problem,” which is narrated by Mahershala Ali.
They are the former Editor-in-Chief of the literary journal Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, a finalist for State Poet Laureate of Texas, a 2020-2022 Texas Touring Artist, and the author of HoodWitch (Acre Books, 2019), which was a finalist for the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Poetry, the 2019 Balcones Poetry Prize, and the 2019 Julie Suk Award. The winner of Palette Poetry’s 2020 Sappho Prize, they have been awarded fellowships and residencies from Tin House, Lambda Literary, Jack Jones Literary Arts, Broadway Advocacy, The Dots Between, and the Right of Return USA.
Their work is anthologized in What Tells You Ripeness: Black Writing on Nature (Pangyrus, 2021), The Long Devotion: Poets Writing Motherhood and When There Are Nine, and has been featured in or is forthcoming Adroit, American Poetry Review, the Cincinnati Review, Ecotone, F(r)iction, HuffPost, Kenyon Review, Longreads, Palette Poetry, Poetry Magazine, The Rumpus, Slate, Texas Monthly, Texas Observer, Vox, VIDA Review, Yale Review, and others. Hicks received a BA in English from Texas State University-San Marcos in 2010 and an MFA in Creative Writing from Sierra Nevada University in 2018.
Sherrill Roland is an interdisciplinary artist who creates art that challenges ideas around controversial social and political constructs and generates a safe space to process, question and share. He was born in Asheville, NC, and received an MFA in Studio Art from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Inspired by his prison experience for a crime he did not commit, he founded The Jumpsuit Project to raise awareness around issues related to mass incarceration. Roland’s socially-engaged art project has been presented at Open Engagement Chicago, Oakland City Hall, and the Michigan School of Law. Last year, he was awarded the Art Fund For Justice grant and the Southern Arts, South Arts Grand Prize, and State Fellowship. He is a 2021 Creative Capital Awardee.
Omari Booker began his journey as an artist his senior year of high school at Montgomery Bell Academy. There he realized his gift for visual art and like most true artists, the path to developing his talent has been anything but linear. It has taken him through various disciplines and institutions including Belmont University, Middle Tennessee State University, and Tennessee State University. As he studied Mathematics and other more traditional curricula he finally focused on studio art and graphic design earning his B.S. in Graphic Design from Tennessee State University. Omari is currently the curator and artist in residence at Woodcuts Gallery and Custom Framing.
Omari’s work has been influenced by masters such as Vincent Van Gogh and Salvador Dali as well as, modern artists like Charles White and Jacob Lawrence. A consistent affinity for realism is apparent in his work, while abstractions can also be found. Oil paintings are Omari’s predominant medium, but mixed media including charcoal, ink, and found objects are essential building blocks of his work, and are used to create finished pieces.
Omari takes a process-oriented approach to his art, embracing it as a therapeutic modality through which he is able to express his passion for the freedom and independence that the creative process allows him to experience. His art is his personal therapy, and his desire is that those viewing it will have personal experiences of catharsis. The philosophy that undergirds Omari’s work is FREEDOM THROUGH ART and he aspires to create work that communicates to his audience their unique and intrinsic ability to be free.
Jesse Krimes is a Philadelphia based artist whose work explores systems, hierarchies, and how they inform social norms. While serving a six-year prison sentence, he produced numerous bodies of work that have been exhibited nationally and internationally. Krimes’ work has been included in numerous exhibitions in venues including the Palais de Tokyo (Paris); the Goethe Institute (New York); Aperture Gallery (New York); the Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore); the Spagnuole Art Gallery, Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.), and the Zimmerli Art Museum (New Jersey), among other venues.
After Krimes’ release in 2014, he co-founded Right of Return USA in partnership with the Soze agency, the first national fellowship dedicated to supporting formerly incarcerated artists. He has received public commissions from the Ford Foundation, Amnesty International, Mural Arts Philadelphia, and Eastern State Penitentiary. Krimes was awarded fellowships from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (2017); the Independence Foundation (2017); and the Ford Foundation’s Art For Justice initiative (2018). He is represented by Burning in Water Gallery in New York. In addition to his independent work, Krimes successfully led a class-action lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase for their predatory practice of charging ex-offenders exorbitant fees.
Randall Horton is the author of the poetry collections Pitch Dark Anarchy (Triquarterly/Northwestern University Press, 2013), The Definition of Place (Main Street Rag, 2010), and The Lingua France of Ninth Street (Main Street Rag, 2009). His honors include the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award, a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Literature, and most recently GLCA New Writers Award for Creative Nonfiction for Hook: A Memoir (Augury Books, 2015).
Horton is an associate professor of English at the University of New Haven. He is a member of the experimental performance group Heroes Are Gang Leaders which recently received the 2018 American Book Award in Oral Literature. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he now resides in East Harlem.
Alana is a visual artist and public defender. She hopes to see the abolition of our current criminal legal system and in its place, a deep investment in a sustainable economy, education, health care, living wages, affordable housing and the arts. Alana works at the Legal Aid Society of New York, where she provides legal defense for people accused of crimes, currently in Manhattan and previously in the Bronx. She is represented by the Carrie Able Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She was part of ProjectArt’s inaugural 2016-2017 artists in residence program. Alana received her J.D. from Fordham Law School in 2012, where she participated in the Criminal Defense Clinic and spent a semester working and studying in Mexico City. She has studied drawing at the New York Academy of Art, the Art Students’ League and the New York Studio School.
Reginald Dwayne Betts is a Ph. D. in Law candidate at Yale. His major research interests are administrative law, criminal law, empirical legal studies and law and literature. He holds a B.A. from the University of Maryland and a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was awarded the Israel H. Perez Prize for best student note or comment appearing in the Yale Law Journal He spent his summers with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the District of Columbia’s Public Defender Service. He is currently a Liman Fellow working in the New Haven Public Defender’s Office.
Prior to law school, Dwayne was a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies and a Soros Justice Fellow. In addition, he served by appointment of former President Barack Obama as a practitioner member of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The author of three books, Betts’ latest collection of poems, Bastards of the Reagan Era, has been named the winner of the Pen New England Poetry Prize. His first collection of poems, Shahid Reads His Own Palm, won the Beatrice Hawley Award. Betts’ memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, was the recipient of the 2010 NAACP Image Award for non-fiction.