Hip hop artist is new Ottawa poet laureate
April 28, 2017
Spending his formative years in Guyana with his father helped to improve Jamaal Jackson Rogers’ grasp of the English language.
A university graduate who is well read, Terrence Rogers who now resides in Ottawa, taught his children how to expand their vocabulary and use the language to clearly express themselves.
“He encouraged us to read the dictionary and, doing that for years, helped me to gain an appreciation for the language, especially when I returned to Canada with a heavy accent,” said Toronto-born Rogers who spent about four years in Guyana. “At first, I was intimidated by those around me who spoke ‘correct Canadian English’. However, I soon gained the confidence to express myself and that led me to develop a love for writing stories and poems.”
Rogers (his stage name is Just Jamaal the Poet) was recently named one of two City of Ottawa poet laureates.
It’s the first time in 27 years that the nation’s capital has literary ambassadors.
Previously, the laureate program was unilingual. Now, it features an English-language poet and a French-language poet who is Andree Lacelle.
They will serve two-year terms.
“This is a huge honour and it has rejuvenated my understanding of what it means to be someone who practices art in depth and who disseminates the practice and try to share it with people around the world,” said Rogers who is Muslim and a married father of five children.
He plans to use the position to reach students and young offenders with a passion for poetry and literary expression.
“I will attempt to get the Ottawa-Carleton District and the Ottawa Catholic School Boards to fund and implement an annual school-wide writing or poetry festival,” said Rogers. “At present, I work with young offenders in secure and open custody facilities. I will continue to do that, but I want to expand and be able to help them with their writing when they are on probation or released.”
Rogers, whose late mother was of Cherokee ancestry, is the great great grandson of Albert Jackson, Toronto’s first Black postman.
When Jackson’s mother – Ann Maria Jackson who was an enslaved woman in Delaware -- learned that her master intended to sell four more of her children (her eldest two had already being sold), she hurriedly gathered her remaining seven kids and embarked on the challenging journey to Canada. They arrived here in 1859 and the two children who were sold somehow found their way to Toronto where the family was united.
Albert, the youngest of the siblings, attended school and obtained employment as a mail carrier in 1882. When his White colleagues refused to train him, he was given a menial inside job as a hall porter.
A federal election was looming at around the same time and the postmaster, who was a close political ally of then Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald, promised to train the recruit in order to secure the nearly 60 Black votes in the Toronto Centre riding held by the Conservatives. The postmaster had earlier accused Liberal candidate J.D Edgar of exploiting the situation to secure votes.
The ploy worked in favour of Jackson who was a mailman for 36 years before retiring.
He bought a home at 234 Brunswick Ave. in 1914, four years before he died. His family lived in the residence until 1970
Four years ago, Albert Jackson Laneway – located near the residence – was unveiled.
To mark the historic occasion, Rogers wrote a poem, ‘Legacy’, and announced he was adopting his late mother – Joanne Lee Jackson -- last name as his middle name.
She passed away five years ago.
“I was not given a second name at birth,” said the poet and hip hop artist. “…This is a major milestone for me as a man and it almost makes me feel complete.”
VERSe Ottawa and the city collaborated to resurrect the poet laureate program which has a $25,000 annual budget. Rogers and Lacelle will receive $5,000 honorariums and the rest of the money will support programs and events to promote poetry suggested by the poet laureates.