The Peace Poets are family born of Hip Hop, heart, and hope in New York City. They are Frank Antonio López (Frankie 4), Abraham Velázquez, Jr. (A-B-E), Enmanuel Candelario (The Last Emcee), Frantz Jerome (Ram3), and Lu Aya. Some have been friends since as early as three years old and over time they have built an artist collective of poets, Hip Hop performers, and educators founded on this friendship and their common love for community and creative expression. Grounded in the power of personal narratives and community, The Peace Poets create and have shared Spoken Word poetry, rap, and Movement Music that responds to social and political crisis in over 40 countries.
An essential part of their formation as youth, was their participation in Lyrical Circle, a program in Harlem, NY facilitated by the nationally renown and award winning youth development organization, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol (BHSS). At Lyrical Circle, they explored their lived experiences through the lens of pan-African and pan-Latinx history. They were nurtured in a community that fostered the culture of reflection, creation, and expression of their fullest and most authentic selves. Everyone in the circle became family. For The Peace Poets, this space became a crucial ritual for facing both the hard and the beautiful truths of life together. Lyrical Circle became a space of ritual and practice for transforming truth into rebellious living works of art.
As part of Lyrical Circle, The Peace Poets published their first book of poems Off The Subject. Prolific poet, the late Sekou Sundiata wrote the forward in Off The Subject, which also included an afterward written by renowned poet Nikki Giovanni. The Peace Poets began to channel the rage, pain, love, and joy that they felt into poetry and Hip Hop during these years. These forms of expressions soon proved to build bridges for the group as they performed throughout New York City.
The Peace Poets began designing curriculum that used artistic methods to build safer spaces in which we could more fully see and respect each other. Upon this foundation, they facilitated sessions on racism, manhood, the brutality of our national history, and the importance of diversity. In their practice, art joined hands with education to respond to both the personal needs of those in the space, as well as the political needs for societal learning and transformation.
The Peace Poets brought the wisdom of BHSS’ model into the classroom, realizing that we are all both teachers and students and there are deeply important truths waiting to be faced in any gathering of people.
In The Bronx, The Peace Poets collaborated with Youth For R.E.A.L. and the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center to nurture leadership skills in the young people of the neighborhood. In Harlem at Union Settlement, The Peace Poets have led poetry workshops for low-income and undocumented youth; sharing and bearing witness to narratives of pain, healing, and transformation. As cultural workers at Children of Promise in Brooklyn, The Peace Poets welcomed children of incarcerated parents to imagine, write, and live a future that breaks the cycle of the criminal justice system. Collaborating with Voices Unbroken, The Peace Poets have held spaces for incarcerated young people to continue to process and develop and expand on their emotional intelligence through poetry while acknowledging and dealing with the consequences and realities of the prison industrial complex.
The Peace Poets have shared at panels and facilitated workshops in Manhattan with Regis High School, Dominican Academy, and The Dalton High School on how to embrace our agency, confront conflict with love, and be the change we want to see. The Peace Poets have facilitated workshops for thousands of young intellectual and creative minds throughout New York City with Urban Word, NYC, and have judged and coached national poetry slam teams for Brave New Voices. As educators, The Peace Poets never stopped being students or artists, on the contrary, their poems and music manifest in their classrooms and turned up the volume in their assignments.
Throughout the years, The Peace Poets have worked with various schools, philanthropies, and social justice organizations to organize youth conferences and facilitate professional development seminars for educators. In 2009, The Peace Poets collaborated with The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) to co-organize, facilitate, and perform at their Young Men Rising Conference in Chicago, IL for youth ages 16 – 24 focusing on personal transformation and community building through the writing and sharing of narratives. Columbia University invited The Peace Poets into an official partnership 2014 – 2017 to facilitate professional development trainings for teachers enrolled at Teacher’s College graduate program. Participating teachers received workshops and in the field training as they observed The Peace Poets facilitate creative writing workshops in their classrooms with their students. The New School awarded The Peace Poets with the Civic Language Arts Grant to teach a course on the history of protest music and poetry in 2016. The class was titled after the name of their performance poem, Peace to the Poets, and was awarded the grant again in 2017 and 2018. The fall of 2016, Stanford University professor, and author of Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, Jeff Chang, cited and celebrated The Peace Poets musical contribution to the Movement for Black Lives in his book, We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation. In 2016, The Peace Poets were featured artists at National Youth Event’s (NYE), Believe, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida where they performed for 4000+ young people. In 2016 and 2017, WKKF, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi, The Mississippi Center for Justice, and Sunflower County Consolidated School District invited The Peace Poets to perform and facilitate workshops for young people in their Regaining Our Origins Through Story (ROOTS) project at their You(th) Matter conferences in New Orleans and Mississippi.
The Peace Poets have performed at notable poetic hubs and venues across the city and the country, and continue to create art and curate safer spaces where communities can share in art, express themselves and find empowerment through people power. The Peace Poets offer a free monthly open mic to the public on the last Wednesday of every month at their office space in The Dan Berrigan Center for Art and Activism located within the intentional community of Benincasa. They performed their live poetry production Barrio Libre in El Museo Del Barrio in Harlem and the Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education in The Bronx. Artistic director of Playback NYC Theatre Company, Baba Israel, directed The Peace Poets in their Spoken Word poetry production, Living in the Vision. They have shared their work at The Nuyorican Poets Café, The Bowery Poetry Club, BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), Bar 13, Gotham Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and The National Black Theater in New York City, Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in The Bay Area, CA.
The Peace Poets compliment their work inside the classroom with poetry and music that responds to social and political crisis. They have created countless songs and chants that organizers have brought to the streets, beautifying our movements for justice and liberation. They infuse what they simply call Movement Music with social justice movements of our times. Movement Music is an art form of creating short learnable, shareable, beautiful songs that could be used in meetings, rallies, and actions with the goal of making our movements more inspiring, effective and sustainable. The Peace Poets’ focus remains on justice and tapping into the power of bringing the beauty of music into action.
The Peace Poets joined artists and activists in protest from across the city when Sean Bell was murdered by the New York Police Department (NYPD) in 2006. They collaborated with The Stolen Lives Project and families who have lost loved ones to police murder to demand legal and moral accountability for these state crimes. The Peace Poets performed at the Gowanus Projects in Brooklyn for Nicholas Heyward, Sr.’s annual celebration commemorating the life of his son Nicholas Heyward, Jr. who was murdered by the NYPD at the age of 13. They have since offered their presence and their voices on countless occasions to accompany Margarita Rosario, Iris Baez, Juanita Young, Constance Malcolm and too many mothers who have lost their children to police violence, as they march for miles, for years, for justice.
In 2008, The Peace Poets collaborated with graduate students from New York University’s Ed Theatre program and helped form part of the collective Art, Community, Education, Solidarity/ Arte Colectivo En Solidaridad (A.C.E.S.). With A.C.E.S., The Peace Poets co-produced and presented Mujeres de Arena, a verbatim theatre performance recounting statements, testimonies, and writings of some of the women disappeared in the femicide in Juarez, Mexico. In 2009, Enmanuel and Lu Aya joined the brave community human rights workers responding to the crisis of violence in Juarez where thousands of women have disappeared for decades.
In 2011, The Peace Poets joined NYC based housing organization Organizing For Occupation (O4O) demanding a moratorium on evictions during the housing crisis. The Peace Poets participated in direct actions and civil disobedience singing their song, Listen Auctioneer, which was used by groups across the country to interrupt foreclosure auctions, and resist the bailout of banks over people. Listen Auctioneer went viral spreading to cities throughout the nation and Rachel Maddow called the song, “…so beautiful that it might be the end of, ‘hey hey ho ho…’”
In the Spring of 2014, The Peace Poets wrote The Voice of My Great Granddaughter for Flood Wall Street, one of the largest acts of civil disobedience witnessed by the climate justice movement. The Voice of My Great Granddaughter has spread throughout the environmental justice movement and used for all types of actions to protect the planet and people living on the front lines of the crisis.
Summer 2014, The Peace Poets released their debut album, State of the Art, which was engineered by Grammy Award recipient Mikaelin “Blue” Bluespruce, and it’s release was emceed by Toni Blackman and djed by Scram Jones. The Peace Poets took State of The Art on the road and toured the album throughout the northeastern United States, sharing the stage with Jessica Care Moore and Denice Frohman on their From The Ground Up Tour. After touring Albany, Philadelphia, and D.C., The Peace Poets received the news that Mike Brown had been killed in Ferguson, Missouri just a few days after their arrival in Baltimore that August. The Peace Poets made a detour and joined the uprising in Ferguson. The experience of joining the courageous community in the experiences of beatings, arrests, and intimidation further launched The Peace Poets into a commitment to fight for Black Lives. They carried the experiences from Ferguson with them throughout the rest of their tour traveling through Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh, sharing their insight and opening dialogues with the colleges, community centers and front porches they visited.
Nearing Autumn in 2014, The Peace Poets finished their From The Ground Up Tour in Far Rockaway, New York and after their experience in Ferguson, they joined in marches with allies, partner organizations, and thousands who were outraged at the countless acts of police impunity. At this time, The Peace Poets wrote the song I Can’t Breathe for Mr. Eric Garner who was murdered by the NYPD in the streets of Staten Island. When there were no officers indicted, The Peace Poets joined Communities United for Police Reform and blocked the Manhattan Bridge singing I Can’t Breathe. Some of the members of The Peace Poets were arrested while participating in the civil disobedience and singing of I Can’t Breathe. Major news networks recorded these actions and the I Can’t Breathe song soon began to spread across the country with the uprisings. The song continued to go viral as actor, Samuel L. Jackson, recorded himself singing I Can’t Breathe, and was quoted by USA Today as “challenging his fellow celebrities and others to sing what’s becoming the anthem of the anti-police brutality movement.” Tens of thousands of people sang I Can’t Breathe as they marched and took action towards justice and dignity for all Black and Brown lives.
In 2015, The Peace Poets recorded the video Water Got No Enemy and featured an introduction by Frank Graham to demand justice for the life of his son Ramarley Graham who was killed by the NYPD in his bathroom after police broke into his home without a warrant. Gathering in front of the precinct corresponding to the officers involved in the murder with Ramarley Graham, The Peace Poets teamed up with decade long partners, grassroots organization, The Justice Committee, and sang Hold Your Fire to ground the angry tearful crowd. As the crowd turned to face a long line of officers, they sang; “Hold your fire, think of your daughter, the world’s on fire, and you’re killing the water,” and there was not a dry eye in the streets, including the police’s.
The Peace Poets traveled to Guantanamo, Cuba with Witness Against Torture (WAT) in 2016 after organizing countless actions in Washington, D.C. demanding an end to torture in US state, federal, and military prisons. With WAT they improved upon the art of bringing music and poetry off the page and into action in public spaces; from the streets, to train stations, and government buildings.
The Peace Poets used their song, The Walls of Our Hearts, in collaboration with Mijente and WAT to continue the struggle against immigration. In 2016 in Cleveland, OH, Democracy Now interviewed and documented The Peace Poets as they took this song into the streets during the Republican National Convention to resist the violent racism and illegal torture practices being promoted by the Trump campaign.
2016 The Peace Poets performed at the Unity Concert in Rapid City, SD, with civil rights activists Peter Yarrow, Keith Secola, and Nahko Bear demanding that the federal government return the Black Hills to the Lakota people. After the concert they drove to North Dakota to support the historic resistance to protect water and life at Standing Rock. In 2017, they returned to participate at the Unity Concert and deepened their relationship with the Native community while on tour with artist organizer Davidica Little Spotted Horse on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
February 2017, during the relaunch of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign, Billboard Magazine covered The Peace Poets as they performed MM and shared the stage with Sweet Honey in the Rock, Aloe Blacc, and Maxwell.
January and June 2017, The Peace Poets collaborated with Kiskeya Libre and traveled to the Dominican Republic and co-organized an international artist residency in Santo Domingo, performing and sharing workshops throughout the southern part of the island and the Cibao region in the north. Spring 2017, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) invited The Peace Poets to participate in the performance residence, Word, Sound, Power selling out the Fishman Space for 8 consecutive performances. Summer 2017, The Peace Poets toured Colorado and performed with Hip Hop and rock band, Flobots.
January 2018 The Peace Poets published There Is A Man Under That Hood: Closing Guantanamo and Ending Torture in the Age of Trump. The book combines photography with Lu Aya’s poem: There Is A Man Under That Hood, and details the resistance to Islamophobia and the practices of torture.
The Peace Poets have created a variety of artistic works including collaborative mixtapes and literary projects and they have been honored for their commitment to social justice.
June 2016 Elizabeth Acevedo emceed the release of The Peace Poets debut mixtape, The Silver Lining, featured M1 of Dead Prez at D.R.O.M. in the East Village in NYC. The Silver Lining featured 9 producers contributing a fresh, unique and diverse sound serving as a foundation for compelling lyrics that range from playful punch lines to philosophical poetry. In 2008, The Peace Poets introduced themselves to the literary world with their first self published book, Word Life, and in 2011, they released, Word is Bond, a live Spoken Word poetry album scored with original Hip Hop music. In 2015, The Peace Poets published and sold 500 copies of their second book, Live from The Belly (LFTB), a collection of poems and performance pieces, and they published a reprint version of the book in 2018. In 2017, The Justice Committee honored The Peace Poets with an award for their social justice work and The Peace Poets joined other leaders such as Harry Belafonte in receiving The Peace Award from The War Resisters League.
The Peace Poets have made an indelible mark on the social movements of our times by supporting the re-emergence of the art of collective singing in action. They have come to understand themselves as creators and connectors. Over the past ten years, they’ve solidified their role as poets, both culturally and politically, having been celebrated by folks within the poetry scene as well as far beyond it into the realms of protest, political discourse, and artistic pedagogy. They create spaces of dignity, respect and healing. They connect people to each other, to history, to purpose and to the truth of our intertwined destiny. They hope that someday soon, they can connect and create with you.