Poet & Spoken Word Artist Leroy D Bean
On this episode, host Rodney Veal speaks with Leroy D. Bean, a poet & spoken word artist native to Dayton, about the journey of his career and how his love for the English language helped him travel to Paris to present his work to the locals.
[00:00:00] Hello everybody. I’m Rodney Veal. I’m the host of Rodney Beals, inspired by podcast, and today I have the extreme honor and privilege to sit down and have a, a conversation with Leroy Bean, who is a. poet, spoken word artists, community activists, all around champion of culture and spoken word and everything connected to the arts in this community.
Rodney Veal: He’s, he’s the next generation of folks who are going to [00:01:00] take over for the arts in our town. And it’s like, it’s going into great hands and I’m super excited to talk about Leroy and his journey and all good things about spoken word and being an artist. So welcome Leroy.
Leroy Bean: Thank you. Thank you so much.
I am definitely honored to be here.
Rodney Veal: Oh, it’s super cool. So, I was thinking back to when we first met, and this is pre COVID, so then I could not date the when and the calendar when we were, when we first ran into each other, but I believe it was at the Dayton Live, and there was a presentation of Spoken Word.
Through the, was it through the, the OAC, the Ohio arts council?
Leroy Bean: Oh, that sounds about right.
Rodney Veal: I, I feel like, I just feel like it’s like, you know, when you have these, like, you know, these, these in, in, in person experiences of, yeah. But I do remember, I remember you vividly [00:02:00] because it was like you had such an assurance to your presence and the words as you were speaking.
And it was so powerful and it was very clear. It was coming directly from you. And so I was like, Oh, and then of course our paths have crossed so many times in life since then. I’m just kind of curious because I get to now ask you questions about your life. You, you stated something in an. And something I found online that, you know, that this, this in many ways gave your life a direction.
Can you elaborate on what that means? What, what, what, what, what is it about this that gave you the direction that you think your life was? It didn’t have,
Leroy Bean: As in like poetry, art, art in general, all of it,
Rodney Veal: all of it, sir.
Leroy Bean: Man as I was getting out of college, I was struggling with just figuring out what I wanted to do.
I thought that computer engineering was what I wanted to do in my life. I loved math and science. I went to Wright State for [00:03:00] computer engineering. I had my first few coding classes and I was like, this is interesting, but this is just not it. I don’t know what it is. And I left and I had to, to really sit with myself.
Life forced me to sit down and eliminated all distractions. I got laid off from my job. My relationship had ended. I had gotten into a car accident, left cause like everything was, was just gone except me and my ability to reflect and writing was my, was my outlet for that. And at the time it was just like Facebook statuses that.
You know, my community was encouraging me to continue to write and put out there. And it was that, that like kind of just kept me going and kept me, you know, in this mindset of, of facing my, my life and these choices through creativity and other people could resonate. And it was, I think I wrote.
Probably at least a poem a day for about nine months straight [00:04:00] until I saw my first, uh, my first slam poetry competition that I entered for. I’d never been to an open mic. I had never gone any done anything, you know, as far as putting my poetry out there, it was just, you know, Facebook statuses and joining that competition was my first time to just like, you know what, I think I can, I think I can do this and I really saw how impactful my words were.
To a crowd and how impactful they have been to me over the course of those nine months and just guiding me through this journey of, of healing and growth. And, and soon as I got done with that competition, they told me to stick around and, and I just dived into the artist community and from then it changed my life.
I fell in love with it. I’m like, this is what I wanted to feel from computer engineering, but wasn’t getting, and it was just, it just took off from there. I fell in love with it.
Rodney Veal: I, I, and this is no offense to those who find that. Joy and computer coding. But obviously spoken word and art making is just a little bit more dynamic.
That’s our, that’s my bias too. And I mean, [00:05:00] I, I, I mean, what, what possessed you for computer, computer engineering? I mean, I mean, I think this is a typical story. There’s a lot of artists that we’ve interviewed that started off one way and it completely went to the arts. I mean, what was it about computer engineering that you thought was going to be like?
Leroy Bean: All my life, man math and science computers. Technology was always interesting to me. And, and even still there was a, there’s a piece of that at his foundation that kind of transitioned over into poetry and writing. But it was, I don’t know, it was just something about like how technology was growing for me as a kid in my generation.
And it was like always something new with, you know, computer games and video games and phones. And like, I was always interested and I was like, I want to know how to do this on a very basic level. And like I said, math and science were just one of those things I love to, to, to kind of imagine and think forward and be in this space that like, you know, behind the scenes of how everything works But then I [00:06:00] became that mindset started to be like.
And in the mindset of a writer and I started to create stories or think about things like that, that influenced me to write where I would like include puzzles and problems inside of my writing that kind of just gave me the motivation to keep going. So I guess that’s how. It came about.
Rodney Veal: Oh, so that is so, that’s amazing.
I mean, it’s just a fact that you could, you could kind of see problem solving this sort of kind of in its way of being the foundation. But it’s like, but there’s something, there’s something very different about the narrative and there’s something that’s really powerful about narrative. And what was every, I mean, other than the Facebook, obviously the Facebook book community and the community of poetry and writing encouraged you.
What’s the risk? What was I mean? Because if you’re going down a pathway of computer science, I’m sure there are those who are like, wait, what? You’re going to make this. That’s a pivot [00:07:00] in many ways. What was it? I mean, what was that like to deal with? Because I mean, I know that pivot. I did that pivot for dance and it was like, That was a hard pivot for political science to ballet.
I still don’t understand,
Leroy Bean: but for sure, as I look back on it, I’m still kind of amazed myself, but when I was younger, I just had this feeling of confidence with it and just. that it was for me. And in a lot of my friends, I would invite them out to poetry shows, the open mics that I were going to be in. And they look at me like, what are you talking about?
Like, when did you start doing poetry? When did what, like when it happened that fast, a lot of my friends didn’t even catch up and they were throwing off. And it wasn’t until, you know, they started to come out and see me perform that they understood. And the people that I was starting to build around me, the community that I was starting to be a part of.
It was just undeniable that this is, this is who I become. I think it took [00:08:00] my parents, my family, the longest to really kind of get adjusted to that for sure. And it was some years before I really started to show them like, Hey, this is what this is doing for me. Like, and I really. This is just who I am.
This is where I’m at and I, and I need the support. If not, like, I mean, I’m going to keep doing it, but it was just something that nothing could stop me with. Like, no, nobody’s opinion could change what I had already seen and felt.
Rodney Veal: Oh, I love, I love how you said that nobody could change that feeling. That, and that this is, this is right.
This felt right for you. Every I hear that a lot. I mean, we’ve only done the podcast. I’m, I’m talking like I’ve been doing this podcast for 20 years or something, but it’s like, but it’s, but it’s. But it seems it is a common thread. It’s like, we can’t, there’s a, there’s something about the path that we’ve chewed, like it just speaks to us that we just can’t let go off.
It just, it just, it, you could turn, you could try to pivot away from it, but it’s undeniable. And once you get a taste of it, I always tell people, when you get a taste of it. [00:09:00] It’s something. It’s addictive. It’s an addiction in a way because you just can’t, you just constantly want to understand it and be like, and embody it.
And I felt like when I first saw you, you know, this is the first time I encountered you in spoken word. It felt embodied. It felt like, Oh, this is, he’s been doing this all his life. And then I find out you, you haven’t been doing it all your life. So it’s kind of a surprise, a surprise to me. I mean, do you, I mean, So do you, I mean, talk to me, talk to, especially the audience, because how does one maintain a life and, and, and spoken word, how do you create a life?
I mean, because we always, we always think about the practical, but, you know, but for, for those who may not understand this, I mean, how do you then start to see the artwork in context of everything else? Mm hmm.
Leroy Bean: This is. Probably the thing I’ve had the biggest struggle through in my journey. I think that, [00:10:00] you know, that attitude and that hunger that I had when I was a lot younger in this, and it’ll be 10 years next year.
So the, the hunger that I had back then was just kind of like. This unrealistic motivation and vision for whatever spoken word could be, whatever poetry could be. And that was helpful because it got me where I am, but like about halfway along the journey, it started to get just a little tiring and it was hard to, to really figure out how to make this work, how to.
Actually fuse this with some type of life. Because I hadn’t seen it done before and I wasn’t really too sure what it looked like in the realm of being successful because I knew it was one of the main things, one of the only things that I could do. But it required me to allow myself to see beyond the limits of what was in front of me.
It required me to understand A [00:11:00] lot of the process that it takes to be a writer and a lot of the sacrifices that are required in order to be a writer. It got to a point where I had to look at workshops. I had to look at teaching. I had to look at finding a way to make sure that everything that I was doing was moving in the same direction that my artistry was moving in.
Cause at one point it was just like, Oh, I’m trying to keep this job. That has nothing to do with art while I also try to make it as an artist and that was pulling me too thin and it was exhausting until it was like, okay, let me, let me start over. Let me sit back and look at what is the context of my voice as a writer and how do I want to start embodying that and using that to curate my life as a whole and start to walk in the same direction with everything I do.
And that took years of building. I. I had moved to Columbus when I first started poetry. I was working, I was still trying to [00:12:00] work at this hospital. And as soon as I got the chance, when I realized how unhappy I was trying to pull myself into different directions, I quit. I moved back home to day in.
And I felt like I had a whole new purpose about things. And then it became community organizing and that’s when it came to the open mics and a lot of that work in the community along with just kind of, like I said, teaching and writing as well. So a lot of rearranging, a lot of,
Rodney Veal: I love that. I love the fact that you you talk about that, that rearrangement and you traveled.
Well, I mean, what, what, what obviously is Columbus. It’s close enough. You are a native Daytonian. Correct. Yeah. It’s close enough. I get that. I understand, you know, family and being close to the source, but then what drew you back to the source in Columbus after you realized, like, okay, working at a hospital is not going to cut it.
Is there something about, because it’s gotta be, I, did you find that there’s a difference between Columbus and Dayton [00:13:00] in regards to the understanding of. You and your journey, this whole, this curating your life to be this artist. I mean, is there a difference? I mean, I, I’m outta curious is there’s difference with an hour and a half away.
Yeah. Is there a difference to the perception of the community to wanting to be a spoke lawyer? Artist? That’s a lot. Yeah. That’s a lot to unpack there.
Leroy Bean: for sure. But definitely I didn’t feel like I had a lot of guidance here in Dayton to really. Fully realize what I wanted or to see what spoken word would be the spoken word scene back then and it’s kind of it’s Changed a lot since I had moved there and I was in about 2015 When I got there, there were there was about an open mic every week every day of the week There was slams all the time Scott Woods JG CR Freeman [00:14:00] So many other just legends in the poetry and spoken word game that that were able to provide mentorship.
And just examples through how much infrastructure was there for performing artists and especially poets, but in Dayton, it wasn’t. And let me be specific as well to say that it was a lot of black artists that I needed to see a representation from as well. And that, and that’s what there wasn’t a lot of here in Dayton in that, in that way.
So it was understanding that Columbus had a lot to teach me. And it was kind of my, my place of solitude and study away from everything that could distract me here, you know, and to just be under the wing of people who were actually doing it. And when I came back to Dayton, it was like, I didn’t want to come back until I knew I had something to bring back to add to it.
And that was a lot of what I learned from Columbus.
Rodney Veal: So which is, which kind of, I have a question about that [00:15:00] whole. Learning because learning seems to be like you, you’re constantly wanting to absorb and taking information. And you know, I kind of get the vibe and we’re going to talk about your trip to Paris because that’s, that’s where we have a kind of a kindred spirit about leaving the country.
It’s the, my question is, is about that learning piece of it is affecting you. And also too, there’s representation. I mean, you are. Do you think that now, because you’ve been at this now in this, in this realm for 10 years, almost a decade, have we started to see a greater range of representation in the spoken word community and of African American men?
I mean, I take that as, let’s go directly to. To the, to the head on that is, is that we’re starting, is that, is that more prevalent now? And, and that that’s gotta be, it, for me, I know it’s from my end, it’s very satisfying and dance to see more [00:16:00] leadership in the arts in general, but specifically to your realm, it’s kind of nice to be able to say, Oh, I’ve got mentors, but they’re more as it started to grow.
So how’s it, how does that feel now? How does it resonate with you now?
Leroy Bean: Man, for one is different because I’m on a whole different side of it. I’m no longer the younger poet who, you know, is looking for mentors. I’m, I’m actually out here providing it spaces and all so that’s so interesting. So I will definitely say that there are a lot of up and coming artists that are practicing here in Dayton that are looking for a place to perform that are trying to get their put themselves out there as well as strengthen their craft.
Is it still a whole, is it more mentorship, more platforms support? I’d say it’s grown a little bit but there’s still, there’s still a lot more to be had there, but at the same time, and a part of what I’ll probably talk more about for my trip to France is, is that there’s, I just think there’s a lack of [00:17:00] understanding.
For what type of infrastructure we need as artists, especially as writers. And there’s a lot of things that I feel like we’re missing in Dayton to have such a icon like Paul Lawrence Dunbar. And for so many writers to be coming up here, there should be. A lot more infrastructure for us to kind of, to be able to, you know, come up with or, or climb up with.
So yeah, it’s grown a little bit, but there’s still more I would like to see.
Rodney Veal: Well, you’re like, I think that would be, that’s a statement for all of us. I think that’s a, that’s a totally legitimate observation. And so, I mean, and I love how you evoked Paul Laurence number, because one of the things that I’ve discovered, we’ve been working on a on this documentary around Bing Davis and this notion.
That the infrastructure for science and technology is put in place, but there was no infrastructure [00:18:00] put in for literature and spoken word and language because we had. Someone who changed the world and how we see poetry and language from an African American perspective. So, I mean, I mean, that’s you’re talking well over 100 years ago, and so we’re at this place now.
It’s obviously in our DNA. If you’re from Dayton, it’s in our DNA to kind of you just tap the well of the word and spoken language. So when you, when you talk about mentorship, you started, you, you applied for funding from the County Montgomery County arts and cultural district and you, and it was to start the, the Baldwin cafe.
Talk about that. I mean, because that was how you tell you, you talk about creating space, you wouldn’t create a space. I mean, how did that, I mean, you, you, you did, you, you went beyond just the word, you were like, let me build a [00:19:00] structure
Leroy Bean: for sure. And again, like, man definitely representation for where my mind was and just how like forward thinking I was without worrying about any, anything.
But I saw the possibilities and it was right around the time when I started to get into James Baldwin and James Baldwin had changed me that. That much that I’m like, I want to name a bookstore, Baldwin cafe. Like this is, this is a part of what I want to provide here. And understanding how important black literature is.
For my growth and for so many other people’s growth, I’ve seen around the city and in my community, I’m like, there has to be more spaces like this. And on top of that, in terms of places to kind of hang out and that’s what Baldwin Cafe was a representation of was this third space between home and work or school.
Where community can truly, truly gather. There’s a lot of different spaces that are catered to, you [00:20:00] know, mainstream and, and you know, what makes money, the nightclubs, the coffee shops. But again, in terms of like those black spaces and one that was focused on books that had different types of tea and had that same type of kind of coffee shop vibe, but with, you know music and just, I don’t know, a little modern.
It was just something that I felt like was needed at the time. So for writers, for the artists, for the people who were in my community a space where black people could be chill, learn, buy more literature and be social, you know, and make connections and build relationships. I wanted to help provide that type of space and I, and that’s what, and I’ve always felt that way, like, Oh, well, something needs to be done.
Like let’s. That’s a good tool. Let’s build it. If I got the resources, why
Rodney Veal: not? And I’m grateful for that. I think we’re all are grateful for that because that’s the kind of thinking that leads to us changing as a community. And that’s why I introduced you [00:21:00] said next generation, because I, as I, as I approached 60, I’m recognizing I, I didn’t realize until I looked in the mirror one day, Oh, you’re, you’ve stepped closer to elder territory than you realize.
And so it’s like kind of knowing ’cause there’s a phrase that Bing Davis uses reach high, reach back. Mm-Hmm. . And I think that like, you’re a manifestation of the reach, high reach back. And that’s why. And so it, it’s like the fact that, you know, space, you’re thinking about it in bigger terms. Mm-Hmm. . And, and that’s what I think.
People miss a misunderstand about those who are practitioners of especially spoken word and and the arts in general, you, you cannot not have a community component to your work. I am now a firm believer. It’s all about community. You can’t, so you have to kind of think about, well, if I’m saying these words, but also I need to be around my fellow artists, I need to make the space.
And so. You’re [00:22:00] sharing the tradition of someone like a Bing Davis, and Paul Laurence Dunbar, and James Baldwin, because that is, they were trying to find those spaces and those places to allow us to grow in spoken word. And what I love is, I discovered, Bing has a lot of his work is based on spoken word.
I didn’t know that. Yeah, it’s a lot of his, there’s the Warrior’s Prayer.
That Paul Laurence Stormbaugh wrote. Okay. It started a whole series of clay vessels. Wow. See, it’s like, so, language. Right. Is, is, is a key part of it.
Leroy Bean: So, and that’s what that, one of the things that I’ve been thinking so deeply about lately as a writer is that, that, like, you know, that blend between visual artists and storytellers is like, you know, visual artists have the benefit of showing you exactly what they want you to see by creating that image, creating that, you know, that.
thing. That sculpture but artists don’t necessarily writers don’t [00:23:00] necessarily have that luxury. We have to say the right words to implant that vision into the audience’s minds and into their hearts to get them to feel what we’re trying to get them to feel and see what we’re trying to get them to see.
And that to think about that in the exchange of a writer, being able to give a visual artist, the words to translate that into something physical is. is mind blowing to me in this. And it just is representative of, you know, what change looks like in real time from person to person and how that influence manifests.
Rodney Veal: that’s, and that, so I have a question. Do you, have you collaborated with visual artists? Have you done any collaborations with other people also in other disciplines?
Leroy Bean: A little bit. Me and Dave Scott actually worked on some things during my first book release the womanology, but. I have some even bigger plans, a next level collaboration in mind for what I want to put together for, you know, my experience from, from France.[00:24:00]
So more to
Rodney Veal: come on that for sure. Oh, cool. So let’s talk about your first book that as a, as a, as a collaborative effort, I mean, I mean, you published, I mean, that’s, that’s pretty, like you, like I said, you, you’ve committed to doing this to the point where it’s like, I’m going to publish, I’m going to create space.
So what, what’s it, what’s it like, what’s, what, what surprised you about pulling your work together on the page and, and then creating something that’s very permanent, a book. I mean, what’s, what’s different about that versus doing it as a performative element in front of people.
Leroy Bean: It was it’s kind of nerve wracking to be honest, let me say that first because I’m putting it out there and I’m about to hit publish and I proofread this thing.
I’ve had people edit it. I’ve looked over so many times and I’m like, please don’t let there be no mistakes. Please let, let people understand what this is about. And like, by the time I got through it, I had [00:25:00] already kind of moved on from the concept. And I was like, I just want to, I just want to like put that aside and work on the next thing because You know, I don’t want it to feel outdated, but I had to realize that there are people who still haven’t experienced it yet.
And they still need to hear that before I even move on to the next thing. So that, that was a lot to come to terms with, but it was also a really great accomplishment. It was something that I never thought I’d be doing and to sit there and take the time. I, this is, this is the first book I wrote after moving back from Columbus.
And I told you I hit a complete reset. I was like, I don’t want to work for any more jobs that are not moving in the direction that I see myself going in. And I, up until this point, my resume has not looked nothing. It looked like nothing else besides just, you know, regular jobs that are getting me by, they had nothing to do with, you know, what I wanted.
And so it was just a hard stop move back to day in. I took about a year off of work. I had, I think I had [00:26:00] a voter registration job at the time. But for the most part, it was just me at home. Building this book from scratch and, and working on it every step of the way. So really taking that time out to work on something and actually produce it really gave me a huge boost in my confidence of what I could accomplish as a artist and what’s possible for me.
And, you know, when I really have the time and resources to, you know, move through that. So yeah. A moment I reflect on often, at least I try to. Oh,
Rodney Veal: I, well, I’m glad you do that. I mean, I think, I think you’re is to let you know, as an elder. Oh God, I can’t believe I actually could say the word, almost an elder.
Let’s put it this way. Cause I’m not Bing, definitely not Bing Davis or Andrew Davis. But close, getting closer. It is refreshing because it’s like, that’s such a difference from even 30, 40 years ago, being in the arts that I’m hearing people who are younger than me actually speaking about their, their [00:27:00] practice in a different terms.
And so that’s refreshed that that’s, that, that’s what gives me the hope. That’s what inspires me. Cause it was like, I’m inspired by Leroy is doing this. He’s like, okay. I’m like, it’s, it’s inspiring to us. It’s like, and it’s those in the community with spoken word. I have a question about spoken word that it’s going to, I mean, I, a lot, a lot of people have a mistaken notion of what spoken word is.
They think it’s they only base it upon. Snippets, but I firmly believe you have to go. It’s not what’s taped. You need to be there live. I really do feel like you’re not that people don’t understand that you need to be physically in the space with the, with the person who’s speaking. Is that a fair assessment that, you know, it doesn’t really capture it as well as the good.
Leroy Bean: Yeah, for sure. We try to communicate that as much as possible through our, our marketing for broken English. But yeah, the, the, the [00:28:00] clips, you know, you get to, you get to hear the witty lines, you get to hear the audience reactions and it’s cool to just kind of check out, you know, some quick content, but the experience of watching a spoken word.
And I want to say this with very, with a lot of intention, a spoken word artists do their thing on stage and. When I say spoken word artists, it is truly a skill to be able to craft words in a certain way with a certain tone, inflection, the pace the emphasis on certain words or phrases to be able to put together the pauses that, that compliment the line that it’s attached to and that engagement that you feel it’s all Thank you.
And I don’t know if, if you are Avatar last airbender fan or anyone else, it’s this aspect of bending energy with the audience. And that is something you can’t capture with the screen because it’s all organic right there in the moment. And it might [00:29:00] be emotional. It may be some laughs. It may be a full spectrum of the human experience, but, but that moment in person with just a person, the spoken word artists on stage and being.
You know, captive by them and their performance is, is next level. It’s nothing that a video or clip could compare to. You can only get pieces from that.
Rodney Veal: Oh, snap. So you, so I, I love it. I, I, you know, we do the snap of the fingers because that, because that’s what dance is. I mean, I, I, I, I can watch a video of dance and be like, Oh, I get it.
I understand it, but it doesn’t impact me the same way as seeing it live. There’s something about that visceral. Experience. It’s really interesting. We talked to a couple of weeks ago in this podcast aired with a local comedian, Jesse nut, and he talks about crafting exactly. He described it and paraphrasing in a very similar way how you describe spoken word.
It’s the language. It’s like the pauses. It’s the inflection [00:30:00] points. It’s fine tuning. That work doesn’t really conveyed as well as this one. And do you find yourself going back after you’ve created a work and altering it? I mean, cause comedians alter their, the materials, I’ll hone it down to its essence.
Do you go back and look at yourself? It’s like, well, you know, that worked a year ago, but I mean, I, do you know what I’m saying? I mean, yeah,
Leroy Bean: for sure. For sure. And that’s what I was about to say. You know, the difference between. Writing for the page and writing for the stage. You know, you put it out on a book, kind of, you, you pick that formatting.
It kind of is what it is. And you put it out there versus, you know, spoken word and comedy kind of do really mirror each other in that sentiment because I could have a final poem and I may not understand what needs to be worked on next. What needs to be revised next until I step in front of an audience.
And I realized like, Oh, they reacted to a part that I didn’t expect them to react to, [00:31:00] or they didn’t react to a part that I wanted them to react to. Or, you know, maybe I sped through this a little too fast. And it also depends on how many times you’ve performed it or how many times you practice and even practice doesn’t compare to when you stand in front of the audience.
And it’s just like, you find yourself trying to, You know, manage how you’re performing while you’re performing. And sometimes, you know, you just need that second round or you need to, you know, try it again, or you try out some different thing and it, and you let it, you let it live. You let it have its own existence almost.
And, and you use the word embodied. And I really do try my best to embody my work as much as possible to, to let it live through me. And you never know how it needs to show up one day. I’ve, I’ve performed a piece that just, just, you know, popped out a certain way one night that I’ve never performed it before.
Any times I have performed it a hundred times before that, you know. And… It would be something I’m like, okay, I’m taking the, I’m taking notes from that. [00:32:00] Like the way that that flow went really well and, and, and the audience felt like they were just attempting to hanging on to every word. So yeah, the the performance definitely needs.
You know, some revisions or some, you know, reworking just like the writing. Sometimes
Rodney Veal: I love it. I love it. So we’re going to take a pause and a break, but when we come back, we’re going to talk about how all of this, all this experiences you’ve had in life have led to this journey to Paris. So when we come back, we’re going to talk to Leroy about.
That trip to Paris to the James Baldwin conference. [00:33:00] All right. So we are back and we’re, we’re talking to Leroy, Leroy Baines, spoken word artists, community activists, all around future of the arts in Dayton.
That’s a big title. But it’s, it’s, it’s a, it’s a crown you will wear very well. So I love the fact that, you know, when I, the, the experience of you had an opportunity to go to, and I’m going to hopefully get this right. The there’s a, a James Baldwin conference in Paris, France. Talk to me, what, what compelled you to apply and why I, because, you know, that’s a big leap to go from [00:34:00] Ohio to Paris.
Leroy Bean: Yeah. This, this is some of the best alignment I’ve had in my entire life. So we just talked about Baldwin Cafe and how James Baldwin was a huge influence for that. And I had applied for a small, it was right around the time I had applied for the funding. For Baldwin cafe, Darcy sent me a link to the James Baldwin conference.
I had never heard of the organization and. Never thought that some opportunity like that will even be in my reach. I was like, what I can’t cause
Rodney Veal: James Baldwin, right? I tell people all the time. And I, I mean, I go back and read James all the time. Yes. Inspiration. So
Leroy Bean: that’s the pedal I had him on for sure.
And I was like, I don’t know, man. Like I’m, I’m just, [00:35:00] I was kind of, you know, minimizing myself. I didn’t think that it was something that I would even make it. And it was, I had to apply. I had to submit a writing sample. There was also a registration fees and stuff like that. It was a hefty price. It wasn’t an all expense paid trip.
I had to raise the funds and it was just like, there’s no way. Like, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to afford this. I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to get in. And Darshan, you know, being a part of my community. And at the time, like this is when the heart was, was just starting out and we were all.
Living there, creating, creating the foundation of the co working co living space. And she just kind of walked me through it and encouraged me to imply, to apply, at least try it out, you know? And I did and they accepted me and I was super, super surprised. I’m like, Oh, this is crazy. Like I got accepted.
I didn’t think I would. Wow. Like they really love my work. And I was specific at this time. It was. A conference for artists, activists, and academics. And [00:36:00] so I had got accepted to the creative writing track for the artists. And at that point. I was like, okay, well, like now I need to figure out fundraising.
Like, how do I get there? How do I get the money? And I’m just allowing myself to move through a step by step. And this was back in 2019, 2019. Oh, okay. Yeah. And the conference was supposed to be in 2020. So I had like a little less than a year to raise the funds and get there. But then, you know, 2020, the pandemic happened, things got postponed and it got postponed every year.
Until the conference, the original conference happened last year. But there wasn’t enough people for the creative writing track. So they made a whole separate conference specifically for writers. And so this year, the one that I ended up going to became the James Baldwin writers conference. The first one that they had ever done.
So yeah, that was the journey of getting there. Or just at least applying for it and hearing [00:37:00] about
Rodney Veal: it. So what made you think you were, you were up at that level? I, I, I just, I’m out of curiosity for those who, who might like stop themselves in their tracks before doing something like this. Like, what made you think that you were there?
I mean, out of curiosity.
Leroy Bean: This okay, this, this is… I think I was only about five, five years in at this point, five or six, maybe. And I still see myself as just like a very young artist. And this was the first time I had ever really applied for anything for writing. You know I had been in a lot of performances.
I had done a lot of features. I had, I even, I hadn’t even moved through a lot of publishings yet. I think I had been published once, once or twice a few for some local Columbus magazines and then once for University of Dayton’s RIT and Orpheus literary magazine. But I was, I was still in my beginning stages of just like kind of putting myself out there and I didn’t, I was like, they want a writing sample.
I’ve never given anybody [00:38:00] a writing sample. I don’t even know what this is supposed to look like. I’m like, I gotta give them my best work. I performed this. I don’t, they’re going to, I don’t know if they’re going to get it. It was just a lot. Imposter syndrome was huge for me at that time.
Rodney Veal: Well, I just let you know, that’s an, that’s a thing that it flicks us all.
I mean, we think that we’re not worthy of a pathway or the opportunity. And then we go. What was I thinking? So I mean, I’m glad, I mean, so they saw it. I mean, that’s the thing is for people to understand. It’s like when you’re reaching for something like that, that a conference, that’s an international conference.
That wasn’t just you applying with folks from the Midwest. This was folks from all over the world. And so, so you, you, you, you just took the, you just went a leap of faith. You just said, let me. Just, I’m going to try this. I’m going to get the money. I’m going to work this all out. So all, all of that worked in your favor.
And so this conference, tell me about what, what it’s like. Cause it’s, you know, what was [00:39:00] it like being an African American man? Had you left the country before this, before this?
Leroy Bean: I have been on a cruise, but other than that, no, I haven’t left the country before, especially not for my art.
Rodney Veal: Not for your art.
And so what’s it like to go to Paris? Talk, talk me through when you get that experience of being there.
Leroy Bean: First thing it felt, it felt like home. It felt so comfortable. I, it felt amazing. By the moment I got there. I walked around like I’ve been there for years, like I was from there, like I knew, like I at least had lived there for a few years and it was, and nothing about it felt strange.
Nothing about it felt uncomfortable. I didn’t feel, and I was by myself. I was there. The conference was seven days total, but I had stayed for an entire month. But my entire experience, well, the, the, the one thing they lost, my luggage was lost when I got
Rodney Veal: there because I [00:40:00] remember, I remember that for the Facebook payless post.
Yeah. You’re looking at y’all. I was like, Oh, dang, that’s right. That’s not the, I was like, don’t take it as a sign,
Leroy Bean: right? But that was, I couldn’t even be mad at that. Because when I got to the airport at Cincinnati, they were offering, um, they were offering to give gift cards or give them, buy people’s tickets because the plane was overbooked.
And I was like, Oh, let me, let me go see. I could use some extra spending money. Let me go see what they’re offering. It was offering 2, 000 to give him my seat. And it was only going to be a two hour delay for me to get to Paris. And I was like, Oh yeah, that’s cool. And so for 2, 000, I can’t be mad that my luggage was lost.
You know, there’s give and take there’s, there’s a process and there’s balance in the universe. I can’t be mad at it.
Rodney Veal: I love, I, I, I like, wow. Wow. I mean, so you even made money off of it. [00:41:00] I love that. So that, I love that familiarity, that comfort because it’s, I, I’ve, I felt that way. When I’ve been to Paris, you know, I felt, I felt like I’m at home.
I mean, it was like, Oh, okay. I mean, cause I didn’t go on a tour. I went, we went just as people, we just booked a hotel and walked around. And it’s, I think what would surprise most people from the United States about. About Paris, they don’t realize they may, because there’s a stereotype and I don’t think they fully understand that there’s a vibrant African communities and that made that, that did something for my my energy and my joy to see how they, they moon, new, they maneuvered through space.
Definitely. So what was that like encountering someone? Who looks like you, but it’s [00:42:00] from the motherland, so to speak.
Leroy Bean: Oh man, it was, it was definitely really interesting. I was all over. I did. I wish I would have known more about the districts before I stayed there. I ended up staying in. Which is more so like the Asian community, but we spent a lot of time in the 18th arrow this month, which was, you know, predominantly black there and being able to walk around and see all of the shops, just how they operated the food.
Being from all over it was, it was very comfortable. Nothing fell. Out of place. And even one of the first nights I got there, we went to a black owned restaurant. And I think that was one of the most up close experiences I had gotten because I’m like, the, the music that they played, they danced while they cooked.
The, the waitresses were, were so comfortable and like we could have like really easy conversation. We ended up meeting the [00:43:00] owners of, of the restaurant and like they talked to us like. You know, everything was cool. They invited us to a club that they owned, gave us free access and we got to go to a party later that night.
So it was just like being, it was like comfortable. It was like they, again, like I had been there for some years and I had already known people, but it was that friendly when we were there. So everyone that I met, and I met a lot of people too that were all that were from, um, the United States a few expats, um, that live there in Paris now and we’re artists and they showed me around in a lot of different areas as well.
So. It was just, it was really comfortable, man. It felt again at home.
Rodney Veal: And so that feeling of comfort in home is, I’m thinking about the fact that now you’re like, you you’re there and you’re working in a conference. What was it like to kind of, cause you said it changed you. I mean, you said the conference, the conference work changed you and you had a month after the conference to kind of.
Kind of unpack [00:44:00] it all. I mean, so what was the conference itself? Like, I mean, it was like, you know, what do you do in a writer’s conference? That’s I mean, I know what we do in a dancer’s conference. I mean, we’re moving, we’re moving, we’re talking, we’re moving, we’re talking, we’re, we’re constantly dissecting where our movement is being generated from.
Are you doing the same thing with language?
Leroy Bean: Yeah, in a way it was a lot of experiences. And I think writers are kind of best described of just these, um, observant observers witnesses, you know, of the things that are going on around them. So we got a lot of chances to just kind of take in a lot of different areas in Paris so that what the conference wasn’t stationed at one location, it was it jumped around at different venues that they were able to book for different workshops.
So the 1st day we had just like a meet and greet out by the river. And then the 2nd day we had a workshop that was at this place called La Carousel, which was actually the 1st cabaret [00:45:00] that Josephine Baker owned. And we got to have… A mini museum exhibit where I got to see some of her edge control.
And we had a workshop that was split for poets and then for fiction writers. And we listened to some James Baldwin and we had a conversation and then we got to go to the Picasso museum after that. And then there was. I think that was the first day of the open mic that we had. And then the rest of the days were pretty similar.
We would have a, a workshop. We would probably go on a tour or visit like some other location to kind of just see around the city, and then we would have a open mic or a panel with, with some writers that were there. And that was the gist of about like five days for the conference. It was like that.
And then the last two days we took a trip to Nice in south of France and specifically St. Paul defense where James Baldwin spent the last 17 years of his life and life. And we actually got to talk to one of his old friends that were there that was there around his [00:46:00] neighborhood. And he got to tell us stories.
He got to show us some sculptures that he had made in memory of James Baldwin. Some books that James Baldwin had signed for him. And we also just got to kind of see a little bit more around that area. We got to take a tour of his old house not inside, but just kind of around what it looked like, because unfortunately they didn’t, it’s now being turned into some condos, um, but you know, but yeah, we just, it was a lot of eating experiences, of course, as well but culinary,
Rodney Veal: huh?
They, they. That’s what they do. Well,
Leroy Bean: a lot of writing experiences and being able to also perform at open mics.
Rodney Veal: So will the open mics open to the public or is it just to the conference participants? I mean, that was, I’m kind of curious about that because we, sometimes when we go to conferences, you just kind of, you perform for your peers.
But did it open up? Did it allow for other people to kind of participate?
Leroy Bean: [00:47:00] No, it was only for the conference members. However, I was determined to visit the open mic that was local, that was open to the public. And the very, the second day of the workshop I had met a guy there who who had facilitated the workshop.
And he told me about a English speaking open mic. That happened on Mondays. And so Monday was also a day for one of our open mics. And so I was like, okay, well, I’m gonna go to our open mic and then I’m gonna show up at, you know, the one that’s in the 18th. So we ended up getting our open mic postponed or not postponed, pushed back a couple of hours because there was a delay with something and I’m like, okay, well, I’m gonna still try to make it.
Because Bruce, who was the facilitator of the workshop, he told me you got to be there exactly at eight, because if you’re not there at eight, you’re going to miss the signup because it fills up quick. So I’m like, okay, I can’t miss this. I got to time out everything perfectly. I showed up to our open mic [00:48:00] and they got started late.
So I ended up having to leave as soon as they got started. Cause I really wanted to make. The one that was local to Paris. And that was, that was amazing.
Rodney Veal: Wow. And we’re talking English language spoken word as well, which is, I mean, there was clearly an audience. Oh, what was that like performing in Paris? Oh, come on.
You lean back. I was like, yeah, that was a, that was, that was, that was a moment,
Leroy Bean: wasn’t it? It
was amazing. That was, that was a moment where I really got to. If I had any reason to put my imposter syndrome to rest, that would be a reason right there for sure. And I was able to actually go to that open mic about three out of the four weeks that I was there.
And every time I knew that I had something special, I knew that I had a unique voice. Because people were amazed, like nobody had really seen spoken [00:49:00] word performed the way that I brought it to that stage. And I made so many new I will definitely say friends, community members in Paris that, you know, just ended up talking to me after the show, took pictures, took videos.
Hey, do you want me to send these to you? You did great. Duh, duh, duh. Like, and, and that was, that was really my family for the night, for that month that I was there was the people that I met at that. And it also turned into meeting some people at a, at a writing workshop that also attend the the open mic.
So it, it was, it was great. It was like. Most of the time, most of my years in the community here in Ohio, sped up into a month.
Rodney Veal: Accelerator. You got the accelerator. So, so you talked about, you spent a month afterwards. I mean, like, so you did, you were still doing the open mics. What did you do with the rest of your time? Were you just writing? Were you absorbing? Well, obviously living too, but
Leroy Bean: for sure. Definitely living, allowing myself to live and breathe and exist.
But yeah, just [00:50:00] exploring, just allowing myself to, to believe. And I have my poetry, my shirt on today allowing myself to believe in the poetry, allowing myself to believe in the alignment and the synchronicities that were supposed to happen while I was out there and I just let that guide me. If it was a day where I needed to rest, I rested, I took a nap.
I slept in late, whatever I needed to do. But there were days where I just went to go explore. I just walked and no, no direction in particular. And the alignment I will find on that walk, I would just end up close by somewhere that. You know, we had to meet for one of the days on our conference. I will pick a coffee shop that just happened to be across from a place that we had also been in our conference where I met somebody that was connected to someone else in the conference.
They’re like, it was just all around alignment everywhere I turned. And I, and I definitely got deep into just like, you know, the locals and getting to know them. So a lot of exploration for sure.
Rodney Veal: I know that feeling that, that, that sense of[00:51:00] being that’s different and it’s accelerated.
And so you’ve now you’re back, you’ve brought it back. So what. What has changed in how you perceive what you’re doing as an activist, community activists, and an artist and a mentor and all of the things that you are, what has changed, what changed because of that journey and experience?
Leroy Bean: Man, I will say a lot of my, my faith in my journey and my artistic understanding, my artistic identity.
my Passion for the art and understanding how my frustration for the lack of respect of art was kind of misguided a little bit or misdirected. We listened to James Baldwin’s speech the artist was struggled the artist struggled for his integrity. And. There’s something in there that stuck with me a lot while I was there.
And he says, uh, that [00:52:00] I’m not, I don’t, I’m as an artist, I would never come to you as a complainant. For doing something that I must do. And he says, it is, you know, it’s not your fault. It’s not my fault that I write. And I could see myself flashes of just moments where I had been looking at my community or speaking to my community directly or indirectly as a complainant.
As someone who was frustrated because I felt like I wasn’t getting the support or recognition that I wanted to see as, as an artist. And it wasn’t. It really wasn’t that I was frustrated at the people I had a passion for it. That was, that was so huge. I wanted people to see how I saw it, but also it was more of the infrastructure the institutions and like their support for the artists, how they really give or provide a foundation for artists [00:53:00] to be homegrown.
And to truly listen to and support the local voices and storytellers of their community. And, and, and it’s having that lack that, you know, just, it built up a lot of resentment in me over the years and it had me. In a very kind of tough spot with just how I believed in what was possible or after these long 10 years, you know, what it started to feel like was possible.
And I was starting to get a little more discouraged moment by moment. But after having this trip, I got to a place where I have a huge. Understanding for my love for this craft. And I have a better understanding for the patients that is necessary and the job that I’m here to do. Like the reason why that support hasn’t been in place is because of the power that artistry has.[00:54:00]
And that is a breaking of everything that, you know, to experience art is, can be reality crushing half the time, more than half the time. And for people to truly recognize that and provide the, the, so the resources and infrastructure that that’s needed to thrive. It means that everyone has to come to terms with the things deep inside of themselves.
That needs a voice that needs a space and that is the humanity. That is our emotional connections. That is the relationships and the understanding of interdependent interdependence that we must have as communities in order to thrive. And that’s a big job. That’s a huge job. And it’s a lot that is in the way of that mindset right now, that spiritual journey for a lot of people right now.
People don’t have the time to focus on a lot of things that art has to talk about because we have real world problems. And that’s not to say the art can’t be. A supportive caveat [00:55:00] for people moving through those things, but it’s hard for them to see the importance of it, the value of it, if it’s not directly feeding, you know, or directly providing money or whatever the case may be, but, you know, so, yeah, it just put a lot in perspective of, of what this journey is going to look like for me.
And the work that I’m going to have to put in. And then just also how I want to tell my story. And like I said, coming to terms with that artistic identity in my place in it all.
Rodney Veal: That’s what, that’s what, that’s why you are the future of the arts because it’s, it’s a journey. Yeah. You don’t see it as a final destination. And so it’s such a, it was, this was, this is what I think all of our people who listen to the podcast needed to hear. And so. What would you say, as a last thought, what would you say to those who maybe carry, had carried around that sense of anger, that sense of and also imposter syndrome?
[00:56:00] What would you say to them after having had the experience you’ve had in the last 10 years? What would you say to them that would help them change their minds or see it differently? What would you, what would be your words of advice and wisdom?
Leroy Bean: First and foremost, believe in the poetry believe in the alignment in the way that things work as an artist, as someone who has a voice of the people.
who is one of the very few that speaks the real reality of the human experience. We have to go through a lot of challenges and trials and struggles in order to be proper representations of the things that we’re talking about. You, you can’t talk about it if you haven’t been through it. You can’t give a testimony if there hasn’t been anything lived to be able to give that testimony for.
So understanding that everything that an artist has to go through in their life is necessary [00:57:00] in order for us to, for one, translate it into art, however that may be to put us on the path that we need and to put us in front of the people that we need to be in front of. In order to change the minds, in order to change the hearts, it’s all connected.
And there is always going to be somebody, there’s an audience for everyone. And we have to believe that our work is bigger than us. As, as human beings, as this life can last, it’s bigger than all of that. And, and we have to trust where that is going to go every step of the way. So to continue to see those remind yourself of those moments
Rodney Veal: and folks, there we have it.
Leroy, thank you so much. Thank you. Given it’s given me hope, joy and dreams. It’s everything and everything in between. So
Leroy Bean: I appreciate that. This is, this has been a wonderful conversation. [00:58:00]