Percy Bland Jr.
Percy Bland Jr. walked into Northwest High School and scanned the cafeteria. It was like a scene from Mean Girls; each table separated and everyone from the plastics to the head-butting JV jocks. He felt everyone's eyes on him as he walked up to the front and started to click through his Powerpoint presentation.
Percy is a spoken word artist who is working with students around the city.
"The whole thing was about individuality, knowing yourself and accepting your focus," says Bland regarding his first presentation. By the end of his speech, the staff had to cut the discussion short because it was starting to cut into class time. This was the first moment Bland and four of his friends realized what they wanted to do with their lives — a balance between motivational speaking, music and community. The group now does leadership training, while Bland keeps the focus on artwork. His first love, however, can always be traced to music.
"I prefer to call it 'lyrical arts' instead of rap," says Bland.
But first, let's back up to how a motivational speaker became one of the key organizers for the Art Speaks Cafe events at the Black Expo this year.
Bland and his friends met during a mentoring program in college. You know, the ones where older students work with youth to keep them on the right path. They would regularly joke about being their own little fraternity at Indiana State University. They finally settled on what they really wanted to do the same day that President Obama was nominated. "Not because we were like 'he got nominated, now it's go time,'" laughs Bland. They wanted to work with students and run with the cultural changes they felt coming.
Bland now oversees an afterschool program at Northwest (called SAVE or Students Against Violence Everywhere) where he teaches kids how to use professional recording equipment to write, produce and mix music. The program runs year-round for the most part, and starts with one word.
"My first job is to listen to their art form," says Bland. He let's students pick a line or idea and snowball it into a complete poem or song. He only steps in to help them hammer out the details.
"It's kind of like they bring you a raw piece of clay that they have been carving off of — you can tell it kind of looks like a face or the shape of a head but from that point I am helping them define the nose define all of the features and really sharpen it. ... It is about taking whatever they have and then helping them see whatever message they are trying to get across." The goal is to send each kid home with a flash drive of music they have made.
According to Bland, what connects his motivational speeches with spoken word is one simple idea: "Making abstract ideas concrete."
Amiah Mims, this year's featured artist in the Cultural Pavillion of the Black Expo, is a graduate of Pike High School and is wrapping up here last semester in college.
NUVO: Describe your style.
Amiah Mims: I would say that my style now — I don't know, it's a bit of everything — I like the freedom of my work. It's not, you know how some people draw and paint and it looks just like a photo? My motto is if you want it to look like a photo then go take a photograph of it. I am definitely more abstract with my work than that kind of style. (Her favorite medium is a mix of cardboard, charcoal and paint.)
NUVO: Any plans after you graduate?
Mims: I plan on moving ... building my portfolio as I go, getting some stronger pieces, and making my portfolio as strong as it can be. And then hopefully presenting it to a company or a firm, then working my way up to becoming the art director of my own graphic design team.