New Brunswick

Fredericton mayor apologizes, invites Black poet to present spoken word poem

Fredericton's mayor Mike O'Brien says he regrets he missed the opportunity to have the city's poet laureate, Jenna Lyn Albert share a poem reflecting a local poet's thoughts about police violence against Black people.

Poet laureate said she was surprised by Mike O'Brien's response to request

The poem in question was called Enough and was inspired by attending a Black Lives Matter rally. (Julia Wright/CBC)

Fredericton's mayor Mike O'Brien says he regrets he missed the opportunity to have the city's poet laureate, Jenna Lyn Albert share a poem reflecting a local poet's thoughts about police violence against Black people. 

In a Facebook post Tuesday night, O'Brien said he would welcome Albert to facilitate the reading of Fredericton poet Thandiwe McCarthy's spoken word poem Enough at the city's next council meeting.

Albert wanted to play a recording of the poem at Monday's meeting, but when she asked in an email how she could do that through a Zoom meeting, the response from O'Brien was not what she expected.

The mayor told her the content should be appropriate for a public government meeting, and not anti-police or about defunding the police force. 

Albert dropped the request but then questioned the reaction from the mayor. 

Censorship not intended

Mayor Mike O'Brien said he regrets the missed opportunity to have Thandiwe McCarthy's poem Enough read at Monday's city council meeting. (Philip Drost/CBC)

For his part, O'Brien said it was a miscommunication and not intended as censorship. But O'Brien explained his initial reaction to Albert's request.

"Out of my concern for the police force, who recovering after the last two years, I asked our staff to check with Jenna Lyn about the content." 

O'Brien said his wording in the email to city staff that was sent to Albert could have been better. 

"It was quick and it was rushed and it was certainly not intended that way." 

McCarthy wrote the poem after he attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Fredericton recently. 

"Hearing the stories of my fellow members of the Black community I was just hit with 'How much are we going to take? How much of these micro aggressions, these slights, being seen as a threat?'," McCarthy said.

"I just wanted to say enough." 

Poets work shared frequently

Albert said she often shares the work of others with city council, voices with a message pertinent to their community and experience.

She added she was shocked at the mayor's response and in turn, had to share with McCarthy why his poem would not be heard. 

"I reached out to Thandiwe and told him what the mayor had said. I think every poet has the right to know if ever a poem is not able to be shared in that way, especially at city council. They deserve to know why." 

McCarthy said he was shocked and felt defeated at the news. Five months earlier he had shared a poem that contained lines that could have been considered inflammatory. 

"And I got a standing ovation in Black History month and I was just wondering why, outside of February, is my art — delivered the same way — threatening." 

"It took the wind out of my sails." 

McCarthy said his message to O'Brien is work has to be done to bring change. 

"I really believe we can make something permanent and historic out of this moment." 

Albert said she questions if decisions like this will have an impact on the city's future selection of a poet laureate and if a Black, Indigenous or openly queer poet would be comfortable with accepting it. 

"That's something I'll bring forward when the next poet laureate is being chosen."

Apology made

Fredericton's poet laureate Jenna Lyn Albert and Thandiwe McCarthy, author of 'Enough' discuss their failed attempt to have city council hear reflections on police violence during the Black lives matter movement.   Mayor Mike O'Brien explains what happened. 14:27

For his part, O'Brien apologized to Albert and McCarthy for the confusion. 

"This is part of the problem when people are rushed and you go by email and emails get flipped to people. Tone and intent is lost. The best thing to do is sit down and talk."

The mayor said city council will be meeting with the newly formed Black Lives Matter group soon to begin a dialogue. 

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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