Every now and then you meet a person and know that somewhere down the line, you’re going to say, “I knew them when ____.” I knew Black Venus when we were in college. A few years back, I stumbled into a spoken word event; though all the performers stunned me with their eloquence, I remember Black specifically, their particular electricity and the poetry housed in their powerful voice. I knew Black Venus when we were students; now, years later, they are a singer, a community organizer, a playwright, a poet. But above all, they are a voice to be reckoned with.
Too Peace was this artist’s farewell event, held in a cozy, warm room in the Dorchester Art Project. Audience members gathered tightly in folding chairs or folded their legs and sat on the floor. Always one to promote others and foster a sense of community, Black Venus gave the stage first to host Dzidzor and then to rapper Billy Dean Thomas.
I don’t know if anyone has ever made me feel as welcome in a space and as good about myself as Dzidzor did, but I can almost guarantee it’s never happened at the same time. She loosened us all up, literally: she had us stand up and shake our limbs, and I felt like a happy fool. We walked around and introduced ourselves to people we didn’t know. A guitarist named Angel picked at his instrument tranquilly in the background. She had us sing along with her, “Tell yourself that you’re worth it, tell yourself that you are, tell yourself that you love yourself, tell it, tell it.” This song is still stuck in my head; maybe I went into the night with fresh ears, but I can’t shake it, and that’s not a bad thing.
And then there’s Billy Dean Thomas! The queer rapper might be my new favorite musician. I think they spit faster than I type (and my average is over 100 wpm). Damn is the only word I have for BDT. Damn. This performance will be for me a case of “I saw them when___.” I can’t believe I shook their hand and introduced myself in the Dorchester Art Project. All told, I’m starstruck.
And then Black Venus took the stage. They sang lilting melodies that melted my soul. They performed a poem about their closet, a piece I’m almost certain I heard or read years before, but that carried a fresh resonance, a newness engendered by experience. It was a piece about contending with selfhood and the past. In a sense, it encapsulated the spirit of the show: the closet bursting with old clothes and general things that belonged to a former self, or a self you just never became. And Black Venus is soon cleaning out that closet in preparation for a move halfway across the country. It’s a departure that demands conflict with the person you are, the history that carried you to that point. It demands questioning your future self; some of your clothes will take the trip with you, and others you will shed.
Dzidzor told us that one of the most valuable lessons Black Venus imparted upon her was that her home was her body. In this sense there is never any coming or going, but regardless, farewells are bittersweet. Too Peace was the epitome of a farewell to the extent that it was certainly bittersweet. It was a joy to be around so much love, but I also feel it as a deep, sad loss for Boston that Black Venus is leaving, and I’m sure that her friends and family gathered in that room feel the same. It feels odd to feel so much about the impending absence of a person I can’t say I knew well–at least, I can’t say I knew them personally. Through their art, I did know them well.
This was an event not just to say goodbye. It was about connection: connections forged and connections still destined, connections strong and connections tenuous. It was about connections stored in a bin in the back of your closet, connections you blow the dust off of, connections you forgot you were missing and were happy to rediscover.