In Nairobi, Kenya, Luca Amayo stood beside a stage ready to share his poetry in SLAM style next to the psychedelic orange, red, blue and yellow decorating in the Alchemist, a gathering place for creative Kenyan youth.
Amayo said he thought to himself, “Is this really a good idea? Why are you stirring the pot?”
He became acutely aware of the buzz of conversation in the audience, but the moment his name was announced and he stepped onstage, that nervous energy melted into confidence.
Amayo, an Augustana junior majoring in government and economics, shares his original poetry both in Kenya and in the Midwest to open his audience to new perspectives.
“I feel like every stage of my life, I have lived with a foot in different worlds,” Amayo said. “So, part of writing is explaining those insights and trying to translate those insights to people who might not otherwise have them.”
Amayo said he hopes his poetry, which tells stories about difficult moments in his own life, challenges listeners to think of those unlike themselves.
“How else is someone who has grown up in the Midwest their entire life going to understand what it’s like to be a minority and be made to feel excluded?” Amayo said. “You have to tell them the story.”
During Amayo’s first year at Augustana, he and a friend were walking to Walmart when someone in a passing car yelled a racial slur at them. Amayo said he felt paralyzed in outrage.
Amayo said he channeled the resulting frustration from not getting to respond to the driver into writing “Nameless,” the first poem he performed in Nairobi, as a response to the man in the car.
“Do I not fit the box you’ve drawn for me?” Amayo said in the poem. “Is that reason enough to want to see me outlined in tarmac?”
Junior Chofian (JuJu) Abobakr, said she first saw Amayo perform his poem “Nameless” at an Our Growth Project event in 2016.
Abobakr said Amayo’s poetry addresses important social justice issues, such as racism in “Nameless,” instead of sticking to “safe” topics as some poets might.
“It is highly relevant here because everyone knows racism is an issue,” Amayo said, “But we are not quite equipped to talk about it yet here in the Midwest.”
Senior Stephanie Sánchez, who met Amayo her first year at Augustana in 2015, said she saw Amayo perform on multiple occasions.
“It opens new perspectives,” Sánchez said, “But just as he opens up his audience’s eyes and minds, he does it in such a way that it is not invasive, but rather, welcoming.”
Amayo said he considers himself a writer—rather than a poet—because he hopes to pursue many styles of writing.
“Writing is the flip-side of who I am,” Amayo said. “There is the government and [economics] major, and then in the other side, writing has been one of the things I have been passionate about since the very beginning.”
Wearing a leather jacket with long dreads tied into a ponytail, Amayo typically engages in political discussions with Sánchez and Abobakr.
“He has a very strong sense of morality, and he uses those values throughout his daily life,” Abobakr said.
Halfway through his sophomore year, Amayo returned to Kenya for a year and a half to assist in the opposition leader’s presidential campaign. Born and raised in Nairobi, Amayo said he plans to return after graduation to develop the area, which is conflicted with poverty.
Amayo’s mother, Linda Munyoki, and aunt, Elizabeth Betty Munyoki, raised him with his sister, Tasha Wangare, and his brother, Alexander (Jowi) Amayo, a first-year student at Augustana.
When Amayo’s aunt passed away during his first year at Augustana, Amayo wrote “Clouds” to honor her memory and process the anguish of being far from family while grieving.
In 2015, Augustana’s International Talent Show buzzed with the joy of open creativity, but once Amayo took the stage to perform “Clouds,” a hush of anticipation fell on the crowd.
As the words flowed from Amayo’s mouth, Sánchez said he moved the audience to tears from feelings of grief and loss.
“He inspires me to think about things that I have not thought about that deeply,” Abobakr said. “He inspires me to challenge my own views. He exposes me to different perspectives.”
Photo and poem provided by Luca Amayo.