Jamaal Jackson Rogers is a poetic force in Ottawa. Recently named Ottawa’s English Language Poet Laureate, he has gained respect and received awards for his spoken word poetry. Jamaal’s performances are unique and entertaining, helping to inspire a new generation of poets both here at home and abroad, artists whom Jamaal is only to pleased to coach and mentor as they find their voice.
Jamaal is changing the way people think about poetry, teaching them to create differently, and giving them new options as they express their thoughts and emotions through art. For these reasons, Jamaal is one of #150GreatPeople in Ottawa. Here, he answers the questionnaire:
What makes Ottawa special to you?
Ottawa’s uniqueness is rooted in a few aspects, the first of which comes to mind is its host of diverse communities. From Kanata to Orleans, Barrhaven to Sandy Hill, you can find many thriving communities that reflect the progressive growth and inclusiveness of the nation’s capital. Another aspect that makes Ottawa special to me is the geography. While we are close to major metropolis cities such as Toronto or Montreal, our expansive green space is less than an hour away from any point within the city, while rural living is not far from the suburbs or the downtown core. In essence, you can have the full experience of urban living, without the discomforts of densely populated, major city commotion.
What do you love most about living and working in Ottawa?
The pace. From living here the last 26 years, I have noticed that Ottawa is not a fast paced city. Our residents live and commute at a pace that feels laid back and not rushed. To me it seems this is part of our nature here in Ottawa, easy-going and affable. For many who visit from larger urban cities, it may appear that Ottawa has a ton of catching up to do for being the capital, but the growth of this city is moving at a rate that most residents are content with. Ottawa has a healthy small business industry, a competitive real estate market, and health and education systems that can be compared to any leading economy across Canada. These qualities make Ottawa the most desired place to live and work in my opinion.
The work that you do helps to make Ottawa a better place – why is this important to you?
I have seen Ottawa make strides in its approach to diverse programs and inclusivity, however there is still work that can be done in regards to the politics of social justice and accessibility to quality development programs for underserved communities. My arts education work in youth detention centres and low income neighbourhoods have helped me reach sectors of the population that are generally ignored or considered low priority. By providing youth, who are mainly from minority groups, a platform to explore, create and share their stories and experiences through poetry and lyricism, I am fortunate to witness the remarkable effects that many of these youth make in their communities and with their peers once they have been engaged with empathy, not authority.
You give back to the Ottawa community in various ways – is there one Ottawa-related achievement of which you are most proud?
Being announced the first official Ottawa English Poet Laureate in the last 27 years is an achievement that I most humbled by. For this great city of poets to recognize my passion and dedication for the literary arts is beyond what I ever expected for myself in 2017. I am still coming to understand what it means to be a Poet Laureate, but I do hope that I am able to carry it with the sense of justice and honour that my predecessors have.
What do you hope for Ottawa in the future?
I look forward to seeing the arts, culture and entertainment industry grow in the city. While I believe the LRT will be an amazing addition to the city’s landscape, and will play a major role in the boost of businesses and job opportunities for our present residents and those looking to relocate for work or post-secondary studies, I am excited for Ottawa’s recognition as a living destination as more sports fans are clamouring to the TD Place stadium for Redblacks and Ottawa Fury matches. This provides a counterbalance to the Canadian Tire Centre and hockey fans, many of whom have been looking for more affordable ways to partake in professional sports outside of their homes and closer to the downtown core. I have hope that this boom in attendance of sports events will transform many independent restaurants, venues and arts spaces in Ottawa’s centre town into successful businesses that will not only help to sustain a vibrant events based culture for Ottawans to enjoy, but will also help create the blueprint for our capital as the most promising, economically stable and livable Canadian city for decades to come.
Photo credit: Randy Kelly