Slam poet Gabriel Ramirez uses spoken word to challenge the status quo

Gabriel Ramirez is a queer Afro-Latinx poet and artist. He has performed at the Apollo Theatre, United Nations and Lincoln Center. Ramirez’s work, like his viral poem “White Privilege,” examines identity, mental health, family and social justice issues.

Ramirez spoke with In The Know about his journey to become a decorated poet. You might say hip-hop was his early introduction to the art form.

“I believe, you know, New York, being the epicenter for hip-hop definitely influenced the way I was raised, the way the kids at school talked, some of them even rapped. So it was like around my entire life,” Ramirez told In The Know.

But it wasn’t until the seventh grade when Ramirez met Rabbi Darkside, a rapper, in an after-school program who encouraged him to start writing rhymes. Later, when Ramirez was in 11th grade Rabbi Darkside told him to check out Urban Word NYC, a teen spoken word program. 

“I saw that I could be not just like a full-time but someone who really studied the craft,” Ramirez said of meeting other writers in the program.

He described slam poetry as the “superpower of making people feel things just by saying something.” 

As a teen he performed his work in front of an audience at an Urban Word poetry slam for the first time, then everything changed.

“In poetry slam, they had this term, ‘like, oh, you black.’ Like you blacked out, like you went there,'” Ramirez explained. “And that was like my first performance. Then I’m on the train with a bunch of writers and performers who had been there longer than I had been, they were on the train with me like, ‘you’re good, you’re going to get better, you black, you spazzed on everybody.'” 

The validation from his peers encouraged Ramirez to keep going. 

“The moments that I feel that being a performer and poet was more than just a hobby and something I could do for a career was engaging with audiences and people coming up to me after shows, talking about how much they felt seen, how much they identified with my work,” Ramirez told In The Know.

But ultimately the poet’s message is about seeking and finding community, even if poetry isn’t your thing.

“What I hope to get people to understand is that if they have any kind of community that supports them then they can ask for their assistance and for me that’s the poetry community,” Ramirez said. “They help me acquire the resources and give me the tools necessary to make this possible, to be a poet, to educate young people and to love poetry for the rest of my life.” 

If you liked this story, check out our story on the petition to save Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza.

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