Celebrating National Poetry Month with Berkeley Senior Khali Raymond

Tonya Johnson

APRIL 15, 2019

Happy National Poetry Month! Berkeley College senior Khali Raymond kicked off this year’s celebration by presenting his poem “Don’t Put the Pen Down, With a Smiley Face,” at the Poetry, Pastry, and Punch event, held April 6 at Central Park Restaurant in Roselle, NJ.

Open mic

Author, spoken word recording artist, and entrepreneur, James Ellerbe hosted the evening as master of ceremonies, introducing more than 15 poets to the stage – including himself - to share their stories with the audience - as DJ Troy provided musical entertainment. Participating artists included five students from the local Abraham Clark High School, and the award-winning author, filmmaker, and political poet, Oscar Sanders from the Bronx, NY, who performed the final reading of the night.

Sponsored by the Independent Authors Book Experience (IABX), LLC, the group’s founder, author and small business owner Renaee Smith provided the crowd with refreshments from Renaee’s Cakes, and gave out door prizes for the raffle ticket giveaways.

“It was very lovely, there were a lot of great performers - especially from the Abraham Clark High School,” Khali said. “I’ve been out of high school for less than two years and I’m seeing these kids making leaps and bounds! It reminds me of how I was back then. I was trying to make the same come up - using my art to break through. Once I got out of high school, it started to happen. Seeing all of the people – young and old – presenting their poems really inspires me.” Becoming a published author

The poem “Don’t Put the Pen Down, With a Smiley Face” is based on the encouraging words that Khali received from a friend. His passion for writing began when he read the book “Tangerine” by Edward Bloor in the fifth grade. Since then, the 20 year-old Berkeley College Business Administration – Management major has penned more than 100 books. He has also contributed as a writer for the Berkeley College Blog.

“‘Tangerine’ was my inspiration to write ‘The Ballad of Sidney Hill!’” he said. “Since then, I have garnered many influences. It’s really difficult to say who or what specifically, because I am immersed in so many forms of art, from music to anime. There are many things out there pushing me to produce quality work.”
Finding community

This month alone, Khali also presented his poetry at the CryOut Cave in Newark, Ohmies Coffee Bar + Yoga Studio in Roselle, and was invited to present a poem for Heritage Pride Day in front of a packed auditorium at his old alma mater - East Side High School in Newark.

“The very first time I ever performed in front of an audience, I was a little nervous, but I still had my heart in it. I still delivered and kept performing,” he explained. “As I continued to do it and stayed on the scene, I met more people and did more things. That’s when everything started to open up for me.”
Unpacking the spoken word

His poem “Inside of the Indigo,” refers to spiritual wisdom. “The color indigo is associated with spirituality,” he explained. “When I was writing it, immediately in my mind I was thinking about my journey and how far I’ve come from where I once was. It’s me opening up to the world and seeing what’s in front of me.”
My Brother’s Keeper

During his junior year at East Side High School, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and his team of representatives gave a speech to Khali and his classmates. This inspired him to fill out the sign- up sheet to become a member of the first My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Alliance class for Newark. He was officially inducted into the fellowship in February 2018. Through the group’s affiliation with the Obama Foundation, Khali also submitted a short essay to the Foundation about life in Newark and how the program changes lives.

“I remember sitting down in Blaze Pizza with my mentor on a Saturday afternoon and I wrote the piece at the table with him. He helped me clean it up,” Khali said. “Two weeks after my submission was posted, I received so many opportunities after getting it published - it was amazing. At the MBK Alliance, we hosted block cleanups, rallies, and even held a summit in the Prudential Center where more than one thousand young boys and men of color left with jobs.” Khali graduated from the fellowship program in July of 2018.

In honor of National Poetry Month, Berkeley Today asked Khali to talk further about his creative writing process, and the journey to Berkeley College Graduation 2019. Here’s what he had to say: