When he was a junior high student in Long Beach, Calif., Sareem Brooks’ words were garnering his journalism teacher’s attention. The class required that Brooks and his classmates each keep a daily journal. While his peers’ journals contained the expected entries detailing dinners, bus commutes home and the evening cartoons lineup, Brooks’ journal was far from expected. So unexpected that Brooks’ grandmother received a call from his teacher.
“I thought I was in trouble,” Brooks chuckled with nostalgia.
“The problem was everything rhymed in my journal, so [my teacher] thought someone was helping me. But it’s just how I processed things.”
Sareem Brooks continued to pursue his inclination to rhymes, and today is known by his stage name Sareem Poems. This Sunday, he will perform his works at the East Lansing Art Festival.
Attendees can expect a unique performance from the poet, whose art is almost universally relatable. Recently, Brooks has focused on themes of togetherness, community and teamwork.
“I look at the community, and people are saying we need a better community, but people look to themselves as being the person to champion it. If you work together with people looking together for the same thing, you don't have to brand it as much,” he said.
“The whole thing of people giving up — looking at schools being shut down, the job market in a dire place … I think change and growth, those are big topics for me.”
Born and raised in California, Brooks spent his time improving community relations and fighting the stigma associated with hip-hop artists.
“With poetry and hip-hop, there’s a negative connotation about what it means or who's doing it. The message is different for everyone,” he explained.
“The box that any type of lyrical content gets put in is a hard thing for me. I'm not what you hear on the radio, that’s not me, that’s not what I think, that’s not my subject matter.”
When he moved to Michigan for his wife six years ago, Brooks saw the relocation as an opportunity to inspire change coast to coast.
“[Michigan is] definitely different. It has its pluses. There’s great people and the cost of living is much better,” he said.
“The opportunity to do more community building, I think, is a good thing.”
Brooks works with All of the Above Hip Hop Academy, AOTA, an organization that helps local teens develop a deeper appreciation for hip-hop, and positions industry veterans, such as Sareem Poems, to mentor developing artists.
Tim Lane, associate coordinator of the East Lansing Art Festival, said festival organizers initially sought AOTA founder Ozay Moore to perform on Sunday. When Moore wasn’t available, he quickly recommended Sareem Poems.
“Sareem Poems is an incredible talent,” Moore said.
“I nominated him for the Art Festival because I feel Lansing's slightly unaware of the caliber of talent residing within its borders. Sareem has often played it pretty low key in terms of his involvement in the scene.”
Sunday’s performance will offer something for everyone, hip-hop head or not.
Brooks said one of his goals is for his performances to feel inclusive to people hailing from all walks of life. That way, his audiences will diversify, and his words will have the chance to resonate with that many more minds.
“When you go to a show [in California], [the audience is] more of a mashup, and I want to bring that here so you don't go somewhere and it’s just hip-hop night, because then there’s just one type of people there,” Brooks said.
“Everyone has to have an open mind with things. Just sit and listen. I don’t go so fast people can’t understand. My mission is to connect with people that are there, that are with me.”
Sareem Brooks, also known as Sareem Poems, will perform this Sunday, May 22, at 2 p.m. at the East Lansing Art Festival’s Artist Demonstration Area, in the parking lot to the north of City Hall.