Growing up in the Unites States as a poor young man from a foreign country with only my mother as my blood family had a pretty unique effect on my narrative for where I should strive to be in my life. From an early age I was taught that this is the land of opportunity and anybody, yes even me, can make it to the golden-honeyed land of success… granted I fall into the box of what society deems successful.

My chosen career in poetry does not fit into that box.

But poetry did give me the opportunity to see myself in a way that I never thought possible: as a speaker for and a leader to hurt, oppressed and marginalized people. However, that thought became a fleeting one. As traditional ideas of what a “true leader” is flashed through my mind it was accompanied by images of Huey Newton, Martin Luther King, Jesus, presidents, religious leaders and revolutionaries who moved thousand, if not millions, of people to action. I just couldn’t see myself stacking up to the “greats” as a 24 year old college dropout with a criminal record who was washing dishes in a kitchen to make ends meet.

dennis tom 2
Team piece with Tom Earl at Sacred Sounds- Photo by James Geiger

Enter: Community Tampa Bay

A fellow poet named Tom Earl, who I greatly admired, was always preaching about Community Tampa Bay (when he wasn’t beating me in slams) and how much it changed his way of operating in the world. I didn’t know him before his work there but he was a powerful voice who used who he was as a person as his biggest tool to empower youth and build connections. So as a bright-eyed young writer willing to go wherever the universe dictated, I asked him to bring me on board and I volunteered as a staff member for my first ANYTOWN session in 2013.

My life has never been the same.

Dennis Dialogue Group 2013
First dialogue group in 2013

To say that I found empowerment would be an understatement. Through intense hands on training, intentional community interaction and support from one of the most high energy groups of positive people I have ever experienced, I was not only encouraged to be proud of my identity in the world, I was pushed to embrace it and be a light for all those who still wandered in the muck of “societal standards.” Through CTB I was armed with knowledge to articulate what I have always known to be true and tools to bring those truths to youth.

Before I was just speaking on stages about the trials of the world and how we need to stop them, but after my first ANYTOWN experience I could actually live it out — every, single day. Now these tools have become routines in my active fight against discrimination, poverty and the underserving of our youth. My poetry has become more personal because I can make the links between my experiences and how they where affected by the systems that govern our lives. My integrity has strengthened because I now have a foundation of fundamental morals and beliefs that have been derived from my experiences, not some general rule.
Through this growth process it became clear to me that leadership is attainable for me, it just looks different.

My leadership comes in staying true to who I am in the world and to what I have come to understand is my purpose. My leadership comes from being an example every single day. It comes in never giving up in my quest for fulfillment, even when I’m told that we are a lost cause. Leadership is not some glorified concept of magnificent accomplishments. No. Leadership is taking your power for yourself and defining in a way that no other human on Earth can, thus setting up a blueprint for anybody else that must walk the same path.