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  • Writer's pictureAhmad Austin

Spoken-word artist A'Niyah Bishop moves South Jerseyans with Galloway, Mays Landing performances

(Originally published in The Press of Atlantic City on 7/7/2020)

A’Niyah Bishop was too frustrated to be silent.

Every time she went on social media and saw the treatment of Black people around the United States over the past two months, that feeling only intensified.

She knew she had to use her voice.

The 18-year-old grabbed the attention of many in South Jersey with the spoken-word performance of her poem “Pandemic” during a June 13 protest against police brutality in Mays Landing.

“Can’t no COVID-19 steal the fear that was already there,” Bishop says early in the poem. “See, my Blackness is already treated like a disease. Nobody wanna be near me, So I’m better off being quarantined.” Bishop, a 2020 graduate at Atlantic County Institute of Technology, originally wrote the poem for a school assignment. When news broke of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, she decided to rework it to include him. “America, get your knee off my neck,” Bishop says in reference to Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. “I’m tired of putting justice on my wish list. You love to say we free, but it’s more like free-ish. Just because you don’t see my shackles don’t mean they don’t exist.” The Atlantic City resident also makes reference to Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor in the piece. In a recent phone interview, Bishop said much of her inspiration for “Pandemic” came from firsthand experience.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve always been insecure about being dark-skinned, and I went to predominantly white schools,” Bishop said. “I’ve been called the N-word several times by peers in school when I was younger. I watched my dad get pulled over for no reason at all because someone in the passenger seat didn’t have their seat belt on. They called backup, they pulled out guns on him and they made him lay on the ground and you could tell it was complete abuse of authority.”

The first performance of her original poem was at a Galloway Township protest the week prior to the Mays Landing protest. She was not scheduled to speak, and after the march and numerous other speakers, she simply asked one of the organizers if she could read her poem. Bishop said the reception involved a lot of tearful hugs, and someone even streamed it live on Facebook.

After seeing the Galloway performance, ACIT track and field coach Robert Laws, who’s known Bishop since she was a cheerleader for his Hamilton Knights youth football team, reached out to ask her to perform at Mays Landing. “I said, ‘Look, I need you to do that in Mays Landing,’” Laws said, “and she did, and it was just a phenomenal job. She really expressed herself in a way where she was able to express how she feels and not offend anybody in the process.” Bishop said she gravitated toward spoken-word poetry early on in high school. She was inspired by St. Louis-based artist Prince Ea, and loves how much control the style of poetry affords her.

“I feel like the delivery and the way people do it, like the inflection in their voice and the expression, is so much more powerful than just reading on a page,” Bishop said. “And I feel like you’re more flexible with spoken-word than just (written) poetry because you’re more in control of the way that people receive the poem.”

Bishop also dances and has acted in a number of theatrical productions in and out of school. She will attend The American Musical and Dramatic Academy and Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Los Angeles next fall with a major in musical theater.

“That young lady’s going to be a star one day,” Laws said. “There’s so many things that she has going for her, but her spirit, I think, is like the most important thing. She’s probably one of the most caring and unique young people that I’ve met in a long time.”

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