Today we’d like to introduce you to Shawn Welcome.
Hi Shawn, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I’d grown up mostly in Orlando but my senior year of high school I moved back up to my original hometown of Brooklyn, NY and it was then that I started experimenting with rap lyrics at John Jay High School. It was really a perfect storm because I was saturated in an environment that placed a high value on lyricism and creative expression while being the new kid all over again, subconsciously looking for ways to process all that I was dealing with at the time. The cypher scene was crazy and I loved the energy and wit of it all. When I tried scribbling something myself and sharing it with one of my buddies to see what he thought, he thought I was trying to front like I didn’t do this all the time. But I didn’t. It was my first time trying to create something serious and commit it to memory, so I took that as a good sign and it snowballed from there. After my senior year, I moved back to Orlando looking for venues to share my newfound gift and ended up performing at an event for AACS (African-American Cultural Society) at Valencia East Campus in 2002. They loved it and I gained more confidence.
The next few years I spent perfecting my craft and became more exposed to performance poetry or spoken word. There were elements within that brand of lyricism that I gravitated to and expanded my own creative catalogue. I really appreciated the diversity of voices and styles across venues and wish there was one place I could go to in my city to feed on it all. So in 2006, I created “Diverse Word” at Dandelion Community Cafe on Tuesday nights until they closed their business in 2020. We pivoted the open mic to Downtown Credo – North Quarter and it continues to be a fun, creative, and safe space for artists of all backgrounds and talents to do their thing and create somewhat of that same environment I was exposed to years ago. My gift has afforded me opportunities to travel all over the US, write NBA commercials for the Orlando Magic, do voice-over work for Full Sail University, and so much more. Most recently, I launched Diverse Word, LLC. The basic functions of the company include performance poetry, professional speaking, workshop facilitation, and other creative arts offerings that include but are not limited to content creation, research, and consultation. What’s next is yet to be seen but I look forward to the future.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I personally don’t know anyone who has reached a significant measure of success without bumps in the road and I’m certainly no different. There was moment in time where I was precariously housed with a family of four for seven months while still availing myself for Tuesday nights. I remember one time I drove down from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale (3-hour drive) for a poetry slam and got dead last out of 20 poets. I’ve dealt with intense family issues that would probably come across better on an audio interview than written. But for each set of situations, I can tell you about plenty of wins I’ve had along the way. The blessing of the challenges is how grounded it keeps me. And there’s always opportunities for personal growth if we’re paying attention.
Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I am a Programs Facilitator for Polis Institute which is effectively a best practices community development organization. We have a number of offerings related to community development, but my role involves planning a facilitating a couple of whole family engagement programs, a community leadership certification we offer, training other facilitators, and any other projects we get contracted for in the future. I’m comfortable in front of groups and have grown in my communication skills over the years. What sets me apart, I think, is the fact that I’m very creative and if I ever get stuck or lost for words in a high-pressure situation, I can just turn on my superpowers and perform poetry. 😉
Do you have any advice for those looking to network or find a mentor?
I don’t have any advice for finding a mentor or networking. People go after what they want if they want it bad enough. What’s worked well for me, in terms of strengthening my craft, is intentionally placing myself in environments where I can learn or be inspired. Students in a med school should be hanging around hospitals and doctors. With art, it’s no different.