Davon ClarkBarista atBuild CoffeeChicago, IL
My grandmama is the most influential person in my life. Anytime I’m thinking of something, I ask myself, ‘Is she going to be proud of this? Am I going in the right direction right now? You know she made sacrifices…’ My grandma worked in a hospital so my mom could go to college. My mom went to college and got a traditional job so I could go to college and do this art stuff.
I was really worried about getting into school. There was a lot of pressure with me being a nerd kid—I was the golden boy. I was going to go to American University in D.C. with no scholarships, and that was really scary because my family was expecting me to get a scholarship. I remember going into my mom’s room because I was about to ask her for her credit card to pay the deposit for American University. I saw a spam-looking email and I thought, ‘Let me check this,’ and it was a full ride to Penn State. I don’t even know why I clicked on the email. I ended up getting a full ride and saying, ‘Mom, college is going to be free.’ It was the first time that I had a singular moment I could point to that proved all the work I was doing was worth it. My mom was elated. She’s been working for a lot of shit, too. This isn’t an independent thing.
It was the first time that I had a singular moment I could point to that proved all the work was worth it.
He did everything right and still died. I felt so hopeless and useless.
The day after Philando Castile died was also the day that Pokémon GO came out. I had been waiting since childhood for Pokémon GO to come out. This was maybe a year or two after I started organizing social justice-based movements on campus. The biggest rebuttal to our activism that we would hear was, ‘If ya’ll just do everything right you’re going to be fine.’ Philando did everything right. He had his hand on the wheel and told the officer about his firearm. He did everything right and still died. I felt so hopeless and useless. And to contrast that experience against all my homies playing Pokémon GO—it was this huge contrast, like, I should be elated today but I’m not. I had always been able to work through sorrow, but I was at the gym and I couldn’t use my muscles. I was at work and I was zoned out. I wasn’t talking to people. If I could point to a single low in my life, that would be it.
The nicest thing someone has done for me? My mom put up with my ass—that’s nice as hell. Shoutout to good mamas. My homie, Toaster, he’s a poet and painter. When I first got to Chicago I was broke as hell. I had $150. I was hanging at his crib and he was like, ‘You want to get some food or something?’ I was just trying to play it off because I didn’t have money and he was like, ‘You’re hungry as hell. We’re going to my kitchen right now and making you a big ass sandwich,’ and he let me sleep on his couch. I’m always going to remember that because he didn’t have to. I know it didn’t cost him that much, but for him to look me in the eyes and say, ‘You are hungry and I know you’re not going to ask for nothing, but you’re about to eat this sandwich and sleep on my couch because you need a night.’
I’m black and Puerto Rican and grew up around those two communities in Philly. It was very much a non-insular community. When people say ‘diverse’ they often just mean ‘not white,’ but in Philly I had Cambodian, Vietnamese and Jewish neighbors. I had never been in a purely black setting until I lived in the South Side of Chicago, and that was beautiful for me. But now I live in Uptown which gives me access to adobo that I hadn’t had since I moved to Chicago. To be back in that is also really beautiful, and for that I love Uptown.
My main steez is photography and poetry — mostly poetry. That’s why I moved to Chicago. No city is treating writers better, and the art that’s being made here is the dopest in the country. I’d say world, but I haven’t traveled the world a lot. No place is making better art than Chicago, and I wanted to be in the middle of that. But there’s a competitive aspect to poetry slams. At some point I noticed myself making work that I knew would score high. I wasn’t making art that was me—I was thinking about the competition, playing the game of it. I realized that’s not why I came here.
Something I made recently that was fun was a silhouette of a bus ride. While I’m preforming I want it to feel like we’re all really on a bus, and we’re kind of talking about it — not in conversation, but looking at things on the bus. This is something I live everyday, and I wanted to create an image for it.
Basically, I’m looking to do as much as I’ve been gifted to do. The generations before me put in a lot of work for me to have the privilege to seriously pursue the arts, and my job as a barista at a place like Build gives me mobility to do so comfortably.
No place is making better art than Chicago, and I wanted to be in the middle of that.