The Ocean City chapter of Amnesty International will observe and celebrate International Human Rights Day with a poetry reading by poet Lamont Steptoe 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8 at the Bayside Center, 520 Bay Ave., Ocean City.
The performance is free and open to the public, though donations to support the local Amnesty chapter's work will be gratefully accepted. The Coalition for Peace and Justice endorses this event and urges all of its members to attend and support this area's local Amnesty International chapter as well as supporting International Human Rights Day.
"Lamont Steptoe is quite an incredible poet. He is able to transform himself with his words and his passion. In other cultures Lamont would be considered a shaman," said Amnesty chapter coordinator Georgina Shanley.
Steptoe was born in 1949. A Vietnam veteran, he is also a poet, activist, photographer and the founder and publisher of Whirlwind Press. He is a graduate of Temple University School of Communications and Theater, where he majored in radio, television and film.
Steptoe has a clear, direct and matter-of-fact approach to his socio-cultural subject matter. He writes with language that is rich and revealing. He is the author of 10 books of poetry and the editor of two collections of poems by South African poet Dennis Brutus.
Steptoe's books of poetry include “In the Kitchen of the Masters” (1997) and Catfish & Neckbone Jazz” (1992), both published by Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books; and ‘Uncle's South China Sea Blue Nightmare” (Plan B Press, 2003). His poems have also been featured in various anthologies, both national and regional.
He has performed his work at the Library of Congress, the National Library of Nicaragua, the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, the Knitting Factory, the Schomburg Center for Black Culture, and various colleges and universities throughout the United States.
He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Kuntu Writers Workshop from the University of Pittsburgh in 2002, a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Literary Fellowship in 1996 and has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Steptoe was awarded the American Book Award in 2005.
In 2004, rapper Mos Def opened the Def Poetry Jam program on HBO with a poem from Steptoe's “Mad Minute.” He has participated in numerous workshops and has collaborated with poets such as Sonia Sanchez, Allen Ginsburg, Ishmael Reed, Margaret Walker Alexander and Sam Allen.
International Human Rights Day falls on Dec. 10, and it was on this day in 1948 that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed by the United Nations. Amnesty International based its mandate on this document. Detailed information about the history of and current events honoring International Human Rights Day can be found on the United Nations website.
With the advent of the "Arab Spring" and the current turmoil in Egypt and the Middle East as a whole, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International are more important and relevant than ever. Amnesty is a voice that stands up for free speech the world over. We in the Coalition for Peace and Justice are always honored to support the work of this organization, both locally and internationally.
The situations in Egypt, where President Morsi is trying to silence his pro-democracy opponents and in Syria, where the government seems intent on slaughtering its own citizens, are critical challenges to human rights and world peace.
This will be Lamont Steptoe's second reading for Amnesty International.
“He is back by popular demand. His performance is transfixing and a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Shanley said.
Ocean City Amnesty meets 7 p.m. the first Monday of every month at the Ocean City Library.
The Coalition for Peace and Justice continues to hold peace vigils in Rio Grande 4 p.m. every Friday at the southwest corner of the intersection of Routes 9 and 47, and 5:30 p.m. the first Friday of every month in Woodstown, in front of the bank on Route 40.
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