Delaware’s Twin Poets mix art and activism at DSU seminar

The twin-brother team that makes up Delaware’s poets laureate help students discover “the heart that art brings into our lives.”

The work of the Twin Poets Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Al Mills was celebrated at Delaware State University's Art and Activism event as part of its commemoration of Black History Month. (screengrab/DSU)

The work of the Twin Poets Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Al Mills was celebrated at Delaware State University's Art and Activism event as part of its commemoration of Black History Month. (screengrab/DSU)

There’s power in the written word.

Twin brothers Al Mills and Nnamdi Chukwuocha of Wilmington are on a mission to get young people to use that power to cope with trauma and start the process of healing.

The 50-year-old Wilmington siblings were named Delaware’s Poets Laureate in 2015 by then-Gov. Jack Markell. This week, their work was celebrated at Delaware State University’s Art and Activism virtual seminar as part of the school’s commemoration of Black History Month.

“There is no greater joy to the Twin Poets than to see children smile, and listen to short stories, and poems, and just enjoy being children,” Chukwuocha said. “That’s who we were as children, and having that reminder, when you look at children, about how art touched us, and how we are hoping that it continues to touch the lives of our future generations, is just a beautiful feeling.”

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With a more than 50% increase in shooting incidents in Wilmington last year, more young people are experiencing the trauma of gunfire in their neighborhoods.

“Our goal has always been to try to take children away from the trauma and hurt, and to give them poetry and creative writing as a tool,” Chukwuocha said.

As they visit schools, detention centers, libraries, and community centers, he says it’s often the kids who teachers don’t think will engage that end up writing the most. “It’s about the way it’s presented, it’s about the way you engage them in the process, that you’re valuing their voice from the very beginning.”

Mills is a community-based social worker focused on helping young people in danger of getting caught up in the criminal justice system and those already inside. Chukwuocha was elected as a state representative in 2019 after serving as a Wilmington city councilmember since 2012. Both served in the U.S. Army, Chukwuocha in Alaska, and Mills in Iraq and Kuwait during the first Gulf War.

They’ve performed together on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” and NPR’s “Poetic License” as well as on national and international tours.

In addition to hosting poetry workshops, the pair will often visit with kids in Wilmington following shooting incidents. “A lot of these kids stand at the bus stops, and those are murder scenes. But these kids have to get on the bus and go to school like everything is okay,” Mills said. They encourage kids to express the emotions a situation like that can produce through writing. “That’s a key part of what we do with our words, to let it become a part of the solution.”

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He said they’ll mingle conflict-resolution strategies in with their poetry lessons too, to give students a positive outlet for their feelings in hopes of heading off more violence in the future.

“So many of our students that we work with, they have artless homes, and it creates artless and heartless communities,” Chukwuocha said.

“We change that by bringing the art into our children’s homes and bringing that love, something as simple as a poem that you wrote for your mother on that refrigerator door. It creates a difference every time you look at that door, you remember how you felt, and your mother remembers how she felt, that’s the heart that art brings into our lives.”

Later this year, the twins are planning a virtual writing festival to showcase some of the art students they work with have produced.

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