IMPACT: The Research Magazine for John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Select Page

Speaking Justice

Crystal Endsley blends art with advocacy


Photo: Courtesy of Crystal L. Endsley

Untitled [By Crystal L. Endsley]
I thought I could love
You out of dying if not
I’ll write you alive.

For Associate Professor of Africana Studies and spoken word poet Dr. Crystal Endsley, spoken word poetry and social justice activism go hand in hand. Though social justice looks different depending on where you are in the world, she says, performance and writing offer us universal tools to analyze our relationships. “Everything we do is filtered through our physical bodies,” says Endsley. “I am interested in how our bodies determine so much of our existence, and the ways that performance can intervene, can help us teach and learn through that performance of identity.” She sees her performances as collaborations, negotiating power and meaning, creating different experiences that feed on the energy and reactions of her audience.

Using poetry as a tool to challenge oppression and further justice in the communities where she lives and works is a theme in Endsley’s work, one that is strongly rooted in both her upbringing and background in theater. Her first book, The Fifth Element: Social Justice Pedagogy Through Spoken Word Poetry, outlined the way students can use poetry to navigate obstacles and explore activism and identity. And Endsley’s current project is a manuscript about her years with the Girls Participation Committee, part of the Working Group on Girls, an NGO with ECOSOC status at the United Nations.

That committee advocates for girls’ rights as human rights around the world and engages them to advocate for themselves. Endsley, for example, is co-director of its annual Girls Speak Out, which takes place at UN headquarters each October. She invites girls to use creative outlets to talk about what it means to be a girl where they are; many pieces of their art are showcased live at the Speak Out, sharing girl activists’ thoughts and concerns before high-level policymakers, and on a global livestream. Endsley also hosts a Teen Orientation each year at John Jay for teen visitors to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in March. She is devoted to elevating girls’ voices and creating opportunities to inspire others to action.

When Endsley began her Ph.D., there was little scholarship to speak of on hip hop and spoken word. So she sees her work as having “one foot in the community, one foot in the academy,” reflecting her dual role as an academic and a performer, jointly working to create justice.

Published in Culture, Community, and Educational Success: Reimagining the Invisible Knapsack

Crystal Polite Glover, Toby S. Jenkins, and Stephanie Troutman

2019, The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.