Of Protest and Pioneers

Young M.A.Y.A. Infuses Poetry With His World View in Many Languages

The backdrop was adorned with three great men, each with a single word written on them: Dalai Lama with the word “waiting,” Mahatma Gandhi with the word “watching” and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the word “dreaming.” In front of them stood Omekongo Dibinga doing what he loves to do most: reciting his poetry.

Dibinga stood as MC for an open mic night that is a weekly occurrence on Tuesdays at Busboys and Poets at 14th and V Streets. But in true “O” fashion, he set the stage with his original piece.

Busboys and Poets is what one might consider a “one-stop shop,” serving as a restaurant, bookstore and gathering place for people committed to social justice and peace in this nation. Dibinga shared a poem titled “Just Me,” an ode to white and black Americans telling him what he can think and talk about.

The key phrase that was often repeated was “You’re a nigger O; you don’t need to talk about that, talk about …” the former always being some deep and meaningful truth while the latter being some meaningless and trivial matter.

For example, a portion of the poem says, “Don’t talk about Condoleeza and killing a Congolese a minute in Western-supported wars. Just talk about the whores you see on BET who are probably only dancing to get through the university.”

“When I heard this poem, I drifted off into a place of deep thought and provoking questions,” said Tamara Kelley, a senior majoring in advertising at Howard University. “He brought a lot of important issues to the forefront that other artists tiptoe around.”

Dibinga, whose parents are from the Congo, says he was born in Massachusetts. Growing up in the ’80s in Boston with African names was no easy feat for the Dibinga family, he explained. Dibinga recalls being beaten up and having rocks thrown at them. “People just wanted someone to torment,” he said.

Poetry ended up being an escape for him. “Poetry was a way to save my life,” he said. “Writing was my escape.”

His parents, Dr. Dibinga wa Said and Dr. Ngolela wa Kabongo, encouraged Dibinga as well as his eight brothers and sisters to be proud of who they are and where they come from.

Education was always of key importance in the Dibinga household. As a result Dibinga has a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in Washington and a master’s in law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland.

As a seventh grader, Dibinga remembers writing his first poem. It was called “A Young Black Man’s Anthem.”

That first poem set the foundation for what was to come much later: four CDs full of original works, three books and a host of DVDs and T-shirts, said Dibinga, who released his first CD in 2001.

In 2004, Dibinga and his wife, Kendra, whom he married in 2003, agreed that he should quit his job since he felt as if should be doing something else.

“I was increasingly becoming dissatisfied,” said the D.C. resident who lives in Ward 8. “I started feeling like there were greater things I was supposed to do.”

He started Free Your Mind Publishing with the goal of producing books and other multimedia products to motivate others to reach their full potential.

Dibinga also produces work by others, such as “Put Your Shoes On,” a step-by-step guide for young people entering the workforce.

His validation came when he realized that he had made more money in his first year of publishing than he did on his job.

The multifaceted artist explains that many of his poems are in English, Swahili and/or French.

“The ability of someone to switch languages while in the middle of reciting poetry, maintain the emphasis and emotion of it, and convey that to the audience is true talent,” Kelley said. “I was taken by surprise trying to figure out exactly what the words he had uttered meant, but his conviction and brief explanation cleared them up for me.”

But writing poetry and being founder and CEO of his own publishing company is not where it stops for Dibinga. He also is the co-star of the TV drama series “Ya Ma’Afrika,” which deals with the lives of Africans in America. The international series airs on channel 591 on the Dish Networks as well as Telesud.

He has also previously hosted an international hip-hop satellite radio show titled “Flava.” Between the two shows, Dibinga can be seen and heard in North America, Africa, Europe, Asia and the West Indies.

“Omekongo was deep, well versed and incorporated political and social elements into his performance,” Kelley said. “He told the audience how his art is underappreciated, but regardless he will continue to spread knowledge to all that he can reach.”

She continued, “I admired him for truly loving poetry and wanting to share his views with the world, regardless of the obstacles.”

To those aiming for those dreams that can sometimes feel unattainable Young M.A.Y.A., as he is known on the stage, said, “You’ve got to always be true to yourself.” He continued, “Highlight what makes you different.”

Dibinga chose Young M.A.Y.A. as his stage name because he is “fed up with the overabundance of misogyny in hip-hop,” according to his page on MySpace.com. “It grows by the day. I figure the best way to protest this hatred is to adapt the name of a woman, Dr. Maya Angelou, who inspired me to write.” Dibinga believes in making the names of pioneers known.

The husband, father of one, poet, actor and CEO says he has one goal. “I want the entire world to hear my voice. I want to continue to push the envelope.”