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The Poetry of America’s Most Dangerous City

Aug 02, 2018 | 681 videos
Video by Jackson Tisi

Society begs us to pull up our bootstraps and fly to Venus / But when you keep us padlocked to trenches / It ain’t easy to show our genius.


That’s Kondwani Fidel, a celebrated spoken-word poet from Baltimore, rapping about his experience growing up in America’s most dangerous city. According to a USA Today analysis of crime conducted this year, Baltimore has the highest per capita murder rate in the nation, with nearly 56 murders per 100,000 people.


“Resilience is something that’s ingrained in you at a very young age growing up in Baltimore,” says Fidel in Jackson Tisi’s short documentary, Hummingbirds in the Trenches, from Breakout. “If you’re from or live in Baltimore, every year you’re losing people. That’s just a fact. Nobody goes untouched.”


Shot like a cinematic poem itself, the film follows Fidel through his neighborhood and, ultimately, to a spoken-word performance, where he connects with his fans. Over kinetic shots of city streets and residents, Fidel recounts the adversity he faced in childhood and muses on the nature of ambition and poverty.


To enrich Fidel’s story, Tisi asked him to write three poems specifically for the film. “I wanted to display his talents throughout the piece and really let his performances and writing speak for themselves,” Tisi told The Atlantic.


For his part, Tisi was moved by the spirit he witnessed in the city’s residents. “Baltimore is an incredible place,” Tisi said. “I have been a number of times now and each time I am amazed by the hospitality I am met with. This film was only made possible because the people of Baltimore helped us so much.”


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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of short films curated by The Atlantic