Najee Omar




Instagram: @najeeomar

How are you affected by New York?

New York makes me want to work harder. It makes me want to be my best self. The pace of the city and all of the people it attracts, bring out a certain kind of hustle. As chaotic as it can be, it's also very inspiring.

What was your journey to falling in love with words?

It probably started at some point in elementary school. I used to always make a production out of homework assignments and projects. Even through college, I spent a lot of time on my essays, not necessarily to get my point across, but because I was trying to make the language so beautiful. What I realized along the way is that language is power. I fell in love with poetry specifically because of its limitless range and possibilities. When I was introduced to the canon of Black poets, who always used language as a weapon, were adamant about breaking down western structures, embraced the natural rhythm of our tongue and explored all the traditions of our culture, I realized that lineage is one that you're called to. As a poet, what you do with the written and spoken word can reach hundreds of thousands and shape movements. I think about legacy, and if mine will be my words, I want to be deliberate about what flows from my pen.

What do you want people to feel when they read or hear your art?

Challenged. In the way that they give themselves room to explore - who they are, their journey and their purpose. I want them to feel like they have some tools to get free during that process. I consider my job well done if I open doors to more questions. I don't want people to think I'm giving answers because I'm not. I don't have those.

Do you create pieces to be consumed exclusively by reading versus taken in through performance?

Well, I write because there's something I feel I need to say. The poem will reveal itself to me as one that needs to only live on a page, only be performed or if it can live in both worlds. Things like the form, the sounds of word groupings and cadence, tone and how much space the poem takes up on a page versus blank space to give the words room to breathe, let me know if it's best before a large group or received word by word and digested intimately.

Are there any topics you are excited by that want to explore through your art?

Excited by, not necessarily. But there are things that haunt me. My mom passed away from breast cancer when I was 12 years old and I really believe that my writing is a way to complement, not substitute, my healing. There are so many things I need to unearth and unpack. Writing will be a major part of me getting through the next phase.

How did your passion for youth develop? What is the impact of your work with them?

It comes from realizing that the arts literally changed the course of my life in high school, by exposing me to myself, my voice and my agency. I wanted to give young people the opportunity to experience the same exact thing. I created Spark House, which brings poetry programs into schools and community-based organizations, to collaborate with youth to transform their learning spaces and help them activate the tools they already have. A lot of the youth I work with have already been written off by other educators or if I'm in juvenile detention centers, site staff. In these workshops, they're building community with one another and working through their anxieties, fears, and challenges. They come into their own in so many different ways - creating, performing, leading. It's a beautiful, transformative process of growth in spaces that don't encourage it enough.


What is your vision for Spark House?

I would love to see Spark House grow into a physical space that can be a safe haven for young people to explore activities beyond writing and performance. A space that makes access easy and allows them to feel connected long term. I want the relationship to last into their early adulthood years to have a sustainable impact on their growth and development.

What is your proudest moment in life thus far?

I'm really proud of the shifts I've made to prioritize my healing this year. It started in 2015, but the steps have been more aggressive including actively going to therapy, getting a physical trainer and deepening my spiritual understanding and practice. Turning inward has strengthened all of my other pursuits.

What are the keys to your decision-making process?

Meditating on where I need or want to be is the first step, then having a tribe is vital. There hasn't been a major decision that I haven't run by the people closest to me. I trust them to see things I may not see myself and give me the real out of love. Something that seems simple, but is also really crucial is writing everything down. I do my research then weigh the pros and cons. It's important for me to make informed decisions and consider a number of angles, which has worked in my favor so far.

What's on the horizon for you?

I want to expand Spark House to more schools and young people across the five boroughs. I'm also in the early process of working on a documentary. I can't share exactly what it is yet, but it's very New York, very gritty. Exploring the storytelling tradition through film is a new but exciting for me. Long term, I'd love to have my own international stage production mending the worlds of the spoken word, music and dance traditions.

How do you stay motivated as you strive to achieve your goals?

At the top of every year, I have a 2-3 day goal review and setting process. It touches on everything - personal, artistic, financial, etc. Life always happens and shakes me up. There are moments when I feel like I'm abandoning everything, but because my intentions have been set, I make them my anchor. They serve as the blueprint for getting back on track when I feel discouraged or get off the path.