I have always been interested in ibn Kenyatta’s artwork and poetry. They help me grasp, in small measure, his perspective and experience of living in a black skin. In his view, race was merely a matter of which of us was sprinkled with the most pigment at birth.

Throughout his prison years Kenyatta has used his art, writing, and other creative pursuits as a distinctive form of commentary, one filtered through the prison experience. Both his drawings and poetry address the human condition, oppression, and the power of the individual in social change. Curators of his works use “social justice themes” when describing his art.

For example, “The Judicial Lynchin of Eve” is a 24 x 28 charcoal drawing of a silhouetted young African American girl, Eve Postell. In 1978, at age fourteen, she was sentenced to 114 years in prison for murder. The image includes prison bars, shackles, and an earring forming the letters 114.

A drawing of the late Billie Holiday has the lyrics to her song “God Bless the Child” sketched over her beautiful, ravaged face. A 1979 drawing of Safiya, “Black Graffiti,” includes dozens of “terms of endearments” surrounding her face.

Go back to Freedom, Deferred.

In The Fray is a nonprofit staffed by volunteers. If you liked this piece, could you please donate $10?