Thank you for the exquisite memorials in the February issue. The essay on Jonathan Smith ’81’s inspiring teaching and leadership struck me particularly deeply.
Jonathan was my first-year RA in 1901 Hall. When this very naive, very white poetry fan asked whether I could attend a meeting of his poetry group, Kuumba, he invited me along. I worked and performed with the group during that whole year.
Thanks to Jonathan, poems like Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” are now a visceral part of me. Thanks to Kuumba members’ nonjudgmental welcome, I became gradually aware — without their telling me directly — how toxic Princeton often was for them and how much they needed times and spaces of retreat from white students. The next fall I knew I couldn’t and shouldn’t return to the group. Any boundary-breaking from me would have to take other forms.
None of them owed me this education, which was costly to them, and which I should not have needed. But thanks to Jonathan’s quiet example, they gently taught me, nevertheless. I am grateful to them all.