Logic Amen and the Power of Storytelling
“I grew up around music-the same way that most Black people did, but most Black people can’t rap like me,” chuckles Logic Amen.
Amen, 43, makes beats, samples and produces music; he’s nice on the keys and “I can beatbox, too,” he says. Lyrics like “Black on purpose. White people nervous. My insides are pitch black. Powers my chit-chat,” from his 2015 Black on Purpose mixtape, combine literary skill and music with rhyme and reason.
But Amen’s whole vibration right now is the recurring event Griot Party Experience and his One Person Show, playing one night only, this Saturday. Both are about sharing personal stories and waking to something powerful. Last weekend’s Griot Party Experience at Northwest African American Museum saw 250 attendees. His One Person Show: God morning. Good Mourning features special guest performances and Vitamin D on the turntables.
Amen is a high school principal, too. On a second wind right after school one day, fresh in button-down, bow tie and bodhi beads, Amen arrives at the new Bostwick Café in Tacoma’s Theatre District to talk about his work and his roots. The O’Jays’ I Love Music pipes in overhead.
“My first rap was at eight years old, inspired by Sugar Hill Gang and others like them,” he says. “Rapping on stage, winning talent shows, running around with my froggy backpack, and all that.”
Amen, a son of Ohio, is the eldest child of three, born to parents who between them share more than 50 years’ experience in law enforcement. The family moved to Washington when Amen was 12 years old.
Thinking back, he says, “I practically grew up at Langston Hughes [Performing Arts Institute]. It’s where I got my artistic break.” Amen was doing stand-up at the non-commissioned officer club before he was old enough to be there. He had an agent and was working with Disney by the time he was 18.
Amen decided in his early 20s to carve out direction and more purpose in his life, beginning with his name. Logic Seven Allah Amen is an intermingling of the Latin word logos, which means to study; seven, for the seventh letter in the alphabet ‘G’, which stands for God; Allah, Arabic for God; and Amen, the Kemetic, or Egyptian, idea that means the unseen which governs the seen, or “so be it.”
“My Christian name-up to five names at one point-had no purpose, no real meaning,” Amen says. “It was a slave name, too. It just seemed a lot more revolutionary and freedom-based to create my own branch of Amens on the family tree.”
Both his father and uncle changed their names before him. To liberate themselves, Amen says proudly. “Big Uncle Askia,” who died of HIV in the early ’90s, was a great singer and pianist himself.
In a family of talented singers and musicians, “there was always a competitive thing”, he says. “Low-key, I was like, ‘I gotta find something that I can do better!’” He smiles. “This is why it took so long for me to consider myself a musician because I have these legitimate musicians in my family, but the older I became I began to understand that this mouthpiece is an instrument.”
Now, as assistant principal at Tacoma’s Lincoln High School for the past eight years, Amen is on a passed-down mission of civic engagement and public service full of intent, advocacy, consciousness and heart. A former family preservation therapist and homeschool coordinator, acting pre-emptively to help PoC families circumvent further systemic penalties is second nature for him. He’s done all sorts of outreach to counter violent behavior. It was his calling, before it became his job.
Amen is careful to emphasize the importance of understanding that violence in Black and brown youth isn’t hard-wired to gangs, an idea that can diminish the potential for intervention and healing. “Gang activity is just one standard on the rubric of at-risk youth.”
As a kid, “I was misdiagnosed special-ed,” he says-a surprising disclosure from this University of Washington alumnus who holds a Bachelor’s degree in English literature, a Masters in teaching and further certification through the Danforth Educational Leadership Program.
“They would kick me out of class for talking too much, for 30 or 40 minutes at a time.” Eventually, through this loss of instruction, Amen says, he truly didn’t know what was going on in class. But this is the norm, he says, “in an overtly racist academic institution.”
This is a common injury associated with the absence of an equity literacy lens in American public schools, doubled-down with a reliable stream of federal dollars for every new implementation of an individualized special education plan.
Whenever Amen would test out of the special-ed program, his grandmother, then an educator herself, would tell him to stay put. Ironic and sad as it may be, “that was the little bit of privilege that we could leverage,” he recalls.
He attributes much of what he’s learned and taught to his grandmother’s wisdom and careful navigation through the Education Industrial Complex. Her guidance helped in his work against the social marginalization of Black people-and it’s what started him on his path of linguistic exploration.
Amen says he went to college for his mother. If he’d had his way, it would have been music instead. He says, with a tone of relief mixed with gratitude and entitlement, “This is why it’s all coming out now.”
Amen’s Griot Party Experience, which kicked off last year at the Columbia City Theater, brings together artists and locals from a variety of backgrounds to share stories of every kind, sometimes painful.
“When those stories come forth, then it’s a time for happiness after healing.” He explains that it’s important to harness and channel that energy. “So, we dance! We rap. We talk. It’s therapeutic.” “Free medicine,” one Griot Party attendee called it.
Griot (GREE-oh), a French word, references an oral historian, an indigenous male, specifically (not to be confused with the feminine, griotte). The word and the languages of his native West Africa are products of colonization by the French in the mid-1800s. Using poetry, stories, music and song, the griot, a kind of community caretaker, retains and retells the old stories to a people journeying backward, to their free and independent existence.
“So many times, Black and brown people [in particular] don’t have an opportunity to tell our stories. They want to silence our telling of our own stories!” he says. “They want us to be dependent on them to tell our stories. And when they do, it’s been edited. It’s been discredited and whitewashed.”
Right here, he realizes his spontaneous fly: “Edited and discredited. That’s a bar.” Nodding, he immediately makes note of it on his phone, then continues, emphasizing the importance of telling of our own stories “because within them is the antidote to a lot of the social ills we suffer, and once we start sharing our stories ourselves, we’ll have more power and autonomy.”
The Griot Party Experience aims to reclaim gentrified areas of Seattle. Occupying venues in historically Black neighborhoods like the Central District, Columbia City and Hillman City is paramount. “We can be there,” he says, his words like a deed and a banner. “We can be present. This is a footprint. We have a history. We’re living cultural landmarks.”
In addition to the events geared toward adults, Amen held the first Youth Griot Party Experience in May at Lincoln High School and anticipates they’ll continue throughout the year.
Amen also leads Tacoma educators and principals in a series of workshops on healing community through storytelling. His storytelling lectures are what he calls “edutainment-educating people through entertainment.” With the words “I got a story to tell,” he begins to sketch an everyday interaction onto your cerebral blackboard.
W.E.B. Dubois’ double consciousness, “code-switching” or double-standard-it’s a real thing.
It was his uncle, Amen says, who taught him to be himself, artistic and unapologetically Black. “For years, I didn’t want to tell people that I did hip-hop,” he says. “Because it’s used by dog-whistle racists to criminalize us. Somehow, with Dr. Seuss, this [rhyme and flow] is profound and educational, but with Black rappers, it’s ‘unsophisticated.’”
He encourages Black men, “Be comfortable with who you are in every lane that you travel. Take ownership in healthy and appropriate ways in all that you do and be proud of it.”
Authenticity is the foundation and the framework of what Amen is building, and he makes his point strong and clear that we absolutely should be allowed to be ourselves, in the safest and most impactful way possible.
Amen’s One Person Show runs for one night only on June 30 at Columbia City Theater.
This story was first published at City Arts Magazine on June 28, 2018.