Spoken-word Artist Encourages Activism 

Keynote speaker at the ¡Ya es el Tiempo! event, Denice Frohman, discusses the importance of activism with Elgin City Councilmen, Tish Powell and Baldemar Lopez, for Latinx Heritage Month.


Nicole Littlefield, Managing Editor

Denice Frohman grew up going to diverse public schools with curriculum that didn’t reflect the history and achievements of people of color. Having a Puerto Rican mother and a Jewish father, Frohman didn’t connect with many of the authors most schools teach about in high school, but all of that changed when she attended New York’s Dowling College on a full-ride basketball scholarship.


As a freshman, Frohman discovered the world of poetry. Unlike the writers she was taught about in high school, these writers spoke her language. She discovered more and more authors and poets who understood what it felt like to be from two different worlds.


“When I stumbled into the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and I read Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Anzaldú, and Nikki Giovanni it was like my whole world cracked open,” Frohman said. “As I was discovering myself and discovering so many writers of color and queer authors that spoke to me and were familiar to me. Poetry also became the vehicle for building social consciousness and it was the political education course I never had in high school. It was the history and english classes with diverse curriculums that I wanted and that I deserved.”


Her new-found passion for poetry connected her to others with the same devotion, which led Frohman to advocate for the poetry club. The private college had a smaller campus, so the school challenged Frohman to get 200 signatures to start a poetry club. She ran all around campus to get the signatures.


“At that time in college, I didn’t see myself as a change-maker,” said Frohman. “I saw something that needed to happen and went to my peers and started organizing.”


Because of her love for poetry, Frohman committed to supporting her passion and founded a club that has offered so much more than club meetings and open mics. A decade after it began, the poetry club still stands and offers a place for writers.


On Friday, Sept. 25, Frohman was the keynote speaker for the Latinx Heritage Month ¡Ya es el Tiempo! (Now is The Time!) event. The event was a collaboration between six community colleges: COD, Elgin Community College, College of Lake County, McHenry County College, Waubonsee Community College and Harper College. Frohman and Elgin City Councilmen, Tish Powell and Baldemar Lopez, discussed the importance of activism and advocating for things that matter to yourself.


College of Lake County student Ambar Marquez said, “Activism means doing more than just being a bystander, it means being an ally in the best way I can.”


Frohman couldn’t remain a bystander when it came to her passion for poetry. In 2013, the Woman of the World Poetry Slam champion and was a Hispanic Choice Award winner. In 2015, she won the CantoMundo Fellowship. Her poems have over 7.5 million views online.


However, no one could have prepared her for the fear she felt when Hurricane Maria devastated her loved ones on Puerto Rico. Having just recovered from the havoc caused by Hurricane Irma, the Caribbean was not prepared for Maria’s arrival. In Sept. 2017, the category 4 winds destroyed homes on the island of Dominica then moved to Puerto Rico and left them without power.


“It is estimated that over 4,645 Puerto Ricans died in the aftermath of the hurricane due to the failure of two governments, due to neglect, and due to a failed response that was proportionate to the devastation,” said Frohman. “The entire electrical grid was wiped out. Puerto Ricans on the island, many of whom did not have power for almost a year. There were thousands of blue tarps on top of roofs. Homes were destroyed. There were FEMA meals that never arrived, thousands and thousands of water bottles that were found in Dorado — the aid never got to the people — and 400 schools that were closed. During the hurricane and then aftermath of the hurricane because we could not reach our loved ones, a diaspora sprang into action.”


Based in New York City, the Diaspora for Puerto Rico, Inc. is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that hopes to progress the power of the Puerto Rican community and promotes their self-efficiency.


Instead of feeling helpless, Frohman went back to what she knows and began to work as a poet to help Puerto Rico. After to talking to other Puerto Rican poets, Frohman co-organized #PoetsforPuertoRico and collaborated with other organizations to provide the resources the Puerto Ricans needed.


While the island still recovers from the natural disaster, an 800-page group chat between Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló and his closest aides were leaked. The messages were laced with homophobic, sexist, transphobic and overall offense speech.


After the release of the governor’s private messages, thousands of Puerto Ricans filled miles of a major highway in San Juan. Peurto Ricans showed the pain they felt from the destruction caused by a natural disaster and the manmade chaos. Frohman attended the massive ‘Ricky Renuncia’ march along with thousands of others who caused an 11-lane highway to shut down.


“When I saw all of the young people, old people, women, men, kids, babies, college students with a pot or pan in their hand. Almost everyone had something in their hand that they were banging or making noise with. It was such a moment of reckoning and reflection that there is so much that gets in the way of us being connected to our power,” said Frohman.


The consistent two weeks of street protests showed the pain the islanders felt from the destruction of a natural disaster and the chaos caused by a manmade disaster. The protests forced Rosselló to resign from his position who officially stepped down on Aug. 2, 2019.


“Until we’re able to change the system, we have to work within the system we’re given,” said Elgin City Councilwoman Tish Powell. “I want to encourage all of you to move beyond protests to policy change.”