Updated: Sep 8
By Shayler Richmond
Social media hasn’t always been the safest place to be angry, sad, or grieve, but the happenings of 2020 have exacerbated all of America’s inequities, simultaneously coronavirus has pushed much of our community into virtual spaces — some activists and artists have developed effective ways of using social media to reach people as the systemic racial crisis continues to unfold, the writer and creative director of “We Ask for Fire,” W.J. Lofton, is one.
As Lofton and I continued discussing his poetry short film, “We Ask for Fire,” which extends Breonna Taylor’s legacy, the conversation shifted to reimaging liberation.
“Being a storyteller I feel like it’s my responsibility, to tell the truth, and the truth is Breonna Taylor was murdered,” said Lofton.
The poet labels some media ‘trauma porn’ because people have responded to the police killings of Black people in ways he deems ‘inappropriate’ due to the lack of respect, truth and cultural context.
There is an endless list of Black people whose lives have been taken by this system. Since America became America, Black bodies have been murdered by the American system.
Breonna Taylor is another unarmed Black woman murdered by the American system —
Black Americans are traumatized, and Lofton’s solution is fire.
"We Ask for Fire" - 2020
Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African-American emergency medical technician, was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department officers on Mar. 13, 2020.
“If we were to catalog trauma, and to catalog catastrophe, this would be very high… If you think about all the atrocities, all the injustices, all the violence that has been enacted,” said Lofton.
Lofton views fire through three lenses that build upon one another and define the message of this film.
“The first lens is justice,” said Lofton. “I’m unsure of how justice will look because I don’t want to view it punitively,” he continued.
For Lofton, asking for fire gives him the freedom to imagine what justice could be. Justice and jail are not synonymous.
The second lens he discussed is retribution, highlighting a line from his poem, “if we cannot have breath then let us have fire," and "burn this world down.” Lastly, but most importantly, when Lofton is asking for fire, he is asking for love.
“We represent the fire. May we represent each other. If we as Black people don’t have anything else in this world we have each other,” he said.
Collectivism has different contexts across cultures — historically people of color have come together to survive, while white people have come together to assert empty inferiority and subjugate diversity, Time Magazine reports.
Lofton says the entire film was created with the intention of challenging what we know and how we see the world.
Potentially a justice system with no jails, a reconstructed public safety department, a voting system where the people vote for their president instead of voting to tell the electoral college who to vote for.
Throughout "We Ask for Fire," a blue cloth appears, first it's tangled then as the poem progresses the light blue mesh fabric unravels, becoming completely unraveled, and it flows around Lofton. This blue cloth represents the police.
“It’s us reimagining how the police show up in our lives, and not just the police but the systems that were created. Ultimately it’s freeing ourselves from these systems,” said Lofton.
Lofton acknowledged that he keeps his steam because he knows in his heart he was given something to add to the conversation. We often talk about 'the conversation,' but when we reference 'the conversation' we have to acknowledge that these conversations have been happening for a while. The people still willing to have these conversations are championing our collective freedom.
“Freedom is allowed to happen. You are allowed to imagine liberation, but you cannot do that when you’re boxed in,” said Lofton. Hence the need to deconstruct the ways in which the world has administered injustices.
Lofton emphasized that the message of his film is not ‘burn the earth down,’ but the sentiment is the question itself, ‘We Ask for Fire.’ This film presents fire as the gateway to justice.
The poet poses the question, “why should the earth not burn down?”
In his question, Lofton has decided to open up the door for accountability. Why should the earth not bare retaliation for the injustice of Breonna Taylor's murder and every senseless killing before hers?
“Rather it’s God’s judgment, someone sets it[the earth] on fire or some other type of catastrophe happens, but why shouldn’t something happen?” Lofton asked.
Why should the world not pay for its sins? This question challenges us to humbly analyze our own wrongs and assess our role in making the world better for the most vulnerable.
Liberation requires truth and introspection is needed to become free.
Lofton believes we must continue adding value to the conversation until the work is done. Through his artwork, James presents truth with the hope of inspiring all people to imagine their most authentic selves. His goal is equitable communities where everyone is seen and supported.
“A community where we are not racialized, genderized, sexualized, and have the freedom to show up how we show up without retribution,” said Lofton.
“The thing about being hateful is it doesn’t do anything to someone else’s soul it does something to your soul. We know what it means to be marginalized so there is a certain grace. We don’t want to retaliate, we want equity and equality,” he continued.
Lofton believes this moment calls for reflection and action. He asks everyone to call the numbers listed below and demand justice for Breonna Taylor.
Governor Andy Beshear : (502) 564-2611
District Attorney Tom Wine : (502) 595-2300
Attorney General Daniel Cameron : (502) 696-5300
Senator Rand Paul : (202) 224-4343 / (270) 782-8303
Congressman John Yarmuth : (202) 225-5401
Kentucky Senators General Hotline: 1-800-372-7181
Writer & Creative Director: W.J. Lofton @mrjamespoetry
Producer: Shawn Michael Craig @shawnmichaelcraig
Set Designer: Tristin “Travie” @unicorntravie
Stylist: Caresse-Dionne @caressedionne
Songwriter & Singer @jmbellmusic
Featuring: Logan Burroughs @logan_lynette