Episode 18: Visiting with Klevah Knox and her story “Amongst Queens”
The She Said Project Podcast - Season Two
Episode 18: Klevah Knox “Amongst Angels”
With Jenette Jurzcyk and Kerry Rossow
Air Date: May 15, 2020
ANNOUNCER: (0:00) Raising women’s voices - One story at a time.
Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
JENETTE: (0:25) Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast. Kerry, how’s it going?
KERRY: Fantastic. Kerry Rosso, founder, here with…
JENETTE: Jenette Jurczyk, National Director. Our whole mission at The She Said Project is creating events and opportunities for women to share their stories live on stage or now, here on the podcast. It has been an awesome ride, don’t you think, Kerry?
KERRY: It has been an awesome ride. (That’s what she said.) Sorry. Sorry. You tossed it to me.
JENETTE: (0:49) Ah, ha ha! Yeah, but that’s that’s where this all started: with some silly jokes with a lot of heart. And speaking of heart, today we’re going to visit with one of these incredible women that shared her story live on stage back in 2015. That was a really powerful, incredible cast with lots of women on stage. But there’s something really special about Klevah, Klevah Knox. Are you on the line with us, Klevah?
KLEVAH: (1:12) Yeah. I’m here.
JENETTE: Oh, my goodness. Welcome. Welcome to the podcast.
KLEVAH: Yes. Thanks, Kerry. Thanks, Jenette.
JENETTE: So we’re reflecting and talking about and remembering your story, “Amongst Queens,” that you shared back in 2015. There were a lot of really important, significant themes in your story. Tell us about what you shared that night and why?
KLEVAH: Yeah, well, I took that opportunity to share my story about my grandmother and about my mother, and had recently lost my grandmother when you guys asked me to come on to the show and it was the first time that I had wrote about those feelings and kind of just reflected on what she meant to me and, you know, how she inspired my story. So yeah, it was, it was just about that love and the nurture that they provided even when they felt like they couldn’t be, you know, the best people in my life. They significantly affected who I am and taught me forgiveness, taught me compassion, taught me how to just care for those around me. And yeah, they are everything.
JENETTE: (2:15) Klevah, that shows because you are a tribute to the women in your life and, that evening, that’s exactly what you did. You gave a tribute right back and you did it with your unique gifts because most of the women who share on The She Said stage, you know, they just have to find the courage to speak their story, but you actually used your gift of spoken word and really crafted a beautiful tribute to these women. So, we’re going to go ahead and listen to the performance from that night. And then we’re going to ask you about it. So our friends here on The She Said Project Podcast: This is Klevah Knox sharing her story, “Amongst Queens.” That’s What She Said—Champaign-Urbana 2015. Take a listen.
(recorded October 17, 2015 at the Virginia Theatre, Champaign, IL)
KLEVAH: (2:52) When I first started writing this piece I knew that I owed my story to other women. I knew that I wanted to honor the women who have brought me to my greatest potential. In the past two to three years alone I’ve met so many brilliant, beautiful ladies that I call my Sisters, my She-roes, my best friend—and that was impossible to do in five minutes. So I had to narrow it down and I decided to talk about motherhood. And I thought the best way to express who I am and what I’m made of is through rhythm and rhyme.
January 22nd 2015.
I lost the very thing I worked my hardest to redeem.
She worked harder through her pain.
And hardest through complaint.
Family non-compliant—not a dollar to their name.
Now that’s the power of the game.
The guilt ain’t ours.
The world is green with weeds and greed and wilted flowers.
I feel so powerless.
Like Grandma, why you leaving without us?
And damn it, I just need you to know this:
That soon enough, I’ll make you the proudest.
I tried to make the most of our moments the most important component,
Hope my life as a poet will pour some faith in the porous.
Hope my vice is proportion and sacrifices and fortune
I’ve been coping with death ever since the day I was born.
I’ve been holding my breath since they diagnosed her with cancer.
I’ve been scolding myself for not having none of the answers
I’ve been showing myself that I’m better now than I have been
I’ve been coaching myself through some words of wisdom with Jasmine
Cause she know the emotion, she lost the piece of a passion.
You can feel the explosion that shit be deep in the back in your heart
And it’ll creep through your mouth if you let it
Family I knew for twenty years acted ugly as ever
But that’s nature. [applause]
(4:38) Thank you.
My Grandma Becky was my favorite grandma. Let’s put it out there like that. We all have one. And God, losing her is.. I’d still, it’s not… I kind of have to be a little distant from this piece a little bit so I don’t get emotional because that’s how, you know, she’s another me—just a lot older, so man, she was everything: back breaking, country cooking, good looking. And she was very, she was still pretty young when she passed. It was only really like a month, maybe two months, between the time she was diagnosed until the time she left us. That was really, really, really hard. That’s not something I expected this year.
But what was really fascinating about this story for me is that a couple months prior, my mom was released from prison. She had served a couple terms before and this time she got released early for good behavior. And she comes home, you know, everything gets reacquainted and then we find out that my grandma’s sick. And so in that last couple of months my mom really had opportunity to nurture my grandma and rebuild a relationship with her that had been really rocky up to that point so through all of that grief and hardship there really was a silver lining and I don’t think that my mom would have fully recovered if she wouldn’t have been able to be there for my grandma.
So I have an entirely new respect for my mom. I could not imagine going through something like that. So I’ve made it my duty to protect her and love her so that I don’t lose her as prematurely as we lost my grandma. [applause] Which brings me to my second piece. Thank you. (6:29)
April 29th 1997
Mama lost the newborn
Baby brought to full term
He came out her womb wrong
Ashamed of her wounds
Too young, his lungs
Too weak to pull from
Not two weeks, but two days
Not two weeks, but two days
That’s not normal
He blue face
It was supposed to be his due date
We’re that mortal
But that pain created that portal to crack cocaine
And back then I ain’t see it
Back then I ain’t see it
I ain’t care
I just needed it
Stepmom’s response was so immediate
Mean, but she meant well
I learned obedience
I learned more from neglect and deviance
but I also learned that regret
Ain’t what freedom is
It took twenty-five years to learn some sense of self-respect and leadership
Written letters, calls collect
Diligent distant relatives
Till bars connect
God is the archetype, architect
Only He could bring light to something as dark as that
We both survived the hard relapse
We both realized the hardest past can break
You got a heart of glass
We both alive and harbor half the pain of being motherless is harsh
But it’s hard to grasp
But you heal and you overcome
So all I ask is every time I rhyme you feel where I’m coming from
And what’s in my nature
(7:49) Yeah, my mom, oh, she is my hero. [applause] Through everything. Through this struggle…this has been a life-long struggle. You know, substance abuse is a disease and I’ve come to realize that. And it’s something that, you know, every day you really have to…you really have to put a lot of energy in to being the person that you want to be, and just the relationship with my mom and the relationship with my grandma has just taught me to be a giving person and a forgiving person, because that’s really what love is. You have to extend that to other people and the more the type of person you are extends outwards and you allow people to be a better person, better that you are so it’s really taught me to be a better example and in the past year alone after losing my grandma, you know, I didn’t know what was happening. I’m a musician. I do music and stuff, but this year has been incredible. I’ve been able to go across the country and perform. I’ve been presented with so many opportunities. So many beautiful people have been coming into my life. This has come into my life and I can only think that my grandma’s in heaven really clearing a path for me. So, thank you. [applause] Love you, grandma.
And through it all I’ve learned that motherhood is magical. And as daughters and as mothers, please be very conscious of the messages that you send and cherish the time that you spend together. Set an example for each other. Set expectations for each other and love each other endlessly. Because, like nature, everything comes full circle. Thank you.
JENETTE: (9:48) Wow, wow. Kerry?
KERRY: There were so many… Sometimes we make, you know, these images and take a quote out of someone’s piece to put over the image and with yours, you know, there were like fifty different quotes that we could take out. The one I usually land on is that, you know, “you owe your story to other women.“
KERRY: I love that, in your story. That’s exactly what your story said and you’re continuing to link your story to other women. So tell us about what you’re doing now with another woman named Truth. This didn’t take a dirty turn, I promise. Tell us about Mother Nature.
KLEVAH: (10:25) Yeah, man, Mother Nature is the embodiment of everything that we are. Us, being a product of our mothers—carrying both their gifts and their trauma, man, the things that I’m able to express in my group with Truth are… they’re just so necessary, I think for the community. I think they’re necessary for other black women and just other women, you know, in general. I think that we… through our femininity, we’re very—we can be like that soft, that soft expression, or we can give you a really like—I don’t want to say aggressive but just, we’re just very intentional and critical of, you know, the systems that are that are around us and the things that try to control us. And yeah, Mother Nature is everything.
I’ve been with Mother Nature now for four years and we moved to Chicago in late 2016 and ever since then we’ve just been like writing, recording, performing. We do community work. We have a non-profit. And our team is full of women. We have men on the team as well, but our close team, our management, those who like, help us like with our creative design and things like that, it’s all women and it’s just insanely powerful, you know, we get a lot of work done in a short amount of time—and we’re affirming to each other, you know, we talk to each other, we cry with each other, we breathe with each other, eat with each other. It’s just transformative—if I had to put it in one word.
JENETTE (11:51): Klevah, I so love hearing what you’ve been up to and how you’re living the embodiment, you know, of what The She Said Project is… is working towards as well: women supporting women, but being in it, being in it together breaking down barriers. You know, there’s a lot of women who come to join us in a performance and, you know, there’s that there’s a lot of distance between where they are starting and where they need to get to, but you approached this as a huge opportunity to break down walls, break down barriers and speak from your heart and your gut and when I hear your music and your lyrics and your songs, that’s that’s what hits me. It’s all of the things: it’s your head, it’s your heart, it’s your gut and you are speaking what you believe women need to hear and you give women permission. You give women permission to say the things that too often go unsaid.
KLEVAH: Exactly. Yeah. It’s all so necessary. So necessary.
KERRY (12:44) I was so impressed with your leadership because we are a group of—shall we say, strong personalities—and we tasked you at a very late date in the game to wrap up our show and to sort of lead it with music and we had a lot of women with strong personalities and you were so great. You were such a leader. You led us—you made everybody feel included— you rocked the end of that show.
KLEVAH: It was intimidating. I’m not gonna lie like it wasn’t intimidating.
KERRY: It did not show!
JENETTE: I was gonna say, no one would have known. Though you, when you walked out on that stage—both for your personal story and then at the end when you led the women into the finale—I mean you just shined! You just really owned that stage and I’m so glad to hear that you’re continuing that and that you’re finding, you know, more platforms to share those stories.
KERRY (13:30): All right, so I want to hear what is your… when you think back to that night? What is your takeaway besides getting to spend—you know, the evening and the experience with me? I’m sure that that was like a highlight for you. But other than that, other than that, what is your takeaway from that experience?
KLEVAH (13:46): Oh, wow. Well let me start by saying that I’ve never experienced anything like That’s What She Said. I don’t think I’ve ever been… even as Mother Nature… I don’t think we’ve ever been in a space that was 100% all women and, like, feeling that energy.
But I felt, I felt vulnerable. I felt vulnerable and safe. I think would be my takeaway from that experience. But I also, in the same way that, you know, I give other women permission to tell their stories, I felt like you guys gave me a lot of permissions to be my authentic self, you know, I was definitely, you know, with being ‘The Rapper,’ of everyone, and also, you know, being a black woman and having a unique experience, and just coming from all the things I come from—it’s sometimes, I shy away from like exposing that full self, or, you know, feeling like I can be 100% myself in those spaces. But, you know, through all the rehearsals and even, you know, leading up to that night, and that night, I just felt vulnerable. I felt safe. I felt loved. I felt adored. And yeah, I felt like I had permission to speak my truth.
JENETTE: You know, what’s incredible…
KLEVAH: I had a lot of takeaways.
JENETTE (15:02): ...what you did with that permission, you know, the topics of the two rap pieces; the spoken word pieces that you shared—were really challenging parts of your of your experience, you know, the death of your grandmother and then your mother’s loss. And you have this gift and this tool that you can use to, to express yourself and also heal emotionally through word and through song and you have this ability to talk about those topics in a way that brings people together as opposed to making people uncomfortable. You know, you made it okay. You know, we all experience loss, every one of us, no one is immune and thank you for bringing, for bringing those topics to the table in a way that, you know, we could—we could all sit with it for a moment. But also enjoy your bravery and your performance at the same time. Me, like I also felt like her performance just brought the house down.
KERRY (16:05): It did. It did. It was so great. It was so great to see you shine like that and it was so great to see the response and I’m sure you could feel it. I could feel it and I was just trying to glom on to what they were sending to you, but it was really beautiful to watch.
KLEVAH: (16:18) Thank you. Thank you. It was definitely, like an experience, like exposing that pain, but you’re absolutely right. Like, it’s always the healing process; just words and the vibration of the words and sounds and it’s a spiritual experience, you know, writing and then being able to like, vocalize it to others.
JENETTE: (16:37) I’m so glad to hear that…
KLEVAH: Thank you.
JENETTE: ... that’s the path that you take though. And you choose to do that as part of your career and your, you know, your life’s mission. And the women who come together for That’s What She Said, some of them only get to do this for this one night, or this one, you know, piece of time. It’s part of their journey now, but for women like you who, oh, you want to go out there and keep exposing and keep telling the stories and keep writing. You are an inspiration to women like us, who…
KLEVAH: Oh, thank you.
JENETTE: (17:07) Yeah! I mean, my whole goal is to help women, you know, get that, that vulnerability and that bravery to take the stage and to share just one, just one piece of what makes them who they are. And we want to know what you’re up to. So keep us informed of what Mother Nature is doing in Chicago and elsewhere, you know, we love and support the women who have, who have shared with us. We’re so.. we’re so proud. I feel like a mama! We’re so proud, you know to know you and to be a part of your journey, and I’m so excited to watch where you’re going to go from here.
KLEVAH: (17:43) Oh! Thank you so much. I love this. I appreciate you guys so much for having me on the show and for staying in tune. On the project that I released the… I think it was either the year of or the year after the performance, Kerry sent in a voice memo for me and I’m always grateful for that. I go back and listen to that, it’s so cute.
KLEVAH: (18:04) But I’m just super appreciative, I mean I met so many great women, and I’m pretty sure that every woman that steps on that stage is kind of changed after that moment. And, you know, inspired to tell their stories to others and, you know, just be more vulnerable and more expressive. So, man, the work that you guys are doing is, it’s consistent and it’s powerful and I mean, Champaign? Champaign doesn’t have much like that. So I’m appreciative to be a part of it and I would love to come back and hang out with you guys sometime, so…
KERRY: It’s official! We just got that on tape. That’s how old we are: it’s on tape! Woo woo!
JENETTE: That is on tape! We’re hanging out with Klevah! Yeah!
JENETTE: (18:44) That would be amazing! We’re taking this.. It started in Champaign. It’s been embraced by Champaign, but we’re taking it to other communities and we want to see That’s What She Said on stages across the globe. And through the podcast, we’re going to continue to share those stories. So thank you for joining us today so that we can share your story with even more women and girls who need to learn how they too can break down those barriers and inspire others.
So friends, thanks for listening today. Join us each week where we share another story from the She Said stage, here on the She Said Project Podcast.
Thank you for listening to the She Said Project Podcast, in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast are the exclusive property of the She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows, go to: http://shesaidproject.com.
This podcast was presented by Sterling Wealth Management—empowering women to live their best lives. Learn more at http://sterlingwealthmanagement.com.
Klevah speaks from the heart about the women of importance in her life and their struggles. She shares her unique "spoken-word" style story and updates our audience on what she has been up to since appearing on the She Said stage back in 2015.
This podcast is presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives. Learn more at www.sterlingwealthmanagement.com.
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at www.shesaidproject.com.