By Zach Freshwater
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer
Not a full year out of Carrboro High School, Jasmine Farmer is the civic media coordinator for the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, an organization serving the Northside community of Chapel Hill.
To those who know her, she is a poet, an activist, a friend, a mentor and a voice for her community.
Farmer, 18, maintains a full-time paid position at the Jackson Center while simultaneously organizing and volunteering with a host of other community organizations. She also holds a reputation as a respected poet.
Farmer is a performer and youth mentor for Sacrificial Poets, the well known spoken-word poetry group that serves middle, high school and college-aged youth in the Triangle. She said she performs about once a week around Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
After attending a Sacrificial Poets open-mic night when she was in 11th grade, Farmer said she fell in love with spoken-word poetry.
“I was like, ‘Wow, this is ridiculous,’” she said. “It was just done. I started writing poetry after that night.”
She has since traveled with the Sacrificial Poets to poetry competitions in California and throughout North Carolina. Recently, she opened for poet Rudy Francisco.
Kane Smego, artistic director for Sacrificial Poets, said he has seen Farmer’s poetry grow significantly since she first started working with the group.
“She’s evolved in a lot of different ways,” Smego said. “What she’s able to capture and tackle in her poems has broadened so much.
“I’ve seen people crying after Jasmine performs her poems now.”
Monica Palmeira, managing director for the Jackson Center, described Farmer as a force of creativity and kindness.
“Jasmine has star power,” said Palmeira, a 2011 UNC-Chapel Hill graduate. “She has a way of breaking into people’s spirits. People are very comfortable with her.
“She’s able to bring things out in people that a lot of people aren’t able to.”
Pushing for voice
Farmer said her community engagement stems from a desire to give people a voice.
“It’s all about voice,” Farmer said. “Before I did poetry, I really didn’t feel like I had much of a voice. I didn’t care about politics — I wasn’t really into that stuff. I just wasn’t into my community.”
“Working at the teen center, I see these kids come in all the time, and they have so much to say, but no one wants to hear them say it,” Farmer said. “These are smart kids. People wonder why they’re dramafied and get into fights. It’s because no one is willing to sit down with them and tell them they actually care.”
At the Jackson Center, Farmer is in charge of a host of community outreach initiatives. She heads a youth radio program, produces a monthly newsletter called Northside News and directs the center’s social media outreach.
“She’s at an interesting place because she’s got this serious job and she’s only 18,” Palmeira said. “And she’s probably one of her only friends who has a job like this.”
Farmer took over the publication of Northside News in the fall of 2012. The newsletter is distributed to the Northside neighborhood, which encompasses the area north of Rosemary Street bound by North Columbia Street to the east and Lloyd Street to the west.
“Our readership has exploded. Our feedback has exploded,” Palmeira said. “People have gotten out of their houses and talked to their neighbors because of the Northside News.”
A poet and activist at heart, Farmer included a poem she wrote about racial oppression in Chapel Hill in the January edition of the newsletter.
Brentton Harrison, the outreach coordinator for the Jackson Center, said the poem gave Farmer a wave of attention from the community.
“After the poem she put in the Northside News — yeah, she’s pretty known,” Harrison said.
As civic media director, Farmer also runs Fusion Youth Radio, the Jackson Center’s radio initiative featuring local high school students on WXYC. The program allows students to host a radio segment on the third Sunday of every month. It airs live at 5 p.m. on 89.3 FM and at wxyc.org.
Kenya Smith, a junior at Cedar Ridge High School, worked with Farmer at Fusion Youth Radio in 2011. Smith said she learned equal parts life and radio production from Farmer.
“She’s taught me that when you’re on the radio, you should just be yourself,” Smith said. “Of course, a lot of people are listening to you, but just act like you’re in a room with your friends … I feel like that will really help me out in the long run.”
Farmer said she’s not sure where she’ll be in 10 years. She’s juggling thoughts of becoming a teacher, a radio disk jockey, an activist, as well as a host of other professions.
Farmer’s coworker, Palmeira said she is certain of one thing.
“She’ll be a star,” Palmeira said. “She’s got a lot ahead of her.”
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