Poetry on the Patio, an intimate, community-based celebration of family, friends and poetic expression is celebrating its 10th season this year. It kicked off its summer schedule on June 16 with a pre-Father's Day salute to dads.
What started in 2003 as a way to help a family heal after the unexpected death of its patriarch has evolved into one family's way to help heal a community through spoken word. Since June 2003, Markel Mooney and his family have hosted spoken word artists from far and wide in their backyard gatherings, reminiscent of the way his late father brought people together.
"We wanted to keep the spirits high by doing the things that he did ¡ª bringing people to the backyard," said Markel Mooney, spoken word artist and founder of Poetry on the Patio. He also goes by Kell-OG.
That first event, Afro-centric Night, took place just a few months after Mooney's dad died. It was publicized by family members passing out a few fliers around the neighborhood. Mooney expected a few friends and family to show up. He was not prepared for the community's response.
"That same night Brenda Matthews ... showed up and Mama Earth showed up, and a few other poets showed up, and before you know it, we had about 10 poets show up that night. And I was just overwhelmed; I was in awe of the turnout," Mooney said.
After that first show, the family decided to continue hosting the open mic shows throughout the summer. They are held in the beautifully landscaped backyard of the family home. The centerpiece is the deck that has an uncanny resemblance to a stage, which his dad built. It is where the poets perform.
"The only reason this is done so many things are going on in this area [that] at least one night people can come together," said Mooney, who has two children, 5-year-old Jaikel and 3-year old Indy. "The best thing about it the best talent in this city is on this side of town."
The shows are a family affair. Mooney serves as host. His brother, Willie, designs the promotional materials and handles marketing, and his mother and sister are always there to help out. His mother fires up the grill and guests are treated to her renowned jerk chicken and Mac salad at the end of each show.
The shows are so popular that Linda Wilson, who lives next door to the Mooneys, plans her summer Saturday evenings around them.
"The raw talent that comes back here is awesome," she said. "People come over, sit in my backyard and listen. He has speakers coming from everywhere - Indiana, Markham, South Holland. It's like 'wow' to hear how they can be so expressive about their true life experiences."
Wilson credits Mooney as one of the community's unsung heroes. "This young man is very active trying to make some positive impact on the community."