AURORA | Aurora has a poet laureate? Aurora has a poet laureate.
Jovan Mays is the first and only person to ever hold that distinguished honor in Colorado’s third-largest city, working to spread the extensive power of words to attendees of Aurora’s myriad libraries and schools since he was appointed to the position early last year.
“I just want to try to give my best back to Aurora,” Mays said. “I take a lot of pride in it, for sure.”
Mays was named the city’s first ever poet laureate in January 2014 following an initiative led by Aurora City Councilwoman Debi Hunter-Holen intended to bolster the city’s cultural offerings and emphasis.
An alumnus of Smoky Hill High School, performing and facilitating workshops for students across both of Aurora’s bustling school districts has been at the core of Mays’ duties. Most recently, he helped run a poetry slam competition at Cherry Creek High School, and performed at ceremonies honoring the Aurora Scholars at both Cherokee Trail High School and Hinkley High School on April 28 and 29, respectively.
But despite Mays’ dogged efforts to bolster creative writing in Aurora’s 11 high schools, the Community College of Aurora has been an untapped educational resource for one of the city’s top cultural liaisons — until now.
Mays will be performing and partially acting as emcee during an open mic night at CCA’s CentreTech Campus from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on April 30. Only his second performance ever at CCA, Mays said he is excited to help provide a figurative and literal voice box to an overwhelmingly diverse Aurora community, though one that is sometimes perceived as being contained in a bubble.
“Sometimes the community college voice doesn’t extend that far beyond the campus, and you don’t hear a lot about individual students,” Mays said. “I think that this type of event could really show off the voice of the Community College of Aurora.”
With a total enrollment of nearly 11,000 students who hail from over 60 countries and range in age from 15 to 60 years old, Mays’ claim that CCA is an eclectic microcosm of greater Aurora is certainly one founded in fact. An estimated one in five Aurora residents were born outside of the U.S., according to the 2012 American Community Survey.
“Whether you’re focusing on ethnicity, age, religion, orientation or creed, diversity is definitely one of our stronger suits,” said Rachel Blue Ankney, an English professor at CCA. “So having someone such as Jovan represent not only our city, but the students of CCA, just makes sense.”
Also on the city’s poet laureate advisory board, Ankney was the force behind Mays’ first-ever CCA function last fall — a writing workshop held in honor of National Writing Day. She said that the daylong event featuring Mays and other members of Denver Slam Nuba — the national poetry slam team which won the National Poetry Slam Competition in Boston in 2011 — was packed with both CCA students and faculty.
“Jovan has a persona that people gravitate toward, because he has a youthful enthusiasm, but also this wisdom that I think is ageless,” Ankney said. “He not only gets the students into it, but the faculty and the staff equally excited.”
Following that initial appearance at CCA last October, Ankney worked with Regina Edmondson, assistant director of student life at CCA, to once again bring Mays to the CentreTech campus.
Going forward, Ankney said she aims to invite Mays to events on the CCA campus on a bi-annual basis, and that on a city-wide level, the plan is simply to get the burgeoning wordsmith more exposure.
“Jovan is an artist that many people can relate to and I’m hoping there’s a turnout (at the open mic) based on his growing popularity,” she said.
“I have a few Aurora specific poems, though my repertoire tends to be pretty heavily entrenched in social justice and human struggle stories,” Mays said. “I have plans to do something focused on the theater shooting, but in those types of poems you have to be very sensitive to not appropriate another person’s story, so I want to be very careful with that.”