Story: Brooke Creer
Photo: Eduardo Rossal-Cabrera
Las Vegas, NV - Dawn Douglas instantly draws eyes when she walks into a room – neon blue curls and large dangling Adinkra earrings she made herself. She’s inherently charming, only adding to the brightness and warmth of the apartment we sit in. Sunlight streams through large windows and illuminates cups of tea and a small succulent on the table between us. The November heat is a welcomed but surprising occurrence– much like Douglas’ work, which manages to combine passion and art with activism and a call to action.
Douglas definitely considers herself an artist; she has been working on her poetry since she was in high school in the 90’s. Now a published author with two poetry books and a children’s book about to come out, Douglas has come far from a high school girl writing poetry in private.
“I actually started performing while I was in the military, doing talent shows,” Douglas, who served in the Air Force, noted, “After that… I would actually organize the open mics for us to have something to do.”
After 20 years in the Air Force, Douglas retired in New Mexico and eventually moved to Las Vegas five years ago so her daughter could be closer to her father. It was during her time in the military where Douglas realized she needed to fight back against the racism and sexism she experienced both there and throughout her life.
Douglas’ experience as a Black woman has allowed her a unique view on race and gender, the two attributes immediately challenging the status quo of American military culture. She explained the only way for her to get through the racism and sexism in the military was to speak out against it – both through her work and through direct conversation and protest. Douglas does more than just write; she uses her talent to perform at events that directly speak to those affected by police brutality or racism such as the “Voices over Violence” open mic event, which showcases local artists and performers quarterly speaking out against police violence. Douglas’ work spans a wide variety of topics such as love, life, and Black Power. Her poetry is undoubtedly influenced by her experience as a Black girl growing up in a white-dominated society. An experience that has stuck with her was when police let their dogs loose on Douglas and her friends under of the guise of preventing them from loitering.
“I remember when I was 12 years old [in Louisville, Kentucky] and there was a skating rink [that] was predominantly Black and I can’t remember if the skating rink was closed or what… but there was a group of us outside trying to figure out what we were going to go,” Douglas’ explained, her voice low as she remembered the event. “Somebody had called the cops cause we were loitering and [when the cops arrived] we didn’t disperse fast enough… so they let the dogs loose on us.”
Thankfully, no one was bitten or hurt by the police dogs, but even 12-year-old kids find themselves at risk from the police if they are a Black. They must be hypervigilant when it comes to following the law even if it’s something as simple as loitering. The price is to be chased by vicious dogs – or even worse, to be injured or killed. Douglas works hard to change the perception of Black people with her impactful and emotional poetry and performances, but that event stays with her.
“I will never forget… I was 12 years and I [had] police dogs chasing me, just for us standing in front of [the skating rink].”
Douglas believes that artists have a duty to speak out against harmful issues in our society and even dismantle the system if they can. Douglas’ poetry often addresses the issues Black people face and she often attends spoken word events to share her powerful work.
“There’s a lot of people who do events out here and… just pick an event that you feel resonates with you, that’s the best way to get involved,” Douglas explained, encouraging artists and other people to become active in the community. “You can get burnt out so you do what you can, when you can, where you can.”
Her upcoming children’s book, The Color of Love, works to affect change with the younger generation. It touches on a Black girl whose white friend has a racist mother and how the white friend eventually opens her mother’s eyes. This book aims to teach kids that racism is unacceptable and to unlearn the racist ideals that some of them may have already been exposed to.
Douglas also questions the entire government and policing system we have. She recognizes that changing our government and our police force is a large part of what's needed to heal and repair our country.
“[The police] have ‘protect and serve’ on their cars but who are they protecting and who are they serving?” she asked sternly, “You’re supposed to be protecting and serving, not beating and killing. So, do we need them? No. You have other countries who have done away with police departments and they have less crime. But as long as you have the 1% doing what they’re doing in the country - taking away jobs, hope, [and] pushing poverty and pushing drugs we’re going to have crime.”
Douglas referenced the Black Panther Party as a new outline for what policing in our society could look like. They were a group of armed citizens who volunteered to police the community and protect citizens that started in the late 1960’s. With the police terrorism Douglas has witnessed and heard about she believes one way to stop this is to have a group of “regular” citizens protecting their neighborhoods similar to the Panthers. She believes this will be more effective than police today which – in her opinion – are often relieving anger issues or receiving a paycheck without actually caring about the community.
“Our judicial system is working properly for [those who agree with or benefit from white supremacy]…You would have to dismantle the entire judicial system and start from scratch… it would have to be restructured and rebuilt from scratch,” Douglas reiterated.
She has used her experiences with police brutality and racism to inspire much of her writing. These personal moments influence her work and are full of sincerity, Douglas believing that’s the only way to touch people and actually cause a reaction.
“Write from your heart, you know. A lot of times people are trying to compare themselves to other artists. You’re not them and they’re not you so just write from the heart,” Douglas advised young writers who are unsure of their own voice. “If you write from the heart somebody’s going to feel it, it’s going to resonate with somebody.”
Douglas currently has two collections of poetry available for sale online at AuthorHouse and Amazon titled, More than Poetry, 1993 until Infinity and A Journey through Infinity as well as her upcoming book, The Color of Love which will be available on those websites as well.
“Honestly, do I wish police brutality would end and it wasn’t a thing?” Douglas mused, as we closed our conversation. “Absolutely. Do I think it’s going to? Fuck no.”
People Voices is a series of stories featuring Las Vegas artists and activists speaking out against police violence by Brooke Creer.