A Birmingham poet who was a champion for the city’s Ensley neighborhood has died.
Brian “Voice Porter” Hawkins was found dead in his home on Wednesday morning. He was 42. Officials have not yet determined a cause of death.
Hawkins co-founded Ensley Alive, a group aimed at revitalizing the neighborhood. One of his initiatives under the movement was “The Color Project,” a project using murals, gardens, lights, and music to address health, blight, safety, crime and violence in the area.
He also founded and hosted Birmingham Public Library’s “Bards and Brews,” a monthly spoken-word event and craft beer tasting, which is celebrating its 11th year. The library is working on a tribute to Hawkins that will be announced soon.
During the June edition, Hawkins described being alone during the pandemic and starting to write poetry again. He said that rekindled a love of live performance.
“This is the most amazing thing, to be here in front of you. And I hope that I never forget this feeling and I never take it for granted,” he said.
More than a poet, Hawkins started painting murals since he was 11 years old when he and his cousin painted a mural for the Birmingham Museum of Art in memory of a teacher who died.
In an article for a series called Starbucks Stories, he confessed that “if he could paint a mural for the whole world to see, he would make it one about what’s happening in the world – the pain, the melancholy, the hope.”
Hawkins garnered some national recognition in 2019 when he recorded his poem “To Be Human” for Starbucks. CEO Kevin Johnson played the video before his keynote speech at a leadership conference.
Hawkins’ death reverberated throughout Birmingham. Friends, family and members of the community have been sharing their love and condolences across social media.
The entire City of Birmingham mourns the loss of Brian Voice Porter Hawkins today. He was a true advocate for his community, unapologetic in his truths and his words never failed to stir us.
He will be sorely missed. Thank you for sharing your gift with us. pic.twitter.com/89EagZSQ3Z
— Randall Woodfin (@randallwoodfin) August 25, 2021
“It’s unreal to hear of the passing of Brian Voice Porter Hawkins, a shining light in our city, a voice unlike any other,” wrote Ashley Jones, Alabama poet laureate.
Jones was the guest editor of the July/August edition of Poetry Magazine that featured two of Hawkins’ poems, “Sun Ra Ethos” and “A Poem For Indigo.”
A memorial fund for Hawkins’ family has been set up by The Penny Foundation.