“Happiness is a choice,” declares poet and spoken word artist, Moody Black. His smile is as broad as is he tall, and his laugh, which usually follows, feels like a bear hug. “So this happened to you, okay, go cry in your room, write what you gotta write, but get up tomorrow and fight. You gotta fight!”
Spoken like the son of a professional boxer, which, as Robert Mullins, Jr., he is. But under the moniker Moody Black, he is a self-described motivational artist, and fights to create a shift in the hearts, minds, and consciences of others—especially the youngest among us.
And as much, or as little, as these words can tell you about his life, Black’s own words do it better. Just listen to his latest album, The Uncovering Pt. 1, or his spoken word performances at the Coffee Underground poetry slams he hosts every Sunday. For almost 15 years, Black, 45, has made the rounds of the poetry circuit, competing locally and nationally, and at Southern Fried, an annual Southeastern performing arts festival. He also coaches slam teams, regularly reaching the semifinals. (His team from Greenville tied for second place out of 32 teams at Southern Fried last year; nationally they came in tenth place out of 80 teams).
Voice Over // Moody Black is an award-winning spoken word artist and also an actor and chess instructor, and teaches in classrooms across the Upstate as a SmartARTS Teacher.
Diagnosed with depression in 1995, Black decided he wouldn’t “suffer from depression,” but would instead scrimmage with it (the term slam poets use for battling with words onstage), bettering himself in the process. His pen-life is his lifeline, and in the musical postcards of his years—from where he’s been (the ups and downs of self-acknowledged bad decisions, depression, two marriages followed by divorce) to his performance—Black doesn’t hold back. He deftly moves from track four, “Cause We’re Marching,” a rallying cry on police brutality, to track five, a love letter anthem titled, “Hence, the Apology for Broken Vases,” where he examines the male-female dynamic. He admits, “We are constantly trying to out-Mars your Venus,” rapping over a sample track overdub of Toto’s 1982 hit song, “Africa.” It’s a clever pairing that makes you wish you too were a hip-hop, national, award-winning slam poet just so you could have thought of it. But you wouldn’t have because there’s only one Moody Black.
Black isn’t just all that and a bag of chips—he’s the potatoes they’re made from. He starts his day watching motivational videos, inspired as much by Will Smith as Ellen DeGeneres. He’s also a SmartARTS Teacher through the Metropolitan Arts Council, a program placing artists into classrooms. Gayla Day, director of art education at the Metropolitan Arts Council, has seen the firsthand effects of having someone like Black on their roster. “Moody is a tremendously charismatic and gifted poet and performer. He uses his life experiences and passion for poetry to inspire young writers. I have seen the spark in a student’s eyes when they are able to take what is inside them, and bring it to the page,” says Day.
“Moody uses his life experiences and passion for poetry to inspire young writers. I have seen the spark in a student’s eyes when they are able to take what is inside them, and bring it to the page.”—Gayla Day
Black credits his mother, Reba, with introducing his sister and him to poetry at an early age. After working all day, Reba took community college night classes and would bring her literature books home. She prevailed upon them with Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, but Black was moved to write after landing on “This Time Called Life” by 1960s poet, Walter Rinder. Just as he was made to keep the house clean, his mother insisted on fortifying Black’s aptitude for culture in various forms. “Every other weekend, when she got the bills out of the way,” Black says, “she would buy some exotic dish, and she would say, ‘We’re going to try this today! I’m going to make some Jamaican food today!’” She taught him to expand, and today he’s still stretching—this month he’s off to Australia to compete at the Sydney Literary Festival.
Black’s children, both his own by blood (two boys, three girls) and those at the schools and community centers he’s counseled, taught, and cared for over the years, have been his inspiration. “I went to the Cleveland Academy in Spartanburg and did a residency program for four fourth-grade classes, and two young boys just hated poetry, like, ‘We ain’t writing poetry, you crazy,’” recalls Black. “By the end of it, I did a haiku slam where they compete with haiku, and one of the boys, who when we first started was really adamant about just hating poetry, ended up with an A,” says Black, barely able to contain his beaming pride.
Black is also the founder of Making Words Move, a mentor program meant to inspire students with poetry and help them deal with life’s mixed bag. Combined with his own art, countless other outreach initiatives, and his do-something-about-it mentality, Black is making his words move, and moving others along the way.
Moody Black is an award-winning spoken-word artist and also an actor and chess instructor, and teaches in classrooms across the Upstate as a SmartARTS Teacher. For more information on his albums and performances, visit iammoodyblack.com.