Through words and action, Flose LaPierre ’14 brings people together. She’s a poet with a zest for spoken-word performances, she’s a community organizer who rallies people for just causes, and she’s always looking to help those around her improve their lives. “I have this deep fire for justice,” she says.
LaPierre attributes that commitment to her father. He’s a former Haitian politician—and “a pretty cool dude,” she says—who advocated for regime change in the Caribbean country and became a target for speaking out for his constituents and organizing opposition gatherings. When an armed man appeared in their backyard one day, he decided to pack up the family and leave the country. They were granted asylum in the U.S. and settled in Rockland County, New York. “Even now, years later, he still has that fire to do good, and having that instilled in me growing up, I think is why I’m consistently seeking out justice. If something doesn’t feel right for me, then I have to do something about it,” she says. “And when writing came into my life, my desire to do right, coupled with writing, just formed this artist-activist pact.”
Since graduating from Syracuse University, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in public relations from the Newhouse School and sociology from the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School , LaPierre has pursued progressive politics and poetry, building communities along the way. She has published two collections of poetry— Close Your Eyes, Now Breathe (2017) and loudmouth (2018)—and has been recognized by Black Entertainment Television as a top millennial feminist poet.
She has also been featured on Assembly, the digital publication of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai’s foundation, performing “March on Sister.” In the spoken-word video piece, LaPierre recounts the assassination attempt on Yousafzai—“Because that man knew the power of a young girl with a passion for learning,” she declares—and calls on young women to speak out against injustice. “It’s about marching for what you believe in for your community or believe is going wrong and want to change,” says LaPierre, who wrote the poem as a Syracuse University student and continues to perform it, including at a 2017 women’s march in West Palm Beach, Florida, before an estimated 7,000 participants. “Whenever there’s a big political conversation or an issue having to do with justice, I go to that poem because it’s a reminder that we have to act, that we have to do good.”
Promoting Change and Healing
Amid the pandemic and protests for racial justice, LaPierre finds herself in a time and place where she can put her skills and knowledge into action, channeling her sense of urgency, anger and sadness to promote change. After working in Florida as a community organizer and political campaign manager for a few years, she recently moved to Glendale, California, and is a collaborator with Unity Collective, a project encouraging action against racism and police brutality and pushing for voter registration.
She also launched Write to Heal, a monthly, two-hour virtual workshop that uses writing in a community as an outlet for dealing with trauma. Among those who attended her first session was a group of women from a Kingston, Jamaica, book club called Rebel Women Lit. “No matter how small or big the traumas we experience in life, we have to heal from them—otherwise, they just compound,” she says. “This workshop gives people the permission to heal. It’s a community writing experience where folks come together, and my goal is to let them know, verbally, that writing is a healing pathway and also to show them through the workshop.”
While LaPierre views writing as therapeutic, she emphasizes it is not a substitute for professional therapy. She knows this from experience. She first turned to writing as an outlet when she experienced sexual trauma as a child. At the time, she was also coping with the adjustments of living in a new country and overcoming a language barrier. Reading poetry helped her grasp English, and she began writing in a journal. “Writing became a way for me to process all of the change that was happening,” she says.
In high school, LaPierre entered the world of activism, organizing her classmates against budget cuts in their school district and rallying them in a march. Thanks to a high school English teacher, she also discovered the allure of spoken-word poetry and performed in a New York City competition. “I was like, yeah, this writing thing is dope,” she says. “I had never imagined that these words I’d been writing on the page could be spoken and performed.”
Embracing Verbal Blend
In her first year at Syracuse University, LaPierre says she had a racial awakening and felt out of place as a young Black woman. She considered leaving, but changed course when she discovered Verbal Blend, a spoken-word program of the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA). She attended a Verbal Blend workshop, connected with students in the Poets Living Learning Community in her residence hall, and received guidance from the group’s advisor and Verbal Blend founder, Cedric Bolton G’18, a spoken-word performer and OMA’s coordinator of student engagement. “It just felt like home,” she says.
Bolton has fond memories of working with LaPierre and seeing her develop her writing and performance chops. In particular, he cites LaPierre performing at the 10th anniversary celebration of the WellsLink Leadership Program in 2013. The keynote speaker was renowned poet Nikki Giovanni—one of LaPierre’s favorites—who was dazzled by LaPierre’s piece. “Nikki gave us so much love because the poem Flose did was incredible,” says Bolton, who calls LaPierre “a butterfly—because when she performs she always looks like she’s floating in the air.” Bolton invited LaPierre and other Verbal Blend alumni back to campus in 2018 as guest speakers at OMA’s Spoken Word Poetry Institute. “It was important for students to hear her story,” he says. “I’ve always told students their poetry is more than just sitting on a page—it needs to be on the stage, it needs to be in a book, it needs to be on a CD, it needs the world to hear their voice. Once that happens and they see the response when they’re on stage and how it’s amplified through their work, it touches them.”
Along with immersing herself in the poetry community, LaPierre recalls other Syracuse experiences that had an impact on her: studying abroad in Madrid, Spain; tutoring young students at the North Side Learning Center through Syracuse University Literacy Corps; and classes with Associate Professor of Sociology Jackie Orr. “She was like the person I imagined I’d see out of a feminist superhero book,” LaPierre says.
Advocating for Community Change
Following graduation, LaPierre worked as a summer camp counselor in Vermont—an experience that gave her the opportunity to unplug, experience nature and collect her thoughts. She passed up an opportunity to work in the New York City media world and headed for Florida. “I decided what really matters to me is justice,” she says.
She landed in Miami-Dade County and became a community organizer with PACT (People Acting for Community Together), helping to push forward affordable housing policy. She worked with community leaders of faith-based organizations—churches, mosques and synagogues—and trained them to do research, identify issues, speak up and demand change from county commissioners. “I loved connecting with so many different kinds of people—the diversity pulled me in,” she says. “It was powerful to see all of these folks with different backgrounds come together to solve issues they all care about. And I loved getting to play a role in all of that.”
LaPierre then put her community organizing skills to the test on the campaign trail, working for the Florida Democratic Party in 2016 and then signing on as deputy state director with MoveOn, where she trained other organizers and oversaw two counties. “It was a lot more responsibility, but I really thrived and enjoyed it,” she says. The work left her exhausted and disappointed with the outcome of the 2016 election. Despite that, she went on to manage campaigns for four local races—and won them all.
It was powerful to see all of these folks with different backgrounds come together to solve issues they all care about. And I loved getting to play a role in all of that.
In 2018, as a counterbalance to her campaign work, she cofounded kärnl moon, a Black artist collective in south Florida focused on wellness and healing. She infused poetry into the mix, hosting open mics and other events. As the collective evolved and became part of a business accelerator program, she decided to strike out on her own and focus on developing her Write to Heal workshops.
LaPierre’s strong sense of community and passion for writing continue to accompany her on her journey. Now resettled in California, she pursues freelance writing ( American Way magazine recently featured her article on women skateboarders) and is taking a screenwriting class and working on her poetry. She approaches life with a fearlessness that’s reflected in her writing. She’s willing to take risks, explore and see where her thoughts and observations take her. And when those words spark an emotional reaction in someone, she says, “That feels like a superpower.”