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Face of Defense: Military Spouse Enlightens, Educates

By T. Anthony Bell
Army News Service

FORT LEE, Va., Feb. 7, 2012 – You don't have to meet Latorial Faison to know her.

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Latorial Faison, a military spouse and educator at Fort Lee, Va., says the strength of her calling as a poet lies in her ability to ignore what people might think of her work. U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Her life and experiences -- the search for self-identity, the revelation of family secrets, her academic triumphs, motherly aspirations, spirituality, perspectives on African-American history and culture, and a number of other topics -- have all been offered up for public consumption in the poetry she posts at http://www.latorialfaison.com.

A Fort Lee military spouse and educator, Faison offers up her thoughts and feelings with such a naked and unadulterated truth that one might feel a form of intimacy with this native of rural Southhampton County.

"I tell people all the time that writing is risky," the 38-year-old mother of three said, "because you have to say what you feel, be truthful."

Raised by nonbiological grandparents who adopted her at a young age, Faison's being was formed in the church and is grounded in such values as hard work and family unity. She took up writing in grade school and eventually wound up studying English and religion at the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, earning degrees from both.

She later went on to teach extensively in various parts of the country. She is currently an instructor at Virginia State University.

On her calling as a poet, Faison said the strength lies in her ability to ignore what people might think of her work.

"I don't look for the confirmation of others to tell me who I am, or that what I'm doing is worthy," she said. "If you're looking for confirmation, then you might not ever tell the story."

Confirmation certainly was not on her mind when she was invited to speak at her high school graduation years ago. Faison was warned to remove references to Christianity from her address, but she refused to do so.

"They told me two days before graduation, 'You have to take that out,'" recalled the deeply religious Faison. "Guess what? I left it in. That's the story of my life -- if others set a boundary and I feel like I need to cross it, I'm going to cross it."

Faison uses this trademark approach to share, teach and enlighten; especially when she's penning prose about black history and culture. She has written two books on the subject and many other separate works. Her efforts seems to subscribe to the notion that black history, although full of monumental achievements and celebrated as such during African-American History Month, also is fraught with inhumanity and heartbreak. These unpleasantries are worthy of acknowledgement, she noted.

Faison's poem titled "Tears for Freedom" is one of many that tackle events and issues in which the word "celebration" isn't quite the right fit.

They swallowed the great

Atlantic to loose the grip

Of shackles and chains

They leaped boldly from

Ships of inhumanity

To priceless freedom

Mother Earth was drenched

In blood and tears as one child

Enslaved another

Faison acknowledges such content may make some uncomfortable, but history can't be changed, she said, or sugar-coated. However, she added, she isn't interested in digging up the past to incite anger, inflict pain or cause guilt, but rather to use it to help all people understand the unique struggles of African-Americans and to support efforts to better race relations.

"For instance, in the workplace and various places in the community," she explained, "you might see a black, or any person for that matter, and you might not understand what their motives are -- why they do what they do. If you knew something about their history, you will understand that person better."

Faison might have been thinking along those lines when she wrote these verses in her poem "Celebrate”:

Celebrate freedom's long road,

Every man and woman who bore the load.

Recognize every black institution.

Celebrate every black contribution.

Know the pride of black power.

Stand together in the final hour.

Acknowledge black history on any day.

Allow freedom to ring in the noblest way.

Faison's poetic range runs the full spectrum of emotion, from rage to pride. She said when she was younger, she wrote to "get things off my chest." As a result, many of those works are stinging, and even startling.

Faison said she still has the ability to alarm, but her expressions have evolved into something beyond her emotions. That ability is displayed in "Time to Be Set Free," a social and historical indictment that black people need "to let that past die and learn how to move beyond it," she said.

"I don't mean that we should forget it, that we don't honor it, that we don't teach it, but we don't sulk in its tragedy so much so that it deters us from prospering individually or collectively":

On this day we must recognize

That misconstrued fate has been baptized

Thrown from wretched slave ships capsized

To revisit the land of the living

Where we stare at one another

Half-way forgiving

For a past we never were meant to see

One so full of history

Let it be … just simply be

A time to kill

that negative

get-us-nowhere noise

And be set free.

Faison said she will continue to use verse to move people beyond the pain of the past, but she concedes that much work has to be done.

"People are still uncomfortable with our history," she said. "We need to get to a place where we can comfortably and honestly talk about things. And I don't think we are where we need to be."

Faison said she plans to support her husband in his retirement, complete her doctorate, write fiction and nonfiction books, work full-time at a public institution and become a dean.


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