Poetry and Politics: How One Freshman is Turning Spoken Word into Activism

Elijah Nichols has used spoken-word to encourage action on issues such as gun violence and LGBTQ rights since high school in Muskegon, Mich.

The freshman Government and International Politics major at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University keeps a hectic schedule as a senator on the student council, a co-founder of Mason’s chapter of Students Demand Action, and an inaugural winner of a highly competitive Giffords Courage Fellowship.

In whatever spare time he has, Nichols is a regular speaker at spoken-word open mic nights at Epicure Cafe in Fairfax, Va. (As it happens, Schar School director of PhD Student Services Shannon Williams is the emcee of the monthly poetry and spoken-word showcase at Epicure Café.)

One of his poems, “02-01-2006,” addresses the summation of his interests and concerns in one distinctly personal piece. (The poem is below.)

“What got me into activism and writing was my own personal experience with gun violence and being a queer man realizing the systematic barriers in place,” he said. “I think that is what has inspired me to not only get involved but also make changes.”

For example, the piece "02-01-2006” is based on “the timeline given from the court case of my uncle, Frank Sibson, and his death,” said Nichols. “This piece truly comes from the angle of the law having no empathy, thus no way of humanizing the incident. And that is something that I truly believe we need to fit in to the system of law in the United States.

“I want people to understand that there is value in youth voices,” he said. “There is a place for conversations and pragmatic solutions on college campuses.”

Not long after arriving at Mason, Nichols realized there was no student organizations on campus working on gun violence prevention, so he filled the need.

“During my time as the direct-action co-lead of Students Demand Action, we have lobbied over 30 members of Congress on gun violence prevention,” he said. “We worked with Letters for Change and March for Our Lives International to send 146 letters to [Virginia Senators] Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.”

His work in gun control efforts led to his winning one of 28 inaugural “Courage Fellowships” presented by the Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence organization, founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a gun violence survivor.

“Elijah is the type of student every professor wants in their class: curious, enthusiastic, hard-working, and courageous,” said Associate Professor of Political Science Jennifer N. Victor. “He asks smart questions and his enthusiasm is infectious to his peers, providing a lasting impact on an excellent classroom environment.” 

Nichols came to Mason to be near the place where policies and decisions are made. “The immediate draw to [coming to] Mason was the proximity to [Washington], D.C.,” he said. “Also, the professors understand a student’s role in society.”

After graduation, Nichols plans to pursue a Master’s in Public Administration and continue his career in activism and poetry.

“What I love most about Mason are the passionate young people and the culture of conversation,” said Nichols. “It’s beautiful to see the pragmatic discussions and diversity of thought on campus.” 



By Elijah Nichols

3:30am Parked car, two men, two masks, two sets of gloves, a pickax, a bb pistol, and a revolver.
3:35am Two men with two masks, two sets of gloves, a pickax, a bb pistol, and a revolver enter a home through a sliding glass door.
3:36am Wife and husband in bed awake. Husband pleads“no, no, no.” Two men with two masks, two sets of gloves, a pickax, a bb pistol, and a revolver begin to hit wife and husband.
3:37am Wife hit in head, blacks out.
3:38am Two men with two masks, two sets of gloves, a pickax, a bb pistol, and a revolver struggle with husband.
3:40am BANG.
3:41am Wife: conscious, jumps on husband, screams“leave.”
3:42am Two murders with two masks, two sets of gloves, a pickax, a bb pistol, and a revolver, get car, leave.
3:30am 7 year old boy, 4 year old girl sleep in bed.
3:35am 7 year old boy, 4 year old girl hear noises in home.
3:36am 7 year old boy, 4 year old girl lay in bed, fearful.
3:37am 7 year old boy, 4 year old girl shake, listen.
3:40am BANG.
3:41am 7 year old boy, 4 year old girl cry.
3:42am 7 year old boy, 4 year old girl, a mother, no father.