Not Your Average Poet- Salvin Chahal

Hello blog family! I know I’ve been away for a while, but what can I say, life got hectic! It wasn’t the ideal situation to be writing blog posts in but hey, the point is I’m back with another blog post. This one’s about my super talented homie Salvin Chahal who I had the pleasure of meeting in California back in 2013. It’s been great to see him grow as a poet and a spoken word artist and focus his energy towards some amazing causes, which is why I thought he would be the perfect person to highlight in this blog post!

"Salvin Chahal is the next evolution in the tradition of storytelling through poetry. A tangible voice for Generation Y, Chahal’s talent and technique rhyme make him a relatable voice to crowds everywhere, specifically young people of color. Chahal is a 2012 poetry slam team champion, poet-mentor and a published author currently working as an organizer with Sol Collective as the Creative Director of Sol Life Media. A curator of multi-medium experiences, Chahal has organized numerous sold out events by bringing important art and a community to appreciate them together as well as workshops focused on constructive expression and deconstructing masculinity. His book, ‘Verses From Above’, a collection of poetry and workshops, reached #3 on Amazon’s Bestseller Asian American Poetry list landing him on stages from Stanford to South by Southwest in 2015.”

I’ve always wondered how Salvin Chahal got involved with everything he does, from poetry to his work in the community. Although Salvin’s poetry is pretty popular, many don’t know the work he is committed to on a daily basis. That’s because he considers the work that him and his peers put into the community to be seva (selfless service) which is definitely admirable. In this day and age it’s great to see people doing seva and helping their communities without feeling the need to blast it all over social media.

“Dr. Cornel West gave a speech recently and began his speech with, ‘I am who I am because I've been loved.’ Those words resonate with me because my life has been altered for the better by people who have started investing in me, started guiding me, and more importantly started loving me.” Salvin says his work in community building and activism within the arts began when he won a slam competition, which is basically a spoken word competition. He was also one the many students to join the Sacramento Area Youth Speaks(SAYS) program at UC Davis which brings poet-mentor educators into classrooms to teach literacy through poetry and a form of pedagogy that's more engaging than what a usual student would experience. After he earned a spot on the slam team, got booked for events that were rooted in change. Salvin and his team would practice at the art and activism hub of Sacramento, Sol Collective. “I suddenly became surrounded by healing, alternatives, and people who were creating change. As a performer, I quickly learned the importance of my craft, and it immediately became a responsibility, not just expression. The ability to get on stage, sometimes without a mic, and use purely language for less than 3 minutes, body and vocal, to change the way people think/feel is the most powerful and therapeutic weapon I've had the experience of using. Poetry is powerful- powerful enough to save a life or two, but I asked myself, how long am I going to keep writing about the death and inequality around me?” Salvin became tired and the fact that he would be going on stage to discuss certain issues while people around him were becoming victims of the problems he would be discussing upset him. “I can't tell you how it felt when I would perform at a school assembly to introduce an after-school program centered in healing through poetry, and then find out that one of those students were murdered for the most ridiculous reason, sometimes no reason at all. I'd sit in solitude for days just wishing we reached that kid in time, and I would took it upon myself make sure that doesn't happen again. I love art, I love expression, I love getting on stage, but in a city where babies are killing babies on a consistent basis,I need to learn when to take a step back from the art and step in the community in a way that's essential for change.” Many of us, including myself at times, are always talking about the problems our communities face. But what do we actually do about it? As much as we may care about an issue, simply talking about it will not help the cause.

Many people say that just one person can’t make a difference. In Salvin’s opinion, that sort of thinking undermines the effort that’s being made by countless people on a daily basis. Being surrounded by change makers on a daily basis, he sees that there are so many people working to change the world, but others probably don’t know about the work that’s being done behind the scenes. “It's not something pretty to post on Instagram, it's work. Not a 9-5 job with benefits, because the only thing thing that comes from doing good work is more work. We have been indulged in distractions and disconnected from each other and our purpose to work with each other, for each other- we've been lost. We've lost track of our purpose. We've bit the bitter apple, literally. You can see the symbolism when you look at the logo on the back of your phone. We have progressive people who hold various high positions in this world, but integration isn't working. We need a bottom-up change, a revolution. A revolution on all levels.” Salvin says that changing one’s diet or accepting the parts of your body that you've been ashamed is one of the most revolutionary acts one can commit. He distinctly remembers rapper Bambu saying, "One individual can turn into a group of individuals, and together they can create the necessary change they wish to see." The catalyst that has led movements to become movements has always been the efforts of the youth, which is why it's essential to spread light to  young people by providing information/resources, a medium to express and a guide on how to make necessary change. The youth is our future and it’s crucial to invest in them and let them learn and prosper to their full potential. “Im asking anyone who is reading this to not just focus on the popular and glamorized issues. When I say that, I don't mean to take the focus away from which issues need the most attention, I'm just saying that people are fighting for their water in places that aren't just Dakota and young people are dying all the time, whether you hear about it or not.” Salvin says that South Sacramento, where he grew up, needed change and it still does. He says he’s fed up with things like narcotizing dysfunction, posting a hashtag or changing a profile picture because it doesn’t do much or really change anything. “We have a community of South Asians who posted photos of themselves, raised awareness about a problematic person on Twitter Azalea Banks) which led to twitter banning her from the platform. Why aren't we as furious about politicians, actors, and other influencers who are just as problematic, if not more, who STILL have their positions in society? He explains that he wants young people to be collectively organized all the time, not just when it's "cool" or a trend, because people around us are suffering on a daily basis and we shouldn’t wait for the issue to be glamorized/trendy to make moves on what matters. “Protesting is important, but so is taking the anger and hunger for change into necessary action. Im begging for you all to think outside the preoccupied life of traffic jams and cubicles, because we need you.”

One of the causes Salvin has been working for lately has been an initiative to keep kids off the streets. He says that kids need love and guidance, not to be profiled by the local police department as gang members or future threats.. When they don’t have that, they will gravitate towards whatever will fill that gap. Him and his peers have made progress by integrating themselves into after school and mentorship programs, but there are still a lot of children who don’t have the knowledge or access to these alternatives or to those who can provide them. Many of the young people who have been mentored by Salvin and his peers have gone to continue the work in areas of their communities that they haven't reached or been able to work with consistently. They do workshops like deconstructing masculinity, literacy through poetry, healing through art and more. Basically there’s a little something that can resonate with almost everyone because they understand that art is a great method to encourage kids to step into new spaces that offer them more productive ways to spend their time, learn and have fun! “ At Sol Collective we have a music studio, a podcast station, media lab, open mic, our space has hosted many artists for exhibitions, music showcases, festivals, all types of effort in and outside of our walls. There's not a face to the movement, no one leader, because we've encouraged everyone around us to take the necessary steps to become the leaders we need to continue movements that can only be sustained by everyone sweating on all levels. We still have more work to do, because it's evident that our efforts are needed. We must learn to educate our people rather than bashing them for something they are unable to comprehend, this isn't an excuse for ignorance, but when will we shift anger into something that can be constructive.”

Salvin believes that expression is important because it's healing, which I completely agree with. I started my blog because writing has been therapeutic for me as poetry has been for Salvin. He says that young men need proper guidance, and they’ve been accustomed to believe that love, emotions, and vulnerability is all weak. Many tend to hold up so much anger and sadness and release them in ways that aren't healthy. “Expression is key, because it helps one understand that there are dualities in life, that there is light, that what we've been socialized to believe doesn't have to be our reality anymore. Also, we just need more artivists in this world (artists who are also activists), and my main job as someone who has a platform is to make the platform bigger not for myself (because I'm not climbing the mountain so the world can look at me, I'm climbing the mountain so i can look at the world and provide them the resources I picked up along the way), but for all those around me. I want people to know that you can make a living pursuing art and social change, that there are resources for you, you don't have to struggle, and you are someone special who can leave a dent on this earth. People took time out of their day to change my life for the better and with the platform I have now, with the resources I've gained, the most minimal thing I can do is embrace people with the type of love I've been blessed with because that selfless act has changed my life.”

Salvin, keep doing what you’re doing homie! I hope this post has inspired anyone who’s read it. Take the opportunity to help your community, even if it’s a small step! Every little bit helps when you’re trying to change the world for the better. If you’d like to know more about Salvin’s work or even get involved yourself, be sure to reach out to him on social media!