State poet laureate Hamilton starts as MATC’s chair of social justice

Hoping to help us to better understand each other

Mark Feldmann,

April 13, 2022

MILWAUKEE – Dasha Kelly Hamilton knows all too well there are plenty of things in the world that are broken.

She’s not here to fix them. She has another idea.

“We need to try and build something new,” said Hamilton, who became Milwaukee Area Technical College’s first chair of social justice earlier this month. She also is the current Wisconsin poet laureate.

We need new ways of hearing each other, new ways of talking to each other, new ways of treating each other, and new ways of understanding each other, Hamilton said.

And the writer, performance artist, curator and facilitator will try to do her part in her new position at MATC.

“There is no better way to start our chair of social justice program at MATC than by having Poet Laureate Dasha Kelly Hamilton set the bar high for this very important office,” said Dr. Naydeen Gonzalez-De Jesus, MATC’s executive vice president of student success. “The high caliber of experiences in advocacy, innovation, and her combination of analytical creativity will serve our students, faculty and staff well at MATC so we may continue to go deeper into issues that touch on all facets of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at MATC and within the communities we serve."

Hamilton was chosen from a national pool of applicants based on a proposal to conduct three innovative projects that unite students, employees and the external community in the shared exploration of social justice issues.

She will report to Dr. Gonzales-De Jesus and work with Eva Martinez Powless, MATC’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. Hamilton’s appointment is a key component in the development of the college’s Center for Social Justice and Cultural Wealth, Dr. Gonzalez-De Jesus said.

“Having our first chair of social justice communicates that our collective efforts are focused on addressing the root cause of social injustices, and eradicating behavior and thought processes that perpetuate a culture of fear and inequity in our communities,” Dr. Gonzalez-De Jesus said. 

In her new role at MATC, Hamilton plans to engage as much of the MATC community as possible, to listen as carefully as possible, and understand as many viewpoints as possible. No one will be excluded, she said. 

“The invitation has to ask what do you believe,” she said. “And we need to go to where people are, even if it is uncomfortable. You might not agree with what someone says, but everyone deserves the dignity to be heard. For this effort to be effective, you need to see all perspectives. There are a lot of ways to be in this city.”  

And Hamilton knows this city. She was born in Milwaukee. Her father joined the military and the family trotted the globe. “I visited many parts of the world and I have earned an appreciation of how we can be human,” she said.

She came back to Milwaukee in 1995 and worked in public relations. She helped Oshkosh B’Gosh celebrate its 100th anniversary by tracking down the nation’s oldest existing pair of bib overalls. Yet she yearned to do something more creative and eventually established Still Waters Collective, helping people unlock their innate creativity through literary projects. 

Hamilton has written two novels, three poetry collections, four spoken word albums and one collection of personal vignettes. She has taught at colleges and conferences, and has curated fellowships for emerging leaders. She serves as an arts envoy for the U.S. Embassy, and has facilitated community-building initiatives in the cities of Toronto and Beirut, and the African nations of Botswana and Mauritius.

She was appointed the state’s poet laureate in January 2021 and will serve until December 2022. She also was the keynote speaker at MATC’s Spring Commencement in May 2021.

Her touring play, “Makin’ Cake,” engages communities in a dialogue on race, class and equity. 

And although she won’t be on stage at MATC, Hamilton hopes to at least start humane, meaningful, creative conversations with as many people as possible. 

“We can have fun doing this,” she said. “This doesn’t have to be a painful process.”