ELEVATE Spotlight: Shakiah Danielson


Meet Shakiah Danielson, the creative force behind ELEVATE—STG's spoken-word showcase for Black and Brown youth. All are invited to attend this free community event at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, June 16, at the Moore.

Shakiah is a Seattle-based emcee and choreographer. She enjoys fusing different genres of music and dance to broaden the scope, language, and usage of hip-hop. As a choreographer, Shakiah oversaw the hip-hop program at Northwest Tap Connection and with that group, her piece, #HELLYOUTALMBOUT went viral with its pressing and vital message. As an emcee, she has collaborated with Gabriel Teodros, Rell Be Free, Debra Kendrick, and more. Shakiah is inspired by her community in the South Sound and Tacoma area. Listen to some of her work on Spotify. 

This is your second year of leading ELEVATE—and your first year of creating an in-person performance for this program. What else is unique about year?

The subject matter is different. Last year we tried to highlight people in the community who have contributed to local Black history. While ELEVATE continues to center the experiences of Black and Brown youth, this year's focus is on the impact of social media. I was thinking about how much this virtual reality we're living in is affecting youth. The world has been forced into a virtual space. One theme is powerlessness, not being heard—you're on mute in zoom world.

Shakiah Danielson

By nature of being Black or PoC youth, the performers of ELEVATE are always navigating a racist society. But this year's ELEVATE will take place just weeks following a string of mass shootings, including the Buffalo and Uvalde massacres.

In light of this heaviness, how are you approaching ELEVATE in 2022?

This moment only makes it more necessary for these young people to get it out. Just because they are kids doesn't mean that they aren't impacted by what's happening—right along with everybody else. And they are needing to process. ELEVATE is a space where they can be heard and listened to. And I'm going to lean on the mentors to speak some light and life into the moment. The news reel makes it seem like we're going to hell in a handbasket. There's so much negative. But ELEVATE isn't just about amplifying the voices. It's also meant to edify.

This event is meant to lift up the young poets and audience members. How does the release of trauma, pain, and sadness help on the road to joy and healing?

When these young poets express, they release—and then there's a space. Once you get it out, you gotta put something back in.

If they release, speak to what's inside of them, and then we help to put something back in—be it storytelling, art, poetry, music, dance—then they don't have to be empty. Young people are getting numb. My whole thing is, I'm trying to do whatever I can to keep them from getting cold. I want them to know they are not alone.

Why are you passionate about ELEVATE?

Because ELEVATE is me. I was them. I wish I had some of this stuff. And then at some point in my life, someone did this for me. As far as I was concerned, I had accepted that my complexion meant I wouldn't be here when I was 19. I treated this like it was facts. It was truth to me. Thankfully, the urge and sense of survival was strong. Sometimes people think that there's no point; ain't nobody listening.

When I work with kids—whether it's dance or poetry—I never know how long I will have them. So while I have you, I have to give you what you need when you can't get ahold of anyone. I gotta give you something that will work for you when it feels like no one is listening. How can you still get that release and still stay encouraged? I need to teach them that.

Tell me about this year's group of poets.

To me this year, we have a good, vulnerable and mature group. They are being very intentional. Some are more comfortable this year with their styles, their expression, and what they have to say. I think it's going to be good this year.

Why should people come to ELEVATE?

Come just to hear the artistic approach to elevate spoken word. I think ELEVATE will encourage, challenge, and inspire people. Young people especially need to see this, to hear from their peer group. When the message comes from your peer group, they are being so vulnerable because they want to matter. They want to matter, and in this, you find out that you matter. 

Photo by Lauren Max
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