Winter C Magazine: Urban planner Ebony Walden inspires through poetry

Finding beauty in brokenness. Rebuilding the ruins. Giving voice to the voiceless.
These phrases are more than talking points for 31-year-old Ebony Walden. They are the juxtapositions that have shaped her life.

(Photo by Cramer Photo)

Now a planner with the city’s Neighborhood Development Services, Walden has long been passionate about redeveloping urban areas. “Particularly,” she says, “low-income African-American areas, because I grew up basically pretty poor and on welfare.”

After graduating from Georgetown and the University of Virginia, Walden made it a mission to empower others. This year, she will train Charlottesville residents to affect change in their communities through the city’s Neighborhood Leadership Institute.

“I like the idea of citizens taking ownership of their spaces,” she says. Ultimately, Walden wants to hear more people say, “This is my community, and I want to work in partnership with the government, but I have some agency in this, as well.”

The multi-talented planner sees poetry as another way to express agency. In 2009, she founded WordSmith Poetry and began hosting monthly jams. Last year, she traveled to 17 countries on her Poetic Justice World Tour.

“The world is such a beautiful place, but it’s also such a broken place,” says Walden. “I think there’s a lot of beauty in the broken spaces.”—Taylor Harris

On poetry jams:
“I just wanted to create an environment where people’s voices could be heard. In our society, where do we have a forum where people’s voices are actually heard with equal weight? Just listening to one another and affirming one another and supporting one another. To me, it wasn’t necessarily about the poetry, which I love. It was about the open forum.”

On hope:
“If I’m a person who has come out of poverty and was able to go to Georgetown and UVA and be an urban planner…my pain—if I offer that to somebody—will be hope for somebody else. That will be hope for the child in the projects in poverty to be like, ‘I can do it.’”

On confidence:
“It really comes from having your identity in the right place. It’s having my identity in Christ
—that I know who I am. That I’m completely loved and completely accepted…All I have to do
is be me, and that’s great. I have a lot of flaws, but I think I’m coming into what it means to be completely myself, because that’s who God has made me.”