• Taylor Stewart

Uplifting Minds Through Literary Vibes

Updated: Aug 3, 2019

Alexus Cumbie’s story began in middle school. Filling the back of the classroom with fresh beats courtesy of her freshly sharpened no. 2 pencil, Cumbie was nevertheless a careful observer of the shocking disparities of the education system. As Cumbie grew up and discovered her talent for poetic verse, she never gave up on the social justice she originally sought from the back of the classroom.

Alexus Cumbie sitting in Saturn, a coffee bar and music venue she enjoys coming to. Photo by Lakyn Shepard

Flash forward to her senior year in high school, when Cumbie traded her rapping career for poetry. One of her greatest influences is Zora Neale Hurston, fellow Alabamian, and nationally loved poet. When recounting Hurston, Cumbie can’t help but smile. There’s a dreamy glaze in her eyes as she says, “‘How it Feels to be Colored Me’ was something that hit me. It was one of the first pieces I ever read that I wholeheartedly related to.” It was in the classroom that Cumbie saw some of her peers struggle with the education they were dealt with as a result of underserved school systems. As she approached her high school graduation, she made the decision to make a change.

“I don’t know how it started,” Cumbie laughs, trying to remember the events that lead to the creation of the group, Literary Vibes. The non-profit organization began during the final months of Cumbie’s senior year in high school, “I wanted to do a showcase of my work because graduation is when your people are in town. And I didn’t want anybody to say, ‘well why haven’t I heard your poetry?’ And soon I had friends come up and say, “hey can I show my stuff too?” and that’s how we had our first open mic night.”

“Poetry not only connects them (students) with their feelings but gives them the communication skills they’ll need in the real world.”

Based in Birmingham, Literary Vibes serves the community by being an intimate space, stage, and sanctuary for poets and artists of all ages. Cumbie is the sole organizer and travels from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to host open mic nights, workshops, even collecting donated books that feature African American leads. Her sole focus is to heighten literacy and a love of poetry in children from underserved communities.

“It gives them an opportunity to acknowledge and address their feelings,” she says about working with the children. “Poetry not only connects them with their feelings but gives them the communication skills they’ll need in the real world.”

Many of Cumbie’s poems stem from her identity as a black woman. She writes about how her identity has influenced her life and how it is perceived, both in Birmingham and the rest of the world, “If I wanted to be a writer and write about the truth,” she says, “I would have to start with social issues.” Because of this Cumbie does not separate her own experience from her writing, “to be innately black and innately woman and to be in the south on top of that, it’s just hard to separate yourself from social issues.”

Being the leader of Literary Vibes isn’t where her activism stops. In the Summer of 2018, Cumbie had the privilege of interning with Congresswoman Terri Sewell. Throughout her internship, Cumbie met with foreign diplomats and other Senators including Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Corey Booker, and even her own personal hero Congressman John Lewis.

Cumbie across the "Know Your History" mural in Avondale. This mural features Birmingham and Civil Rights Legends like Fred Shuttlesworth, Angela Davis, and more! Photo by Lakyn Shepard

“When I want to channel the truth, when I want to channel Alexus in my poetry I have to go back to the place that is more at home, and that’s Birmingham.”

Her admiration for the Congresswoman came before she worked in her office. Throughout her life, Cumbie has always looked up to Congresswoman Sewell as, “she was one of the first black Congresswoman to represent Alabama on such a large scale.” Being able to see Congresswoman Sewell serve the people of Alabama at a national scale was inspiring, especially when it comes to the changes Cumbie would like to see in Alabama.

When Cumbie isn’t hosting an event with Literary Vibes, she is attending the University of Alabama in the hopes of one day becoming a lawyer. In addition to law school her dream is to one day become a member of the House of Representatives, “I’d love to be a Congresswoman,” she muses, her eyes lightening up at the possibility to returning to Washington D.C, not as an intern, but a political power herself.

While dreams of the capitol are gaining momentum, it’s Birmingham that Cumbie feels most at home. In recent years there has been a tremendous amounts of poetry and art that has poured out of the city, igniting a cultural rebirth for Birmingham. It’s here that she feels inspired, “when I want to channel the truth, when I want to channel Alexus in my poetry I have to go back to the place that is more at home, and that’s Birmingham.”

Alexus Cumbie sitting outside of Saturn, a coffee bar and music venue in Birmingham, Alabama. Photo by Lakyn Shepard.

The cultural rebirth has inspired not just Cumbie, but so many of the artists and writers throughout the Magic City. “I think for a while people gave up on Birmingham, so this cultural rebirth is a way to revive what we already have,” while also celebrating the new voices that are emerging from the crowd. Cumbie hopes to take this opportunity to fully immerse the artists of Literary Vibes into the arts culture here as well as heighten literacy in these young artists throughout the community.

You can learn more about Literary Vibes and all of the amazing programs they offer by joining their mailing list or following them on Social Media: Facebook and Instagram!

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