Breaking barriers with art: African American, Airman, poet

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Lyca Steelman
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Every February, National Black History Month commemorates the triumphs, contributions and struggles experienced by the African American community throughout U.S. history. This year’s theme, “African Americans and the Arts,” highlights how art contributes to this narrative. For one Team Tyndall Airman it serves as a means for expression, connection and societal criticism.

Staff Sgt. Denise Ntow, Airey Noncommissioned Officer Academy noncommissioned officer in charge of student registrar office, uses her passion for poetry, within her two self-published books, to explore topics such as grief, racism, self-reflection, resiliency and love, among other topics to communicate and connect.

“[Poetry] is a connecting point, just like music, between different races and cultures,” said Ntow. “If we continue to try to open up our minds past the arts, we can continue to make connections as a people and as different races and cultures.”

With her family originating from Ghana, growing up as a first-generation U.S. born citizen, the author experienced the duality of assimilating to a culture that was different from her home. At the same, as a young person, she was navigating the process of finding herself and making sense of the world.

With the encouragement of her father, she eventually wrote down her thoughts and feelings into her first poem.

“Years [went by after my first poem], and I [left] for basic training in 2017,” recalled Staff Sgt. Ntow. “A day after tech school, I get a call that my father has passed. I took it very hard. I was new to the Air Force, brand new job, getting ready to PCS to the United Kingdom and everything was so new.”

Ntow explained she began speaking the hurt she was feeling through writing. From there, she routinely began jotting down lines until eventually those reflections became a full poem, then a book.

She released her first publication, “The Caged Will Talk About the Free,” in 2020, followed by her second book, “Haven’t I Given Everything?” in 2021. Ntow described her first book as an introduction of a woman discovering herself and dealing with grief, heartbreak and race-related subjects. Her subsequent book is a continued exploration of those feelings and more.

Ntow described her most cherished poem, titled “Beautiful,” as a poem directed at a young person of color who has felt discriminated against in any type of way.

An excerpt from the poem is as follows:
“You’re beautiful
with a tone that is comparable to gold. Through your actions,
you can rewrite the false stories that we’ve been told.”

“[The poem] stands out to me because of the realness of it…speaking to a young person on what they may go through; however, if they search within themselves, they can use the tools with them to overcome things,” said Ntow.

The published author defined poetry as a vehicle in communicating to several groups of people. She explained that poetry opens dialogue in way that, “nobody feels they are to blame and then if anyone feels a different type of way, at least it will open up their mind to what a different race goes through.”

Ntow encouraged others to let art be the introduction for creating conversations about people’s thoughts, feelings and life. She said poetry shows others there is freedom in speech and expression, it is a space to expose one’s insides.

Ntow said she joined the military not only to regain structure, but to broaden her perspective by being a part of a diverse community. Ultimately, she hopes to make a difference and encourage others in the ways she’s been able to process her thoughts through poetry.

“My main thing was wanting to provide someone else with something that could help them go through a troubling time as well,” Ntow expressed. “You can be going through the hardest part of your life…but if you stick it out, you will have a story to tell that will help others. So, there is always tomorrow. Just stick it through.”