Berkeley Today Stories
Celebrating National Poetry Month with Berkeley Senior Khali Raymond
Happy National Poetry Month! Berkeley College senior Khali Raymond kicked off this year’s celebration by presenting his poem “Don’t Put the Pen Down, With a Smiley Face,” at the Poetry, Pastry, and Punch event, held April 6 at Central Park Restaurant in Roselle, NJ.
Author, spoken word recording artist, and entrepreneur, James Ellerbe hosted the evening as master of ceremonies, introducing more than 15 poets to the stage – including himself - to share their stories with the audience - as DJ Troy provided musical entertainment. Participating artists included five students from the local Abraham Clark High School, and the award-winning author, filmmaker, and political poet, Oscar Sanders from the Bronx, NY, who performed the final reading of the night.
Sponsored by the Independent Authors Book Experience (IABX), LLC, the group’s founder, author and small business owner Renaee Smith provided the crowd with refreshments from Renaee’s Cakes, and gave out door prizes for the raffle ticket giveaways.
“It was very lovely, there were a lot of great performers - especially from the Abraham Clark High School,” Khali said. “I’ve been out of high school for less than two years and I’m seeing these kids making leaps and bounds! It reminds me of how I was back then. I was trying to make the same come up - using my art to break through. Once I got out of high school, it started to happen. Seeing all of the people – young and old – presenting their poems really inspires me.”
Becoming a published author
The poem “Don’t Put the Pen Down, With a Smiley Face” is based on the encouraging words that Khali received from a friend. His passion for writing began when he read the book “Tangerine” by Edward Bloor in the fifth grade. Since then, the 20 year-old Berkeley College Business Administration – Management major has penned more than 100 books. He has also contributed as a writer for the Berkeley College Blog.
“‘Tangerine’ was my inspiration to write ‘The Ballad of Sidney Hill!’” he said. “Since then, I have garnered many influences. It’s really difficult to say who or what specifically, because I am immersed in so many forms of art, from music to anime. There are many things out there pushing me to produce quality work.”
This month alone, Khali also presented his poetry at the CryOut Cave in Newark, Ohmies Coffee Bar + Yoga Studio in Roselle, and was invited to present a poem for Heritage Pride Day in front of a packed auditorium at his old alma mater - East Side High School in Newark.
“The very first time I ever performed in front of an audience, I was a little nervous, but I still had my heart in it. I still delivered and kept performing,” he explained. “As I continued to do it and stayed on the scene, I met more people and did more things. That’s when everything started to open up for me.”
Unpacking the spoken word
His poem “Inside of the Indigo,” refers to spiritual wisdom. “The color indigo is associated with spirituality,” he explained. “When I was writing it, immediately in my mind I was thinking about my journey and how far I’ve come from where I once was. It’s me opening up to the world and seeing what’s in front of me.”
My Brother’s Keeper
During his junior year at East Side High School, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and his team of representatives gave a speech to Khali and his classmates. This inspired him to fill out the sign- up sheet to become a member of the first My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Alliance class for Newark. He was officially inducted into the fellowship in February 2018. Through the group’s affiliation with the Obama Foundation, Khali also submitted a short essay to the Foundation about life in Newark and how the program changes lives.
“I remember sitting down in Blaze Pizza with my mentor on a Saturday afternoon and I wrote the piece at the table with him. He helped me clean it up,” Khali said. “Two weeks after my submission was posted, I received so many opportunities after getting it published - it was amazing. At the MBK Alliance, we hosted block cleanups, rallies, and even held a summit in the Prudential Center where more than one thousand young boys and men of color left with jobs.” Khali graduated from the fellowship program in July of 2018.
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In honor of National Poetry Month, Berkeley Today asked Khali to talk further about his creative writing process, and the journey to Berkeley College Graduation 2019. Here’s what he had to say:
Please explain your creative writing process, and your best advice to other aspiring authors.
My writing process is not too complex. To get started, I come up with the idea or the title of the book. Usually, for me, the title will come before the idea. From that, I figure out the content. I'll start with an outline if I haven't already created the cover. Then, I create the cover art and the descriptions. Once that's done, I begin writing. Writing is the part that can make you or break you, or both. It’s going to require the most focus. Once the writing is complete, I will start editing. Editing is up there with the writing part. You want to make sure your copy is clean. After editing it, I pack it into a file and send it out.
If you’re an aspiring writer, learn as much as you can. Surround yourself with individuals who are pursuing the same thing you’re doing. Surround yourself with individuals who are experienced artists/writers. You can learn from many people. Always write, because that's important. Your skill is like a muscle. You must keep training it. You can do it, trust me.
How long did it take you to write 100 books, and how many more will you write?
I published my first book in 2014. I published my hundredth book in 2018. That's a four-year-gap. As for how many more I’m writing? I don’t know where I'm going to stop, to be honest. I want to keep writing as many as I can. I want to put out great work. Quantity creates quality, or at least that’s how I see it. The more you do it, the better you’ll become after every single try.
How did you master the art of dialogue in your novels?
I’ve learned to master dialogue through conversing with others. I meet so many people every day who teach me things. I’ve worked with many different people who saw past my exterior. I’ve been in many different settings, whether I felt at home or felt like an outcast. I’ve learned to master dialogue through living life. My definition of being a great writer is having a purpose that is bigger than you. It’s about speaking up for what you believe in and changing lives in the process. Sure, you can have the great descriptions, the captivating dialogue, the best sales, and impeccable design, but if you never bothered to look beyond yourself, then why are you doing it? You’re going to have to ask yourself that question at some point. I hope that someone can look at what I’ve done and use that to better themselves.
Do you believe that being a great writer is something that can be learned or is it something that comes naturally?
I feel like it can be a bit of both. Some people are just natural storytellers, whilst some aren’t. However, for you to improve, you must put in the necessary practice. You must read more. You must write more. You must be open-minded to how the creative process works and not be afraid of change. You have to learn patience. I wasn't always great at writing. It took time for me to be this skillful. I had to make mistakes. I had to study the craft. Through all that, I somehow knew that writing was for me. As long as you have the will to be great, then you will be. Expertise and knowledge comes with the journey.
What do you want readers to learn most from reading your books and listening to your poetry?
I want my readers to look inside of themselves and evaluate their purpose in life. I want you to think for yourself and allow your mind to run free. You can see what I've done with my life and that could inspire you. Whatever you want to accomplish...you don't have to have millions of dollars to get started. You don't have to have a Ph.D. to get started. You don't have to be an adult to get started. Whatever you want to do - all that it’ll take is an idea. A will. You have to want it.
Why did you choose to study Business Administration at Berkeley College?
When I was in the twelfth grade, some representatives from Berkeley came to East Side High School to speak with us about the services they offered, specifically their academic advisement program and small class sizes. I knew that I could benefit from that because I like my learning to be individualized. I don't do well in huge settings with lots of students. They even had tablets with applications loaded onto them so we could sign up. At first, I was pretty skeptical. I wasn’t going to consider Berkeley. When I saw that they didn't offer any writing majors, I was a little upset, but then a light bulb went off in my head. Since I have aspirations of creating my own publishing/multimedia company, I felt like Business Administration would be a starting major for me, something to not only begin my college resume, but to also get my foot in the door to other wonderful opportunities. Plus, I would get to know what it was like working in the business field. I’ll have a broader choice of options available to me if I pursued this path, while continuing to pursue my creative passion at the same time. Two years later, I am now about to graduate from Berkeley, and I plan to pursue my Bachelor’s degree in English and Writing at local university this fall!
What has your experience been like at Berkeley College in Newark?
Berkeley College has been wonderful to me. The culture of the school is so welcoming and open – it’s like you're in harmony with everyone that’s around you. The staff is like your second family. They make sure you’re doing well and personalize your learning as much as they can. My favorite part of college so far are the clubs and the extra-curricular opportunities. Because of Berkeley, I was able to do so many things on and off campus. There's always something happening. It’s also been a challenging experience, too. My biggest challenge was staying organized. When I first came to Berkeley, I was all over the place. I didn’t know how to manage myself that well. I didn't stick to a schedule. I wasn't getting all my work in on time, and I was procrastinating on major assignments. This led me to fall behind a whole lot. Thankfully, with time and experience, I have learned how to better pace myself and plan ahead.
What advice do you have for prospective and current students?
If you’re still in the college selection process, choose a college that has the right resources for you. If you benefit from smaller class sizes, try to find a college that has a small body of students, or something up that alley. Look at the costs and the benefits - work with what you can afford. I chose Berkeley because they were offering resources that were tailored to my interest. You just have to find what’s good for you.
For current students, if you’re struggling to make something of yourself in this time, don't panic. Everything will work out. Stay focused on your goals and leverage all of the resources you have at your disposal. If you’re struggling with something, don’t hesitate to get any help. Someone is there to assist you, always. Be willing to receive.
Who are your mentors?
I have many mentors at Berkeley. The most notable mentor is Earl Brown, Campus Operating Officer in Newark. He helped me throughout my entire time at Berkeley. He introduced me to so many opportunities and people that it’s crazy. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have considered finishing at Berkeley. He talked me out of dropping out. My academic advisor, Sophia Smith, has also been supportive. She’s been making sure that I took all the necessary classes needed to attain my degree. Amanda Frey, the personal counselor at the Newark campus, has helped me a lot too. She’s seen me at my worst and at my best. I would always go to her office to just talk to her about my life and she’s been giving me wonderful advice. Sandra Garcia, who works in Student Development, has played a similar role.
How has writing helped you find your voice and build a platform as an author and poet?
I grew through doing and experiencing. I had to experience certain losses. I had to go through heartbreaks. I had to learn a lot of lessons throughout the years. Writing has gotten me through many challenges in my life. It has been there when no else one has. I allowed myself to live by that. I wanted to change my reality. Because of my longing, I found ways to surpass new limits. This has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and be myself. It has given me a purpose. Berkeley College has helped me see my goals much more clearly, and I’m ready for the next stage.
To learn more about Khali, visit Khali Raymond. All of his books can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple Books, and Google Play Store. Follow Khali on social media on Twitter @simply_khali, on Instagram @__trpyshvt_, and on Facebook at Khali Raymond.
The views and/or opinions in this article are those of the individuals interviewed. The academic achievements and/or employment outcomes described in this article are specific to each individual, and are not a guarantee of similar results for past or current students. For up-to-date and detailed information, please visit berkeleycollege.edu, and view our catalogs at berkeleycollege.edu/publications.