Nikkita Oliver is a spoken word poet, an attorney, a prominent local activist and, as of March, a candidate for Seattle mayor.
She’s also, it turns out, an amateur boxer.
Nikkita’s made a mark on Seattle’s social justice and arts communities, and has been shaped by them, too. That’s why — even before she announced her mayoral run — we decided we wanted to invite her to join us as a speaker in our Sparked Seattle series.
The goal of the series is to dig deep into Seattle stories that can help you spark your own. So on June 8 at Impact Hub, we’ll have what should be a lively conversation with Nikkita about why she does what she does, how she found support in local communities, and what she sees ahead for artists and activists in the city. (Get your tickets here.)
You learn a lot about people when you see them doing what they love. So on Tuesday we caught up with Nikkita at one of her favorite spots, Arcaro Boxing Gym in the Central District. She’s been training at the gym in the Central District for three years, coming by multiple times a week.
“There’s a certain amount of strength you find in boxing,” she said, “and also in learning to take a hit.”
Before she showed us around and threw some punches in the ring (check out our Facebook Live video for that), she told us about how she came to find a home in Seattle’s poetry community.
Nikkita grew up in Indianapolis, and her mom had one rule about where she could go to college: It had to be a Christian school. So Nikkita arrived in Seattle to attend Seattle Pacific University.
“It wasn’t the school I liked so much as the rain,” she said.
Her first year in Seattle was hard. As a mixed race kid, she said, she’d always struggled to fit in. “It took a long time to find my community,” she said.
She found a home for her teaching and volunteer work in local Christian service organizations. But after a while, she gravitated toward a different base of support — the Seattle poetry community.
On the first Saturday of every month for years, local poets gathered for the Cornerstone Open Mic at the since-closed Faire Gallery Cafe in Capitol Hill. Nikkita had been into poetry since elementary school, where she fell in love with the work of Shel Silverstein and got into the habit of carrying notebooks around to jot down her observations of the world. She connected to how these poets wanted their world to get better.
At the mic one night, Nikkita forgot a line from one of her poems. But rather than treat it as a failure, her friends in the community pushed her harder. “You gotta learn freestyle,” Renaissance the Poet told her.
So one night, during a freestyle “cipher,” someone passed her the mic. Every few measures, people had been handing it around, following the rhythm, finding something to say from their heart. “Spit or die,” Nikkita thought. So she spoke, and unlocked a part of her creativity she didn’t know she had.
“That transformed my art experience,” Nikkita said.
The moment also showed Nikkita how much her community of fellow poets meant to her. They gave her a supportive space to make her mistakes, she said, then grow past them.