If you didn’t get the chance to see Lemon Andersen’s convocation or see his documentary “Lemon,” I’d highly recommend looking him up. His powerful poems honestly and emotionally express his experience growing up in poverty within Brooklyn with poems about crimes he’s committed, his mother struggling with heroin abuse, cops, death and prison. The following are five lessons I learned from Lemon Andersen.
1. Hardship Builds Character
Growing up in poverty, Andersen had the misfortune of experiencing his stepfather, father and mother all pass away following complications from heroin abuse and AIDS, leaving himself and his older brother orphaned and having to fend for themselves. With no one around to put food on the table, Andersen admits he lost count of how many people he and his brother had robbed.
They ended up living in a housing complex that was notorious for its extremely high rate of criminal and drug-related activities. When Andersen inevitably got sent to prison, he started reading a lot. He really enjoyed poetry and began writing while there. Once he got out, he sought a place to write, wanting to turn his life around and make money doing something wholesome and fulfilling. This led to the events of the documentary “Lemon” and his eventual success with his autobiographical play “County of Kings: The Beautiful Struggle.”
Just by watching this man, you can tell he has a lot of character. Andersen learned from his terrible experiences and choices as a youth and made a goal for himself to turn his life around, so his children don’t have to grow up like he did – all while producing art that casts a light on his own history of poverty and crime.
2. America Really Isn’t a Level Playing Field
Andersen made it out of poverty, but only because he had an insane work drive, lots of talent and really had something to say. Andersen described how many felons like himself cannot find work, and that leads them to turn back to the crime.
3. Poetry Is a Powerful Tool for Expressing Emotions
Using his powerful language,unique voice and delivery, Andersenn broadcasts a message straight from his heart. Although it’s memorized, you can tell every word and rhyme was deliberated upon to truthfully express his emotions in an entertaining way. It really wouldn’t be an entertaining show if he just told his life story, even though that’s exactly what he does through poetry using a combination of emotions, humor, characters and story to keep audiences invested and wanting more.
4. Skill is Earned through Hard Work and Frustration
Andersen didn’t become the powerful wordsmith that he is through just listening to people. He read and wrote for hours on end almost every day. Granted, you have a lot of time on your hands when you’re sitting in prison, but that experience garnered his interest and his talent increased because of it.
5. “Learn to Love the Process, Because the Results Don’t Belong to You”
That’s a direct quote from the convocation. Andersen is basically saying that regardless of what you’re doing or how well you think you’re doing it, if it’s what you want to do, keep it up. All great and respected artists have a body of work. Usually you see the good stuff, but almost every one of them starts out small. They keep building up their portfolio until they’re ready to be recruited onto the next big project.
Andersen encouraged the audience to not give up. He said not to be discouraged if you didn’t get the audition, or your piece was rejected, or you got a bad review. All you can do is try to learn from the past to help you in the future. Humans learn best by doing so go out and express yourself!