By Taqua Ammar
Photography by Taqua Ammar
“To see people heal and also break through, it’s like, this is what it’s all about. It’s bigger than me.”
“I am an artist, literary artist, spoken word artist. I write poetry. I write short stories. I am working on a novel. I host an open mic where I help to cultivate other artists’ voices and deliver their own art form. I am a mother of two; a single parent.”
In a coffee shop in downtown Oakland, Tiffany Banks, an artist, and mother, provides insight on how to overcome fear. As a spoken word artist and host of a weekly open mic, Tiffany is no stranger to fear and anxiety. Yet the risk that someone takes to pursue their creative passions is granted with its own merits.
“I am from Vallejo, California,” Tiffany said.
“I just recently walked away from a nine-year career to pursue my creative passions.”
“Not to say that I don’t believe in working for an entity, but I had to walk away from something that was robbing me of the vitality that I needed in order to create and then establish some footprints for my creative entrepreneurial path,” she said.
“I was very afraid to do that.”
Tiffany explained that working for the Department of Treasury was demanding.
“But it was a secure job and I am a parent,” she said.
Although her previous government job provided stability, she knew she needed more.
“I needed to do it in order to be revitalized and recharged, and focus on setting a path for myself creatively,” said Tiffany.
“It is not easy. It is scary. I go back and forth about whether or not I am equipped; my mind does. My spirit knows I am equipped. My mind plays tricks like, ‘Can you really do it?’ ‘Can you really create and manifest this big world that you really have in your vision?’ I think the fact that I have two kids forces me into those mental spaces.”
It has been almost two years since Tiffany had decided to undertake this exciting journey of entrepreneurship through her poetic writings. Although difficult at times, she has no doubt she made the right decision, but how does someone get over the fear of sharing their deepest selves with others?
“I was so shy. It took me a long time,” stated Tiffany.
“At first I thought it was just a gig; a platform for me. Working and just coming every week I see how many people have just emerged from the shyness. It is not really shyness it’s fear. It’s doubt; not really believing in yourself.
“To see people heal and also break through, it’s like, this is what it’s all about. It’s bigger than me.”
Speak On It was established in July 2017 and has provided an arena for artists who wish to conduct their inner battles outwardly in poetic forms.
“The owner of the [Liege Lounge] asked me to do it,” Tiffany explained.
Liege Lounge is a lounge/restaurant located in downtown Oakland.
“I said no at first because I was too shy. It’s hard enough for me to get up and recite my poetry because I know I have to, but then sit up there all night and host, I didn’t want to be the MC. So I said no,” she said.
“He kept poking at me. He told me I’d be perfect. He believed in me.
“It took for someone else to believe in me for me to just do it. I started like, you know, a little baby lamb. Then I just kept on going, and a few months later, it’s like, I needed other people to come from that same seat.”
Capturing moments with words
“I never put down the pen, ever since then.”
“I was born in Montana. My father was in the navy. My mother is from the Philippines,” stated Tiffany.
Her father’s position in the navy placed Tiffany and her family in Montana, but shortly after they relocated to the Philippines. She came back to the United States where Tiffany and her family moved around the bay area until they eventually settled in Vallejo.
California is known to have the most immigrants compared to other States in the US. According to a 2015 research by the Public Policy Institute of California, 27 percent of California’s population was foreign-born.
“I grew up there and enjoyed my childhood. My mother was single for some time and then she met her husband. I am the oldest of four,” she said.
“I was raised with my grandmother in my home with me, so I was very engulfed in the Filipino culture.
“As a kid, I used to write little stories, you know, ‘Once upon a time’ stories.”
“Throughout high school, I didn’t really explore my creative side because I don’t think Vallejo is a city that extracts the creative spirit out of people. Vallejo is a city located in the North Bay, known in recent years as a city for artists to migrate to as a consequence of soaring rent prices in larger bay area cities such as San Francisco and Oakland,” Tiffany said.
“It’s a commuter town. It’s just a town that goes to sleep. It’s like we live and eat here and then we go to work somewhere else. We raise our kids here.”
She describes the ignition of her creative workings when she was younger.
“I went through a spiritual transformation when I was 19 or 20. I don’t know if it was depression, or if it was just like the universe or God rerouting me,” she said.
“I just went in the hermit mode. I am in this world alone. I could be in a room full of people but I was alone. I was in my head or morphing spiritually to where my perspective role was being reshaped. I was experiencing a metamorphosis and that just pushed me into a journal.”
Tiffany described the first time she recited her poetry.
“It was like death, but it was like the thrill of, ‘I can’t believe I did that,’” she said.
“I am an expressive person by nature, so I journalized my thoughts and prayers. I analyzed everything, where I was capturing moments that I was in. That turned into poetry about the moment. I was even writing poetry in the club. It wasn’t even poetry at that time but it turned into that later.”
“I never put down the pen, ever since then. I never really wanted to be a spoken word artist, because I was too shy. I was only writing for myself,” Tiffany said.
“I would go to open mics and I would feel inspired by people who could share and I would sit with all this fire burning on the inside of me because I have been creating all these times and so I could relate to what they were expressing but I couldn’t do it myself.
“So I just started voicing myself out of fear; forcing myself to step out on faith.”
Her courage led her to overcome her fears. Today Tiffany is not only a spoken word artist and MC, but the author of a book of short stories and poems, titled Selah: An Offering.
“Now I am learning that I have to mentor and father my own self in order to move in this world.”
“I think I was conditioned by society and tradition, to be more in the feminine energy, but now that I have stepped out and am manifesting my own world, I am realizing how much I have to be in balance with both my masculine and feminine energy, which means I will have to be more logical,” Tiffany said.
“A lot of people can say that they have been conditioned in a way where women are the weaker or softer vessels. Feminine energy is more emotional and more heart centred, whereas masculine energy, no matter what gender you are, is more logical and more action based.
“I think we all, regardless of what gender you are, if you have masculine and feminine energy, that doesn’t mean ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish,’ it means different attributes that can be broken down in so many different ways and manifest in different ways. Ying and yang; logic and emotion. All these different dualities and it is a challenge for me.”
“As an artist, I come from a spiritual-emotional space, but now as a businesswoman, I have to wear a different hat and sometimes that hat is hard for me to put on,” she explained.
“I have to father myself because I don’t trust people. There are so many people that can manipulate you. As a more feminine energy, I have been susceptible to manipulations often throughout life.
“Now I am learning that I have to mentor and father my own self in order to move in this world. I am learning to balance both my masculine and feminine energies now that I am in this new world and it is hard.”
Speak On It
Finding your own voice to speak on is challenging enough as it is. How does one not only light a path for herself but for others to find the strength to speak?
“The best way is to really just stay as authentic as I can to the work, to the art,” she said.
As I’m sharing it’s like a flowering effect. As I am blooming the seeds are dropping and wherever I go it’s being received. I am just trying to stay in alignment with my own purpose, and it’s going to naturally happen.
“I have not mastered anything; I am in process. I am in progress to really open people up to their own healing process.”
“I feel like I am in a place right now where I am still unwrapping that particular gift; like it’s a present,” explained Tiffany when asked about her goals for the future.
“It’s hard to say that there is this one thing. I feel like it’s so creative that it’s going to be a number of different things. I see myself travelling all over the world, doing energy healing work through spoken word work,” she said.
“I still don’t know where this is gonna land me. I just know that however, I create this world, it’s going to be centred around what it is that I am here to do. My purpose is being revealed to me over time.
“I can say that I want to publish way more. I want to be the type of writer that is eventually anthologized. I would love to see my stories on the big screen. I am delving into songwriting because that is how I am inspired to write much of my poetry, is when I am in a meditative state listening to music and things like that.”
The words of war
“It’s so crazy because it’s like childbirth. Like you deliver your baby, and it was so painful, but you forget about how painful it was, and then you have another baby, you know?”
“I will say that when I was young and naïve, and I was new to a spiritual language, having to go through getting married young, having kids young and getting divorced young, was a really trying time for me because of where I was,” Tiffany said.
She explained that if she were to go through those same struggles today she would have been able to handle it “like a boss.”
“I have acquired enough over time that I would not be as broken as I was. I was hurt and embarrassed. I felt like God failed me because I had just gotten high off this new spiritual awakening and like boom!” she explained.
“I had envisioned my life to be a certain way, and I didn’t want to raise my kids without the father of my children. Being attached to that idea gave me a lot of suffering, as long as I held on to the idea. That was a struggle for me when I think about any of my greatest struggles.”
Tiffany explained the strained relationship with her mother and losing her brother when she was 23 also forced her into tough mental spots that she would eventually fight to get out of. What can we learn from our struggles?
“I would really want people to understand how in charge they are of their own healing. We are gonna get wounded, we are gonna get hurt, but we have everything within us already to heal ourselves. It will take for us to sit and really war mentally,” Tiffany responded.
“That was my war, but I was warring for my mind, warring for my peace. I want people to understand that nothing is bigger than them. They will have to fight, with their words, if they can.”
“Writing is such a gift, beyond publishing a book; It was my way to survive. I think sometimes it’s just a matter of you identifying it all and laying it out there and knowing it’s there and being able to combat all of that with the power of our own words,” Tiffany said.
“I think writing out my declarations and saying them out loud has saved my life.”
Tiffany Banks is a 34-year-old artist and mother. Her goal is to help herself and others through poetry and other artistic forums. She believes that the tool we need to find the strength to speak is already in us. You can purchase Tiffany’s book on Amazon.
Or follow her on Instagram at @the_poetic_pharaoh and @speak_onit