BL Shirelle and Naomi Wilson

Gospel, Rap, and Social Justice: Prison, Poetry, and Power featuring gospel singer Naomi Wilson and rap/poet/activist BL Shirelle

Tuesday, May 7, 2024 at 7:00pm
Ring Family Performing Arts Hall


Featuring gospel singer Naomi Wilson and rap/poet/activist BL Shirelle with Robert Day, Dario Peńa, and Vernal Davis along with Wesleyan staff and students, this documentary theater performance was created by formerly incarcerated men and women in collaboration with Wesleyan students enrolled in “Gospel, Rap, and Social Justice” as they used gospel music and rap poetry to examine the parallels between twenty-first century journeys out of prison and the present medieval journey out of hell as depicted in Dante’s “Inferno.”

Presented in conjunction with the course THEA 143 “Gospel, Rap, and Social Justice,” taught by Professor of Theater Ronald S. Jenkins.

Thanks to funding from the Theater Department, the Creative Campus Initiative of the Center for the Arts, the Office of Community-Engaged Learning, the Sustainability Office, the Department of American Studies, the Office of the Provost, and the African American Studies Department.

The Creative Campus Initiative of the Center for the Arts supports cross-disciplinary collaborations that center the arts as a way of teaching, learning, and knowing at Wesleyan University.

Wilson and Shirelle previously presented “Gospel, Rap, and Social Justice” in May 2022 on YouTube.

BL Shirelle is an accomplished musician, producer, and songwriter. In addition, she serves as deputy director of Die Jim Crow, the first non-profit record label in United States history for currently and formerly incarcerated artists. After serving ten years in prison herself, Shirelle has been dedicated to social change and activism through her music and work with Die Jim Crow Records. Shirelle has been a guest speaker at colleges across America, educating youth on mass incarceration. She also continues to work with artists still in prison to produce and share their music on high-quality platforms. Shirelle and her work have been featured in the Los Angeles Times, NPR, Rolling Stone, PBS/WHYY, Ms. magazine, Bushwick Daily, Aesthetics For Birds, We Want The Airwaves, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, among others.

Naomi Blount Wilson
“I was born in the ‘50s and raised in North Philadelphia. I had a great childhood and discovered that I had musical talents at a very early age. I recorded my first single, I’m So Young, when I was fifteen. During that time, I went down a dark path, quitting high school, then becoming a drug addict and alcoholic. In 1982, I went to prison for conspiracy to murder. I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. While in prison, I obtained my GED, earned an associate’s degree in business, and a paralegal certificate. In 2019, after serving 37 years in prison, my sentence was commuted, and I was released from prison. I now work as a commutation specialist for former Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (now U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania). I am also a program consultant for the Shining Light Academy where we try to unlock human potential inside of all American prisons. Life is now, like a box of chocolates.”


Surviving Troubled Waters: Prison to Freedom Through Music  
Monday, May 6, 2024 at 7pm
Ring Family Performing Arts Hall

Image: BL Shirelle and Naomi Wilson.