Photography by Evy Mages and Day 1 Pictures

JusticeAid’s Artist in Residence, Paine the Poet (Kris Sykes), uses his gift of poetry and lyricism to promote a deeper understanding among his audiences of his fight to bring peace to flawed systems. Formerly incarcerated, Sykes got his start performing poetry at open mics in the Washington D.C. area to heal from his past. His performances gained him recognition, and he began making acting appearances. He most recently played Jalal Mahad in American Skin (2021), a film that follows a war veteran who seeks justice for the murder of his son. (More)

In “One Day,” performed at our fall benefit concert for Black Voters Matter in Washington, DC, Sykes shares his experience of feeling disenfranchised from the right to vote. It is so powerful we wanted to share it with the JusticeAid family. Follow Paine the Poet on Instagram at @officialpainethepoet.

One Day

By Kris Sykes
(Paine the Poet)

One day … 
We’ll see why it all mattered 
Everything we’ve endured from the past to the present has prepared us for whatever’s after 
So I pray …one day …we see why our efforts mattered 

To be honest I never knew much about voting 
Though now I know it’s import I arrive from a time 
Where between me and my mother she knew as much as I did 
And we survived how we survived 
It never crossed our minds, who was president? Or who elected them? 
We lived so in the blind of any governmental truths that were kept from us, 
along with the affects of stereotypes and how the media negatively reflected us 
Matter of fact, I remember all of the adults in my demographic were deemed “super predators” 
That actually happened … 
I wonder if they knew they had a vote? 
I wonder if they thought that it mattered? 

My grandmother come from another time … different era. 
Where the pushback to us even being allowed to vote was more clearly apparent and blatant … things to scare us 
Those feelings don’t just go away, 
we still have politicians in place that harken back to those older days
Back when things were a crime like get with a car full in a carpool there would be charges brought 

Then if you made it to the polls it was crazy questions, like “how many jelly beans in this jar ?” Like a carnival 
But through every action and tactic, 
the lines at the polls were nearly a mile long … we knew what mattered 

Now look at us … 

Staring  at a chance to take the plight of the past … and learn from it. 
Find the places in need of our energy then build upon the change that emerges from it 
Start in the small counties to affect the larger ones … “I heard you Cliff ! ” 
I also heard as Ms. Latosha Brown accurately broke down the hurdles we jump just to make it to the polls 
So when you see those Black Voters Matter buses going from city to city … we can’t let them embark on this journey on their own
It’s time we speak truth to power then that same power to action! 

And if we have a VOTE we have a chance … a chance to make it matter …. 

Paine The Poet

JusticeAid leverages the community-building power of art and music to transform awareness into action in the fight against injustice. Each year we identify and raise funds for justice causes by hosting music, arts, and educational events. Since 2013 JusticeAid has granted close to 3 million dollars to nonprofits working to ensure access to justice for the disenfranchised and marginalized. Our grantee partners are fighting racist voter suppression and racist policing, working to end mass incarceration and inhumane immigration practices, ensuring access to legal services, and addressing the criminalization and hatred of others. Throughout 2023 and 2024 JusticeAid is focusing on voting rights and raising money for Black Voters Matter.