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Life & Work with Imani Rhema

Today we’d like to introduce you to Imani Rhema.

Hi Imani, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
Poetry is my passion and a part of my life purpose and life work. I started writing poems at around 12 years old, and I used poetry as a way to entertain myself and test the literary devices that I’d been learning in school. I think writing is an extension of reading.

My father always challenged me to read, and I was absorbed in novels by the time I was 9 years old. I loved to read, and would read through interesting topics in encyclopedias, peruse my mother’s medical textbooks, and I would read books around our house including Roots, The Souls of Black Folk, and I discovered my favorite novel in 1983: The Color Purple.

I had always written poems and short stories and kept diaries, then journals… but in the early 2000s, I stumbled across the most beautiful display of literature that breathed life into my soul: the art of the spoken word. The series HBO’s Def Poetry Jam changed me forever.

I HAD to find a stage in Nashville where I could perform poetry. I felt it in my bones! I memorized a piece (my very first poem that I would consider having a spoken-word cadence was ‘Second Generation Single Mom’) and headed to Kijiji’s Coffee House, the place where I learned that the most amazing poets performed.

Lo and behold, after showing up at Kijiji’s and it was permanently closed, my life took a most beautiful turn that I never even imagined or intended. The Soul Food Poetry Cafe was birthed after discovering that the main open mic spot in Nashville no longer existed.

On Friday, February 2nd, 2007, one of my best friends and I started something special that has sparked the minds and hearts of poets and poetry lovers for the last fifteen years. We helped revive the open mic scene and made an indelible mark in the independent artist culture in Nashville.

The poetry scene embraced the Soul Food Poetry Café, and we went on making history. We hosted the city’s first poetry awards in 2008 and produced the 2nd awards show in 2012. In 2011, we added a live band to the open-mic element, and the event went on to become a major production.

For the last five years, the Soul Food Poetry Cafe has been in residence at the City Winery Nashville, and the live music and spoken word concert is a consistent sell-out. We are the longest-running poetry event in Nashville and are very proud to be the stage of choice for professional poets and musicians.

I couldn’t do this without my daughter, Reci Rich. She is a multimedia marketing and promotions guru. Reci creates quality content that is engaging to a broad audience. When we got to the City Winery, she had perfected her skills and we are able to get the word out to the masses because of her. It’s nothing like going into business with family.

I moved to Fresno, California in 2021, and on April 30th, 2022 the SFPC movement continued. We brought the legendary open mic to the West Coast, and the boat is moving full speed ahead.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Finding venues that were open to embracing the independent artist scene proved challenging.  Restaurants and venues would come and go, open and close, but I was determined to keep the show going.

Shout out to CATS (Creative Artists of Tennessee), Kazu Restaurant, The Nashville Social Exchange, Venue 109, The Hard Rock Cafe, and the great people at City Winery Nashville for believing in our brand and giving us the opportunity to provide a stage for independent artists!

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
By day, I am a Leadership Development Consultant at T-Mobile. I have worked there for 14 years, and I am known for being an inspirational leader.

I love to see people grow and develop, and I’m proud to say that I have had my hand in helping a lot of people mature and be promoted into leadership positions. What sets me apart is that I genuinely care, and I give actionable feedback.

I also am deeply committed to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at work. I have helped produce numerous events that promote women in leadership, as well as hosted and produced virtual spoken word events during Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Juneteenth.

This year for Juneteenth, I performed at our 3rd Annual Spoken Word event at T-Mobile. I also will be producing an event introducing the company to Slave Narratives to recognize the holiday as well.

We all have a different way of looking at and defining success. How do you define success?
Success is doing what you were put on earth to do. Period.

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