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TCEA 2020 Opening Keynote Sekou Andrews

by Andrew Roush
tcea 2020

“I’m an artist at heart” says Sekou Andrews. “But I’ve always been half artist, half entrepreneur.”

Andrews’ unique blend of aesthetic and insight comes to TCEA 2020, when Andrews takes the stage for his opening keynote session, Tuesday February 4, at 1 p.m. A teacher-turned-actor, musician, two-time national poetry slam champion, and entrepreneur, Andrews brings an exciting mix of strategic storytelling, spoken word poetry, theater, and comedy, all combined into an experience you won’t want to miss.

After his time exploring teaching, music, and performance, he fell in love with spoken word poetry. Unfortunately, there seemed to be no career path forward as a poet.

“So the entrepreneur [in me] got excited about pioneering an industry for spoken word,” he says.

That path involved re-thinking what a poet does — not simply performing poetry, but mixing in the insights of a public speaker, the energy of a musician, and the ability to craft inspiring messages valued by organizations and businesses around the world. 

Today, Andrews keynotes conferences around the world, and has presented for Fortune 500 companies as well as for Maya Angelou, Larry King, Norman Lear, Coretta Scott King and family, and has even performed pieces for Barack Obama in Oprah’s backyard. 

As a recording artist and producer, his album “Poetic License” made him the most awarded artist in the nation’s largest independent music organization, and his album “Sekou Andrews & The String Theory” was nominated for a 2019 Grammy Award. Sekou has shared the stage with such heavyweights as Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, Carlos Santana, Kendrick Lamar, Maroon 5, Jill Scott, and John Legend.

Art and Education

Like his art, Andrews is a symphony of ideas and inspirations, drawing together a number of influences and styles to arrange powerful performances. Among all those influences, his commitment to education has remained. That’s why, he says, he’s so excited to share his poetic voice with TCEA attendees.

“I became a poet 17 years ago,” he says, “but I’ve maintained a commitment to education. I always knew that, even though I was leaving the classroom, my voice was always committed to education as one of my causes.” Educational events are a magnet for him, from audiences of thousands at professional conventions, like TCEA, to his goddaughter’s school poetry day.

For Andrews, his new take on spoken word poetry is the evolution of an ancient art, one classroom teachers know well: the oral tradition, the verbal transmission of art, ideas, knowledge, and culture.

“The oral tradition is one of the oldest and most powerful traditions there is. In terms of the value of the spoken word, it has shaped nations, changed politics, shaped society. It has the power to create revolutions. It certainly has the power to shape business and inspire people in industry, and in education.”

Keeping up (and Breaking with) Tradition

Andrews works to refresh and reignite the oral tradition with a modern blend of poetry, music, and presentation. What does that mean for the audiences he engages?

“I think it’s easy for an audience to get ahead of a speaker in the traditional format,” he says, “and I wanted to create something that kept morphing in modalities, kept hitting you in different ways, kept hitting different parts of you, so that you weren’t able to get ahead of it. That’s the value-add of poetic voice.”

His innovation lies not simply in the energy of his art, but also the power of his messages that he hopes exhilarates his audiences. 

“It’s not just inspiration,” he notes, “it’s not just feel-good. We’re going to get actionable content, we’re going to get actual education from this. That’s the real win.”

So, what makes Andrews excited to open TCEA 2020? When he speaks for businesses, be they shoemakers, healthcare workers, or salespeople, Andrews is often approaching the industry from the outside. With educators, he’s returning to a group of his former colleagues. 

“It’s great when I can go stand in front of a group of educators as an ex-teacher” he says, “and just talk. We can relax, loosen up our ties, let our hair down, and just be one with each other, because we understand each other.”

And besides bringing his energetic perspective, he’s excited to gain energy from a convention center filled with dedicated educators. 

“I feel like educators always come in with great energy. Teachers work on the ground level, they work with other people every day. They feel a sense of each other, and their humanity’s worn on their sleeve.”

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