Hausson Byrd was an Encamper in 2014. Last year he facilitated a popular Zoom workshop at the 2022 Encampment, talking with the Encampers about the role of art in social justice. We interviewed Hausson to learn about his journey from the Encampment to the life he has created as a poet and performer.

What did the Encampment give to you?

The biggest thing the Encampment gave to me was my connection to art … We had an art section in the dorm and Jane [Sapp] was playing the piano, and we were making a song or something. I don’t even remember what it was, but I remember wanting to sing.

I got around to singing. I wasn’t really confident — I wasn’t a very confident kid back then. I remember Hubert [Sapp] encouraging me to sing whatever song we were making. I remember Jane letting me do my own thing there, next to the piano. And then I wrote a poem in that workshop that we ended up spitting at the end. We did a little circle performance and  everybody said something. I think I started it out with the poem, and then I ended it with a poem. It was that encouragement to sing, and encouraging me to speak and be on a stage. All of these things I have watched manifest themselves in my life several times over.

Click here for Hausson reading his “Poem for the Sapps.”

… I owe everything to the Encampment in a way, because yes, everything that I’ve done is my choice. I wake up every day and I choose to live this life that I’ve created. But the Encampment was the first time. The Sapps were the first people to encourage me to sing, without judgment. I don’t know who I would be without that, because I never allowed myself art in that way. I love what I do … I am so blessed to be able to give anyone who walks into my presence what I have been given. The only way I can continue this is to pass it along. All of this is for the people, and I appreciate it.

Why is the EFC important now?

I think it’s important because school is made to build factory workers. School is made to build drones. School is built for obedience. The Encampment was one of the first youth programs where I could learn and grow and be in a group of youth. It was one of the first opportunities I had to be away from my parents. It was one of the first opportunities I had to be in a community with other like-minded youth. It’s important because of the experience that it provides outside of the norm — the uniqueness of it … Its dedication, devotion, mission, alignment toward social justice education, indigenous energy, art and culture. These are things that they are trying to destroy every day. It’s a unique space in terms of cultural leaders who are built from a community of diversity. It’s one thing to get that lens with everybody on your block or people in your city. It’s another lens to have these conversations at that age and work through issues with  kids from across the country.

I got what I needed. I didn’t need history — I needed art; I needed culture; I needed inspiration; I needed confirmation and encouragement. It’s a space where youth can get what they need and that’s important.

Click here for a video of Hausson talking about why EFC is important now.

How has the Encampment influenced your life?

I remember getting home and it was like being a different person. I felt like I had just woken up in a way, from the first two years of high school to going to the Encampment and then into the last two years of high school and then college.

As a freshman at NC A&T State University, I was supposed to attend two events outside of class for my freshman studies requirement. The type of person I was then — I chose a poetry slam. I’ve always had a distant connection to poetry — if you lined up a list of art things for me to do, I was probably going to pick poetry because it was low-ball, easy. Right?

The one poem that stuck with me was “A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes. At that time, poetry started popping a lot on social media. I was seeing poems on my phone and getting familiar with that. I was going to the poetry slam, but if you performed at the poetry slam, that counted for two events. I had written one poem before the slam and I researched it — there were three rounds. I had one on my phone so I wrote another poem that night and then I had two and a half poems for the three-round poetry slam – crazy! I went with the poem that I had memorized. I struggled through it and got it off, and then sat down to watch the rest of the poetry. I got knocked out in the first round.

Currently one of my best friends — I consider her my big sister, Jha’mai, competed in the poetry slam with two other people from this organization called the Poetry Project in Greensboro. I watched her win and I asked if I could write a poem with her. She referred me to Josephus, who leads the Poetry Project, and after that I started running with them. I started spitting poems and doing art in college. Before that, I didn’t leave the dorm room. I played video games. I went to class. I ate. That was it.

I started spitting poems. I started writing regularly, researching. I got into battle rap, and slam poetry and performance poetry. That year, I spit a poem for a dance show. We spoke poems and then the dancers danced to our poems. That was my first show. It was a collaborative art experience. Over the next two years, I just got more and more into spitting and eventually spitting poetry professionally and unlocking my inner artist. That was a direct result of the poem that I wrote that day at the Encampment, and being encouraged to get on stage.

I didn’t grow up the type of kid that liked stages, likes attention like that, or crowds, but it just kind of snowballed. I got on the Gate City Youth Team twice through the Poetry Project. I just finished my third year on the Bull City Slam Team, the adult team in Durham, North Carolina. I started spitting with poetry groups all across North Carolina. I joined a group in Winston. I joined a group on A&T’s campus.

Eventually, I got tired of all of those and I created my own Poetry Club on campus. It died down during the pandemic but it’s starting to revive. Throughout all of this, I started writing. I published my first book in 2018, four years after the Encampment. I kept rapping and getting more confident in the music and creating. I have been all across this country. and to a few other countries, spitting poems and networking with people, building connections. I’ve gone to several national and International poetry festivals, networked and built my skills up. I’ve performed in front of thousands of people in the last six years — which is a long way from the person who walked into the Encampment and wasn’t standing in front of a crowd at all.

I had really built my life in poetry, being a leader on my campus in art, and the founder and president of a poetry club, and creating space for other people to spit poems. And we were doing events. We created a slam team on the A&T campus to compete against other colleges all across the country. We had connections and had hosted events with Duke’s, UNC Chapel Hill’s, and UNC Asheville’s poetry slam teams, and built those types of relationships and connections with poetry organizations across the state.

Then the pandemic happened and shut all of that down. I focused on finishing college and doing internships and different things. It was a time that was heavy with uprisings that were happening as well. I bided my time waiting for the world to open back up and slowly it did, early in this year. I started performing again, which eventually led to me meeting April Parker, an incredible person, activist, artist and organizer in North Carolina. I worked on a project with her called the Black Creatives Revival, which eventually led to me getting hired as the program manager for the Elsewhere Living Museum, an art museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. That’s what I’m currently doing now… outside of my artistry — really inside of my artistry, because nothing that I do here at this museum is anything that I haven’t been doing for the last three or four years — creating space for other artists to be themselves; creating safe spaces in the community for members of all shapes colors, sizes, creeds, codes to come and gather and exist; and passing along the spark that Hubert and Jane gave me to allow people to unlock their inner artistry in a safe space without judgment.

I’ve also started reconnecting with my drum. I’ve been drumming my whole life with my family. And recently, I’ve decided that I’m going to start singing seriously and adding that to my artistry.

What’s it like to have been an Encamper and then eight years later to be a speaker at the Encampment?

It’s my job. It’s what I do every day. It’s the very least that I can do because I know what a single spark does, not just in the moment, but what it has a potential to lead to eight years down the line … Every day, I build community and every day I realize and learn and unlearn and grow what that means. Every connection, every hour, every second, every conversation is a chance to give somebody that spark.

It doesn’t always work. I don’t always remember — sometimes I’m tired or distracted. But every day, I’m reminded of why I’m here … I didn’t create this life on my own… Every door was opened for me until I was able to open them on my own. I’m inspired — every day, I can find something to be inspired by. Every day, I wake up, I learn a lesson. Every day, I wake up, I live a poem. I live a song. When I speak with spiritual mentors, they tell me, “You are walking in your purpose,” and I can feel that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. To be able to find love and light and joy and community and camaraderie and loyalty — to be able to experience the life I am experiencing — as a Black man in America, I am guaranteed nothing except death, so I take none of this for granted.

Links to Hausson performing:

Super Predator –


Best Way to contact with Hausson:

Hausson (second from right) with the 2014 Encampment at a service project.