Twenty years old and having just given birth to her third child in urban Chicago, Angelica Heaney’s biological mother asked God and her baby girl’s soon to be adoptive parents to make sure of one thing: that Angelica would learn to read and write.
Sixteen years later, the performance of “A Letter to my Birth Mother” became a defining moment in Angelica’s adolescence where she realized her true destiny. Angelica had a voice of power, one that could move not only her, but those who came to hear her perform.
Angelica reflects back on this performance like it was yesterday, as “one of my most life-changing moments," laughing nostalgically about how she shook with nerves and sweat the entire time.
The touching words a white male classmate expressed to Angelica after her first performance were like a poem in itself and showed Angelica that she truly held power as an artist…
“I realized then that I am powerful...I can tell my story and move individuals who have no relation to me or what I’ve been through.”
Like many preceding creative geniuses, the fine line between pain and power serves as the driving force behind artistic breakthrough. Angelica recounts her introduction to poetry as being the corny scribbled love poems that helped her through a most painful time in her adolescence. She transferred schools while simultaneously trying to figure out who she was meant to be in this world and "writing was the only way I could communicate in the most confident way…”
Angelica has been creating unapologetically ever since with no intention to please or appeal to a specific audience -- every artist’s dream -- "I am authentically Angelica, with no boundaries and absolutely no filter.” This is the essence of the power Angelica draws from her art, coupled with the poignant perspective of kinship being rooted in humanity.
"We often don’t understand how interconnected we all are. Even though 99.9% of the time I am speaking about my experience as a black woman, others can feel where I am coming from...We are all human at the end of the day.”
Angelica emphasizes the importance of surrounding herself with other artists to inspire creativity, which she is able to do through her University Club, "Words", made up of black poets and rappers.
“It is truly stimulating to be around individuals who can relate to me but who also bring their own perspective and energy to the table. Inspiration is about finding the beauty in worlds beyond my own.”
Angelica’s pursuit of her art dates back to the nurturing environment her white parents have built from the ground up, and not just for their own children. Angelica’s father grew up in the 1950’s Southside Chicago, a time when the city’s ‘white flight’ phenomenon fueled communities of ignorance, hate, and racism. Angelica's father garnered true purpose as he instinctively protected and stood up for the black neighborhood children. He set out to one day adopt and raise a child from his own community with a focus on education, creativity, and true celebration of their black identity. “My father always says ‘Love and education is the key...there are no bad children, only bad parents’.”
Exuding Femininity and Blackness will always remain the goal of Angelica’s work in her pursuit of vulnerable storytelling, much like her literary inspiration, Toni Morrison. To Heaney, Morrison has a unique eloquence in dialect that helps the reader visualize the ‘black experience’ of women and girls, specifically as they transition from girlhood to womanhood
“I just hope to be as well versed in my own personal blackness as Toni Morrison is in hers...to be able to create the pieces that Toni Morrison has created....you really have to be in tune to who you are...”
Angelica truly honors her heritage by broadening the understanding of what it means to be a black woman through her performance art.
“I think that because we are ‘black’ as a collective, we are put into a box of ‘who we are supposed to be’, ‘what we are supposed to excel at’. I hope to break that box completely through my art….to show others that you can build your own world; you can be anything you want to be in this life. It’s not just about being black, but being a person with a unique story.”
It is clear that the love and passion Angelica exudes truly creates a safe space for her peers and fellow artists to connect, share, and inspire. This remains a sweet, full circle homage to her family, who continues to be living proof in Angelica’s life that you can create a place for others to feel safe and to be seen, even if you haven’t walked a mile in their shoes.
“I hope others can find the same purpose that I have found in my life. It is in the most profound moments of our lives, where true inspiration comes.”