Dre Johnson, aka "Duke the Bossman," first started spoken word while a freshman in high school.
The self-described emcee, artist, host and educator who has lost family and friends to murder, has found the art form healing, he says.
The East Oakland resident, 25, discovered poetry through a writing workshop, where he met the host of Tourettes Without Regrets, an underground performance art show in Oakland.
"It was bananas," says ¿Johnson, remembering the first time he saw the show. TWT inspired Johnson to keep going with spoken word. Since then, he has performed around the United States.
Johnson says his work is "centered around mostly real life and real life experiences." He says he likes to "let my poetry be as real as my life is."
Most of Johnson's work is inspired by his experiences living in East Oakland. "There's a lot of my poems that are about friends and family members that have been murdered, and being able to speak about it like that helps me heal those wounds."
One of Johnson's poems is about the murder of three of his friends. Two were killed just a day apart. In the poem, he writes how he and others around him "saw red" for the next two days after.
"We became demons," the poem goes, "plighting to perpetuate a cycle older than we."
After their deaths, Johnson says he saw himself "turn into this (expletive) monster, ready to get revenge and just do whatever. And I just can't talk about that conversation, but in the poem it's like, 'Yeah, I think about that too.'"
Growing up in East Oakland, he says, "the violence and crimes that go on, you don't talk about. You're just not supposed to name names, you're not supposed to say it out loud."
Johnson says his art allowed him to express his feelings. Poetry became one of the few ways he saw to address some hard experiences.
"I just shed all my fear about what anybody thought about how I felt," Johnson says of his decision to step on stage and share his work. "Every show that I've ever performed at across the entire country, there will at least be one person in the audience to come up to me and be like, 'Yo, thank you for sharing,' and that 'I feel the exact same way,' and that's really all I care about."
Johnson says that spoken word is a way to explore different kinds of poetry, and he's taught himself a lot about the art form.
Through his nonprofit, Digital Storytellers, he's been able to educate youth in various schools, empowering them to "speak their minds in an articulate way," particularly with their elders and peers.
Digital Storytellers serves Richmond High, Skyline High in Oakland, Hayward High and the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in San Francisco.
"Discovering your voice," Johnson says, "just allows you to be able to vocalize your feelings about stuff instead of holding it inside until it just boils over into something disgustingly ugly or violent."
Oakland resident Katrina Davis is a photographer who also enjoys reading gossip blogs and hanging out with good friends."I'm also a comic genius," she says.