by Jessica Harris; featured photo of Jayla Rose Hart by John Robinson
You might not have heard of multi-hyphenate artist and poet Jayla Rose Hart, but undoubtedly it won’t be long before you do. Jayla’s star burns brightly and, thankfully, she has no plans of dimming her shine any time soon.
Over cups of herbal tea, Jayla smiles and tells me that she is a “poet, researcher, writer, baker, and woman who likes to just pick up hobbies and run with them.” At the end of the day, she says, “I am a creator.”
Without a doubt, this phrase captures Jayla’s essence quite well. Jayla is a poet and spoken word artist who seems to never stop creating. In addition to writing, her art forms include fashion design, painting, performing – and even, in her view, research and policy work. You name it, Jayla does it.
The second youngest of eleven children, Jayla was born in Harlem, New York City, but was raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. “I like to say I proudly claim both coasts,” she grins. “I’m happy that my home is pretty well-scattered across the U.S.”
Jayla’s now spent the past five years in Charlottesville where she prepares to graduate from the University of Virginia with a Master’s in Public Policy. She also completed her undergraduate degree at UVA, creating her own major focused on socio-political psychology with a minor in Global Studies in Education. This combination of foci is another example of her innovative – and often interdisciplinary – spirit.
She’s always found ways to weave poetry into her work. For her undergrad thesis, she wrote a poetry book that detailed how Black women find belonging at predominantly white institutions. Rather than relying only on academic literature, she prioritized the real-life experiences of Black women. “And poetry was a really beautiful way of achieving this,” Jayla said.
Her interest in poetry is perhaps unsurprising, as she is the daughter of a librarian and has held a love for writing for as long as she can remember. At UVA, Jayla found a home at Flux Poetry and Spoken Word. She served on Class Councils, as an orientation leader, and as co-chair of Housing and Residence Life. Most visibly, her poem “My Serpentine” was featured in the dedication of UVA’s Memorial to Enslaved Laborers.
Jayla is, as you say, good with words. She crafts them in such a way that leaves folks sparked to act, reflect, and connect. “My artistic mission statement really is ‘how do I find different forms to heal?’ There are so many different ways that I get to express myself, and I feel in each of those honest, creative expressions, a part of myself is healing,” she said.
blossom with no end
by Jayla Rose Hart
one day, baby blue skies bury themselves behind rainclouds. the next, they briskly shed off their grayness and blush beneath the sun.
somewhere in between, I find myself doing the same.
spring is my soul season.
the time of my beginning which always end with a humbling realization that I am still alive, still allowed to redefine myself.
Her writing and mission led Jayla to be perfectly positioned to work on The Black Monologues (TBM). Entering its eighth year, TBM provides a platform for Black students to write, star in, and direct a production that tells their authentic stories via monologues and spoken word. Prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic, The Black Monologues were held on the stage, but have since shifted to the virtual format.
“It really is about students being able to tell our experiences of Blackness,” Jayla says. “And however that experience is captured, we as a team figure out the best way to share that story with other people.”
However, this year’s production was different. Following the tragic shooting last November that took the lives of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry, the TBM team took time to heal and recuperate. Some participants – including Jayla herself – were present on the scene that night, and wanted to ensure that the production could serve as a tool for healing.
The spring 2023 film is also unique in that it features solely 13 Black women as the cast. “Given the nature of the group,” Jayla shared, “we really wanted to focus it on Black womanhood, sisterhood, and how the Black diaspora in and of itself exists, even in a place like UVA.” As such, this year’s show is titled “Portraits of a Free Woman,” and the show’s pieces tackle topics like Black joy, grief, navigating community, and more.
by Jayla Rose Hart
hear the crescendo of all the Black girls who refused to die, all the Black girls who survived.
all the Black women mourning their sisters and mothers and grandmothers and aunties
and always make time to mourn everybody else in between.
hear the harmony from the Black girls who are still healing,
from the Black girls who are ready to be Black women,
for the Black women who proudly claim their freedom.
I swear you’ve never heard a sound so liberating.
Jayla participated in TBM the past three years, starting as a writer then adding performer to her title. This year, along with Micah Ariel Watson, Jayla wore many different hats – writing three of the show’s seven pieces and providing directorial support in the creation of the film. It was a herculean lift, considering the entire production had to be written and completed in eight weeks.
Despite this hefty charge, Jayla notes that the production meant so much to the cast and crew. “It captures how important it is to have the arts, however that comes to you, because I think there’s still a lot of sorrow, pain, and grief that’s happening not only within UVA, but within Charlottesville more broadly,” she said. “Things are definitely challenging, but through art, we bond and carry each other through difficulty.”
As for the audience, Jayla hopes that after people watch TBM, they “feel just like they’ve been swaddled by a warm hug,” she laughs. “I hope this film is that hug where you’re like, ‘Oh, thank you for hearing me and embracing me and allowing me to hold this space for myself to feel.’”
“It really validated for me that this is the work that I want to do with my life,” Jayla said.
After graduating in May, Jayla is moving to Washington, D.C. to work as a Research Analyst in the areas of affordable housing and community development. But rest assured, her art isn’t going anywhere. “My biggest goal is getting a publisher so I can publish my first full-length book. I’m also really excited to start publicizing my poetry,” she said.
As we sipped the last of our mugs of tea, Jayla shared her closing thoughts. “To whoever reads this,” she said. “I hope that you take away that poetry and the written word are wonderful ways that we get to capture each other’s stories. For Black women and Black folk in general, a matter of us being able to tell our stories on our own terms, using our own language, is such a beautiful thing that we should not take for granted.”
This, dear reader, is a message worth heeding. And who better to lead this charge than Jayla Rose Hart.
To watch the Black Monologues, visit: https://vimeo.com/825297214/dde18f0971
To connect or learn more about Jayla, you can follow her @rosejayhart on Instagram