Ryan Jones | From Student to Performer

by Poet Ryan Jones

“So, we’re headed up to Chattanooga for a few days for this national conference for activities boards like ours. If you can spare missing a few days of class, let me know and you’re free to come.”

“What the name of the conference again?”

“NACA South. Short for the National Association of College Activities.”

It’s incredibly difficult to wrap my head around the idea that I’ll be attending NACA South again this year, nearly 4 years after I last went. Not as a student this time, no. Though, I remember fondly the time I spent with good friends, roaming around the exhibition area, checking out each booth, collecting a bag-full of different swag. I will not be attending as an advisor, either. But rather, front and center, on the showcase stage with Neon Entertainment. When I last attended NACA 4 years ago, I was headed into my senior year of college. I had aspirations of being a “professional” spoken word artist, but really had no means of achieving that dream. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I had friends who believed in me, and a top twenty finish at that year’s College Union Poetry Slam Invitational with the first collegiate slam team in Georgia to compete at the competition. But, I didn’t feel like I could I compare to the likes of someone like G. Yamazawa; one of the poets I remember who showcased that year. G was someone I had only seen in YouTube videos online, but felt like I knew on a first name basis by watching his poems… That was someone I could only aspire to be.

And I spent the next four years of my life bringing those aspirations to fruition.

After I graduated from college, I started working at an environmental consulting firm as an engineer… but I couldn’t shake the itch of poetry. I’d spend my nights after work attending event after event, performing whether I was feeling sick or feeling well (I’m sure there’s a video of me out there somewhere almost passing out after performing while I had the flu). Spoken word and poetry had become a part of me. So much so, that in 2018, I decided to quit my job to pursue a career in spoken word. An honest leap of faith, because I had no idea where I’d land. And funny enough, I landed right back where it all started: with Neon Entertainment at NACA South.

Since taking the leap of faith, I’ve toured all over the country (and Canada!) performing my poems for diverse crowds. I’ve placed 13th in the world for spoken word, I’ve featured on the Season 2 Finale of BET’s The Quad as a spoken word artist, and I’ve even done a poem at a TEDx conference. It’s all been leading up to this: the first moment of many to come. I’m excited to return to NACA South, not only because I’ll get to see my old stomping grounds in a new light, but because my attendance as a showcase artist also means that dreams come true if you put the work behind them. These past four years have been tough, they’ve presented challenges that there’s no way I could have foreseen, but there’s always been a reason to keep moving forward– a reason to keep dreaming, and bringing those dreams to life.

I’m excited to get the chance to bring our dreams to life together.

See you soon,
Ryan Jones