Jordon Veira, a driving force in Toronto’s spoken-word community whose poetry and work in local schools sought to empower Black youth, died in hospital earlier this week following an asthma attack. He was 26.
Known to many simply by his initials, JV, Veira was a familiar presence within Toronto’s arts and education communities. He was a co-founder of The Heard, an arts and equity organization for Black youth, and founder of Black Boy Brave, an initiative to teach and mentor Black boys about mental health, toxic masculinity and self-care.
He melded his poems with activism, striving to empower his peers and community through spoken-word, song and conversation. In one, a tale of a captive elephant that he performed in classrooms and at poetry slams, titled “Five-Foot Post,” he encouraged listeners to identify their struggles in order to overcome them.
“How do you tame an elephant?” Veira says, performing the poem’s verses in a 2015 interview with the CBC. “You tame his mind. You get him to believe the phrase, ‘I can’t.’”
Like the animal, he says, “We all have things that we’re tied to, things that hold our freedom captive, things that we’ve outgrown. It could be mental, spiritual, physical, emotional, but we all have five-foot posts.” The poem concludes: “What is your five-foot post?”
Veira’s sudden death brought an outpouring of tributes from local artists and educators who worked with him in area schools.
“Rest in Power, friend,” youth motivational speaker and rapper Anthony McLean wrote in a tweet. “We can’t wait to hear the new music you just finished.”
Also in a tweet, the Peel District School Board called Veira “a true leader” and said he was instrumental in its “We Rise Together” campaign and “inspired countless @PeelSchools students and staff members, especially Black students.”
“Because of his approachable nature, it was very easy for young people to relate to him, to connect with him, to open up (to) him,” said poet Dwayne Morgan, a friend and mentor.
He wanted young people who “grew up in communities where mental health was taboo, to actually start paying attention to it,” Morgan said.
Veira began performing his poetry at the age of 18 but, his mother Coco Veira said, his affinity for the arts goes back further.
“Since he was 4 years old, he had a way with words,” she said. “He was always the perfect combination of an intellectual living soul.”
In interviews, Jordon Veira said he took inspiration from his mother, also a motivational speaker, who could command an audience “like no one else.”
“Spoken word is my connection to my ancestry, my connection to my people, and it’s my gift to the world to share my truth and share my story,” Veira told the CBC. “I felt a need to get other kids, who didn’t have the same amazing influences as I did for parents … I saw that many of my peers didn’t have that direction and struggled in their own ways.”
The Peel school board earlier this week called the poet an “equity champion & beloved for his advocacy & his belief that every child must be offered the conditions in which to thrive.”
He worked with the York Region School Board, facilitating classroom workshops around the arts and fostering discussions about mental health, self-care and masculinity.
Veira’s sister, Shamaia Veira, said he had recently recorded more than 30 songs for a new album, which he completed Saturday, the day before he died of after suffering a severe asthma attack — a condition she said he struggled with for most of his life.
Shamaia Veira said she hopes her brother’s album, titled The Good Part, will be released soon.
“He was brilliant,” she said. “Every time I heard a poem of his, it was like that was what I was thinking but I had no clue how to put it into words. He had such a way of explaining things that was so encouraging and inspiring.”
Veira is survived by his mother and his three sisters.
His family said it is planning a public celebration of his life in August.
With files from Ilya Banares and Sherina Harris
Jacob Lorinc is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @jacoblorinc
Raneem Alozzi is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @r_alozzi