All the corporate world's his stage

Spoken Word advocate Jamael Clark envisions poetry as an HR tool

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

For Jamael "Isaiah Makar" Clark, a spoken word teaching artist at Percy Julian Middle School and the spoken word coordinator for the Oak Park Education Foundation, the world is a theater and he's working on his most recent act — trying to take his show to Corporate America. 

"Anyplace I walk into, that's my stage," Clark said during an interview in December at the Beer Shop, 1026 North Blvd., in Oak Park. He had just finished an afternoon taping with District 200 school board member Matt Baron, whose local talk show, A Beer with Baron, airs on Oak Park Channel 6.

As far as he knows, Clark is something of a pioneer in using Spoken Word as a tool for professional development — a way to get employees to loosen up, decompress, stimulate their creativity, work more easily in teams, think outside of the box, innovate, and communicate more effectively. 

He calls it the Makar Theory and it has been generating attention from the HR departments of Fortune 500 companies, like W.W. Grainger, which have tapped Clark to show them how to leverage Spoken Word to develop their employees' collective potential.  

Clark often points to himself as a walking testimonial. While a student at Oak Park and River Forest High School, he was shy and reserved, and struggled with social anxiety. Near the end of his junior year, he decided to join the school's Spoken Word Club under the tutelage of longtime poet and educator Peter Kahn. 

The experience, he said, transformed him, boosting his confidence and giving him tools to navigate through life, and it couldn't have come sooner. In February 2009, a week after he performed during the club's winter showcase, Clark's mother had a stroke. 

"My mom worked in HR, so this is full circle," he said. "I think my mom's stroke may have come from overworking herself. She was in HR and had to constantly balance work and life. That got to her and that has, in part, motivated me to go back into the work environment." 

In September, Clark tried out his theory on a group of HR executives at Chicago's Merchandise Mart during a Ted Talk-style forum called, "Disrupt Chicago." True to his adage, Clark performed his presentation, called the "10 HR Commandments: Don't Think Small. Think Biggie," as a rap while wearing his trademark blazer and bowtie. 

Clark is rarely seen in public without that sartorial combination, which is only fitting for someone who takes the power of performance and projection seriously. 

The deliberation extends to his name. Makar, Clark said, "is a synonym for creative artist/poet, from the Greek word Makarios." If Clark's world is a stage, then he is the playwright and author of his persona. 

On stage with "Disrupt," Clark used his powers of self-creation and word-play to charm a room of more than 120 of the most scrutinizing people in Corporate America — leaders from companies such as All-State, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Google and Amazon — with lines like this:

"Number two: Every job interview should include candidate auditions for every single position. Cover letters? That could be just game they were spittin'. Talkin' like they Air Jordan, knowin' damn well they Pippin." 

The audience was spellbound. 

"My creativity isn't limited to a stage or a page," Clark said at the Beer Shop. "If I'm at the bar, that's a stage, if I'm teaching, that's a stage — no matter where I go, I've always prided myself in taking the same skills I used in Spoken Word and going on tour with them. I'm always performing, no matter what."

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com  

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