Described by Cornel West as an artist who “…speaks his truth with a power we desperately need to hear,” Bryonn Bain is a hip hop theater innovator, spoken word poetry champion, prison activist, actor and educator.
Wrongfully imprisoned while studying at Harvard Law, Bryonn sued the NYPD, interviewed with Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes,” and wrote The Village Voice cover story – “Walking While Black” which received over 100,000 replies — the largest response in the history of the nation’s most widely-read progressive newspaper. Bain organized prison workshops in 25 states on his annual tour to correctional facilities nationwide. His critically acclaimed one-man multimedia production, Lyrics From Lockdown – executive produced by Harry Belafonte – tells the story of his wrongful imprisonment through hip hop theater, spoken word poetry, calypso, classical music, and letters exchanged with fellow poet, Nanon Williams, who was sentenced to Death Row at 17 for a crime he did not commit. Developed in prisons across the country, the production has sold out on three continents with standing ovations in Europe, Asia and Africa. Bain’s latest film — “BaaaddD Sonia” — tracing the life and work of Black Studies pioneer and poet Sonia Sanchez, was nominated for a 2017 Emmy.
Bryonn’s discussions on BET’s award-winning show My Two Cents aired weekly in over 20 million homes, and his interviews have included Dolores Huerta, Tavis Smiley, LL Cool J, Tricia Rose, Tim Robbins and Snoop Dogg. Before performing in summer 2017 for over 30,000, along with Academy Award winner Common and hip hop artist J. Cole, his work was featured at the Apollo Theater, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, NY Public Theater, National Black Theatre, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, The Actor’s Gang Theater, Los Angeles Theater Center, Festival de Liege (Belgium), M1 Theater Festival (Singapore), Universidad de las Americas (Mexico), Muteesa University (Uganda), Rikers Island (New York), Marion Prison (Ohio), TEDX at Ironwood State Prison and Sing Sing Prison. His book, The Ugly Side of Beautiful: Rethinking Race and Prison in America (Third World Press) includes a foreword by Mumia Abu-Jamal and introduction by Lani Guinier.
After teaching the first hip hop and spoken word workshop at Harvard, Bain founded the prison education program offering college degrees from NYU to men incarcerated in New York. His courses offer innovative approaches to hip hop/theater, spoken word poetry and critical perspectives on prisons and Justice. In 2016, Bain began co-supervising UCLA’s International Human Rights Law Clinic and facilitated an initiative with incarcerated women to develop a 92-page needs/resources assessment for the LA Mayor’s Office of Re-Entry. Bryonn serves proudly as a faculty advisor for Underground Scholars and the Justice Work Group, which organized their inaugural conference in fall 2017 — “Beyond the Bars LA: The End of Mass Incarceration” — for nearly 1000 students, scholars, policy makers, formerly incarcerated activists and community advocates.