It’s hard to nail down just everything Dannie Boyd does. Boyd, who works under the name Dannie B, is a poet, a photographer, and spoken word artist; he’s also an adjunct professor of communications at St. Louis Community College – Florissant Valley. Born and raised in Ferguson, Boyd not only provides a model for what an arts career can look like locally, but is supporting the next generation of creative professionals.
“I tell all my students I literally started off in the exact same classroom they did,” said Boyd, a first-generation college student himself. “That makes a tremendous difference when it comes to connecting with the students and helping them envision what it’s like moving forward in their first year in college.”
The multidisciplinary artist has forged an unconventional path, one he’s found support for within the St. Louis arts community. But to trace Boyd’s artistic roots, you have to look back to his high school years—or even before. Boyd cites his “musical family” as a crucial piece of his arts education—where he first started flexing his muscle as a filmmaker. He’d film his classmates’ rap battles every morning before school. Boyd was creating content, although at that point, he didn’t yet consider himself an artist.
That changed when he started college as a student at Florissant Valley, where he enrolled in journalism classes and on a whim, a creative writing class.
“When I took the poetry class, I realized I not only had a gift for visual storytelling, but also creative writing,” Boyd said. “That’s sort of how I made my entry into becoming a written artist and a spoken word artist. Throughout my undergrad, I started to get more creative with photography.”
In 2009, he was voted “Most Prolific Poet” by his Flo Valley classmates. That only emboldened him further. Meanwhile, he was developing his skills and sensibilities as a documentary photographer.
But Boyd said spoken word has resonated with him because it tends to talk more about social issues and life experiences that are more relatable to people. And those are the themes that Boyd said are core pillars to his work: romance and social justice, with a little travel laced in there.
There are elements Boyd calls “synergies” within his work. He’s teaching at the very institution where he was once a student. He’s also teaching in the very area he was raised. it’s no coincidence that there is a strong sense of purpose to the Ferguson native’s body of work.
“I’m from the area so I’m learning about my own environment and my own community from a different perspective as an educator. I’m also working with the students and can see all the things that happened before Mike Brown was killed and what the community was like, and how things have kind of evolved since then, through the eyes of the current students,” Boyd said. In fact, Boyd has performed a spoken word piece that delves into his experience photographing Ferguson in the aftermath of Brown’s death in 2014. This work is deeply personal for Boyd.
“That informs my work as an artist. I’m getting to actually experience the community from a new perspective. And being an educator, that allows me to have a greater understanding of the community as whole.”
Boyd is not an anomaly; St. Louis has a robust artist community full of people who deeply care about the city. For another example, look no further than Mvstermind, a local musician who’s helping teach the next generation of artists by hosting an annual intensive. Boyd, for his part, credits the community for raising him up and allowing him to have the career he has today. He shared an anecdote that demonstrates the type of support he’s gotten.
“Once I got out into the Greater St. Louis spoken word and poetry community. I remember meeting a lot of more seasoned poets that pushed me and saw the basic talent in me and encouraged me to be better,” he said. “There was one poet in particular who unfortunately passed away earlier this year, named Copacetic Soul and the first night I met him, I [was thinking], ‘okay, I’m kind of good at this poetry thing. I’m going to give this amazing performance.’ After my performance, he pulled me to the side and said, ‘you know you can do a lot better than what you just did if you actually practice.’
Boyd said that was a formative moment. “You kind of have this prepubescent ego as an artist, and then someone kind of brings you down to reality. But in hindsight, you realize that it was sort of one of the best things for someone who has the experience to see the talent and also to be able to see where you can grow. And that was probably one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me as an artist, having another artist say I see your potential.”
That’s how Boyd realized his own potential—and how he’s helping others like his students do the same.