What exactly is a life change agent, you may ask? Well, it’s a culmination of laying foundations and becoming an architect of sorts within your community. It’s the ability to be a guide or resource while extending yourself to your people in whatever relation your gift is to what you are projecting. Additionally, it provides access to your gift to make someone’s life better. Finally, you’re intentionally leaving a personal and individualized social impact footprint. That’s a complete and meaty definition, and Roen Higgins wholeheartedly fits the description through and through.
A special education technician for the English Montreal School Board for over twenty years, Higgins is not a novice in communication and establishing connections. To understand how poetry became her vessel to serve, we must go back to where it all began. Even though she was always spittin’ verses and writing rhymes from time, she never took it seriously until serendipity hit.
“Until Love Jones came out, poetry was not cool. In my mind, poetry was like Shakespeare. It was roses are red, violets are blue,” she chuckles. “But I was at an event where the MC had asked for somebody to come on stage to get a free k-os CD. When I got up there, she said, okay, now you have to sing for it. I don’t sing! But I started freestyle rapping on the spot. In the end, people were asking me to sign up as a dub poet to spoken word events, and that’s how it all started.” Since then, Higgins has been scorching stages, performing as a spoken word artist under the moniker BlueRiva via her company The Elevated Creative. She is also part of the long-standing KalmUnity Vibe Collective and L'Art Selah collective.
Poetry became the conduit for Higgins to process her personal experiences with her time in foster care and her mother’s mental illness. In turn, this also became a way for her to express herself and share with others. “I became a servant agent through poetry. I wanted people to know that they were not alone dealing with mental health issues and different stuff we see in the media. I was here to serve those waiting to hear something that could bring them joy, clarity or healing; that can make them think differently. It states in my profile that I don't leave the stage without a solution, but I'd like to think that I don't leave the stage without making you think.”
Higgins is a storyteller, so she’s very conscientious about the perspective of the one-track narrative. However, she carves it by wielding a knife sharpened by a balance of creative well-being, community care, culture, and creativity. “ I'm inspired by what happens around me,” says Higgins. “I believe we need to elevate. My whole concept is elevating in life. So anything I see out there is shared if I feel like it touches my heart. Those are the four aspects and four ingredients.”
Higgins is also a community organizer, providing safe spaces for men, women, and youth to engage and foster discussions on topics that matter to them. In 2019, she planned and coordinated Fresh Cut: A Barbershop Project that focused on bridging dialogue between young men and community elders in a barbershop setting. And her event, Shift, gathered women together in 2019 to recognize and accept the ways their life will shift and encourage how they love and care for themselves.
These spaces have become increasingly essential, especially with the pandemic ripping and roaring through Black communities. But, as we’re all aware, having necessary outlets available for stability and socialization is detrimental. It’s something Higgins sees many struggle with daily. “If you don't have the gym, your faith base, the place where you did fellowship, or even the bar—minimizing and removing those things have caused a rise in domestic violence and child abuse,” states Higgins. “It's so necessary for people to have that time to unplug. You can’t move out of that same environment.” Higgins also continues to do vision board parties and brunch gatherings to provide what she calls a healthier way to support each other.
When we live in a world centred around cancel culture and a multitude of clashing opinions via social media and various outlets, Higgins feels there is a gaping black hole when it comes to society’s humanity, compassion, and integrity. Yet, it would be incomprehensible to skirt around the question, how do we serve with love? How do we continue to support and unify the Black community every day, during trying times and beyond? How can we continue to share perspectives, emotions, stories, and a positive and truthful narrative? These are questions that changemakers find responses to.
When Higgins is asked as a changemaker what chord she wants to strike with people and what she would like everyone to remember her for, she pauses, bows her head in thought, and proceeds to respond, “That’s a very rich question. It’s something I do think about every day, but for myself, it's to think differently. Like if someone rolls up, and you're like, that homeless guy is coming to my door…these things that we allow to throw us off—how can we be more compassionate? How can I serve and share and connect with others with a heart of love and compassion and just give grace? So it's really to think differently, you know? Just to serve with love in everything that we do.”
This story is part of our 10-part series, "Black History Month Changemakers."