Lamin Johnson’s superpower is bringing people together. The Class of 2021 grad and spoken word artist is known for writing thoughtful and poignant poetry that bridges generations.
Lamin has performed two pieces for Cornell, including a poem composed in honor of the launch of Cornell’s university-wide To Do the Greatest Good campaign. Alumni from across the globe tuned in to the online event, and many expressed feeling inspired and proud to be a Cornellian after listening to Lamin’s piece, “A Farmer & His Dream.”
Lamin’s path to poetry started early. He immigrated to the U.S. from Sierra Leone at seven years old with his father and stepmother, arriving in a country that he didn’t know and surrounded by a language he didn’t yet speak. “My mother couldn’t come with us—we immigrated without her,” he adds, noting that his mother’s absence affects how he navigates spaces and relationships to this day. “I was torn from the only love I knew.”
At school, he was bullied for looking and sounding different, he says, and felt “distraught.”
Lamin turned to books donated through his school, learning to read English with The Cat in the Hat and Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. He discovered something that would help him navigate this new life.
“For some reason, words came easy to me. Books were my way to escape everything that was going on at home,” he says. “Through the process of escaping, I discovered something more beautiful, which was a passion for words. And I was drawn to words that rhymed a lot. I became interested in other literary devices and other forms of speech. I started realizing words were connected, and I was really fascinated by that.”