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KC Soundcheck: Unique and Marjai Neal

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A man with orange dreadlocks gestures with his left hand while talking at a microphone inside a radio studio.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Unique Sixteen talks about his poetry on KCUR's "Up To Date" on April 25, 2023.

Unique Sixteen and Marjai Neal are poets, both born and raised in Kansas City. One uses poetry to fight injustice and the other discovered the arts through hardship.

The two Kansas City poets on this installment of Up to Date’s KC Soundcheck are showing listeners the way poetry can be used to heal and endure tough times.

Unique Hughley, who performs as Unique Sixteen, was born and raised in Kansas City. He’s performed at poetry slams, competitions, protests and concerts around Kansas City, and he makes music.

At first, Unique wasn't interested in poetry. The first time he tried to get in to Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, he auditioned as a rapper and didn't make it. He auditioned for a second time and performed poetry instead, which led to his acceptance.

Growing up in Kansas City, Unique said, he didn't have it easy. He was surrounded by drugs, and family members were incarcerated. Once he found poetry, though, it was a way to "free himself," he said.

"I think at the beginning of my life, I was born with this fear of jail bars, you know, and that's kind of like rapping and poetry, you're rapping bars," Unique said. "So the moment I got a chance to free myself from that, I did."

A woman inside a radio clasps her hands while talking at a microphone inside a radio studio.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Marjai Rose talks about her childhood on KCUR's "Up To Date" on April 25, 2023.

Marjai Neal is also a product of Kansas City, and her talent has granted her opportunities to be featured on the "Today" show and being introduced to Opera.

Neal experienced homelessness at a young age, and sometimes wondered where her next meal would come from. But Neal didn't let those circumstances keep her from reaching her goals. Neal grew up in a house full of women, and credits her mom and two sisters for setting an example of how to stay strong.

"Having to protect and love, guide each other, all while going to school or trying to make ends meet or figuring out where we're gonna lay our head was very scary," Neal said. "But it also brought us super closer together."

Neal always used writing as away to harness her array of emotions. But it wasn't until a senior approached her to join the poetry team in high school that Neal found her love for the art.

  • Unique Hughley, poet and rapper
  • Marjai Neal, poet
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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
As an assistant producer on Up To Date, my goal is to amplify voices of people who serve as pioneers in their respective fields while shedding light on issues that affect underserved communities. I produce daily conversations to uplift and inspire the people of the Kansas City area to make the world a better place. You can reach me at reginalddavid@kcur.org.
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