Reality Poets

The Reality Poets are a collective of Black and Latino truth-telling poets who use wheelchairs largely due to street violence and who work to save lives through art.

Bonded through a shared mission to spread a message of realness, resilience and healing, the Reality Poets educate young people, in underserved communities, about the consequences of running the streets, letting kids know that guns lead not only to jail or death but also to “life in the chair.”

At performance venues and online, the Reality Poets illuminate for audiences of all ages and backgrounds the injustices that breed violence in our cities and prevent some survivors from stepping into full, purposeful lives.

Interested in booking the Reality Poets? Get in touch here.

Find out more about the Reality Poets in their latest anthology, Wheeling & Healing: A Poetry Anthology Edited by OPEN DOORS Reality Poets.

The Reality Poets are:

Alhassan "El" Abdulfattaah

credit: Elias Williams

My shooting was random. I was going to the store. The guys in a passing car thought I was someone else, and they shot me. It was 2015. I had just graduated from high school and gotten a job. I was trying to get into college. This happened, and it shattered everything. You get shot, your whole life changes.

Phone blew up in hand no one to call..

Lady holding my bloody hand praying don’t know her from a hole in a wall

MtA man making The 911 call

Saying to myself it's not my time yet i still got more to see

Ambulance arrive putting me on the stretcher

Seeing all the eyes and stares didn’t make it no better

Went to the hospital friend came to visit

Told him look at my life now and see how I’m living

                                                         - EL

credit: Elias Williams

I grew up in the ‘80s in Bushwick, when it was the murder capital. As a young guy, I went to a public school. My dad was a music teacher. When I was 22, I was shot in the leg. When I came out of the hospital, my mom said, “Stay home. You need to rest your leg.” But I didn’t listen. When I tried to get back at the guy who shot me, I was shot 7 times. For hours, I was on the ground, praying. I stayed alive, but I lost the use of both my legs.

We need to educate people about the consequences of gun violence. Kids are left without a father. Kids never get to grow up. Life can be beautiful without violence! Stay focused and live your life, I tell them. Life is what you make of it. I was dying to die. Now I’m dying to live.

Now it's the time to realize who you are

If you can't be the sun brother and sister be a star

                                                           — King Tito Love

Micah Harris

credit: Elias Williams

Growing up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, I played basketball, football and handball, and hung out with friends. My mother was both mom and dad to meand my big sister. She worked two jobs. I saw what a struggle it was for a single mother to pay bills, put food on the table and raise us kids.

At 1 a.m. on August 16th, 1999, I was in a car with my friend Max at the wheel. When we stopped at a red light, two men jumped out of the car behind us, raced toward us, and started shooting. I was hit five times and lived. One bullet struck Max, and he died. The hit was basically about revenge. Max had shot one of these guys two months earlier. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. When they came for Max, I got shot, too. At first, I didn’t want to go on living. Now, thanks to support from family and my friend Bambi, I look forward to the future.

This wheelchair life is not a game

ever since i got paralyzed, my life hasn't been the same

But i will never be ashamed to let the whole world know my struggles and pain

                                                    — El Beardo

credit: Elias Williams

In 2005, I was shot in an argument over a dice game in the Fort Greene projects, where I lived. From the Hospital, I went to Goldwater for rehab. In 2013, they closed, and I came to Coler.

I always knew how to draw anything. If I had chosen to stay in school, I could've been a tattoo artist or an architect. Instead, I chose to be a drug dealer. Once I got paralyzed like this, I started using my phone to manipulate pictures, using more abstraction. I can still be an artist, just in a different way.

When we talk to people, I say what’s in my heart. I talk to kids as if they’re my own. I see my own kids every week. I have three boys and three girls, aged 14 to 25, and I talk to them straight up. That way they can feel they can be straight up with somebody else.

I ain’t found out what’s wrong with my city yet

To white cops black skin be the biggest threat

They’ll shoot up a church but will kill you for some cigarettes

You can still put your hands up and they’ll shoot you while you’re surrendering

                                                         — The Vartist

credit: Elias Williams

Growing up, I was athletic, in great shape. I played baseball and touch football with my friends, and every summer we went to Candlewood Lake. We swam and jumped into the lake from high rocks. I learned to conquer my fear.

I was wounded, but not by a gun. In 2014, I developed a rare lung condition that attacked my vital organs and left me paralyzed.

People here at the hospital try to amp you up. They say you can do anything. And that’s how I feel after I fell in love with motion graphics and making films. I study hard. I can’t remember your phone number, but I remember how to put a 3D camera into Z space. The body gets older, but we still have that little kid in us. Here in OPEN DOORS, I’m pretty much excited about stuff all the time. That’s the way to be: learning and pushing ahead.

Before and after shows us how, 

People change and flip around.

Before we used to be the men,

now we confined to this damn bed.

Before we used to walk the streets,

Now we can't even use our feet

                                                            — Jay

credit: Elias Williams

Seven years ago, I was robbed at gunpoint. The bullet put me in a wheelchair, and I wound up at Coler. I joined OPEN DOORS two years back, and I told them my ambition was to produce music. They found a great producer who came in every Friday to teach me.

Now I’m paying it forward. I got a grant to start a music school. I'm working with kids who don’t have the money for studio time, teaching them how to produce and that they're bigger than what their environment expects them to be.

I grew up 

Sugar milk drinking, corn beef hash eating, meatloaf loving  

Iceberg wearing, bb gun shooting 

Only thing that scared me was the mice


All I can hear was grandma saying

God will get you through anything so

On my knees I got and prayed

I grew up…

                                                           — V.I.

Peter Yearwood

credit: Elias Williams

I had polio when I was a baby. I lived in Belize back then, but I was transferred to a hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, where they tried to fix my legs. If I had been cooperative, the results would have been different. But that’s the past. Now I’m trying harder, still aiming to move around on my crutches.

I moved to the states in 1971, when I was 15 years old. I spent a lot of time in the streets, doing stuff I wasn’t supposed to be doing, including drugs. I wasted time using, selling, and the craziness that comes with it. So I made up my mind and quit. I said, “Self, this is the day.” And I stopped doing all that. Now, I’m 27 years clean.

I am not in this world to meet your expectations 

You are not in this world to meet mine 

Do not judge me by the way I talk, 

By the clothes I wear, or the way I walk 


I want the same things you do

Lend a hand 

Don't show me a gun or a knife 

They destroy life

Look in the mirror 

You will see me

I am just like you

Only human



Roy Watson

credit: Elias Williams

I was in jail at Rikers Island for drug possession. Eight days after my release, I got drunk, blacked out, and fell. I wound up in the hospital with a broken neck, paralyzed.

Before I joined the Reality Poets two years ago, I was doing nothing. Now I’m a motivational speaker and a poet. My most important message is stay away from drugs. Be a leader. Some of my friends didn’t make it to 25. Drugs destroy your families and relationships and can take your life.

I have a friend who moved from Harlem to Queens. Some guy offered him drugs when he was just a kid. He had enough sense to say no and keep it moving. I wish I’d had that much sense.

                                                 — Roy

In Memoriam

Suluk Johnson