The ‘poet preacher’

The park blocks have long been a stomping ground for Bible preachers, some of whom have had less than positive ways of conveying their religion to passerby. But Cedric Jenkins’ delivers his message of Christianity in a different tone.

If you’ve been in the park blocks before noon, chances are you’ve heard him. His voice has a rhythmic, sing-song quality reminiscent of ancient African chants. His words are all original poetry, and his poems range in length from 20 lines to 11 pages.

He used to sell a broadsheet poem called “Word,” but now relies on donations from passerby, with many of whom he is on a first-name basis.

If you give Jenkins a donation, he will write your name in his prayer book, and pray for you that afternoon.

“I used to make four or five dollars per day. Then it went up to 13 or 20. Now I’m making 40 to 60 dollars per day. Fridays are especially good,” he said.

Jenkins was born and raised in Chicago. He spent five years in the military, and was stationed at White Sands Missile Base in New Mexico.

He was diagnosed with a kidney disease, and left the service with a Veteran’s Association stipend of $800 a month.

Jenkins moved to Seattle with his wife of 25 years, and his 2 children, from whom he is currently separated.

“We’ve broken up about 20 times,” Jenkins said.

Partly to exorcise his relationship woes, and partly to cover his living expenses, he began chanting his poetry last spring.

Jenkins views this as a promising beginning towards being discovered and hopes to one day make albums as well as publish his poems.

Despite the support park patrons have shown him, Jenkins has found Campus Ministries standoffish.

“It’s almost like they think I’m crazy, just because I’m out here,” Jenkins said.

This experience is nothing new to Jenkins.

“To tell you the truth, I never liked going to church. It’s a cliquish thing. They only want people who think like them, act like them. I notice especially in a lot of the Black churches the emphasis is on the show, and they’re not doing anything for the poor.”

Despite his disenchantment with organized religion, Jenkins likes to think of his fellow Park Blocks preachers as being part of the same team.

“But a lot of times they’re just like Jesus said they were: hypocrites, vipers, and snakes,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins’ philosophy emphasizes compassion for the poor above all other religious mandates.

To internalize this commitment, Jenkins never eats before 4 p.m., a sacrament inspired by his reading of Isaiah 58:6.

“Sell what you got, take up the cross. Even a king like King David was talking about it. The reason Sodom and Gomorrah went down was because of pride – they didn’t look out for the poor and needy.”