“What I wanted my book to be was a voice to the voiceless.”
Local poet, activist, and middle school teacher Regina Duggins released her book, Black Coffee, No Sugar, No Cream, just nine months after her first book of poetry, Black Magic. And while she admits that’s a lot of writing, she doesn’t really see any other option: writing, for Duggins, is a way to work through her trauma. Even more importantly, it’s a way for her to connect to others who have experienced the same tragedies she has. She wants them to know they’re not alone.
Black Coffee’s poems touch on topics from police brutality to the LGBTQ company. “All that encompasses me,” says Duggins. “I’m glad I could go into these places and share my story.”
Since the release of Black Coffee, Duggins has spread her words with speaking engagements across the area; she was on the panel of the Black Ink Book Festival earlier this year. She also gets to share her poetry with her students. As a teacher at Military Magnet Academy, Duggins is a “reading interventionist.”
“I’m doing what I love. I’ve added spoken word in with them so they’re doing more speaking and verbalizing,” she says. Duggins’ students come to her with thick Lowcountry accents, with language that makes them who they are. She teaches them to incorporate their regional dialects into what she calls more “standardized” speaking. “It’s about how we can grow it and how we can make it so we can learn and pass tests and incorporate it into the world,” she says.
“I have mostly African-American students, so I talk about their culture so they can feel a sense of pride,” says Duggins. And she’s not just spouting niceties — Duggins is putting in work to find out more about her own family’s history, too. After moving to Charleston nine years ago — she wanted to bring her mother down from New York, to let her live in the state she grew up in — Duggins says she’s started to attend camp meetings, outdoor revival meetings.
As a writer, everything is fodder, but camp meetings for Duggins are even more than that. For her, they’ve taken on a level of importance that rivals her poetry: Both affect, deeply, how she feels.
“The first time I went to a camp meeting, I was so amazed at the spirituality. To see so many African Americans all in one spot, cooking, celebrating our family and our values, just to walk through was a sense of awe,” she says. “If that wasn’t a sense of pride, then nothing else is.”
Tapping into her family’s history and experiencing a culture she hasn’t before is all part of the life of Duggins, a woman who’s constantly making sense of the world. With her poetry she gets to, as she says, “unleash a lot of things” from a traumatic childhood, from a life dealing with discrimination. “With my book, I hope it changes the mindset that we’re that much different,” she says. “If I can bridge that through my words, and build empathy for people to know that if we have that many similarities, we can bridge the disparities.”
This past year Duggins put on yet another hat as the founder of Charleston Black Pride. “I’m a lesbian woman, a black woman — anything that has to do with that, is where my fight is, where my help is,” she says. Rather than explain away her seemingly busy schedule, Duggins seems to excuse herself for not doing more. “It’s hard to do something you don’t know.” Instead, she says, “If I know something, I want to share with you the best I can in the hopes to help someone.”
Duggins doesn’t know what’s next, but she’s got plenty of ideas. She has her middle school students create a career vision board so they’ve got ideas, too. “I tell them it doesn’t matter where you came from, it’s where you’re going. They believe it. ‘If Duggins did it, I can too. She came from something similar, she didn’t have two parents, she went to public school,'” she says. “During Black History Month, I’ll write a poem and I’ll perform it. They’ll give me nice comments and I’ll say, ‘You can write this too.'”