Portland, Maine

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Sonya Tomlinson

Rapper turned teaching artist with the goal of keeping the performing arts alive for the youth of Portland.

Job Program Director and Educator / The Telling Room

Lives In The West End

In the ninth grade, I wrote a letter to my school board arguing that missing school for two weeks was worth the life experience I would gain. The board agreed. Weeks later I found myself being led by my big sisters through a massive carnival in the streets of Kingston, Jamaica on Boxing Day. Surrounded by costumes, dancing, pulsating music, deejays, and sound clashes- my life was changed forever.

Returning home, the rapid spread of hip-hop in the early 1990's seemed like the natural American counterpart to what reggae and dancehall were in Jamaica. It wasn’t about passively listening to the music – it was about being involved and music was only part of a broader cultural expression that included fashion, dancing, art, social justice and being creative. Hip hop became the driving force that has kept me connected to the parallels of music and community ever since.

You can check out my recent music video here.

Why did you choose Portland? The size, the geography, the music scene and the arts community. I had lived in Greensboro, North Carolina and Columbus, Ohio prior to moving here. I came for what was to be a 3-month trial period and here I am years later.

What do you like to do with out-of-towners? Bring them to the Eastern Prom, 158 Bake Shop, Ferry Beach, Ferdinand and Space and brag about how we got to all of these places without the hassle of traffic or waiting in any lines.

What's the most surprising thing about this city? That it contains the second oldest high school in the nation and that very same high school is now home to 1,000 students from 41 countries that speak 26 languages.

What's your favorite indulgence and where do you find it? The tofu buns and a bowl of ramen soup at Pai Men Miyake.

What's the most under-appreciated place or thing in town? Deering Oaks Park. I remember being enamored when I saw it in the scene of Whitney and Denzel skating in the movie, The Preacher's Wife.

Do you have a serendipity spot? Where do you always bump into good people? Omi's Coffee Shop and Rosemont Market.

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