Infinite Possibilities for Local Poet and Youth Mentor

Neal Jefferson II is changing the world one word at a time. The 19-year-old artist and poet, who performs as N.finite-BarZ, found his voice as a member of the city’s poetry community. He also discovered the tools to help at-risk youth find a positive outlet.

Jefferson’s father was a truancy officer and recommended his son for a position with the Jacksonville Teen Court System. Jefferson mentors kids to use art and poetry as a means for self expression and anger management. “It’s important to find a safe place. Find people who are supportive of you, people who want to help you grow and people who grow with you, and work with them,” says Jefferson. “There is power in having someone around you with similar interests as long as that somebody can help you grow.”

Jefferson wasn’t always so self-assured. On stage, he performs with the strength and confidence of a born leader, not the gawky high school kid who was clumsy with girls and uncomfortable in his own skin. “When I was a freshman in high school, kids were mean to me so I decided to teach myself how to freestyle rap,” he says. “I used to rap battle and got into poetry from there.”

As a sophomore, Jefferson formed a hip hop duo with his best friend and entered the school talent show. They called themselves Higher Logic and gave themselves stage names. “I picked N.finite because it sounded cool and ambitious,” he says. “Then people who didn’t know my name but heard my raps started calling me ‘Bars’ and so I put those two together and became N.finite-BarZ.”

Rapping in front of his peers gave Jefferson the boost he needed to bring his poetry skills to the local stage and he created a stylized infinity symbol to harmonize with his new persona. He attended his first poetry slam at 17, but found it difficult to put himself out there.

“A lot of people think it’s not nerve-wracking to actually get up there. Awkward doesn’t even begin to describe it,” Jefferson says. “It was very terrifying, restricting to have people looking at you. All the eyes are on you. At some point, I kind of realized they want you to see you do well, so why not do well?”

Jefferson credits Tonya Smart, founder of Jax Youth Poetry Slam, Inc., for creating a safe place for struggling young poets to develop their talent. “She gave not just me, but a lot of young people in Jacksonville, a voice with their poetry,” he says. “Through her, I was able to get into the community and see all the different aspects. The poetry community in Jacksonville is like a big family.”

When he’s performing, Jefferson takes special care to deliver his truth as his most authentic self, the infinity symbol on his shirt representing his unlimited possibilities. There is a freedom in his honesty that comes through in his work, whether he’s owning his awkward nature or encouraging youth to follow their own rules. “There is no right or wrong way. The only way to really do it in the wrong format is dishonesty,” he says. “Dishonesty can be whether you are hiding something even when you are writing or if you’re not performing it with the emotion that you wrote it with, like you’re holding yourself back or exaggerating. You have to give exactly how you feel.”

Much of Jefferson’s material is reflective of his own life and gives him a platform for self expression. “This is one of the things that drew me to it. It’s given me a means to get a lot of my feelings out that I’ve struggled with trying to articulate for a long time. I found that it was a lot easier to put something in a poem,” he says. “In some way, it let me be clear because I could explain it better. I like to use a lot of metaphors when I talk normally, so this makes it okay. It’s a lot of different moving parts that I can put together to make something different.”

Today, Jefferson is a regular at many of the city’s open mic poetry nights including The Cypher presented by Black on Black Rhyme every Thursday at the Burro Bar on Adams Street, and he often shares his voice at Art Walk and Verbal Essence, an open mic poetry night every Monday at Three Layers Café. Jefferson is working on a yet to be titled poetry and hip hop CD scheduled for release April 13. The young artist also draws, works in graphic design and printmaking, and attends FSCJ Kent Campus, where he’s double majoring in African American studies and Psychology. He hopes to become a professor of African American studies, but for now, he is living the change he wants to see in the world.

“I feel like I can do more by being a leader in the community, help my city, and eventually state, country, and the world,” he says. “I want to do want to do whatever I can.” Follow Jefferson, aka N.finite-BarZ at facebook.com/Nfinite-BarZ.

About Liza Mitchell