Mitchell Award Honorees: Al Mills & Nnamdi Chukwuocha (Twin Poets)
Twin brothers Al Mills and Nnamdi Chukwuocha grew up as the sons of social workers in a vibrant and supportive Wilmington community.
“There was a group accountability that extended from ourselves to our house to our neighbors and then it went block and block until we felt like we were responsible for our whole community,” Mills recalled.
That childhood spurred the men to pursue social work careers themselves as well as public service – today Chukwuocha serves in the state House of Representatives while Mills serves on the City Council. Through both roles, the brothers have aided their communities, but it’s their artistic passion that has helped promote Delaware to the masses.
The brothers were encouraged to explore the arts by their parents, and they connected with poetry and its ability to describe themselves, their lives and their city. They began seeking out more poetry books at libraries around the city, and often carried armfuls of them to football practice.
“I think that poetry helped us become individuals. It helped us begin to grow,” Mills said.
They continued to work on their poetry through an enlistment in the Army that saw Chukwuocha stationed in Alaska while Mills did a tour in Iraq and began performing as the Twin Poets shortly thereafter.
As their talents became apparent to the local arts scene, Gov. Jack Markell named them Delaware’s 17th Poet Laureates, becoming the first Black recipients of the title. Since then, they’ve toured the country, written poetry books and performed for classrooms around Delaware.
“A lot of our poetry sadly deals with the hurt and the pain of the inner city, but if we’re not sharing the stories, no one else will,” Chukwuocha said. “We’re talking about the children we know; about these students and families who didn’t have the same opportunities that we had and there is no reason why these children shouldn’t have the same opportunities today.”
Poetry is a way to open conversations with those hesitant to listen and begin to make real change, he added.
“It all started with those books in our home,” Chukwuocha said.