Oompa got her name on the basketball court, but made a name for herself on the stage.
On Thursday, nationally-acclaimed Boston-born poet and rapper Oompa performed several of her pieces at an Upper School assembly. With an accompanist on guitar, she shared her deeply personal works that touched on race, gender identity, and family.
"It's better to write an honest poem, than a good poem," she told the girls. "You can write an honest poem and make it better, but you can't write a good poem and make it honest." And no one could question the authenticity of her work. In "I Deserve That," Oompa tells the listener, "If you're pretty and you know it clap your hands /If you're pretty and you know it and you ain't afraid to show it/you don't need permission girl/Go ahead, go ahead, and get it/Treat labels like a casket." In "Take me Back," against a chorus of "Back in the days when I was young/I'm not a kid anymore/but some days I sit and wish I was a kid again." She touches on the challenges of the present day: "I kiss a picture of my sister/watch my future wash away/then watch my sorrows fade to gray/ . . . I tried today, but I'm hurtin'/ so let's try again tomorrow."
Poetry is not merely a passion or profession for Oompa, it is, in a way, her salvation. Reflecting back on her adolescence, she says she was an angry teen; a couple of friends took her to a poetry slam and suggested that performance poetry might be a constructive way to channel her anger. "It was wizardry with words!" she said of the experience. She had found a medium for her energy and emotions.
As for her moniker, despite her self-described "short and stubby" stature, she had a talent on the basketball court and other players referred to her as "Oompa Loompa." A nickname referencing the diminutive factory workers from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may seem unflattering, but in this context, "it came from a place of love." For Oompa, it made perfect sense to use this term of endearment as her stage name.
Oompa impressed the girls with her confidence and comfort on stage, and they were delighted to learn that before she was able to support herself fulltime as a poet and rapper, she taught middle school math! Perhaps time spent in front of the classroom helped, in part, prepare her for stage success.