Being with artist, musician, poet/writer, blogger and former pastor Jeremy Ritch is easy.
Ask a question, sit back and listen; take it all in. No pressure. Ritch has a lot to say, and he doesn’t hold back.
He’s complex, has lived many lifetimes in quite a few places—Philadelphia, Atlanta and now Harrisburg. And while his beginnings date back 30-plus years to Cleveland, where he was “a white kid in a black neighborhood,” Ritch wouldn’t have it any other way. Those surroundings molded his passions, his concern and his yearning to speak out against injustice.
“My mom was open to people,” Ritch recalls. “She fed the kids in the neighborhood. I was very accepted, and it’s something that stays with you.”
Ritch’s mother was an artist, his father a bass player. Music was a mainstay in the home where Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Motown were played. Later, it was Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. Ritch started to write songs and recognized the “poetry” of country music.
“I wrote a lot of music,” Ritch says. “As a kid, my identity was through music. Music was my biggest influence and became everything. It was a way to escape. In Cleveland, I listened to black music and started to learn about punk rock.”
Musically, Ritch is currently writing with local singer/songwriter Nina Scarcia.
His old neighborhood is gone now but not Ritch’s rebellious spirit—a spirit, he says, that has been redirected and re-harnessed into the written word. Case in point: his poem, “Philadelphia (Take Me Back),” begins with “Mad love to Philadelphia/Mean street Killadelphia/Straight Illadelphia…”—and ends with “That’s Philadelphia/Just Relax and Chilladelphia.”
“While I was in college, I was obsessed with Philadelphia,” he says. “There’s so much diversity there.”
Ritch’s love of cities is evident in his latest book of poems, “Sidewalk Stories and Other Poems,” recently published by Atlanta-based Autumn+Colour.
Growing up that white kid in a black neighborhood resulted in his respect for groundbreakers like Martin Luther King, Jr., and baseball player Jackie Robinson as evidenced in Ritch’s “#42 (A Poem For Jackie).”
“Show those ignorant folks that it is time for a new day/Where we judge by character not by skin/Jackie helped break that down and he also did win/He was at the top of the game as an elite player/Robinson helped to quiet the racist naysayer.”
“Jackie Robinson sacrificed a lot,” Ritch muses. “Many people don’t have a voice. I’m not the most appropriate voice, but I do have one.”
That voice echoes in his blog, which is a mix of his poetry and the columns he writes for today’s the day Harrisburg, where he points out the injustices faced by the less fortunate, particularly those living in urban areas like Harrisburg. One that he is particularly passionate about is ending the “war on drugs,” which, he says, has devastated poor communities for decades, especially the African American community. Another is prison reform and making sure sentencing is fair for minor crimes.
“There are generations of black men who have been destroyed by an unbalanced justice system and by the ‘three strikes’ rule that many states have,” Ritch says. “The poor of our country are devastated by unfair drug laws. It is fine to find the source of these drugs and go after that, but punishing users and small-time dealers with outrageous jail terms is a great injustice.”
While there are two sides to every story, Ritch only knows to relay any one story with honesty—an attribute he values greatly. For instance, he’ll tell you without hesitation what needs to be fixed in Harrisburg: The arts district is too spread out, Allison Hill needs attention, downtown needs more retail, and something should be done about all the abandoned buildings.
While the themes of Ritch’s work are hope and justice, he does like to sprinkle in a bit of comedy because he loves making people laugh.
Yes, musician, writer, blogger and a former “man of the cloth.” This rebel, this Harrisburg citizen who wants his city to be the best it can be, has planted his roots in our fair city and is sticking around a while. It’s never been easy, but that’s okay.
“Growing up, our family had a hard life,” he says. “My mother knew I was a strong kid. I’d call myself a survivor.”
Find out more about Jeremy Ritch’s life and work by visiting his blog: jeremymarkritch.wordpress.com. His work also can be read at www.todaysthedayhbg.com.