Ryan Jones is an environmental engineer and a poet. He graduated from Mercer University in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and a master’s degree in engineering management and now resides in Atlanta. His day job is in the land protection branch of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, but he also tours performing spoken word poetry across the country.
Here are five things to know about Jones, also known as Ryan J. in the spoken word circuit.
1. He fell in love with poetry at Mercer.
While at Mercer in 2012, Jones saw the Macon chapter of the B.L.A.C.K. (Believing Love And Cherishing Knowledge) Poets organization perform on campus during an oratory contest and was inspired.
“It was one of the first times I fell in love with words,” he said. “I didn’t realize people could do this with words … put together words and phrases in this way. I dedicated my free time to learning to write in a similar way that they were writing.”
He started performing with the B.L.A.C.K. Poets and co-founded Point B.L.A.N.K. (Believing Love and Nurturing Knowledge), the first collegiate spoken word team at Mercer. He helped the team win 20th place in the 2015 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational and coached the team at the 2016 competition. That same year, he created Homegrown Poetry, a video platform to showcase spoken word artists.
2. He’s performed spoken word across the country.
In 2017, Jones represented Atlanta’s Java Monkey Slam Team in the National Poetry Slam, competed in the Individual World Poetry Slam, and won the TedXPeachtree Poetry Slam.
Meanwhile, he had been working at an environmental consulting firm and decided to take a break for two years to pursue poetry full-time. He and friend Nate Mask toured the country as a poetry duo and performed about 50 shows.
Jones’ poetry accomplishments include being selected as a fellow for the Cave Canem literary association in 2018; being named the 2018 Art Amok Grand Slam Champion, the 2018 National Poetry Slam Group Piece Champion, a 2018 Individual World Poetry Slam Finalist and a 2019 Frontier Poetry Digital Chapbook Contest Finalist; and speaking at TedXAtlanta in 2019.
He has also been featured on TV programs like BET’s “The Quad” and NPR’s “City Lights.” He has more than 900,000 video views between Facebook and YouTube.
3. He’s a full-time engineer and a full-time poet.
A year ago, Jones returned to his engineering roots and took a position with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, where his work focuses on landfill permits. Part of his passion is working toward a state where everyone has equal access to protected resources. His work allows him to be a part of a regulatory body that contributes to that, and he’s able to see first-hand how the decisions that are made affect the community.
But poetry is his second full-time job. He uses his vacation days to travel for “spot gigs” at universities and other venues.
“In the midst of everything, poetry has kind of been my lifeblood,” Jones said.
4. He wants to be a part of positive change.
Jones is also taking master’s level courses at Georgia State and hopes to be accepted into the Master of Public Administration/Juris Doctor joint-degree program. He hopes to one day be involved in policy or a political office where he can effect change on a larger platform.
But in the meantime, he is working toward activism through the lens of an artist. He wants his spoken word poetry to open up doors for more conversations about how the country can move forward amid the racial injustices that exist.
“I had this platform that I had created for myself with my work,” he said. “I can also now voice my struggle and my community’s struggle for social justice through my work. We exist in a space where there’s a lot of political and social turmoil. I can use my voice to uplift some of the ideologies. A lot of my work has transformed my way of thinking.”
5. Mercer and Mercerians uplifted him.
“The Mercer engineering program is very rigorous. It’s about being able to persist and keep trying. Mercer in its rigor prepared me for the jobs that were to come,” Jones said. “I was lucky to be at (Mercer) at a point in time where the people really uplifted me. I don’t think there would be a Ryan J without the community that existed there and the people who allowed me to speak out and speak my mind.”