A U.S. Airman and Poet Breaks Barriers with Her Art

By 2nd Lt. Lyca Steelman

Every February, we celebrate Black History Month and commemorate the triumphs, contributions and struggles experienced by the Black community throughout U.S. history. For one Tyndall Air Force Base airman, it serves as a means for expression, connection and societal criticism.

Staff Sgt. Denise Ntow, Airey Noncommissioned Officer Academy noncommissioned officer in charge of the student registrar office, uses her passion for poetry, within her two self-published books, to explore topics such as grief, racism, self-reflection, resiliency and love, among other topics to communicate and connect.

Photo credit DVIDS/2nd Lt. Lyca Steelman

As the NCO in charge of the student registrar office, Ntow’s responsibilities include coordinating memorandums, evaluations and decorations while processing the registration of students for classes.

“[Poetry] is a connecting point, just like music, between different races and cultures,” said Denise. “If we continue to try to open up our minds past the arts, we can continue to make connections as a people and as different races and cultures.”

Denise’s family originated from Ghana, and as someone growing up as a first-generation U.S.-born citizen, she experienced the duality of adjusting to a culture that was different from her home. At the same time, as a young person, she was navigating the process of finding herself and making sense of the world.

With the encouragement of her father, she eventually wrote down her thoughts and feelings into her first poem.

“Years [went by after my first poem], and I [left] for basic training in 2017,” recalled Denise. “A day after tech school, I get a call that my father has passed. I took it very hard. I was new to the Air Force, brand new job, getting ready to PCS to the United Kingdom and everything was so new.”

Denise explained she began expressing the hurt she was feeling through writing. From there, she routinely began jotting down lines until eventually, those reflections became a full poem, then a book. Denise described her first book as an introduction of a woman discovering herself and dealing with grief, heartbreak and race-related subjects. Her second book is a continued exploration of those feelings and more.

Denise described her most cherished poem, titled “Beautiful,” as a poem directed at a young person of color who has felt discriminated against in any type of way.

An excerpt from the poem is as follows:

“You’re beautiful
with a tone that is comparable to gold. Through your actions, you can rewrite the false stories that we’ve been told.”

“[The poem] stands out to me because of the realness of it … speaking to a young person on what they may go through; however, if they search within themselves, they can use the tools with them to overcome things,” said Denise.

Denise is now a published author and defines poetry as a vehicle in communicating to several groups of people. She explained that poetry opens dialogue in a way that, “nobody feels they are to blame and then if anyone feels a different type of way, at least it will open up their mind to what a different race goes through.”

Photo credit DVIDS/2nd Lt. Lyca Steelman

Denise Ntow is a published author that uses poetry to reflect on her life while delving into topics such as grief, racism, resiliency, love and many more.

Denise encouraged others to let art be the introduction for creating conversations about people’s thoughts, feelings and life. She said poetry shows others there is freedom in speech and expression, it is a space to expose one’s insides.

Denise said she joined the military not only to regain structure, but to broaden her perspective by being a part of a diverse community. Ultimately, she hopes to make a difference and encourage others in the ways she’s been able to process her thoughts through poetry. Her love for poetry shows how the people who serve in the U.S. military contain multitudes – each with their own, individual experiences and backgrounds that they bring to the table when serving in our Armed Forces.

“My main thing was wanting to provide someone else with something that could help them go through a troubling time as well,” Denise expressed. “You can be going through the hardest part of your life … but if you stick it out, you will have a story to tell that will help others. So, there is always tomorrow. Just stick it through.”

-This story was originally published on DVIDShub.net. It has been edited for USO.org.

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