Past Event

Poetic Justice

“I need a poem, need a poem, a master poem, once and for all, I need a poem to destroy poetry

And break these iron bars”
— Delbert Tibbs

Join us for an exciting afternoon with local poet and exonerated death row prisoner Delbert Tibbs. Come hear Delbert read selected poems from his repertoire, which includes poetry that was inspired by his “wilderness experience”—including the unfortunate experience of being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death row. His performance will be accompanied by readings by writers from the Neighborhood Writing Alliance’s Workshop at St. Leonard’s House, a transitional facility for ex-offenders, followed by a lively conversation with Delbert and noted talk show host Cliff Kelley.

This event is free and open to the public. Reservations are recommended and can be made online, by e-mail at, or by calling 312.422.5580.


Delbert Tibbs was born in what he describes as “Apartheid Mississippi,” before the coming of “the King and Mrs. Parks.” He moved to Chicago at the age of twelve with his widowed mother and later attended Southeast City College and Chicago Theological Seminary. After dropping out in 1972, Delbert began what he has described as his “wilderness experience,” walking around the U.S.A. In 1974, Delbert was wrongfully arrested and charged with rape and murder in Florida. Although the state was never able to produce any evidence against him, he was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. A mass movement was organized to fight for his life, spearheaded by his friends and family, and he was freed several years later. Delbert is affiliated with Amnesty International, the National Interreligious Task Force on Criminal Justice, and is on the advisory board of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. He began writing seriously and publishing during his “wilderness experience,” and continues to do so. The story of Delbert’s clash with the criminal justice system has been powerfully told in the play, The Exonerated, by Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen. His story is also graphically and artistically told in the mixed media presentation “Barred from Life,” by David Popaisky.

Cliff Kelley is the host of “The Cliff Kelley Show,” which airs Monday through Friday from 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM on WVON. He has distinguished himself as a popular talk show host who brings a wealth of knowledge on local, national, and international affairs. A native Chicagoan and attorney, Kelley has been in active in Chicago’s political arena for more than 30 years, including 16 years in Chicago’s City Council. Kelley has been a featured guest on issue-oriented programs on local, national, and international television and radio and is a frequent contributor to Chicago Tonight. He has traveled extensively to Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe.


The Neighborhood Writing Alliance provokes dialogue and promotes change by creating opportunities for adults in Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods to write, publish, and perform works about their lives.

This program is co-sponsored by The Public Square at the IHC, the Neighborhood Writing Alliance, and the Chicago Public Library West Englewood Branch.

This event is part of The Public Square at the IHC‘s Know More: Conversations That Matter series. The Know More series is designed to bridge the gap between the arts and social issues that are of current concern to Chicago’s Englewood and Humboldt Park communities. It is made possible by a grant from The Joyce Foundation, and Chicago Public Radio is the media sponsor. Programming for Know More has included visits from hip hop scholar Jeff Chang, Africana Studies scholar William Santiago-Valles, journalist Laura Washington, performer Will Power, sociologist Mary Pattillo, storyteller Ramon Lopez, and poet Elizabeth Alexander.

Reservations recommended. For more information, call 312.422.5580 or e-mail