He stands beneath the stairs to the side of the food court. His distant eyes take in the hustle around him, as if he were wondering how he got there.
His name is Deville Desir, but he goes by Ville’N.
He’s a maintenance worker for the University of Maryland. That’s about all you know, until you hear him rap:
“How do I find guidance and enlightenment in a world so congested with violence?
Where word from man to man rather be full of ignorance.
The atmosphere reeks turmoil and malice.”
Desir had barely uttered his first words when his family fled from Haiti seeking political asylum in the United States.
His father was an activist fighting against the notorious president Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, known for his extravagant lifestyle amidst the destitution of his people. Though never put on trial, Duvalier is thought responsible for the imprisonment, torture and murder of thousands of Haitians.
When Desir was three years old, the Haitian police came for his father.
His uncle, a police officer at the time, warned the family, and Desir’s father escaped in time, though the police imprisoned Desir’s mother and burned their house to the ground.
Three months later, after Desir’s mother was released and the family had reunited, they purchased plane tickets and arrived in Riverdale, Md., in July 1996.
The youngest of six siblings, Desir only recently learned about his story from his brothers and father.
He gathered the murky details along the way, but the facts were never enough to make sense of it all. Even now, this story is as distant to him as his native land.
“Oh, how I wish that was me.
Keeping you safe face to face.
Breathin’ and dreamin’ at a synchronized pace.
Oh, how I wish that was me.”
Desir attended Northwestern High School and graduated from technical school at his father’s urging.
However, his father’s vision didn’t match his own.
He found himself with a degree he couldn’t use and a dream he had yet to pursue.
“I was trying to fit into shoes that wasn’t for me,” Desir said. “Only thing I got out of that was student loans.”
Desir wrote poetry on the side for years. It started as a way to woo the girls and eventually transformed into a way to fit in with the boys.
He began rapping about the usual – “money, clothes and hoes.”
What would ultimately dominate Desir’s lyrics was his religion. However, for a time, he avoided the subject. Months would pass when he wouldn’t step foot inside a church.
“I was having too much fun out there,” he said. “Partying, smoking, drinking. I was distracted. I wasn’t myself.”
After a few bad decisions, Desir left “all that turn up stuff.”
He changed the kind of people he hung around and came back to his music a changed man.
He was no longer rapping about the hoes and money, but of his love for God:
“Every night taking you to a different place.
But first, always thanking GOD for his grace.”
Desir performed for university radio station WMUC last year during its “Hip-Hop Yoga” session. In addition to his vocal talent, Desir has been playing the drums since he was 12 years old.
Desir says he’d like to go back to college and earn his bachelor’s degree.
“College was never something I was interested in, but I’m a realist,” Desir said. “You can’t get anywhere without that paper, and I don’t know how it came to be that papers should be worth more than skills.”
Desir tries to get by on minimum wage. He’s granted only “enough to survive” and believes these wages are just a way to ensure workers keep coming back.
“Society doesn’t make it easy for you,” Desir said, “so sometimes, you have to eat that pride pie and hand it over to God.”
Aiyah Sibay is a sophomore English literature major and can be reached at email@example.com.