Rod Borisade grew up in very rough neighborhood in Northwest Jacksonville. Drugs were more readily available than books were, and Rod knew that he didn't want to fit in.
"I was terrified of ending up like everyone I saw. Even now, I run away from ending up like what I saw."
Rod's father abandoned the family. His mother was addicted to drugs, and has told Rod about the time when he promised to stay with her.
"My mom said I knocked on the door. I had to four or five years old, but it was a heavy knock. She was like, 'hey, little boy.' I said, 'I'm not a little boy, I'm a man!' and I told her I was never gonna leave her. I always saw men leave my mom, and I felt like I needed to be her protector."
Rod did, in fact, always have a pretty good idea of who he was and who he wanted to be ... a poet. That wasn't highly regarded in the neighborhood.
"Kids would tease you about being who you were. Education wasn't cool."
But Rod won a scholarship to UNF, and with it pressure from another side.
"My dad's family was from Nigeria, and education was everything. the standard is you become a doctor or lawyer or nurse, something that's going to solidify your career in the future. Also, the people who gave me the scholarship said, you're going to graduate, 'let's see what we can put you in.' But I wanted to write poetry."
And so, Rod Borisade, who adopted the nom de plume of Odd?Rod, started working at the Port of Jacksonville while writing about a subject he knew well — his own life. Within a few years, he had recorded a CD of his work, and began to speak at colleges across the eastern United States. Today, he flies out of Jacksonville weekly on the speaking circuit.
"Things are coming full circle now, but it was scary when people don't believe in you from different angles. You know, they might be just worried about it. But if you believe in me strong enough, then you believe in my dream. I know what I'm capable of, and sometimes, you just have to prove them wrong."
And the things that Odd?Rod Borisade has overcome ... are emotional, not economic or social. He recorded a video of his poem about the grandfather who raised him, called Hero, that featured his grandfather sitting and listening to the poem, recorded shortly before he passed away last year. Rod also reconciled with his father, after many years, and again, shortly before his father died.
"The questions I get asked when I speak are never about poetry. They're always about life, and my life. For example, a student asked me how I forgave my father. I forgave him because my grandmother taught me to forgive, and because I wanted a relationship with him. If I'd kept the hate inside, that would have been a wall."
Rod Borisade's life is going well. His mother has been off drugs for a while. He has a growing number of fans, including Andrew Jackson high school students and their parents, to whom he spoke last month. His talks are straight-forward, other than the fact that he breaks into verse before the listener even realizes it. He got a standing ovation from everyone in the auditorium.
"I've never experienced this kind of happiness. I get to see so much. when I speak at colleges, I'm helping people, and they open up in a different manner, because I have. I could care less about the poetry. I'm so about the message."