Black History Month Open Mic Night
By Esther Alatishe
The Black History Month Committee hosted “Open Mic,” a Spoken Word event based on their theme of “Sankofa: Blackness is Endless”, on Thursday, February 21. The event took place at the Black Box Theater in Tabler Quad in front of a small crowd and a panel of four judges, with careers ranging from professor to musician. Most of those who had attended the event could agree that the night was dynamic and ultimately brought forth different perspectives.
One poet spoke passionately about her political and social views of the black community— many of which surprised and challenged the expectations of some audience members and judges. It could be argued, though, that a controversial piece specifically evokes the theme, “Sankofa: Blackness is Endless”. There are no limits or boundaries for the ideas and stances that black people take, and the endless range of thought present at the event should not be despised. In fact, the various performances of the night featured a range of styles and topics; poems focused on confident assertions, historical events, and/or personal stories. One poet, Sabrina DuQuesnay, read her poem, “Colors in These Obsidian Waters,” which, as she later explained, “is based on her reflections of her experiences on a beach in Jamaica with family… juxtaposing her love of the ocean with her ancestor’s forced journey through the middle passage, her family’s struggles with the prison system, and black perseverance.” This poem, like many of the others performed that night, bore musical lilts and rhymes. One could even argue that some poets were rapping and that the show ultimately became a concert at certain points such as the event’s closing, when an audience member played an original song on his ukelele. Of course, the musical elements— rhythm, rhyme, flow— behind the poetry could not undermine the power of the literal spoken word, but they instead complemented it beautifully.
The dramatic stage presence of contestants also added to the performance experience. These contestants, passionate in their reading, did not hesitate to dramatically wave their hands and pace the stage for the sake of their poem’s delivery. With a number of great performances, there was not a simple consensus as to who the winner of the competition— which would not be announced until the Black History Month Closing Ceremony— should be.
There did seem to be a general conesus about other matters. When asked about whether or not the black community on campus hosts enough artsy events, answers were similar. A junior student and member of the BHM Committee remarked that there is a sufficient amount of festive events, like fashion shows, and cultural events, like those which are hosted by organizations such as African Student Union and Caribbean Student Union. However, there are not enough events like Open Mic, in which students have an opportunity to perform their artistic skills before their peers. Contestants and audience members alike agreed that there were not enough of these artsy events and wished to see more. Reflecting on one aspect of the event that she could improve on if they could, one contestant, K’la Rivers, wished to see more turnout. One freshmen student said he would like to see different kinds of performance— like songs or dance— incorporated in some way into the event. The night concluded with closing remarks and additional, uncompetitive performances by contestants and audience members.