“Black history cannot be confined to one month, because black history is made every single day in so many different ways.”
These words, written by poet J. Ivy in his poem “History in the Making” and performed by sophomore communication studies major Jonelle Beckford, set the tone for last Tuesday’s Open Mic Night in the Rathskeller. Held by the Black Student Union, the event aimed to encourage students to express themselves and to acquaint the campus with the work of Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and other important figures in black history.
“The importance of Open Mic Night to Black History Month is to expose students to African-American culture through the use of poetry, spoken and vocal stylings,” Beckford said. “It’s also an appreciation of the arts and our contributions to them.”
The event featured more than a dozen of the College’s students, who shared their own poetry and performed songs that were personally meaningful to them. Students were also able to perform pieces made famous by some of their favorite writers.
Some pieces, such as sophomore psychology major Tinisha Woods’ short poem “Facing the Enemy,” were thought-provoking and inspiring. Others, like junior business major Alaina Griffin’s impromptu reading of Angelou’s “Ain’t That Bad?” and junior communication studies major Benjamin Akuma’s performance of Hughes’ “Harlem Sweeties,” were amusing.
Nevertheless, each participant received support and encouragement from fellow performers and the audience.
“I think this event is a very powerful event, because it is a way for students to showcase their talents, feelings, thoughts and emotions in an intimate setting with very close friends who can relate,” Jasmine Smalls, senior sociology major, said.
Beckford agreed, saying that “the audience was very receptive to each performance and to the poetry that was brought to the stage.” According to her, the event was a success because students were inspired by the opportunity to share their private feelings and their own selections.
Between performances, students congratulated each other, listened to music and decided who would perform next. Although there were serious moments, especially during Beckford’s performance of “Amazing Grace,” the event never lost its air of fun.
Friends teased and coaxed each other onto the stage. Audience members even participated in some performances, such as singing the background to the song “I Will Remember You” while freshman psychology major Caitlin Fair was on the stage.
Open Mic Night ended with a string of improv poetry by some of the night’s performers. According to junior psychology major Sharna Scott, the audience was surprised and blown away by their fellow students. The event also reinforced Ivy’s conception of the nature of black history.
“The overall message of the night was basically to drive home the message that black history isn’t just something that happened in the past, but something that happens every day,” Scott said. “The creativity from the students at Open Mic Night was just a taste of how special and beautiful we are, and it shows that we continue to draw from our past as we contribute to the future.”