Photo Courtesy of Elisabeth Weems

Students and Cleveland residents perform and listen to slam poetry during the first Words of Wisdom Poetry Slam of the school year.


September 21, 2016

Poetry Slam features participants speaking from the heart

Participants in the first Words of Wisdom Poetry Slam of the year filled the conference room of the Howard A. Mims African American Cultural Center on Friday, Sept. 2.

The monthly event, presented by the Speak Up! Poetry Slam Organization and the Black Studies Program, features students and community members whose art often has socially conscious overtones.

The organization renamed its event to honor the late director of the Black Studies Program, and it will now be called the Dr. Michael Williams Poetry Slam.

Dr. Donna Whyte, the interim director of the Black Studies Program, explained that although the event is held on CSU’s campus, community members who are not students are also welcome to participate and observe.

“This is a perfect example of how Black Studies reaches beyond the boundaries of the university,” Whyte said.

Common themes of the poems included social issues like institutional racism, police brutality and economic injustice.

“[The poets are] very aware of where we have been to come to where we are now, and we’re at a very different time in our history,” Whyte said. “There are many things that disturb our community, and art and life inform each other.”

Whyte explained that participants in the poetry event do not view it as entertainment, but rather as a means to express their truths and perspectives with others.

“For them to be able to communicate their heart in this matter, the depth of their understanding, their interpretation, their activism, which is what spoken word is, is important in this space and any space,” Whyte said.

Kelton Latson, president of the Speak Up! Poetry Slam Organization said that poetry and rap are essential in the discussion of issues that the black community faces.

“Nobody is really going to step up and say, ‘Hey, this group of people [is] going through drug infestation in their neighborhoods; they don’t have economic support; [they have] poor housing, poor education [and] violence,’” Latson said.

A Cleveland native, Latson began to use poetry in high school as a tool for self-discovery and expression, and now creates that experience for others at CSU.

“I think all of those emotions and feelings that were building up throughout the years finally burst out through the pen,” Latson said.

Shalonda Swanson, a senior with a double major in psychology and journalism and promotional communication with a minor in black studies, performed a poem during the open mic. She said that through poetry, she is able to restructure her past experiences in a positive way.

“[Slam poetry] is a release,” Swanson said. “I was kind of nervous when I first started, but now it’s more natural, it’s free-flowing and it’s a way to just express myself [and] to loosen up a little bit more, to interact with people, and to just live.”

Swanson offered advice to students who want to get involved:

“Get all of the nervousness out, dance a little bit, make a few jokes,” Swanson said. “Know what you want to say and even if you mess up, continue to go, and the crowd will just love you for it.”

Participants of the open mic portion can recite poems at no cost, but can also enter the slam poetry competition for $5 for the chance to win a $100 cash prize.

The next poetry slam will be held on Oct. 7 in the cultural center at 7:30 p.m.


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