Boston College Soul, Love, and Meaning! (BC SLAM!), along with United Front and the Black Student Forum, hosted a slam poetry night featuring BC students and TOO BLACK, a spoken word poet, artist, and activist based in Indianapolis.
The event had been scheduled long before the recent racist incidents that took place last week, including the defacing of several Black Lives Matter signs. In light of these events, the poets at the slam poetry night tailored a few of their poems and messages to focus primarily on racism and the black struggle.
The stadium seating in Higgins 300 was packed with more than 150 people by the time Azo Mbanefo, ex-president of BC SLAM! and BC ’16, began to introduce the event and explain what was going to take place. It appears that no faculty were in attendance. From the start, Mbanefo spoke about the recent racist incidents, and how she, as an alum, had seen Snapchats and posts on Instagram about how some people think that black lives don’t matter. In light of these pictures, Mbanefo voiced her disappointment with the school. She asked the crowd how they really felt at this time. Exhaustion, sadness, and a lack of safety were only a few words shouted out. After she thanked the students of color and the white allies for attending the event, she shared a poem of her own.
Mbanefo’s poem spoke about the fear and oppression experienced by black people in America. The imagery of the scarlet blood of black men and women was crossed with snippets from the Lord’s prayer. The next poet performed “Luck.” This poem was about the whitewashing of black people, especially those with lighter skin. She talked about how black children are taught a history that isn’t theirs. They don’t learn about or experience the culture of Africa. Her poem also discussed the privilege of her education and how it has benefitted her, but not those black people around her, who are forced to live in a lower socioeconomic status.
The third poet was Rusty Cocino, MCAS ’19. Cocino’s poem, “American Uber,” was a numbered list of things he wanted to say to the Uber driver who made racist comments while he was in the car.
Following Cocino, Zachary Patterson, co-president of the Black Student Forum and LSOE ’19, spoke his poem. He had written this piece after the shooting of Philandro Castile by a police officer. After Patterson’s poem, Miya Colemon, president of BC SLAM! and MCAS ’19, performed her poem on the origin and nature of ebonics. Coleman’s poem personified the language as a blunt that the African slaves smoked in America. The “blunt” was suppressed and pushed down until it was barely an ember hidden in the soul of every black person in America.
At this point, the student poets had finished and TOO BLACK took the stage. The artist spoke about the racist incidents that had taken place on campus and about his career and persona. The first poem he performed was called “Reverse,” which discussed the parallels between racism today and racism decades ago. In the poem, TOO BLACK imitated a stereotypical Southern man who said that the “real racists” were the ones who kept talking about racism. In this imitation, TOO BLACK proposed the idea that if no one talked about racism anymore, it would just go away. Later in the poem, TOO BLACK impersonated a person who believes that America is “post-racist”. “I don’t really see color / And we are all sisters and brothers / And slavery happened forever ago so I don’t know / Can we just get over it?” He responded to his character with a sardonic “Nah.”
TOO BLACK performed multiple other poems from memory throughout his time on stage. At times he pretended to be a person who supported “White Lives Matter,” or told the story of a black man stopped by a police officer while trying to get home to the woman he loved. One of his poems was a parody of NWA’s “Gangsta Gangsta.” In this poem, TOO BLACK spoke as the true gangster, the powerful and rich businessman profiting off the suffering of the poor and low class. This poem required audience participation: when TOO BLACK pumped his fist, the audience yelled “Gangsta Gangsta!”
After TOO BLACK finished his performance, the mics became available to anyone who wanted to speak, for the “conversation” part of the event. Audience members were given the chance to speak their minds, to ask questions, or express feelings. Some people spoke about how these incidents of racism and vandalism made them feel. One audience member spoke directly to the allies present. The speaker told the allies to ask if they had questions and to recognize that it will be uncomfortable, but that uncomfortableness was important and indicative of good discussion and dialogue. Other messages to allies included the fact that this movement is not about them, that allies should be supportive but should remember to stay in the background, and to never minimize someone’s trauma.
After the event, Mbanefo spoke briefly to The Heights. When asked what people should know about the event and the movement, Mbanefo described the situations of those affected.
“People are hurting, people are depressed, people aren’t sleeping,” Mbanefo said. “This is affecting people’s mental health.”
Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Editor