Mass Incarceration: Missing in America's First Spoken Word Event Ignited BC's Passion for Social Justice

BC students flocked to Eagle’s Nest on Tuesday night in order to watch the sophomore Gabelli Presidential Scholars’ much-anticipated spoken word event on mass incarceration in the United States.  The event was promoted on campus for weeks by its organizers for their project and upcoming campus initiative, “Mass Incarceration: Missing in America.”

The movement was created by 19 Presidential Scholars this summer during a six-week long PULSE experience on campus, where hours spent volunteering around Boston helped open their eyes to the overwhelming and far-reaching effects of mass incarceration.  The epidemic, produced by a discriminatory social justice system, is a form of cyclical, institutionalized oppression— particularly affecting racial minorities.  After attending a slam poetry night put on by ex-convicts during PULSE, the students were inspired to spark the same interest and passion for the issue back on campus through the power of spoken word.

Through countless hours of coordination and planning, the group was able to partner with various external social justice groups specializing in spoken word poetry, as well as with assorted departments and student organizations on campus.  The scholars turned their visions into reality— Missing in America: A Spoken Word Event— and did their part to get the word out to their fellow students in the weeks preceding the event. 

Clare Kim / Gavel Media

Not an empty chair nor free space standing on the wall could be seen as “Mass Incarceration: Missing in America” presented itself for the first time last night to over 500 of its Boston College peers.  The emcee for the night was Jamele Adams, or Harlym125, a name renowned in the slam poetry scene of New York City and up-and-coming in the Boston area.  Challenging the audience members to cheer and “slow clap” and take selfies with one another, Adams rallied up the emotional hype and bated-breath excitement that was swiftly delivered by an array of talented speakers.

The first group to perform was the Spoken Word Poetry Flash Mob of Boston, with members joining in from various locations around the room in synchronized slam; they spoke passionately on issues of struggle, identity and racial stereotypes— all side effects of mass incarceration. 

“Before the show, I had no idea what to expect,” says Connor Murphy, CSOM ’19, “so I was surprised and really excited when it started with a performance by random audience members.  They instantly built up anticipation in the room and just made it electric.”

After the first act, the stage was aptly set, with each consecutive act blowing away its unsuspecting audience.  Emcee Harlym125 himself performed spoken word sets, engaging the crowd and maintaining a balance of humor and reality in his message.  His pieces on mass incarceration and the minority perspective evoked claps, snaps and shouts of approval from the audience. 

Following Harlym125 was the nationally acclaimed poetry group Flatline, a team comprised of four poets whose goal is to educate their audiences with the truth on social justice issues.  Their powerful words and melodies stunned the crowd into silence, even earning them an impromptu encore.

Clare Kim / Gavel Media

Clare Kim / Gavel Media

In addition to the guest speakers, BC’s on-campus poetry group, SLAM!, performed at the event, highlighting three student poets who continued the conversation on racism and mass incarceration.  Their fiery words ignited the crowd, eliciting immeasurable applause and multiple standing ovations from their peers.

“The combination of the poets from BC and from the greater Boston community truly created a palpable atmosphere of interconnectedness,” says organizing group member Mattie Mouton-Johnson, CSON ’18.  “Their message rang loud and clear: we are all family, and we can work together.”

With a turnout beyond the group’s wildest dreams, the “Mass Incarceration: Missing in America” spoken word event was an overwhelming success.  Students from all walks of life left feeling inspired, that same flame for social justice lit within them that the sophomore scholars hoped to ignite by bringing the power of poetry to campus.

“Tonight the discussion was loud, passionate and made it very clear that change is necessary and that all of us are capable of being agents of that change,” says group member Mariah Larwood, CSOM ’18.  “Tonight we said that we are up for the challenge.”

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