Photo courtesy of TOO BLACK / Facebook

SLAM! Spotlights the Black Experience at BC and Beyond

Students gathered in Higgins 300 for SLAM!’s latest and most powerful spoken word event, co-hosted by United Front and Black Student Forum. The event was scheduled long before racist incidents took place on campus, initially only consisting of a performance by TOO BLACK, a spoken word poet, artist, and activist based out of Indianapolis. However, in light of the responsive movement to the racially-motivated events, organizers decided to add student poets as well, followed by a forum for students to voice their feelings, questions, or concerns.  

The auditorium filled with hushed discussions of Snapchats and defaced posters, and, most importantly, how coincidental the timing of the performance was. After the auditorium’s lights lowered and discussions began to quiet, a silence hung in the auditorium and the event began.

“How y’all feeling tonight?” asked a somber Azo Mbanefo, a BC alum and former president of SLAM!.

“Good,” flew halfheartedly out of the crowd like a misfire. “Fine,” tiptoed closely behind, barely audible beyond the rows in its immediate vicinity.

“Y’all feeling good in all this stuff? Y’all are really feeling fine?” she asked defiantly, challenging the crowd.

Silence.

“Tired,” a voice rang out. “Frustrated,” thundered from the back row. The words began to downpour now in the small auditorium. “Angry.” “Uncomfortable.” “Drained.” “Unsafe.” “Ignored.”

After the introduction, the student poets took the stage, baring their emotions through their poetry, acting as an echo to the voices that filled the auditorium shortly before. Through their poems, they spoke candidly and movingly about a range of issues.

Mbanefo took the stage first, sharing an original poem about oppression, fear, and being black in America spliced in between the Lord’s Prayer. Her words covered everything from whitewashing in society, especially in the educational system, to police violence and a racist Uber driver.

Concluding the student poets was Miya Coleman, MCAS ‘19 and president of SLAM!. Impassioned and emotional, she performed her original poem on the origins of ebonics. She likened ebonics to a blunt, one that burned long and slow as African slaves smoked it in America, forging an identity between slave owners and their African ancestors in the face of oppression. As time went on, this “blunt” of cultural heritage and identity was suppressed, waned to a barely flickering ember in the soul of every black person in America, but one, Coleman says, that will never burn out.

“That poem stems from my dad,” she tells The Gavel. “He had very little education growing up because he was raised in the ghetto. He doesn’t speak with proper grammatical English, and he was often embarrassed around other parents at my predominantly white high school because he couldn’t articulate himself well.”

She continued on, explaining the origins of ebonics and how her father’s insecurity surrounding it inspired her to write the poem.

“When Africans were brought here as slaves they were forced to speak English as opposed to their native language,” she says. “As a culmination of that and a lack of education after slavery [was abolished] there was no way to learn how to speak what is considered ‘grammatically correct’.”

“There’s this misconception that when people hear black people speak that it’s somehow unintelligent, which just isn’t true. Also, I like to smoke and wanted to say it in a cool way but also one that made sense,” she added, laughing.

After Coleman finished, the crowd erupted in a union of applause, snaps, screams, and pleads for an encore. When the audience had quieted, the featured poet, TOO BLACK, opened with a short introduction about who he is.

His first poem, entitled “Reverse,” launched an attack on those who believe that America is a post-racist society.

“I am the screeching cry expanding from the bottom of the black canyon/ I am the ether seeping between the societal chasms that the white imagination could not fathom/ I am the phantom/ The fantastical phenomenon/ I am the palm applied to your face/ I am your wake up call/ I am the light shining inside the lantern that you failed to ponder on.”

TOO BLACK’s words pivoted between comedic and poignant, satirical and heartbreaking. He shared a poem based on N.W.A’s classic song “Gangsta Gangsta,” in which he explained that the real gangster is the wealthy businessman, controlling everything from food to gasoline, climbing the Forbes list using the poor and uneducated as his ladder.

Another particularly moving poem he shared was entitled “Come Home,” in which he chronicled the story of a black man driving home to the woman he loves and the rush of emotions and thoughts he experiences as he is pulled over by police.

He prefaced another poem with an anecdote about how uncomfortable it usually makes people. The poem’s title, “White Lives Matter,” came as a response to an argument often used against the Black Lives Matter movement. TOO BLACK’s words satirized the notion that saying Black Lives Matter somehow makes the claim that black lives matter more than anyone else, which often induces some to retaliate that “all lives matter.”

“I think ‘Black Lives Matter’ scares people,” explains Coleman. “It’s important to know that it’s based off the notion that all lives matter. We’re saying that all lives matter but black people aren’t being treated as if that’s true. It’s not a movement that is claiming black lives matter more, it’s a movement that says black lives matter, too.”

Coleman’s favorite poem of TOO BLACK’s, “University Streets,” was one that was especially appropriate given the setting and timing. The premise of the poem was TOO BLACK giving a tour of his former university in which he could say whatever he wanted, telling the truth about being black at this university.

“I’m from that side of campus that you don’t see or read about in University pamphlets.”

“BC is so segregated,” says Coleman. “There’s so many white people at this school that I don’t know. We go to the same university but we live in two completely separate universes.”

She goes on, “The social life is a microcosm; white people go to Agoro’s and MA’s and have parties all over campus. When people of color on campus have a party it’s usually just one party and everyone goes there.”

At the closure of TOO BLACK’S performance, SLAM! decided to open up the floor to a forum that allowed anyone in the crowd to reflect, ask questions, and voice concerns, something that, according to Coleman, is not typical of a SLAM! event. Students took turns reflecting on how they felt in light of the recent racist incidents as well as on being students of color at BC.

“BC is really no different than any other place,” Coleman expresses. “TOO BLACK asked if BC is always like this, and yes, BC does need to change, but what place doesn’t need to change? I walk into my physics lecture and I’m the only black person in there; when I get a job my boss will most likely be white.”

The forum left listeners with important takeaways to keep moving forward. One person stressed that, although appreciated, white allyship doesn’t make someone a better person, it makes them a human being. In many instances, allies overstep and make the situation about them and what they’re doing.

“A lot of white allies aren’t always allies,” she says. “A lot of white allyship is just on the surface, it’s easy to have a white savior complex and think you’re a better person.”

“You’re not an ally for a pat on the back, you’re an ally because you’re a human being and a person who wants to see the country move forward,” she continues. “But, I appreciate the genuine white allyship and I think it’s important because I can’t reach the racists; white people can.”

Another takeaway was to get educated. Find classes about these issues, read about these issues, and ask questions. The only excuse for someone to be ignorant, especially on a college campus, is because they want to be.

Coleman’s future vision for SLAM! includes seeking increased funding to travel and compete in collegiate competitions, harboring a space that is equally safe and inclusive and, most importantly, continuing a platform that make people feel inspired and uncomfortable in an overarching effort to further conversation.

“I wish we had more spaces like that,” she remarks. “Dialogue is so difficult and it makes people so uncomfortable and people don’t want to feel uncomfortable, but what is changing if you don’t feel uncomfortable?”

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