In honor of Black History Month, PCC’s Cross Cultural Center hosted a Poetry Night in the Wi-Fi Lounge last week. Three experienced spoken word poets performed personal pieces about the emotional subjects of being black, police brutality, and being an ally.
The first and youngest to perform was 22-year old Krys Bragg. She performed several pieces, but the most impactful was one she had just written a week before. The unnamed piece was formed out of deep emotion and anguish about the unsettling occurrences of police brutality throughout this past year.
Bragg wrote the poem in an attempt to relieve the constant heaviness that has been placed upon her each time a black life has been taken by the police, and on how the majority of the media has either stayed silent or has maliciously demoralized each victim, causing families and the community more pain.
“I was really thinking about how it affects the family that is mourning the person that they lost and also how it affects communities,” Bragg said. “So when these things happen over and over again it no longer just becomes an issue that is this family that is suffering, it’s an issue that affects everybody. Because if we can’t depend on our police to protect us, and we’re fearful of our police, then who do we have to go to?”
On a similar but different note in her perspective was spoken word poet Kat Magill’s performance.
Magill has been performing poetry since she was 17 years old and has been the founder of Say Word, a youth and education development organization, since 2012.
The pieces she performed that were especially appropriate for Black History Month were “Dear Fellow White People” and “To Samaria.”
Magill, being a white woman, made it abundantly clear before her performance that she can never understand what it is like to be black, and that her only intention is to be a true ally to the black community in its fight for justice and equality.
Her first poem, “Dear Fellow White People,” is intended to show white people how to be a true ally to the Black community, something Magill says many are not actually doing.
“A few years ago I noticed the term ally becoming the new buzz word in activism. Allies have always existed but the word was never so visible until recently,” Magill said. “I watched social media and art, specifically poetry, spew out poem after post after poem of people declaring themselves so. I became frustrated that the title was so easily placed on anyone who said, ‘Racism is bad, we should stop.’ I wanted to outline the complexities of ally-ship that most don’t admit to.”
In the poem, Magill urges her fellow white people to stop putting so much focus on how to help others in the movement in equality when they should instead focus on having the uncomfortable conversations with each other about sensitivity, language, savior complexes, appropriation, and so forth.
“I have been an ally for most of my life, without having a title to name it. It is controversial and difficult and much more than hopping on a hashtag or taking a cultural studies class,” Magill said. “‘Dear Fellow White People’ was my attempt of verbalizing the conflicting attempts I see every day from my own people, and build around the conversation of what constitutes being an ally.”
Her other poem, “To Samaria,” is for Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice.
Tamir Rice was a child who was shot and killed by police officers while playing in a park in 2014. A call had been made depicting him as a grown man with a gun. After he was killed, the gun turned out to be a toy.
As a mother, Magill was touched to her core by the tragic story of this young boy.
“It broke me to think of how the world turns black boys into monsters so easily when there is no trace of claws or fangs,” Magill said. “I thought of my own daughter. I am raising a young woman of color who can easily be in the same circumstance at any time.”
Magill has been in awe of how strong Rice has been since her son’s death.
“Samaria is truly a warrior that deserves acknowledgement, respect and at the least to be spoken of in a poem,” Magill said. “She deserves justice for her son, and since one of my ways of fighting for what I believe is right is through writing and speaking, this poem fell out of me with reverence.”
Magill believes her poems are relevant to the celebration of Black History Month because “regardless of ethnicity or what cultural background I identify with, every person living in this country must recognize that the backbone of our culture—music, fashion, food, dance, technology, etc., from the ‘founding’ of this country—was built a great deal by black Americans.”
“As poets, we are very privileged to be given space to speak up when so many others are being silenced. I try to make my time count for something bigger than me,” Magill said.
Poetry Night was closed out with Thea Monyee, who has been a spoken word poet for 16 years. She performed several pieces on being a Black woman, on police brutality, and on racism, in honor of Black History Month.
Her poems were inspired by several events and movements that have taken place these past two years.
“I don’t know that I hope to do much more than to document how it feels to be black and a woman and mother during this time in history,” Monyee said of her work. “If others are impacted by that, then even better.”
To Monyee, her poems do not necessarily reflect the importance of Black History Month, but the “importance of black liberation, black excellence, and black legacy.”
“Understanding anti-blackness is essential to understanding America and its influence on the world,” she continued. “Black lives should matter to everyone because they are the vanguard of civil rights in this country.”
Poetry Night was put together by Cross Cultural Center grad assistant Ashley Ramos.
“The purpose is mostly to honor the black culture that exists within this particular art form,” Ramos said of the event. “Spoken word is pretty influenced by the arts that stem from Black culture, so we really wanted to bring that in as a means of being a part of Black History Month and celebrating the cultural influence in society.”