Figures among the audience made their way in front of the stage and raised one fist into the air as contestant Benjamin Owusu performed his poem and called out, “Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise.”
Some 50 students gathered at the Student Activities Center, Ballroom B, for Stony Brook University’s annual Spoken Word Open Mic night on February 24.
The lights dimmed and attendees took a seat, one by one, on the mini stage. About 10 young poets went up and dictated what the theme of the event, “Owning Your Own Narrative,” means to them.
Two tables were set up in front of the stage for the five judges, most of whom have been judging the contest for the past three years.
“I’m surprised over the last few years in observing their connection and depth of history they studied and the ability of many of them to express themselves so well. It’s very pleasing to see that,” said Ahmad Ali, spoken word judge and WUSB host.
One of the hosts for the night, Huntley Spencer ‘21, helped introduce the program. The rules were reiterated as well as the importance of Black History Month.
“With Black History Month, it gives it a different flavor because it makes it more meaningful since you’re performing from your heart and speaking about something that’s bigger than you,” Spencer said.
Reflecting on past and current structures of oppression against them, poets used their voices to speak of the similar struggles they face as individuals of marginalized groups. The audience snapped in appreciation and acceptance as contestants voiced their poems.
Sarah Beckford, sophomore journalism major, began the event and used passion and soul to voice what being a black woman means to her.
“Black History Month is important because it allows us to reflect on those that went before us. And I think with the open mic, it’s a way for us to celebrate our peers as we artistically express how we’ve owned our narrative. And we’re also acknowledging what still needs to be done,” Beckford said.
The performances touched upon identity, politics and intersectionality.
The most striking performance of the night by Owusu left the audience stunned as they tried to comprehend what was happening. Owusu’s poem was based on the Central Park Five. In 1989 five Black and Latino teenagers from Harlem were wrongly convicted of the rape of a white woman in Central Park and were eventually exonerated years later. Toward the end of the poem, figures that represented these victims came forward on stage to unite as one. Each figure rose a fist as a symbol of black solidarity.
The mic night posed a contest where poets could win $100 toward tuition. The prize was for those who signed up to showcase their poems; however, other students were allowed to go on stage after the lineup was over.
At the intermission, students were provided with food from one of the campus dining stations, Island Soul. Fried chicken, tofu curry and plantains were among the array of soul food. The crowd ate and enjoyed live music.
The event acts as a celebratory conclusion to Black History Month, and the winner was announced at the closing ceremony held on February 26. In addition, the winner of the event, Josiah Hart, will perform live on WUSB 90.1.