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Power in poetry

Social justice is rooted in the effort to create fair and equal opportunities for people of all lifestyles and backgrounds. On Wednesday, Oct. 25, Zeta Sigma Chi Multicultural Sorority Inc. hosted a social justice themed open mic night, titled “Power in Poetry.” Performers focused on topics ranging from gender equality to police brutality.

The atmosphere was set by the alto sax tones of John Coltrane playing from the speaker system and the warm friendliness of the hosts, participants and audience. After a brief sign-up period and introduction, the first performer took the stage.

Baltimore-based poet All Mighty Rob was greeted by a generous round of applause. His spoken word has competed and been showcased throughout the city with his experience evident by the confidence and precision delivered with his poetry.

One of his strongest pieces, “Nike” focused on unnecessary violence within the black community. He explained, “Nike stands for negroes is killing each other.”  The emotion of his performance was portrayed by his movement on-stage and firmness of his voice. With refreshing honesty, he revealed his worries about being shot like other men in his life had already been.

Continuing the theme of social justice, a student artist took the stage and surprised the audience. With a canvas cradled in his lap and paints next to his stool, he painted for several suspenseful minutes as Lil Uzi Vert’s new song, “Neon Guts” played. When the artist was finished, he revealed a thoughtful piece on gender equality: the black silhouette of a woman with a purple afro surrounded by gender symbols.  

The next performer to take the stage also focused on gender roles. This young man’s poem was about the “second childhood” of a man who neglected responsibility for his children and remained unemployed while living in his mother’s basement. By the end of the poem, the man was spending all of his time hanging out with high-schoolers, although he was twice their age.

Benjamin Ballah, a sophomore mathematics major, presented a spoken word poem entitled “Letter to My Ex” revolving around love and math. While this performance did not fit clearly within the theme of social justice, it was a creative exploration of the labors of love. In one line, he passionately recited, “I couldn’t be the x^2 to your y^2 to equal one.”

One of the last performances of the night was given by Amber Wheeler. In a fascinating combination of song and storytelling, Wheeler revised Billie Holiday’s 1939 song “Strange Fruit”. “Strange Fruit” was originally written to lament the lynching of blacks in America – a song that is unfortunately still relevant in 2017. In Wheeler’s rendition, she added the lines “All we want to do is break the chains off.”

After another excellent performance by All Mighty Rob, the open mic night came to a close. Hopefully, Zeta Sigma Chi’s event was able to encourage the audience to think more deeply about social justice. For those interested in showcasing their talents, The UMBC Student Events Board will be hosting open mic nights on Nov. 1 and Dec. 6 at 8 p.m. in the Sportszone.