Black History Month: Our Voices Poetry Slam

Black voices and Black culture were highlighted as Southern Illinois University (SIU) fraternity Omega Delta Phi Beta Upsilon Chapter hosted the Our Voices Poetry Slam on Feb. 16 at 5 p.m. in the Student Center auditorium.

The fraternity’s academic chair, Daniel Killins, a senior majoring in Music Business said the purpose of the event was to get people out and hear some poetry.

“We didn’t want to have anything too complicated, we also [knew] we could get people to sign up and come out,” he said. “Songwriting is basically poetry. When you sing something, you sing about how you feel, because that can take you wherever.”

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Killins said he wanted people to express their art through words.

Killins said he hoped the takeaway for this event was informing people about culture, and being open to other cultures.

“I wanted the audience to learn about Blackness [and stay] informed. Learn about other people’s culture.” Killins said. “Don’t assume that people who don’t look like you and me don’t know about our culture.”

Killins said there are people who don’t live by stereotypes and actually involve themselves with the history of black culture.

“People know. Some people do actually take the time to study us, for us. Not just the stereotypes of us.” he said.

Killins said he hopes to go back to school and study more history of black culture.

“I’ll probably go back to school and study our history,” he said. “Maybe it’ll be African Studies or sociology, I want to learn because it’s not just about us, it is about other people too.”

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Cristina Castillo is the Coordinator for the Hispanic and Latinos Resource Center. Castillo recited a poem, Langston Hughes Let America Be America Again.

Thomas Boyd, the president of Omega Delta Phi shared a recitation of Gwendolyn Brooks “Primer for Blacks.” He said he chose the poem because it is essential for young black people to accept being Black.

“It’s a poem about accepting one’s Blackness and loving his Blackness,” Boyd said. “I think it’s important for us, especially young people in a world that doesn’t like the fact that you are Black.”

“Primer for Blacks” reads, in part:
The huge, the pungent object of our prime out-ride
is to Comprehend,
to salute and to Love the fact that we are Black,
which is our “ultimate Reality,”
which is the lone ground
from which our meaningful metamorphosis,
from which our prosperous staccato,
group or individual, can rise.

Boyd said while growing up he was in a poetry slam which got him interested in writing poetry.

“Back in middle school, I was a part of a poetry slam and something clicked there. So I just started writing poems,” he said.

Boyd said since then he hasn’t had much time to do poetry, as it was a nice way for him to vent. He said he lost the spirit that he once had for it.

“I didn’t have enough time, or creative genius to write poems,” he said. “It was a very nice outlet. I really enjoyed writing poems.”

Boyd said he enjoyed himself at the poetry slam and, although his fraternity wasn’t too keen on poems, he thought it would be a nice way to educate people during Black History Month.

KJ Fitz, a junior majoring in psychology read a poem she constructed about surviving in Chicago while being Black.

‘The blood of my ancestors has been diluted,
Without their consent.
Their culture beaten out of them.
Mother tongues ripped from their mouths,
Forcing them into quiet assimilation.
The oppressions beating down on them,
Like the hot sun they were made to work under.

“My mom was really big on keeping us out of the city. She had four children, three of them being black men. She was more worried about my third brother because he was tall and very obviously Black,” Fitz said. “She convinced him to join the military and that was hard for me because we were very close, but I understood why she didn’t want him to stay in Chicago. That’s what inspired the poem. It was around the time when a lot of the police shootings started to happen.”

Fitz said her mom also encouraged her to start poetry because she used to do it. Fitz said her mother used to take her to performances when she was younger.

“I was like ‘okay, that’s kind of something I wanted to do,’” she said. “I didn’t take it super seriously until about eighth grade when my teacher told me about Louder than a Bomb.”

Louder than a Bomb is the world’s biggest poetry festival for young authors. Referred to as the Olympics for poetry.

Since eighth grade Fitz has excelled in poetry. She said in high school she invested more of her time in slam poetry and ended up participating in the festival.

“I actually did make it on a Louder than a Bomb team at some point,” she said. “I’ve done open mics, I’ve done actual competitions. Poetry has kind of always been a really big thing for me. I’ve actually taken first place in three different poetry slams.”

Fitz said she suggests everyone does poetry, even if it isn’t your initial outlet. She said it’s important for everyone to be able to get their message across.

“I highly encourage people to do poetry, like everybody starts from somewhere. The goal of poetry is not necessarily about being good, but getting a message across,” she said. “I have used poetry to help me get through a lot of things that I’ve had going on in my life.”

Staff reporter Kamaria Harmon can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @QuoteKamariaa. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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