This 18th annual instance of the celebration consisted of student-written poems presented in the form of a series of skits. Each scene pertained to a different social justice issue. The night also featured guest performances from the EMU Gospel Choir, a dance performance from Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and an African drum group. The event, held as part of the university’s weeklong celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was highly anticipated by both audience members and performers alike.
“This is the biggest performance that [Poetry Society] does, not only in terms of the actual production but also the audience and the time that goes into it, so we go full-out for this one show,” said Poetry Society president Justin Walters. “It’s been an annual thing for almost twenty years, so we take a lot of pride in this show in particular.”
Audience members were greeted by charismatic host and former president Darion Urban, who expressed his appreciation for the “weeklong celebration for a man that our country barely gives a day to.”
“Independence Day” was the first skit of the evening. Written and performed by Aisa Jefferson, Jaeden Jackson and Ciera Dozier, the clever piece revealed the tumultuous relationship between two sisters and the wealthy prince that came between them. It explored the implications of colorism, as well as the reality that “not all fairytales have happy endings.”
“Articles of Proof,” written and performed by Marcus LaGuerre, Dominique McCoy and Sierra Powdhar, followed the story of a single black father and his daughter and the senseless prejudice that they faced upon moving into a predominantly white community. After meeting a woman who declared “Anything darker than a paper bag - unacceptable,” the scene gradually spiraled into tragedy, ending in the father’s arrest and an unsure future for his daughter.
“Disturbing the Peace,” written and performed by Justin Walters, Gwen Dean and Dary’us Bell, proved to be one of the most shocking performances of the night. Walters delivered a comedic yet chilling portrayal of singer R. Kelly, who currently faces multiple allegations of sexual abuse of young women.
“People don’t hear the women until it’s too late,” Dean’s character declared. “Until their body’s been dismantled and it’s up for grabs.”
The climax of the scene resulted in a violent tug-of-war between R. Kelly and a stage manager for a young woman whom Kelly had been touching inappropriately. The powerful skit denounced victim blame and exposed the dangerous outcomes of the bystander effect.
“No Witnesses,” written and performed by Shayla Card-Nowlin, Anthony Sloan and Leo Lowry, provided insight into the thoughts of three regular churchgoers, all of whom struggled in their relationship with religion and their roles as members of a congregation.
“With the church skit, I was nervous because religion is touchy too,” said Card-Nowlin, who also serves as Poetry Society’s secretary. “But it had to be said that people do manipulate religion for their own convenience and agenda.”
Many proved to be personally moved by the scene. It received two cries of, “Rewind!” from the audience, prompting performers to oblige by reenacting the most recent segment of their scene before proceeding.
The final skit of the evening, “Death Penalty,” was written and performed by London Harris, Britanni Haney and Lynette Freeman. It featured The Warden, a female mob boss. The scene illustrated the fragility of trust and ended in a tense standoff between The Warden, one of her subordinates and a young woman whose trust she lost in the midst of the chaos of a life of crime.
Throughout the evening, the audience was nothing short of electric. Each powerful moment was met with snaps, claps and shouts of confirmation. Poetry Society prides itself on being a self-proclaimed “family-based organization,” and the performers’ attitudes and passion absolutely translated to the audience.
“There was a moment where a girl kind of stumbled on her lines. . . but the crowd helped her and was like, ‘Hey, you got this!’” described freshman Hannah Abram. “It was just really amazing how everyone clicks here, and it’s just very nice to see everyone come together at an event.”
Darius, a friend of Walters, expressed that the participatory nature not only encouraged performers but established a sense of community among audience members themselves.
“When they did ‘rewinds,’ it was like it really spoke to a lot of people. And I was like, ‘Wow, I know and didn’t know a lot of people felt the same way, or felt similar in any way.’”
Walters drew the attention back to the purpose of MLK Day and hopes that attendees were inspired by Poetry Society’s boldness in taking on such topics as colorism, racism and sexual assault.
“Don’t ignore the signs. Don’t sit in silence. No justice, no peace.” He said. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again. We can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again as citizens and expect different result, especially in these turbulent times.”
Students interested in joining Poetry Society are invited to the first Lyric Lounge of the the semester. The open-mic, spoken word poetry event will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 5th in Room 300 of the Student Center.