Students at Stony Brook University have been celebrating Black History Month by taking part in and organizing numerous events around campus. Among these events was a spoken word competition held at the Tabler Blackbox Theater on Wednesday, Feb. 19, complete with a table of individuals who judged the participants on their spoken words and poems. The competition’s tagline, “Many people…one voice,” suggests that amongst a room of individuals, one unified tone can be found to generate a unique cause.
Among the students who participated, one voice was truly represented and it was the black voice of cultural power that remains significantly more influential throughout the month of February then the rest of the year. This voice made its presence known through the performers, with their words generating a unified cadence that mimicked the historical voices of those who have come before them: living legacies that have brought power to the competition room.
The event began with a slideshow documenting black organizations and historical alumni of Stony Brook University over the years. There were numerous photographers recording the event with their pictures alongside an accommodating spread of food. The crowd was not dense, but its small core left the room homely and intimate; it presented a perfect atmosphere for the sharing of words that represent a distinct race.
Among the participants in the spoken word competition was Danielle Meyers, reciting her first poem, “Proclaiming Emancipation,” with verbal power that graced the room like a spiritual epiphany. She continued to say “free at last,” as if she wanted to underline its significance with literary repetition. She noted the typical troubles of the black community, as if the race is still chained to the bonds of drugs and gang violence, incorporating modern influences such as alluding to a black woman’s ability to “twerk.” She suggested that a black woman’s abilities fully transcend this simplistic dance move and are subject to much more infinite potential. She drew the line between boys who do not work and “real” men who work but still cannot afford to support themselves and their families. Meyers touched upon the public school system’s falling, “unfit” standards. As she stated her “enraged” status about the education system, her voice raised in unison with her words.
Toward the end of her spoken word compilation, Meyers expressed her people and herself as “far more vocal than a caged bird that sings,” a clever image that helps one to envision chains that not only physically bond, but also chain one verbally. She ended her spoken word poem with a statement which seemed more like an expected order: “emancipate yourself from mental slavery,” dropping a pair of handcuffs that made an impressive thud, perhaps representing powerful finality.
To follow Meyers with another spoken word compilation, Aleyiah Skelton recited her poem which was “Untitled,” but, she said, if it were to be titled it would be called “Her Story.” “Her Story” illustrates a picture of a young girl who is haunted by a harsh reality brought upon by familial relations and sick desires. The young girl “dreams of the day when a savior comes.” She runs “a race that God promises is already won.” Perhaps the young girl does not have to run, since the race is won, but it is necessary to run to tell “Her Story.”
In the intermission of the competition, Skelton performed a dance composed of various arm movements and twirls—she raised her hands up to the lyric “God” as the music played around her. Skelton wiped her face to represent tears and pushed her hands out from her face as if she were blowing a kiss. Her dance was completed as she picked up her pace suddenly, her movements quickened. It is as if she continued to tell “Her Story” through her swift movements, running the race that is won because the bystanders are still willing to listen and watch.
The third competitor, Gregory Marseille, recited his poem, “Poetic Bloodlines,” alluding to a poem that he once heard from another. He created the image of a pen being injected into the speaker. The pen, a means to write a poem, acts as an injector of knowledge, a link to the bloodline of a poet as it pierces a vein. In his poem, God removes the needle, or the pen, but the poetry continues to flow through his veins. He stated that although many poets are not recognized, they continue to exist through uplifting words and bloodlines. To Marseille, his speaker, and his listeners the pen is suddenly a needle that pierces and injects the infinite existence of those who have written before him. He, himself, is the newest inductee in the poetic bloodline.
Winners of the competition are to be announced at the Black History Month closing ceremony on Feb. 27, starting at 8 p.m., in the Student Activities Center Ballroom A. These participants not only represented themselves and their own spoken words in this competition, but they captured the voice of the black community, targeting pressing issues and individualizing their own stories that should be repeated and retold. Their voices meshed into one—one being and one representation that was presented in many words.