Jazz music flooded the UC Auditorium Monday night as students prepared for an evening of emotionally fueled poetry.
The poetry slam, sponsored by the Black Cultural Programming Committee, showcased the talents of the Striver's Row poets. The event was not exclusive to spoken word, with Strange Fruit Dance Company opening the poetry slam with a choreographed routine to "Wade in the Water."
Joshua Bennett, Alysia Harris, Miles Hodges, Jasmine Mans and Carvens Lissaint comprise the group, which was founded in 2010. The poets had previously known each other as individual performers before forming a group. Since 2010, the poets have performed for a number of well-known events, such as the Sundance Film Festival, NAACP Image Awards and Obama's Evening of Music and Poetry at the White House.
The performances at the poetry slam spoke of life, love and faith, among other topics. In recognition of Black History Month, the poetry touched upon the topic of racial discrimination. Harris spoke of what it was like to be a female of mixed heritage.
In a preface to her poem, Harris dedicated her reading to the women of her family, as well as anyone with a "complex ancestry."
"I think a lot of times we're sort of skipped over or ignored," Harris said. "But we know that black history happens in our homes, our kitchens, in our cars."
In a preface to one of his poems, Hodges spoke on the topic of sexism.
"We have a responsibility as men to do our part if we are going to call ourselves artists to do our part to project women, to cultivate their image, in a positive manner," Hodges said about the unjust portrayal of "non-white women in the media."
Tales of love and heartbreak were also included in the poetry. Harris spoke of a lost love, and how "everybody should get to fall in love in Paris." Mans performed a poem from the perspective of someone finding love for the first time.
The Striver's Row poets said they hope their audience takes at least one thing from their performances. During a Q&A session at the end of the program, an attendee asked what the poets wanted to convey with their emotional, and sometimes controversial, readings.
"At a certain point (I realized) my poetry was my contribution to the world," Bennett said. "I realized I wanted to make people feel better. I wanted people to laugh and think differently about their life."
A universal answer from the poets was that each wrote to help themselves understand their emotions. Many said they needed an outlet to freely express all the emotional baggage they accumulated throughout their lives.
"If I'm sharing it, then maybe other people want to share it as well," Harris said. "And if we can share together, we can actually hold more volume."
Students such as Amirah Anderson, junior in microbiology, were touched by the raw display of emotion, calling the performances "authentic."
"You could just feel the emotion," Anderson said. "It was beautiful."