"Respect the mic."

This is the most vital and enforced rule at the Mahogany Soul Café, an artistic event held at the Tom Black Cultural Center. Every fourth Tuesday of the month, UT students get together to showcase and appreciate various forms of creative expression through an open mic-style forum.

The event is sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Student Life and is planned by a student committee. The theme for this past Tuesday was "The Bad, The Good and The Misunderstood," with each performer's art related in some way to this theme. The program was passed down to spoken word artist Taria Person, the coordinator and emcee of the event.

"I really just want to encourage people to express themselves and share their outlook on life," Person, senior in English, said.

The café featured a variety of talented students, from cellists to poets to singers. All forms of art are encouraged, and the atmosphere is set up to be as welcoming as possible. Nevertheless, some of the artists still experienced the typical nerve-racking emotions that accompany baring your soul to a crowd of over a hundred people.

"I actually performed tonight because I lost a bet," Khadejah Fleming, spoken word performer and freshman in communications, said. "It was so scary, but the support of my friends really got me through it."

After her performance, she came off the stage to thunderous cheers and applause.

The overall mood of the crowd appeared to ease the anxiety of the performers as well. It was casual and supportive — overall, it felt more like a party than a speech in front of a class. The crowd laughed, yelled and felt what each person was trying to communicate through their art.

The low pressure atmosphere was comforting, especially to the new performers — deemed "mic virgins."

The performers weren't perfect. They forgot lines, missed notes, and got nervous, but they still expressed their hearts and their talents, along with their worldviews.

In fact, sharing her world with the audience is one of the main reasons Person started performing spoken word poems.

"I travel a lot and that influences everything I see," she said. "I want to say what most people won't and let people see what they usually don't. I want to effect change."

Person also wants the Mahogany Soul Café to be an outlet for all UT students to express their creativity and not be for just a specific group to enjoy.

"Everybody is welcome either to participate or experience," she said. "Everybody has a story to tell."

The next Mahogany Soul Café event will be held on Sept. 25 at 6:30 p.m. in the Black Cultural Center. Those wanting to perform can email Taria Person at tperson1@utk.edu to sign up.