On Friday, February 18, the Black Cultural Centerin association with the University of Utah Intersect X12 and the Utah Black Artist Collectivehosted an open mic Event called “poetic justice”. The event is one of many lined up for the celebration of Black History Month at the U.
The event was hosted by Meligha Garfield, director of U’s Black Cultural Center. Everyone in the packed house was invited to speak, each introduced with warm words from Garfield.
“This beautiful soul came to the center several times and engaged in incredible conversation,” Garfield said in a poet’s introduction. “Beautiful soul who truly comes as her authentic self. Beautiful soul that really shows what it means to be real with a capital R.
Throughout the night, speakers shared one to three personal poems on a range of topics, many relating to the Black experience, others about love, abusive relationships, religion , homosexuality and intersecting identities. The poets were applauded with snaps and cheers.
Yuri Joseph, a Salt Lake City resident present at the show, recited two of his own poems. His first poem, “The Land of the Free,” reflects on the irony of this phrase to describe America when the country’s black history is factored into the equation. Joseph writes under the name “Youri Young”.
“The bells of freedom that rang in fierce battle were awfully like chains on black ankles that clicked and creaked when, like cattle and sheep, the downtrodden and the opposite were impressed with the burden of seeing this nation rise on his feet only then to be told their seat had been removed from the table of equals,” Joseph said. “White men whose faces and names are revered… have been given such a fitting title: Founding Fathers of the Country I guess that makes slavery the mother that through labor gave birth to the country we know as “A”.
Another poet who spoke at the event, University of Kansas graduate Jamera NaQuai, recited a poem titled “Black Girl Blues” chronicling her experience as a black girl and woman. The poem is part of the book she published last month called “So Black I’m Blue”.
“When I was eight, my mom first permed my hair,” NaQuai said. “She told me it would make me look pretty. I remember the chemicals burning the folds of my scalp and I begged her to rinse it out. ‘Just a few more minutes. Don’t you want to be pretty? J I wiped away the tears, I clenched my teeth and let the blade spread to the nape of my neck. I want to be pretty.
In her poem, she says white America keeps flying.
“Now you’ve taken our black girl bodies and put them on a totem pole with Kardashian’s name engraved on it and the black girl is left down there staring up into the air singing the black girl blues because her skin is too dark and her boxer braids are too frizzy,” NaQuai said. “But I say to this little black girl, stand up straight. If the only way to be black and to be a woman is to be angry, then be angry.
NaQuai said it was a poem she wrote right after graduating from high school, but it still feels relevant and brings out the same passion and anger she felt when she wrote it.
“It was really just me recounting my experience as a black girl — you know, my childhood and my experiences with racism growing up and really how it became more egregious,” NaQuai said. “I’ve performed this poem before and each time it consumes me like I feel it in every fiber of my being, so it’s always fun.”
Between speakers, Garfield occasionally led collective deep-breathing sessions or recited poetry from other established poets. The evening ended with a poetry recitation by Wynter Storm, the event’s special guest.
Storm has performed many of his poems, some of which appear in his new book, “Black Rainbow Layers.” Her setlist covered many topics, from “Home,” the poem that helped her win the Ogden Pride Slam poetry competition in 2018, to poems about love, Simone Biles, ancestry DNA and the Soul movie.
A poet and professional drummer, Storm has been published since the age of eight. Storm said she always writes poetry as an outlet for healing — one difficult time of healing being coming to terms with her queer identity after growing up a nun.
“The Church no longer made me feel welcome and it broke my heart because the Church was my community…and I needed something to turn to,” Storm said. “Poetry has always been something to save me, it has always been my resource that can save me like nothing else can.”
Among Storm’s setlist was “Breaking News,” a poem about the headlines made by Simone Biles when she made the decision to pull out of the Olympics for her own sanity.
“Another black woman was expected to carry the country on her back like we always have…always wanting to put us in medals for victory and hope we give it back in gold – another American trophy” , said Storm. “This time the black woman chose her long-sacrificed black body, was the beat above the chest, the rise in the chest, Black was the deep breath and the skin of the coldest gymnast… Another black body was crowned with expectations.
Storm said she thought it was an appropriate poem for both Black History Month and the upcoming Women’s History Month in March.
“The moment that presenter said what he said about Simone…it brought tears to my eyes as a strong black woman because they were trying to paint such a negative picture,” Storm said.
Storm is not only a poet, but also the co-founder of UBLAC, which helped organize the event. UBLAC is an organization that connects black artists across the state of Utah. She said the idea for UBLAC began as a godly conversation between her and co-founder Jayrod Garrett, who was also present at the open-mic event — a vision they later realized together.
“A community, a family of professional black artists, building each other up and elevating each other…it seemed like a far-fetched idea…then next week…we fulfilled our commercial license,” said said Storm. “It was also quick because not only did we see the need in the community, but we both saw the need in our own lives to have a collective and a community like that in the state of Utah. .”
Storm said the open-mic night was a chance to bring the community together to share her talents in a safe space, and that the event left her “thrilled”.
“I’ve had the night of my life, my heart is so full…I’m in tears because there was literally only standing room in this place,” Storm said. “To think that so many people just wanted to come out and show love and share their talents and be vulnerable and share who they are…that so many human beings were ready to hug each other, to support each other, to encourage each other each other…it was beautiful.”