The LBCC Poetry Club, along with Student Life and Leadership, hosted “Black History Month Extravaganza” on Tuesday, Feb. 28, in the Diversity Achievement Center. Many faculty and students presented an assortment of performances, including reciting poetry by Langston Hughes and reading personal letters from Martin Luther King Jr.
Elliot Kurfamn, Robin Havenick, Chris Riseley, Lucas Letelier and Ruth Krueger, left to right, recite “Spoken Word in Harmony” at the Black History Month Extravaganza.
Eight members of the LBCC Poetry Club stood before their audience in black clothing. Their piece, “Spoken Word in Harmony,” was accompanied by LBCC counselor Mark Weiss. In a monophonic tone, they recited Hughes’ poem, “I, Too,” and then independently presented separate poems.
Ruth Krueger recited “Negro Speaks of Rivers,” often lifting her head from her notes to meet our eyes.
Lucas Letelier’s powerful voice demanded attention, and his hands emphasized each word as he recited “Theme for English B.”
Chris Risely, who read “Dream Variations,” bestowed a smooth and dedicated voice.
While Weiss played guitar, Robin Havenick recited her piece “Wearly Blues.” She spoke softly and effortlessly against the twang of the guitar.
Elliot Kurfamn recited “Dream Boogie,” and when Neil Davidson recited “Mother to Son,” his dialect resembled Hughes, as if he were in the room with us.
Allison Ruch recited, “Dream Keeper” in a sweet and unsure voice; yet when she looked up, we saw the faces of those who have had the courage to tell such a personal story.
The Martin Luther King Readers’ Theater took the floor next, wearing their shirts with the actual ID numbers that Martin Luther King, Jr. bore when arrested. They read selected Birmigham Jail letters, and echoed lines, such as “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights … when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodyness’ – then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”
When one member stepped forward to speak, his or her partners remained behind with their heads hung.
“I can assure you,”one member read from Dr. King’s letters, “that [this letter] would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?”
LBCC President Greg Hamann introduced an ink drawing entitled “Stereotypes and Labels” by Spike Keenan, based on an image of three African children. Hamann described these children as beautiful, and on the surface they are, but the piece was created using words of discrimination; words such as “Gangster,” “Criminal,” “Druggie,” “Gun Man,” and “Belligerent.”
Keenan described the process of creating such a piece as daunting and angering. She said, “Many of us judge groups of Africans or Hispanics, thinking, ‘we know what they’re up to,’ or, ‘we know how they are going to turn out.’” This kind of hatred is evident in her drawing, as, how Keenan put it, “the words melt into art.”
The event closed with a jazz piano and poetry duet arrangement, and then the floor was opened to open mic. Personal poetry, real accounts of discrimination and ill treatment, and hope for the future were shared among those who spoke and for those who attended.
This was the last celebration for Black History Month, wrapping up a sequence of events that all started with the Freedom Riders presentation by Robert Singleton. What we’ve learned and shared this month will not be forgotten, nor ignored.