BHC celebrates black poets

By Joie’ Thornton

Senior Staff Writer

Photo by Claudia Valerio | Participants in the African American Read-In reading walk across the stage with empowering signs before passing them to attendees.
Photo by Claudia Valerio | Participants in the African American Read-In reading walk across the stage with empowering signs before passing them to attendees.

In honor of Black History Month, students, staff and faculty participated in an African American Read-In, “From Chant to Slam: A Celebration of the Spoken Word.” Brookhaven College English professor, Hazel Carlos, organized the reading. “What we were trying to do this year was to celebrate all the ways in which the word has expressed all emotions and how the word has been the vehicle by which the struggle is communicated,” Carlos said.

The reading included poems and speeches with authors including Phyllis Wheatley, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Some selections were “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” “The Ballot or the Bullet” and “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

The struggle represented in the readings is a complicated one. “It is not just sadness. It is not just pain,” Carlos said. “It is victory, it is overcoming, it is a variety of emotions.”

She said the spoken word is able to communicate all emotions. “That’s why we started with the chants, the field hollers, the works songs, sermons, revolutionary poems, and all the way to slam,” Carlos said in an email.

“The word is still communicating the struggle and the issues that we had long ago,” Carlos said. “Yes, we have overcome some of them, but in many ways, the Selma march is back with us because of the issues of voting and the qualifications you have to have to vote.

Photo by Claudia Valerio | Abbey Adenuga, Ariel Goodwin and Honoria Delgado read Sterling Brown’s 1931 poem, “Strong Men.”
Photo by Claudia Valerio | Abbey Adenuga, Ariel Goodwin and Honoria Delgado read Sterling
Brown’s 1931 poem, “Strong Men.”

“The struggle continues. We wanted to show that through the emphasis on the spoken word, how we have never really lost it, and it has always been our way of communicating the variety of experiences and emotions,” Carlos said.

Hurshel Burton, Brookhaven English professor, read the speech “The Ballot or the Bullet,” by Malcolm X. Before Burton came onto the stage, a picture of Malcolm X appeared on the screen with the song “A Change is Gonna Come” playing in the background. This was not the first time Burton had taken on the role of Malcolm X in the African American Read-In.

Burton said he was chosen to read Malcolm X because he was able to get into character. “What I like about Malcolm X is that he was reformed, was a gangster, went to prison and served his time,” Burton said.

“[He] learned how to be a refined individual.” Senior administrative assistant Edna Love was one of two people to play the game “Miss Mary Mack.” Love, with others, came onto the stage and sang “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” while walking around in a circle. That was the same song that was sung before Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “Been to the Mountaintop” was read. Love also read Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.”

Love has participated in the read-in every year since its conception. “I believe that we should always remember what the dream was about [and] what the struggle still is,” she said.

The reading ended with a music video for “Glory” by rapper Common and singer John Legend. The video included clips of the movie “Selma.” While the video played, the participants walked in a circle holding signs. The signs displayed phrases such as “Freedom” and “Black Lives Matter.” They walked into the audience and handed the signs to attendees. At the end of the video, they all put up their hands to signify the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture in reference to the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, in August of last year.