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Bradley students fight for social justice through spoken word

Aaron/Selena Adams presenting his poem for the audience. Photo by Madalyn Mirallegro

Slam poetry is a spoken word art form that gives people a voice to express their feelings. In collaboration with She Speaks, two senior women and gender studies interns hosted a social justice slam poetry event where students could either share original work or already published poems.

All students were invited and encouraged to share poetry and readings about their personal experiences surrounding gender, race, ability, sexuality and identity.

The presentation was hosted on Nov. 30 in Marty Theatre. WGS social justice interns English major, Mara Kleinerman and creative writing major, Daniela Barzallo, both introduced and organized the event. This was their second time hosting a social justice poetry slam.

“We just wanted to give a place for people who feel that they haven’t had an area to speak at, we wanted to give them some place to share their thoughts and not feel like they need to hide themselves,” Kleinerman said.

Kleinerman and Barzallo explained how the first poetry slam originated as the gender justice poetry slam. The pair got the idea from their professor who suggested that they create and host a poetry slam for their capstone. The slam’s name change was because the two wanted to include all identities.

To start off, Barzallo explained what slam poetry was and where it originated from. In her opening speech she quoted her favorite slam poet Elizabeth Aceveto’s novel “The Poet X.”

“The poetry clubs’ real rules of slam: perform with heart, remember why you wrote the poem, go in with all of your emotions, tell the audience all of the things and don’t suck,” Barzallo said.

Kleinerman also made sure to note that they didn’t want the audience to be “polite.” She wanted the audience to engage with the speaker by yelling back or snapping when they enjoy what is said in the poem.

Freshman theatre performance major, Aaron/Selena Adams was the first student to take center stage, performing a speech that they wrote for the Bradley speech team about being queer in the black community and being religious.

“The message of my poem is to educate others and have other gay people feel comfortable in knowing that it is okay to be gay and still believe in God, if that is their choice of religion,” Adams said.

Sophomore high school English education major, Sarah Hazenfield, from the Bradley speech team performed a poem about the generational cycle of eating disorders between mothers and daughters. The poem was titled “What a Body Inherits” and was originally written by Blythe Baird.

“I gain 20 pounds and my mother becomes an open wound,” Hazenfield recited. “She confesses how sometimes she truly believes that she is not beautiful, and I apologize.”

Following the first two performances, nine more performances followed, some even impromptu, sharing poems ranging from topics such as masculinity and self worth/image.

Other poems referenced real life events such as the case of Matthew Shepard – a student at the University of Wyoming in 1998 – and the Pulse nightclub shooting. 

Audience members and the hosts alike both felt a rise of emotions listening to the more difficult poems that students perform.

“To hear such a personal experience was really moving and also the pieces about…the socializing and inheriting eating disorders was really meaningful for me because we live in a society that socializes us to think that pretty is a certain look,” Kleinerman said.

To wrap up the poetry slam, both Barzallo and Kleinerman performed works of their own about graduation, the future and gun violence.

After the slam finished some of the audience stuck around to talk with Barzallo and Kleinerman about the slam and with other performers. The question that everyone kept asking the two was if there was going to be more poetry slams in the years to come.

“We are looking for people that when we graduate, will be able to carry on [the slam] because I think it will be something great to keep going on campus,” Barzallo said. 

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