Self determination at OSA’s open mic

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

On Feb. 9, the Student Center’s Cypress Theater hosted “Celebrating Black Expression” a joint event hosted by the Georgia Tech Organization for Social Activism (GT OSA), Diversity Ambassadors and African American Student Union (AASU).

The event, which according to their Instagram (@GT_OSA), provided a “safe space during Black history month to celebrate Black art as a reflection of resilience and unity” and emphasized self-determination. 

The open mic provided a space for artists throughout the Black diaspora across multiple college campuses including Georgia State, Kennesaw State University and Tech to be whoever they wanted for a night: orators, spoken word artists, afrobeat artists, singers, song-writers, lovers, dreamers and visionaries were all present on the stage.

Some artists like Deri Barnes, fourth-year BA, spoke to aid the transition between past and future generations with a self-written piece, “Letter to a Little Black Girl”. Barnes described herself as a second generation writer following in the footsteps of her father. She explained that she often goes to him for feedback as she grows as an artist.

 “He really pushes a creative mindset. And like, every single time I create a little something, he would be the first person I would talk to, tell it to and he’d give me his honest, raw opinion, so I can improve myself,” Barnes said on the duo’s dynamic.

The spoken word centered her experience growing up as a Black girl and often feeling ostracized for being different. The letter was written to revisit that experience and speak to a younger generation, as Barnes explained, “I feel like a lot of people don’t take enough time to self-reflect on things that have happened, [or are] going on in their life. I feel like we can grow a lot faster in a quicker mindset if we take the time to evolve.”

Samantha Bolton, GT OSA president and second-year BA, spoke in depth on the goals of GT OSA’s open mic nights and what they services provide to the Institute’s community. 

“The purpose of it [GT OSA’s open mic events] is to spread this overall compassion for humanity because for me, when I define justice, I think of just that understanding and having compassion for everyone,” Bolton said.

Honing in on the night’s theme, Bolton described wanting to create a space for Black artists to be themselves, free of societal constraints. 

“It’s not always accepted, you know? To be a Black artist, especially a Black male artist, and just to express yourself in a space where everyone will kind of understand or where people are respecting where you’re coming from,” Bolton said.

Bolton, who is a quarter Black, took to the mic to perform a self-written piece, “To a Woman Less White Passing” that she wrote in honor of her mother. Bolton explained that the poem works through her identity as a white-passing person.

“I started to hide back in a shell and think like ‘well, if other people — Black students — don’t see me as a part of their community, then I guess I shouldn’t either,’ but then I realized, my heritage means a lot to me. My mom grew up in Crenshaw [Los Angeles], and she worked really hard for me to be who I am. I feel like to not recognize my Black heritage and that part of me would be a disservice and a disrespect to my mom and her dad and everything that they’ve been through,” Bolton said on her family’s history.

Departing from identity, some artists used the night to perform upbeat numbers like Lauren Hester, fourth-year PSYC, who sang “Almost There” from Disney’s 2009 animated movie “The Princess and the Frog”. Students in attendance like Zoëe Jodesty, first-year BMED, explained that they came out to the event to spend an evening with friends and get a break from schoolwork. Jodesty described her support for the gathering, saying she was “pleasantly surprised” at the amount of talent at the Institute.

Many members of the audience took to expressing their support by calling out with words of encouragement for the night’s many performers. One such artist who drew much community support was spoken word artist, Cupid Valentine, first-year BIS (Interdisciplinary Studies: Media Entrepreneurship) at Georgia State University. 

Performing two self-written pieces, “What’s Your Sign?” and “Pick Your Poison,” Valentine explored his romantic experiences from two different perspectives. He described “What’s Your Sign?” as the typical love poem and “Pick Your Poison” as a reflection of the more chaotic side of the current dating scene.

He explained that he began writing as a child to process and understand his emotions. “I was trying to figure out how my emotions worked and just finding simple and more creative ways to understand them because you know, growing up in the Black household, you don’t typically have the proper ways to express yourself,” Valentine said.

GT OSA’s joint “Celebrating Black Expression” open mic kicked off Black History Month with a chance for students to express themselves in a supportive environment. Furthering their mission of spreading compassion, GT OSA will host another open mic night on Feb 27.